I have always loved hip hop. I would listen intently to The Marshall Mathers
LP on my Discman on the way to school (don't judge, Eminem was a fucking boss in the early 2000s) and to the concern of presumably every adult around me, knew all the words. Outkast was my request at every house party, and the Tupac vs. Biggie debate was a hot topic among my friends (both, obviously).
Not much has changed. I still go to a lot of hip hop gigs, download a lot
of mixtapes and A$AP Rocky is my pretend boyfriend. The problem is that even though I love hip hop, as a woman I feel like it sometimes doesn't love me so much. Like every other sane person in the world, I believe in the equal treatment of men and women, particularly in the way they are represented in pop culture.
So how is it that I can love hip hop
This is a genre of music that is notorious for its misogynistic lyrics and videos. A culture of ‘bitches ain’t shit’ woman hating is deeply intertwined with rap. And yet, when I’m at a bar and “Gangsta’s Paradise” comes on I seem to reach a level of euphoria not seen since Adrien Brody’s Oscar win.
This isn't a new conundrum for ladies (and men who like ladies). In 1999, African American journalist and author Joan Morgan released a book called When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My life as a hip hop feminist
, in which she argued that women could in fact be feminists and rap fans at the same time. “Hip hop feminism” was about accepting that the genre was playing host to the most important conversations about gender in the African American community and that feminism wasn’t about what was being said but what was being done.
Morgan said “Hip hop has made me a better feminist. It has brought on many of the issues that feminists are reluctant to take on—issues of accountability and of black female sexuality”
However if you enjoy hip hop, are you automatically engaging in its ideology? When “99 Problems” comes on and you stand next to the stereo yelling “WHAT ABOUT FEMINISM!?” will it be met with an enlightened debate about gender politics? Or will someone just shrug and krump around you?
Of course there's the argument that hip hop is just a societal mirror to the injustices faced by urban communities – and just because you like a song about shooting the police doesn't mean you're going to steal a Glock and go to town. But this negates that fact that hip hop wasn’t always like this.
From its birth in the belly of The Bronx until the mid ‘90s, hip hop was largely about the self esteem of the black community and a discussion about societal problems. A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Public Enemy weren’t that interested in pimpin’, but engaged in positive, political and intelligent dialogue about America’s inequality.
Likewise Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa were groundbreaking in their representation of an active female sexuality—they would rap about masturbation for fucks sake! Although rappers like Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Azealia Banks are modern examples of the diversity in hip hop, their gender is still often a novelty and definitely a minority.
For some, the misogyny in hip hop is still a matter of race. In 2008 BET ran a series of rad debates called “Hip Hop vs. America”
in which Georgetown University professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson argued the problem was reducing the black female identity to “her gluteus maximums”. “What about her brain?”
he asked a bemused Nelly. “What about her heart?”
Hip hop about giving a voice to the voiceless African American man, but apparently this wasn’t extended to women.
(Nelly got in a lot of trouble for his video for "Tip Drill" in which he swipes a credit card down a girl's butt crack. LOL/Not LOL.)
Knowing that you cannot always control the misogyny around you is hard (and this extends to men and women, we're all in this together y'all!). As a lover of the blockbuster movie (I know, I’m a catch) it is similarly difficult to negotiate the often limited roles women are offered. Love interest, mother, duplicitous sex kitten, passive daughter.
Nearly every societal framework we exist in is misogynistic, but does this make us all anti-feminist? No. If I see a trailer for another stereotypical romantic comedy, will I see it just to fly my feminist flag and write about how fucking dumb it is? Absolutely.
The way that women are represented in hip hop is unequivocally wrong, but perhaps there is no solution to my problem. Joan Morgan once said “When you dismiss all hip hop as sexist you give up opportunities to have that conversation”
, and she may be right. Maybe it’s not a choice of whether to consume or criticise, but it’s up to us to create a space where we can do both.