In the “Ay Shawty 3.0″ video, a soft lense captures Kitty’s flower halo as she walks through a field, sundress and all. For the “rap game Taylor Swift” this imagery is not uncommon. The coy femininity — eyes darting away from the camera while she leisurely spits rhymes — are part of what made her breakthrough, “Okay Cupid,” such a massive Internet sensation. “Okay Cupid” was a disconcerting juxtaposition of teenage girl iconography and veiled suggestions, Kitty rapping about receiving three a.m. thirst calls from men, while she and her friends lounge in a room decorated with Hello Kitty and various heart shapes. The success of “Okay Cupid” (and perhaps, Kitty in general) is attributed to novelty, with a young, innocent-looking white girl rapping about cocaine with a carefully-placed bow in her hair. Kitty was 19 when “Okay Cupid” was released, but her refusal to talk about her age led people to speculate that she was younger.
by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour *Warning: Strong Language*
So, have you heard about Lil’ Wayne yet? Let me give you the long and short of it: in a collaboration with Future, he used a metaphor to compare sex to Emmett Till’s murder. Lyrics below the cut, if you don’t know the line yet. This, of course, managed to offend the universe. The song in question, “Karate Chop,” features lyrics that stirred Emmett Till’s cousin to hire Jesse Jackson and demand an apology. Didn’t we all learn from Outkast’s “Rosa Parks”?
Now, I feel a little bit like Tyra Banks with what I’m about to say: I can relate to Lil’ Wayne because I’m also a musician. I don’t rap, but in addition to writing about fashion, entertainment–and having a hand in an array of art disciplines–I also compose and sing. In addition to recounting the facts up to this point, I decided to take this time to openly ponder what makes this lyric offend us all so viscerally, while others garner no news reaction at all.
Hip-hop music is frequently described as violent and anti-law enforcement, with the implication that its artists glorify criminality. A new content analysis subtitled “Hip-Hop Artists’ Perceptions of Criminal Justice“, by criminologists Kevin Steinmetz and Howard Henderson, challenge this conclusion.
After an analysis of a random sample of hip-hop songs released on platinum-selling albums between 2000 and 2010, Steinmetz and Henderson concluded that the main law enforcement-related themes in hip-hop are not pleasure and pride in aggressive and criminal acts, but the unfairness of the criminal justice system and the powerlessness felt by those targeted by it.
Lyrics about law enforcement, for example, frequently portrayed cops as predators exercising an illegitimate power. Imprisonment, likewise, was blamed for weakening familial and community relationships and described a modern method of oppression.
Their analysis refutes the idea that hip-hop performers are embracing negative stereotypes of African American men in order to sell albums. Instead, it suggests that the genre retains the politicized messages that it was born with.
Steinmetz and Henderson offer Tupac’s “Crooked Nigga Too” (2004) as an example of a rap that emphasizes how urban Black men are treated unfairly by police.
Yo, why I got beef with police?
Ain’t that a bitch that motherfuckers got a beef with me
They make it hard for me to sleep
I wake up at the slightest peep, and my sheets are three feet deep.
The authors explain:
Police action perceived as hostile and unfair engenders an equally hostile and indignant response from Tupac, indicating a tremendous amount of disrespect for the police.
Likewise, Jay-Z, in “Pray” (2007), raps about cops who keep drugs confiscated from a dealer, emphasizing a “power dynamic in which the dealer was unfairly taken advantage of but was unable to seek redress”:
The same BM [‘‘big mover’’—a drug dealer] is pulled over by the boys dressed blue
they had their guns drawn screaming, “just move or is there something else you suggest we can do?”
He made his way to the trunk
opened it like, “huh?”
A treasure chest was removed
cops said he’ll be back next monthwhat we call corrupt, he calls payin’ dues
Henderson offers Jay-Z’s “Minority Report” as a great overall example:
By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images
Sociologist Jooyoung Lee is writing what sounds like a truly fascinating book. Titled Blowing Up: Rap Dreams in LA, it follows a series of young Black men who are trying to make it as rappers. ”Together,” Lee writes, “their stories show how rapping–and hip-hop culture more generally–transform the social worlds of urban poor black youths.”
The video below gives us a taste of his findings. In it, he’s asked why he thinks rappers are “so maligned in our culture.” He explains that it’s because people often “take violent and misogynistic lyrics” literally. Doing so, however, is to misunderstand “how the creative process works.” He goes on to explain how one of the men he studied was pressured by a music label to cultivate an image that conformed to stereotypes of young, urban Black men.
Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit “212″ captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)
It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”
The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie,” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world.
This common denominator set my mind whirring. What is it about Barbie–as a name, image, and persona–that appeals to these rappers? And what, exactly, does claiming a black Barbie identity mean in the context of hip-hop culture? For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about how Minaj and Lil’ Kim–who also happen to be two of my favorite rappers–use Barbie to represent and challenge mainstream standards of beauty and femininity. Continue reading →
Kanye has officially overdosed on artistic symbolism.
