IN THIS PHOTO: Nicki Minaj has regularly talked about sexism and misogyny in Hip-Hop and Rap/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The Problem with Hip-Hop and Genres with Huge Male Dominance
IT is rare one of my tweets provokes a debate...
but I was engaged in one with someone I had not conversed with before – a rapper and musician who responded to an observation I made regarding the line-up for this year’s Wireless. This festival has changed through the years and is mostly a Hip-Hop/Rap event now. I noted how, over the three days of the event, not even twenty-percent of the total line-up is female! Cardi B is the only female headliners at Wireless and, whilst this is not new regarding the rest of the festivals – there are none in this country who have more than one female headline act –, there is usually a closer gap between men and women on the rest of the bill! Wireless, through the years, has not been great when it comes to gender equality but this year’s line-up is especially biased and male-heavy. I think any festival that has a glaring imbalance needs taking to task as we are to assume, I guess, there are very few women capable of filling the slots. The first point that was addressed after my tweet was the fact that festivals are based on meritocracy: acts are booked because they will sell tickets and, to that extent, this is why we see the Wireless bill we do. I contested the fact there are so many able and willing female Hip-Hop acts that have been overlooked; other festivals are promoting men above women and it is not really a case of booking based on quality/popularity.
IN THIS PHOTO: Carrie Underwood has spoken out against sexism in Country music, showing the problem extends beyond Hip-Hop and Rap/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
Look at all of the festival announcements and bills and one could argue a case to have more women on all of them. There have been glaring omissions and, whilst a lot of festivals are improved from last year, I do not think any are close to a fifty-fifty gender split. From a purely talent-based ratio consideration, between the new and older artists, one cannot say men outrank the women! I do not care what genre you are talking about but there is not a huge divide in that respect. Certainly, when it comes to Pop, Rock and Folk…why are festivals not recognising the fact the gender gap should not exist?! It was raised – in the Twitter chat – whether there are certain genres that encourage men and are seen as naturally male-focused. If you think about Metal and the heavier side of music, it is mostly owned by men and we can apply this to other genres like Grime. I think, in the case of Metal, there is not as huge a desire among women to play that style of music – or maybe there is. One cannot assume genres are tilted towards men because of apathy from women; a sense of a distinct sound only being worthy in the hands of men. I am discovering a lot of great female Alternative and Punk bands coming through.
Not only are many experiencing discrimination and not being booked by festivals but many others are keen to go into Metal but feel that is a boys’ club and they will not be accepted. I do not think it is a matter of women not being interested in certain genres: the issue is more regarding the nature of these genres and whether they are welcoming to women. Gaps are narrowing but there are still genres hugely imbalanced. One might say that what is the problem so long as great music is coming through? Why sweat about festival line-ups as long as the artists booked are the best choice and will get bums in. As I contested, I do not think festivals reflect merit and the realities of music. If one is to believe that more men are worthy than women when it comes to festival places then that is ignorant. We can get much closer to a balance at festivals without having to compromise on quality – in fact, I feel there is more diversity and passion to be found in the music coming from women! I feel like there are genres that put off women because they feel their voices will not be heard. Look at the covers of music magazines and, more often than not, they are populated by men.
PHOTO CREDIT: @Roxannemusic
Magazines that cover genres like Metal are male-heavy and, whilst that may be a reaction to the balance of the genre, are we doing as much as possible to encourage and promote women – given the fact there is that desire and every genre is stronger when there is a blend of men and women?! The majority of the conversation I had with this Twitter user regarded Wireless and the proliferation of men. He argued there are more male rappers because women are not as interested in the genres (Hip-Hop/Rap). He was not too concerned about the imbalance and argued the fact other professions were heavy in favour of the men – do we complain when we see more male plumbers than female?! I feel these arguments are specious because the reason for gender imbalance in many professions IS because of a lack of interest (from men/women) and I not as concerned if my plumber is male or my hairdresser is a woman. Music is an equal field and there are as many women playing as men. As such, we need to wonder why certain genres are imbalanced and dominated by men – I do not think you can say any genre is heavy with females (even Pop). Hip-Hop has always been male-focused to a degree and I wonder why this is. I know of many women in Hip-Hop and Rap who either do not get focus or they feel unsure stepping out. They think the market is too skewed or there is a deeper and more worrying issue: the nature of lyrics in the genre.
