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If you consider yourself a fan of rap music, you have probably screamed the lyrics of A$AP or Kanye or Drake in your car, but have you ever realized exactly what you are saying when you do it? A large part of rap music’s appeal is that it has lyrics that focus on very real controversial topics such as sex, violence, gangs, poverty, and other socioeconomic issues. But it does have a reputation for being sexist, so I wanted to know if it was a justifiable claim to make. Is rap music sexist? To answer this question I will be looking at four different sources who all have varying opinions on whether or not rap (including lyrics and music videos) is misogynistic. Although there are lyrics, artists and music videos out there that are very demeaning and degrading towards women, other genre’s of music are just as guilty and the consumer or even society can be blamed equally for encouraging this misogynistic culture.
Rap is a fairly new genre of music, exploding in the U.S. during the 80’s after The Sugarhill Gang released their hit “Rapper’s Delight”. I consider rap one of the fastest evolving genre’s. It has developed from African rhymes and chants used to tell stories to gangsta rap to old-school to trap in just a few short decades. Over these few decades it has been harshly criticized for it’s blunt lyrics regarding race, religion, gangs, rape, murder, sex, drugs, and violence. When N.W.A released their iconic first album “Straight Outta Compton” they were labeled gangstas, criminals and the most dangerous hip-hop group mostly because they were rapping about what they grew up around. Sexism has also been heavily linked to rap music since it’s early days. With women being used as props in music videos and objects in lyrics, everyone has formed their opinions on the genre.
My first source is a content analysis of the portrayals of violence against women in rap music, focusing on rap between 1987 and 1993 when gangsta rap was on the rise. It is titled Gangsta Misogyny and was written in 2001 by Edward G. Armstrong of Murray State University. Armstrong is a sociology professor and published his analysis through the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. To conduct his analysis, he collected 490 songs by 13 different artists during the time period previously stated. His attention was directed towards artists who provided gangsta rap music’s “central repertoire”. He focused on four common topics that can be heard throughout the genre of rap. These topics were assault, rape, murder, and rape and murder. Armstrong concludes that gangsta rap music continues to teach, promote, and glamorize violence and misogyny. He shows his fear of this music’s lyrics escalating by referencing a previous article written by the New York’s Daily News, which claims that gangsta rap has caused a decline in American values. Armstrong says that the lyrics in songs written after this article’s release are much worse and will only get more violent and sexist.
My next source is also a content analysis which was conducted by Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin in 2009. This article is titled Misogyny in Rap Music: a content analysis of prevalence and meanings. Weitzer is a sociology and criminology professor at George Washington University and has also written many books on police brutality and the sex trade industry. Kubrin is a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine and has given a TED talk regarding whether rap music is threatening to society. In their analysis they also focused on specific themes that can be identified in many songs throughout the genre. They claimed that common themes are derogatory naming and shaming of women, sexual objectification against women, distrust of women, legitimation of violence against women, and celebration of prostitution and pimping. They concluded that misogynistic lyrics are influenced by larger gender relations, the music industry, and local neighborhood conditions. They suggest that changing the content of rap music requires changing the conditions under which it’s created including: socioeconomic disadvantage and associated gender relations in local communities, the material interests of the record industry, and the larger cultural objectification of women and associated norms of hegemonic masculinity.
My third source comes from famous rapper, actor and former member of N.W.A, O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube. His quote was given to Rolling Stone in 2015 during an interview he did with former group member, Dr. Dre. Both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were promoting the release of the movie “Straight Outta Compton” which is a biography of their lives growing up in compton and how they rose to stardom. Ice Cube has released ten studio albums, four group albums, has acted in over 40 TV shows and movies and is credited with multiple awards. In Ice Cube’s quote he defends his lyrics and the lyrics of his former group mates by suggesting that their lyrics are not directed at all women but at specific groups of women or individuals.
My last source was written in the form of a blog post entitled “The Reasons I Don’t Get Offended by Sexist Rap Lyrics as a Feminist”. It was written in 2016 by Riley Von Niessen who is a writer and editor for the website trendhunter.com. Niessen, thinking along the same lines as Ice Cube, argues that listening to graphic music that uses misogynistic language does not mean you advocate violence against women. She says that rap is just another form of art and the lyrics shouldn’t be taken personally. She states, “phonetically speaking, bitch is a beautiful word. It has great emphasis, it’s easy to rhyme, and I don’t consider it to be gender specific after being completely desensitized to whatever offensive meaning it’s supposed to have.” She says that taking these lyrics to heart is irrational. She compares the blaming of Marilyn Manson for the columbine shooting to the blaming of rap music for violent and sexist behavior. It seems ridiculous. Lastly she points out that the radio’s censoring of derogatory terms for women can sometimes be more offensive. For example, using “chick” instead of “bitch”.
Now, looking back at my first source, the analysis of gangsta rap written by Edward G. Armstrong, it is clear where he stands. He thinks rap lyrics are out of control and that the genre in general is bad. Although he is a credible source and has a vast amount of information and references in his analysis, he fails to consider that these artists aren’t just rapping to make a profit, but that many of them are rapping about how they grew up and from different perspectives. He also puts all the blame on the industry and the artists, but a song doesn’t make it on the charts without the listener.
In contrast to my first source, the second source I talked about puts a fair amount of blame on the consumer and society’s misogynistic views. This source is also very credible and does a good job of explaining the results of their analysis and how it was conducted. They use examples of sexist lyrics from Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G. and more. I agree with their stance on the subject. Sexism in this music is a problem, but it is also a problem in society. In order for artists to change the way they talk about and portray women, we need to change the fact that that is the type of music we are demanding.
Ice Cube is obviously biased when it comes to rap music. He is a respected artist in this genre but his credibility is lessened by his use of profanity. In his quote he seems to disregard the fact that his and his group mate’s songs target the general population of females with lyrics like, “but all women have a little bitch in ’em/ it’s like a disease that plagues their character” and “women, they’re good for nothing, no maybe one thing/ to serve needs to my ding-a-ling.” I agree with him in the aspect that it shouldn’t always be taken personally, however, I think that it should be addressed.
My last source argued that even as a feminist, we should not take these lyrics personally and that no change needs to be implemented by the artists or industry. Although she might not be as credible as the other sources, she makes plenty specific claims to support her stance. For example, she says that other genre’s of music are just as sexist as rap. She uses Meghan Trainor’s hit “Dear Future Husband” which includes lines like, “cause if you treat me right/ I’ll be the perfect wife/ buying groceries/ buying what you need” to show that lyrics in other genre’s from FEMALE artists can be just as sexist. However, the author of this blog post underestimated the influence of music and underestimated societies ability not to let it influence them.
Rap music is as popular as ever and I agree that other genres are just as misogynistic as rap, but I don’t think we can ignore that it’s there. Rap music is influential and has had the power to normalize degrading terms like “hoe” and “bitch” which is why we need to make sure that misogyny does not become the main theme heard throughout this genre. It is just as much the consumer’s fault as it is the artist’s and industries for encouraging this sexism in rap music and culture.
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