After his 35 minute debut of “Runaway” in back in October 2010, it difficult to figure out how Kanye would top a video that incorporated references to modern performance art, ballet, couture, mythology, and Fellini.
And yet, I don’t think anyone counted on Kanye deciding to deck the halls with dead white women in “Monster”. Continue reading →
As much potential as there is for female empowerment in hardcore rap through women rappers’ embrace of the erotic, given the restrictive conventions of the genre, which force female artists to straddle identities of heterosexist sexiness and simultaneous masculinity, its full potential is rarely ever realized. In Minaj’s embrace of Lil Kim’s pussy power politics, she is also inevitably embracing, regardless of her actual intent and/or acceptance of rejection of the label, a controversial and rather contradictory ideology of feminism. [...]
Implicit in Minaj’s Signification onto the male narrative is a strategic process of identity construction, relying primarily on the male narrative and male voice to help shape the hardcore female rapper’s public image. Essentially, by engaging in dialogue with the male narrative, Minaj is aligning herself with male rappers and creating her identity as one of (pseudo)masculinity, an asset valuable to her role as a hardcore female rapper. It is within this genre that femcees operate as performers of gender and are most harshly judged by an injurious rubric of masculinity. These women are forced to negotiate “androgynous” identities as visually feminine, yet rhetorically masculine artists. [...] In hardcore female rap, femcees are constant performers of masculinity who, between their Signifyin(g) on male [sexual] discourse and (re) appropriating sexist and misogynistic language, negotiate a treacherous space where a thin line exists between the subversion of male dominance via gender performance and affirmation of its patriarchal norms. [...]
If Minaj were genuinely interested in ascribing true power to her role as a woman and rejecting female rappers’ traditional dependence on the male voice for expression and validation, she would have drawn parallels between herself and powerful public female figures to construct her version of the new-age around the way girl. Continue reading →
by guest contributor dnA, originally published at Too Sense
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half Omittin the word “bitch,” cursin I wouldn’t say it Me and dog couldn’t relate, til a bitch I dated Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike But I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked
-Lupe Fiasco, Hurt Me Soul
One of the unique things about Hip-hop is its ability to respond directly to criticism, which has been completely omitted in the ongoing mainstream media assault on Hip-hop culture and music. The root of Hip-hop’s mainstream popularity is its ability to provide to white men, access to a fiction of black masculinity that reinforces their own perceptions of what a man is supposed to be. This in itself is informed by thousands of years of Western Civilization, and is present in all aspects of American culture.
However, unlike other mediums of artistic expression, something which is rarely acknowledged is that rappers regularly adress the problem of misogyny in Hip-hop. Lupe’s verse above is to me, a powerfully simple explanation for the way certain ideas about gender are spread, he simply heard it from a song he sort of liked. But his admission of hypocrisy stands in stark contrast to the rest of American popular entertainment; when was the last time you heard anyone from a major television or film company admit that their product was sexist or misogynist, or in someway perpetuated harmful stereotypes about women?
That said, there is a strong reactionary sentiment among Hip-hop heads. Byron Crawford may be the single most popular Hip-hop columnist on the web, but there is little question that he absolutely hates women. He also apparently hates Muslims, and I will try to stay focused and not adress the absurd right wing talking points he clings to in this column on Lupe. More relevant to this post is that Lupe’s admission that Hip-hop’s depiction of women is harmful, and his criticism of mainstream Hip-hop’s excessive materialism tags him, in Crawford’s eyes, as a “suicide bomber”:
Does Lupe Fiasco consider himself the equivalent of a suicide bomber sent to rid the rap world of a few infidels (metaphorically speaking at least)? When you think about it, his album does seem filled with that kind of rhetoric. He speaks of the images of champagne and bling bling so often projected in hip-hop the same way that Islamic fascists speak of American culture in general and, in particular, the “MTV culture” that they view as such a threat to Muslim youth.
And his claim that he once hated hip-hop because of the way women were treated (presumably before he became a gat-toting crack slinger?) seems ripe for further inspection beyond declaring his views “refreshing.” Muslims, after all, aren’t exactly known for being progressive when it comes to that sort of thing. Does he find that the depiction of women in rap lyrics is especially harsh vis a vis other genres of music or is the thought of a woman in revealing attire alone enough to set him off?
Crawford is regularly clowned by his readers but the sheer number of people who read his column means that on some level, people are absorbing his watered down Limbaugh talking points. (When I say Limbaugh, I’m not speculating; Crawford refers to Louis Farrakhan as “Calypso Louis”, which is a term of Limbaugh’s invention).
But if Crawford wasn’t so bent on hating women for what may be a lifetime of rejection or the result of anger stemming from repressed homosexual tendencies, I won’t speculate further, (again, read the man’s column, he is unable to refer to gay people without using the phrase “teh ghey” and feared that if Imus were fired for referring to women as hoes that god forbid, people might actually stop doing that) he would realize that there is an ongoing discourse about the representation of women in Hip-hop. No one can argue that Jay-Z has been selling more albums for longer than anyone else still rapping, and he certainly took personally accusations of misogyny on Blueprint 2: Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World