A lot of make Hip-Hop and Rap artists have been accused of sexism and misogyny through their lyrics. Can you think of a genre that has such a reputation for sexism and misogyny?! Thinks have improved and the days of Eminem making the news for his views on women (and the L.G.B .T.Q.I.A. community) are over. I still feel like there is too much casual sexism - and a lot of Hip-Hop/Rap songs promote messages of men abusing women, treating them badly and talking about them in very crude and disrespectful tones. It does not apply to everyone but there is far more controversy in Hip-Hop than any other genre I can think of. One might retort the fact Hip-Hop has always been like this and few have raised eyebrows. Hip-Hop is my favourite genre and I have so much respect for the artists who have defined and evolved the genre. The thing is, I am always uncomfortable listening to artists who are sexist and my favourite Hip-Hop albums talk of political change and betterment – not those who disrespect women and feel like they are second and inferior. I respect those who are not concerned about the gender imbalance in music but it does bother me. It is clear thee is sexism in all genres and festival line-ups are not based on merit and the finest; studios are not male-heavy because women lack ability and music labels are not run by men because women lack the acumen and business mind.
Hip-Hop has always had a problem and I wonder whether, whilst other genres have improved and moved on, the boys are still very much unwilling to bend here. Maybe we have lost the more coarse and extreme Hip-Hop/Rap artists from the scene but the Wireless bill reflects something deeper and more complex than mere sexism or a lack of visible women in Hip-Hop. I will end with a point regarding intent and whether sexist/misogynist lyrics in Hip-Hop are designed to sell or whether the artists believe them – or whether it is a case of history and doing things the way the forefathers did. One does not have to search too hard on Google to find articles exploring sexism and hate in Rap/Hip. Here an article that raises interesting observations:
“One such example is the saturation of rap and hip hop music with misogynistic lyrics that hypersexualize and give little to no respect to women. On Feb. 24, 18 out of 25 of Billboard’s top rap songs—most of which are also classified as hip hop—had lyrics referring to women as “bitches,” “hoes,” or “whores.” While the core message of most songs do not line up with such belittling rhetoric, these words saturate the songs with misogynistic undertones, and their presence in so many top songs indicates how pervasive said undertones are.
The overt lionization of infidelity is similarly prevalent and problematic. One doesn’t have to venture far to find an example of this glorification. In “Gummo,” number 12 on Billboard’s Top 25 as of Feb. 24, 6ix9ine says, “Your girl on my phone / she wanna fuck but… I only want the jaw / that’s really all I use her for as I kick her out the door.” The next song on the chart, A$AP Ferg’s “Plain Jane,” contains equally demeaning lyrics: Towards the middle of the song, he says, “I fuck yo bitch for the irony.” These misogynistic lyrics run contrary to the progression of gender equality. At a time when some of the nation’s most power leaders have undercut the social strides we have made as a country, it is important to be vigilant in denouncing misogyny and to be careful to not take these aspects of rap and hip-hop to heart”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lil Pump/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
There are cases where, a lot of the times, artists are using explicit language and degrading images simply to get gain popularity a largely male audience. I looked at this article from GQ and wondered, when considered some of the points, how women feel hearing songs that are offensive and disrespectful:
“That being said, Kanye West & Lil Pump’s “I Love It” was condemned to the trash pile as soon as I heard Pump open with “You’re such a f**kin’ hoe”. There’s an argument that the inclusion of Adele Givens saying, “Cause you know in the old days they couldn't say the shit they wanted to say/ They had to fake orgasms and shit/ We can tell n*****s today, ‘Hey, I wanna cum, motherf**ker’” as an intro and outro subverts the outright degradation of women in their lyrics, magically transforming “I Love It” into a song about sexual liberation. To me, it reads as an insurance policy add-on, a crash mat for West and Pump to bounce back off as soon as someone tells them that, actually, it’s not very 2018 to tell a woman that you “like a quick f**k” and that you’re willing to buy her a boob job in exchange for a blow job”.
