Time to Heal Our Women: When Hip-Hop Goes Feminist
Since the beginning, rap music hasn’t had the best reputation when it comes to its depiction of women. It’s a genre riddled with more references to “bitches” and “hoes” than the target of a drive-by is with bullets.
In a 2015 interview, Kanye West took a stab at explaining hip hop’s misogynistic dinge.
I definitely think generally rap is misogynistic,” he began before meandering through a range of topics in typical Yeezy fashion. He picked up the thread later, saying, “The idea of a black male in America, not getting a job, or getting fucked with at his job, or getting fucked with by the cops or being looked down upon by this lady at Starbucks. And he goes home to his girl…and this guy is like…you just scream at the person that’s the closest to you.
This explanation was soon followed by the release of a song in which he asserted, “I made that bitch famous,” in reference to the notorious Taylor Swift incident. Shortly after that, he tweeted “BILL COSBY INNOCENT!!!!!!!!!!”
Suffice it to say that Kanye is an imperfect role model for the anti-misogyny movement.
But that isn’t to say that feminist messages aren’t to be found in rap. In fact, male and female rappers alike have taken to the mic and tried to shine a light on the issue.
Who You Calling a Bitch?
Perhaps queen in the fight against misogyny in rap is the queen herself – Queen Latifah. Her 1993 track “U.N.I.T.Y.” is nothing short of a hip-hop feminist anthem:
Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho Trying to make a sister feel low You know all that gots to go
At the same time, Salt-n-Pepa were busy putting down slut-shaming, declaring that a woman’s sexuality is “none of your business.”
The men were getting in on it too. That same year, Tupac Shakur went entirely against the misogynistic grain of gangster rap with his breakout single “Keep Ya Head Up”:
I wonder why we take from our women Why we rape our women—do we hate our women? I think it’s time to heal our women, be real to our women And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies That will hate the ladies that make the babies And since a man can’t make one He has no right to tell a woman where and when to create one
The next year, the Beastie Boys got equally direct in “Sure Shot”:
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue The disrespect to women has got to be through To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends I want to offer my love and respect to the end
Then a few years later in 1998, Lauryn Hill topped the charts with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” in which she questioned:
Now you wonder why women hate men The sneaky, silent men The punk, domestic violence men
The Sneaky Silent Men, Exposed
The rapey cat has been out of the bag ever since Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation came to light, and powerful men from all corners of our society have been falling from grace as their own terrible deeds have been exposed. As a result, 2017 might be remembered as the year when women were finally offered the social support they need to speak up about the attacks and misogyny they’ve been facing all along.
So where is hip-hop at?
In 2016, Beyoncé released the powerhouse visual-album Lemonade, which – while causing much “is she a feminist or isn’t she” debate among feminist scholars – was widely hailed as a masterpiece of female empowerment.
In early 2017, 2Pac disciple Kendrick Lamar advocated sexual consent in his track “Lust,” saying:
I don’t want more than that Girl I respect the cat I promise just a touch Let me put the head in, if it’s okay She said, ‘It’s okay’
Throughout the course of hip-hop’s existence, a range of artists have struggled to steer the genre’s direction away from its rampant misogyny. Are they succeeding? Perhaps. Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar are among the world’s most renowned musicians, so it’s difficult to imagine that their efforts will go without impact.
One thing is certain though. Just as Lamar was influenced by some of the feminism-conscious lyrics of 2Pac, so will the next generation of young men be affected by Lamar when they take up the mic. And just as Queen Bey cut her teeth alongside Queen Latifah, so are there girls now who are looking to Beyoncé for insight into womanhood.
There is much progress still to be made in rap music and society as a whole, but to quote Shakur once again, “Girl, keep ya head up.”