Some Rap: Music, Art or Misogyny?
Rap music originated in the 1970s in the Bronx and served as a way for Black people to address the many systemic problems affecting their community. Rap music often discussed childhood roots and aspirations for a better life. Like all music, Rap is a form of art – one that allows artists to be able to express themselves freely. In recent years, however, a subset of rap music emerged, which is considerably different from the rap music of the 70s and 90s. This genre of rap music includes misogynistic lyrics that essentially degrade and objectify women.
I remember being on the bus in 5th grade when a boy started to sing the rap song “Loyal” by Chris Brown. The lyrics I distinctly remember him singing were about slang terms for female prostitutes and the fact that these particular women weren’t loyal. Now, I was a ten year old kid that exclusively listened to Taylor Swift, so I had no idea what this song was or even what the word “h**” meant. However, considering I’ve remembered the occurrence eight years after it happened, clearly the song was impressionable. Looking into the song lyrics now all these years later, I cannot believe ten year old kids listened to those kinds of lyrics. Some other lyrics from the same song refer to women with the derogatory term used for a female dog. The degradation of women is very apparent in this song, suggesting that women are manipulative and not worth anyone’s time. Outside influences are incredibly important to childhood development, so a song like this could skew a child’s perception of women for a very long time until they are (hopefully) corrected. Most advocates of rap music have argued that rap is a way for people to freely express themselves, but when looking at the actual lyrics and common themes surrounding some songs of the genre, it is clear that because of this freedom of expression, some rappers feel it is acceptable to use misogynistic and aggressive language towards women. This contributes to young men and women developing the belief that the behavior sung about in rap songs is acceptable.
In the last decade or so, it has become unbelievably easy to find sexually explicit lyrics in rap songs. The common themes surrounding these lyrics often reach the ears of younger listeners who have a hard time separating the extreme circumstances in these songs from reality. Women sometimes are explicitly talked about in rap songs with references to physical violence, sexual conquest, and/or degrading language according to a case study completed in 2013 titled The Influence of Rap and Hip-Hop Music: An Analysis on Audience Perceptions of Misogynistic Lyrics by Gretchen Cundiff as a member of the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications. The most common derogatory words directed at women in some of the most popular rap songs is the word whose literal definition is a female dog. Comparing a woman to an animal is degrading, giving into the idea that women are crazy and controllable. Furthermore, objectification is often used as a way to reduce women to sexual objects. Lyrics from the song FEFE by rapper 6ix9ine exemplify objectification best. He raps, “I don’t even know like ‘Why I hit that?,’ All I know is that I just can’t wife that.” Not only does he call her by a pronoun used for objects, but he also insinuates that women have to act a certain way in order to be good wives and sex partners. Lyrics like these that call women derogatory names give younger listeners the impression that it is acceptable to diminish women for males’ benefit.
Since the #MeToo movement took over in Hollywood in 2018 and exposed many actors, directors, and producers of sexual misconduct towards women, many people have started to scrutinize the popular industries around them for sexually explicit rhetoric. One of these industries was the music industry or, more specifically, rap songs. When looking at the top 20 artists of 2020 according to Billboard, a website that tracks popular songs, artists, and albums, 10 of the top 20 artists are male rappers: Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, DaBaby, Drake, Juice WRLD, Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Lil Uzi Vert, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and Bad Bunny. After looking at the music streaming service, Spotify, to find the most popular song from each of these singers (including those that had collaborations with others on this list), 8 of the 10 songs were misogynistic. Bad Bunny and Drake’s songs were the only ones without misogyny. Due to the explicit sexual nature of these lyrics, these rappers are known as “problematic faves,” which Maya Ebrahimpour defines as a term specifically targeted towards artists that have made poor choices or done socially unacceptable things (ie. singing about rape/sexual assault) in a post titled “Can I be a Feminist and Listen to Rap Music?” on Tough to Tame, a website that explores and discusses women’s issues. Even though these rappers have controversial lyrics, they don’t have any trouble finding people to listen to their music. After all, they were still able to make it into the top 20. The overwhelming support for rappers that put out misogynistic music means that these problematic lyrics are reaching the ears of many people, including youth that can easily be influenced by the misogyny they’re hearing.
Not everyone sees these problematic and misogynistic lyrics as a problem, however. Certainly the rappers who wrote the lyrics don’t. Snoop Dogg, a world-renowned rapper who has contributed to several lyrics that use degrading and explicit sexual language, has expressed the opinion that rappers should be allowed to say whatever they want in their songs because it is their right to express themselves however they please. In a 2013 controversy surrounding the rapper Rick Ross’s reference to date raping a woman in one of his songs, Snoop Dogg commented, “We as rappers, we have a freedom of speech and our dialect shouldn’t be taken so out of context” (Markman). Many argue that rap is an art form and that the lyrics should not be taken literally because they are exaggerations; however, for children who are still coming to comprehend the world around them, it would be difficult for them to understand that not everything someone says should be taken literally.
In a 2017 Rolling Stone article written by Erik Nielson titled “‘Rap on Trial’: Why Lyrics Should Be Off-Limits,” Nielson would argue the same as Snoop Dogg. As a professor of African-American literature and music, Nielson believes that rap music “is intentionally hyperbolic …, drawing on the long tradition of boasting and exaggeration.” Although that might have been what rap music used to be, now there are many rap songs that have since moved from just talking about life experiences and fame to now expressing themes of male dominance and misogyny. As Cundiff stated in the case study done on the relationship between rap music and how people perceive women, the majority of college students surveyed agreed that violence against women is the most misogynistic part of rap music. If younger kids are listening to this rap music and aspiring to be like the rapper, they might think it is cool and acceptable to perpetuate violence against women.
Misogynistic lyrics establish the idea that women have no other value than to be sexual objects and that it is acceptable to speak of women in derogatory ways supporting male dominance and female subservience. Although there is no way to be able to completely censor music that is misogynistic and disrespectful towards women, we can start to question the loyalty we have towards certain rappers that continue to release songs with sexually explicit lyrics. By listening to rappers who promote lyrics that use misogynistic language, we are supporting their careers and the careers of those in the industry who produce and market such songs. Music is an art form that can serve to inspire people to create, take action, and love. It shouldn’t be a place of harmful words and attacks against an entire gender.