Afropunk expanded on these points:
“Writer Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in The Nation about “Rap’s Long History of ‘Conscious’ Condescension to Women”, following beloved rapper Lupe Fiasco’s apparent slut-shaming in his track ‘Bitch Bad’ in which the chorus goes “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better”.
So, when even the “conscious” rappers have problematic lyrics, we have a long way to go. And the first step is to admit it to ourselves and hold ourselves accountable to take down patriarchal views of women once and for all”.
I have only selected a few cases: there are numerous articles, as recent as last year, that explore sexism and misogyny in Rap/Hip-Hop and how there seems to be no end. If a male Pop artist was talking offensively towards women then he would receive condemnation, given the fact there are a lot of women in Pop. Look at Hip-Hop and it seems there is this rather casual attitude. Nicki Minaj, as this NME report from 2017 found, had to fight to have her voice heard on a record:
“This was so nice of you my love, thank you,” wrote Minaj, before commenting that, “In any field, women must work TWICE as hard to even get HALF the respect her male counterparts get. When does this stop?”
Yesterday, Minaj wrote on Instagram that Kanye West’s track ‘Monster’, on which she guest raps, was almost cut from ‘My Dark Twisted Fantasy’. Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Bon Iver also worked on the single”
“Kanye called me to tell me Jay put a verse on this song & that he was still deciding if he would put it on his album,” Minaj wrote. “It was like an hour-long call where I tried to convince him to let the song stay on his album”.
Regardless of whether there is genuine meaning and personal belief in the seedy and offensive lyrics, one need only look at music videos and see the way women are almost seen as possessions. This article illuminates the extent of the problem:
“Women tend to be objectified in music videos. They are like props. They make the video look cool and sexual so that people will be more likely to watch. Why? Because sex sells, that's why. Women who rap know that sex sells and they use this to their advantage. Think about it, would you feel the same way about Nicki Minaj if she didn't flaunt her round ass in almost every video? But she has to flaunt her sexuality. Otherwise, some people wouldn't give her any attention, even as a talented rapper. Moreover, ironically she is also bashed for how she looks. There is just no winning...
The truth is that people don't want to hear female rappers unless they are society's standard of beauty, even though beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I just want to say, from a bisexual black woman's point of view, that I don't want to see someone's ass every time I turn on a music video. To me, it's old. Let's see something no one has seen before, like I don't know *gasp* premeditated creativity. Instead of the norm being bubble butts in the camera. I'm over it. Women are over it. We don't want to see it.
I will say that this is not the case for all rappers. Some artists are creative with the visuals for their music. I am only referring to the rapper that you pictured in your head when you read the above paragraph”.
I do agree there have always been men in Hip-Hop and the imbalance has been there from the very start. I also agree that some genius albums have come from male artists here. It is undeniable that Hip-Hop is among the most powerful fountains of music out there…but I wonder how much of that comes from attitudes to women and causing controversy. I feel many women are being overlooked or not coming into the genre because of the messages being presented by male artists. I have to make it clear I am not talking about ALL artists - but there are some huge stars who feel it is okay to have this rather unseemly approach to women. One wonders whether they write and perform this way to shock and bait or whether they feel this way. There is some truth in the fact a lot of the most blatant cases of sexism and misogyny occur because that artist wants to shock and they feel that is what makes them appeal. I think the problem with sexism extends to communities and the way men in Hip-Hop and Rap have viewed women for decades. Many feel women are possessions and an accessory; they are arm candy and have to be quiet - not meant to be equal or play any other role than being their toy. That may sound extreme but, again, one does not have to search too hard to know there is truth there.
