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Barack Obama, former president of the United States, said, “They’re looking around like ‘I guess being respected means, I have to shoot you. I can make you back down. I can disrespect you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ That is a self-defeating model for being a man”. Obama spoke about toxic masculinity in the hip hop culture at My Brother’s Keeper town hall meeting in February 2019. One of the things in hip hop he refers to is the violence and how it is the wrong kind of approach of how a man should gain respect. Hip hop music has shown toxic masculinity through the lyrics that artists make and their toxic behaviors. Society needs to speak against this and change the mindset of hip-hop artist and their actions so that society can detoxify that kind of masculinity and promote the ways that a man should really act. Examples of toxic masculinity and a way to end it will help gain an understanding of the problem in the hip hop.
Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at The Wright Institute which is a psychology graduate school in Berkeley, California, wrote an article called “Toxic Masculinity as a Barrier to Mental Health Treatment in Prison.” This article is about gender issues that show up in prison settings and its relation to the resistance of mental health treatment. Kupers defines toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence”. Toxic masculinity has been a problem in hip hop and has hurt the view men have on what it means to be a man. Specifically, hip hop music has shown toxic masculinity through the lyrics that artists make and their toxic behaviors. This issue needs to be taken seriously.
Hip hop music started in 1973 as a way for men to express themselves through rhythmic speech. Hip hop has become more popular since that time period. According to Nielsen Soundscan, an information system that records the sales of music in the United States, in the year 2017 hip hop surpassed rock as the most popular genre in the United States. The only problem with contemporary hip hop in is that it features toxic masculinity. In the introduction, Barack Obama told the world that hip hop artist use violence in their songs to make them feel intimidating and more of a man. Hip-hop artists put toxic lyrics and their songs and use their power to do toxic actions towards women.
In Gretchen Cundiff’s article, “The Influence of Rap and Hip-Hop Music: An Analysis on Audience Perceptions of Misogynistic Lyrics,” she discusses the influence of hip hop music and how college students respond to the specific lyrics that negatively portray women. Cundiff talks about the Billboard’s Year-End “Hot 100” singles list featuring top songs from 2000-2010. She discusses twenty of the songs on the list that have lyrics that show toxic masculinity. She mentions a song called “Every Girl” by Young Money, a rap group with five members and Lil Wayne is the most popular rapper in the group. “Every Girl” is a song about how the members of Young Money want to have sex with every girl in the world and how great it would be to have that kind of pleasure. The specific lyric Cundiff quotes from Lil Wayne’s part in the song is “Open up her legs then filet mignon that pussy, I’m a get in and on that pussy, If she let me in I’m a own that pussy.” This means he wants to have sex with a girl and that in the end, he wants to claim her. In the first part of the lyric, Lil Wayne treats a certain girl like she is a piece of meat, and continues to refer to the girl only by her genitals in a slang way. He also states that he wants to own her, which shows the male dominance he has over her. These lyrics show toxic masculinity because it shows men that they can dominance over women and they are nothing more than just pleasure. This view encourages men to have dominance over women and makes it seem that this is something that will make men feel masculine.
Toxic Masculinity in hip hop represents real power in society and makes artist feel that they can do whatever they want and have enough power to get away with it. Along with that there are bystanders, spectators who do nothing about an incident, who know the toxic masculinity going on but chose not to make a change to it making it easier for artist to do what they want. There has been recent news about criminal sexual abuse involving famous hip hop/R&B artist Robert Kelly. For the past 20 years, Kelly has gotten past sexual accusations involving child pornography and sex with underage girls. He did not get charged earlier because he was able to give monetary settlements to his accusers. Kelly used the power that he had as a famous artist to take advantage of young girls. Recently a documentary called “Surviving R Kelly” is about young women speaking out about the sexual abuse they have endured from Kelly. In the documentary, female victims of Kelly discuss how he got away with his illegal actions for so long. In the article “TV Review: ‘Surviving R Kelly’” which gives a review on the documentary, Caroline Framke, a television critic for Variety magazine, quoted one of Kelly’s victims, writing, “As one survivor puts it, ‘the reason why he could do it is because he had people helping him.’” According to this quote, Kelly was able to get away with his toxic actions and pedophilia because of the bystanders who enabled him to do whatever he wanted to do. Kelly is a popular artist who had people around him who probably wanted to confront and exposed him, but because he is a popular man, the bystanders decided not to try to ruin Kelly’s reputation. Robert Kelly is a prime example of how hip hop artists are able to perform toxic acts and get away with it for a long period of time.
Hip hop has had its history of using toxic lyrics to support an image of masculinity that is incorrect. As a way of changing the hip hop music, society needs to influence everyone through the bystander approach. The bystander approach refers to people who are present in a situation and respond in a way that creates a positive outcome. The weak bystanders in hip hop help artist continue to do toxic actions and make toxic lyrics because nobody is speaking up against them. Jackson Katz, an educator who made a gender violence prevention program, gave a Ted Talk called “Violence against women–it’s a men’s issue” which describes how violence against women is a issue with men not women and how men tie violent behaviors to masculinity. Katz stated that “we need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them.” What he means by this is that in order to make a change in toxic masculinity, men need to stop being bystanders by stepping up and calling out negative things that men do towards women.
Although contemporary rappers are known for being toxic, Lecrae Moore is one of few rappers that hopes to make a change in the hip hop culture. In his Ted Talk “Heroes and Villains: Is Hip Hop a Cancer or a Cure” he explains that hip hop artist show that the devaluation of women and hip hop is entertaining and make those villainous ideas seem heroic and acceptable. Moore specifically refers to what hip hip should really be about by saying, “ hip-hop does not have to be a pawn of villainy in exchange for profit. It can be used as a tool to tell the story of how things got here, how they began and it can also tell the story. I believe it can tell the story of how a dark past created a bright future.” He is using the bystander approach by telling society that hip hop music should be filled with ideas that are not villainous and can be used as a valuable tool to educate society on the past and the future. He hopes that hip hop will have music that will not have toxic ideas, and it can be changed if not only him but everyone steps up by using the bystander approach.
Barack Obama states, “The notion that somehow defining yourself as a man is dependent on, are you able to put somebody else down…able to dominate…that is an old view.” Obama explains that defining someone as a man should not be determined by toxic behaviors like dominating someone else and that it is an old view society should move away from. Hip hop is the most popular music genre in the United States and is a good example of toxic masculinity. Hip hop artist have words that devalue women and promote violence to make them feel intimidating. Lil Wayne and R Kelly have shown that there are toxic lyrics in hip hop and that being powerful can help men get away with toxic behaviors. Lecrae Moore and Barack Obama want to make a change in lyrics and actions of artist in hip hop. A way for society to change the view on toxic masculinity is through the bystander approach which helps everyone become more aware of toxic behaviors and call it out. In the future, if more people speak out about the toxic masculinity going on in hip hop, society will see a change in the way artist conduct themselves.
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