Hip-hop, Misogyny and the Beats (we hate to love).

My favorite album used to be Biggie Smalls Ready to Die. I loved this album so much that I wrote my entire undergraduate women’s studies thesis about sexism and hip-hop and tried to find ways to justify my love for an album that is practically an ode to misogyny. Along with other feminists of color and hip-hop lovers we looked for new ways to talk between our feminism and our love for hip-hop. It is really hard work.
Now, about fifteen years later, mainstream hip-hop seems to have reached it’s height of misogyny. I can’t even watch music videos without cringing and thinking how little they get paid. I am all for sexual expression and empowerment, but it is a fine line between the clear exploitation of women’s bodies and overt sexuality as a site of women’s empowerment. As Pam takes on Nelly’s video “Tipdrill” my feeling is that right now we are on a exploitation tip.
I never liked to criticize hip-hop culture for anything. I didn’t want the wing-nuts to appropriate our feminist words to conflate with racist ideas and suppress black voices. I don’t support that. But still we need our own language and our own strategies to counter the misogyny in mainstream hip-hop. So I was delighted to get this email about an interview with Byron Hurt director of the fantastic Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. He is right on the money with some ways we can deal with, understand and work against the misogyny, violence and homophobia in hip-hop. I say just read it, but some stuff I loved included:

Now the conversation is about hip-hop, misogyny, and sexism, which are indefensible—and I don’t defend them on any level—but I think the conversation should continue to be not only on Don Imus and his comments and the impact that it’s had, but also on sexism and racism in American culture, not just hip-hop, because both of those things, including patriarchy, predate hip-hop.

He also says that if we stop buying the albums and buying into the messages, maybe it will change. Who knows, it could work. But I just want to know, is it ever OK to dance to hip-hop that has a bad message (cuz maybe I do that sometimes)?

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