I wonder how far we have come since the 1980s and whether, in fact, the issue has worsened with the rise in male artists and the fact there is little condemnation from record labels and those who buy the records. Even if a lot of the Hip-Hop customer base does not object to the sexism available in some songs, does that mean it is okay?! To balance out the accusation and blame, here is an piece that highlights cases where Hip-Hop artists, men included have fought against sexism. There have been, as this article shows, recent cases of rappers making the news for the wrong reasons:
“The most pointed example of our acceptance of such immoral actions is embodied through one of Americas trendiest rappers: XXXTentacion. “I’ma f*** ya’ll little sisters in they throats. I swear to God anybody that called me a domestic abuser, I’ma domestically abuse your little sister.” So says XXXTentacion in an Instagram rant, responding to his domestic charge allegations. This is not the first time the rapper, born Jahseh Onfrey, has dabbled with violence in his short 19 years.
Another instance in which the public places more focus on a rappers musical success over their moral obligation is in the instance of R. Kelly. R Kelly is still widely acquitted and it seems many seem quick to forget R Kelly’s quickly annulled marriage to then 15 year old Aaliyah (he was 27). Kelly was and still is a predator. He was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography back in 2008 and it was only recently that news emerged of the singer’s ‘sex cult’. Despite this, his songs are still played at family weddings and at the end of mediocre student nights and no one seems to blink twice. These stories of Kelly are normalized by the media, in favor of covering his topchart songs.
IN THIS IMAGE: Cardi B (who will headline Wireless this year but is a rare example of a female artist headlining a Rap/Hip-Hop festival)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
Whilst sexism and misogyny are present in many genres – Country is a stark and worrying example – is there a culture in Hip-Hop where women have to be subservient and have this rather diminished role?
“As females, we are taught by society and the media, that good-mannered girls apologize. “Sorry” had become a bad habit that slipped out of our mouths before we could stop it. This so-called harmless word had subtly changed not only how we are perceived, but how we understand ourselves. In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, she wrote an entire chapter on apologies, and explained that “it takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.” However, female rappers have tried to reclaim their music by empowering women. Feminist rappers like Queen Latifah, Yo Yo, and Roxanne, speak their minds on issues that truly matter, but this isn’t unusual in pop culture. Queen Latifah’s rap surrounds the idea of women promoting other women and makes explicit assertions of female strength.
We need more female, commercially successful voices in hip-hop. The generation of fierce, empowered femcees of the late 80’s and early 90’s (Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Queen Lauryn herself) can be born again. It’s becoming more evident through female rappers such as Cardi B and Nicki Minaj that being unapologetically yourself is important now more than ever for the female consciousness. However, although female rappers are starting to become more popular, I look forward to the day there is an even amount. We need more female voices in hip-hop, making catchy songs about their own experiences. We need to bop our own truths, and then we may finally be able to honestly don the labels of both feminists and hip-hop fans”.
I agree the argument regarding gender imbalance at Hip-Hop festivals is complex and one must look at genres like Metal, Country and Dance to see the rather imbalanced line-ups. It is not acceptable there but I feel there is something rotten at the core of Hip-Hop that has not been challenged. I cannot agree with the notion Hip-Hop is stronger because of men are there are few women wanting to be rappers. I disagree with anyone who feels it does not matter whether there are more men in Hip-Hop and the genre is based on merit and should not pander – there are barriers prohibiting women coming through and being heard. It is great artists like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are raising awareness and showing their talent but I think something needs to be done. I know for a fact there are many women who are in Hip-Hop and being ignored and many more who want to come through but feel the scene is too sexist and they will be subject to discrimination. I do agree that there are female Hip-Hop artists changing their narrative and lyrics to include sexist lyrics and hyper-sexual messages - a way to fit in and be accepted, perhaps?! I feel Hip-Hop is much stronger with a greater female voice and there is nothing to suggest women lack headline ambitions and potential. Every genre needs tackling when it comes to sexism but I feel, in the case of Hip-Hop and Rap, there is such a gender imbalance and problem – reflected by the massive gulf on the Wireless bill this year. I just hope, sooner rather than later, Hip-Hop and Rap clean up their act and make sure there are safe and equal platforms where women can...
IN THIS PHOTO: Few modern artists have done more to progress Hip-Hop than Angel Haze/PHOTO CREDIT: Kasun London
ADD their voices to these wonderful genres.