(Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasure: Commercial Rap


My gay boyfriend Merv and I, caught on the scene (well more like at my apartment) probably after getting our thizzle dance on.
Now this is really really bad. It is so bad that I can’t even believe I am admitting it. And not just because of the rampant misogyny in rap music videos (which is over the top, grotesque and unapologetic), but because I am considered a hip-hop head that should stick to the *real* shit mayne! There is just something about certain mainstream pop-like rap tracks that get under my skin and stuck in my head and before I know it I am head bopping with the best of them and sometimes even wearing my hat to the side with some electro-glasses on.
Mind you most of what I am listening to isn’t even hip-hop, there might be some rapping but it is basically R&B and it has a groove that I can’t resist. For example I love this Lil Wayne track with Lloyd, it just gets me up and singing. And it isn’t just the super mainstream stuff, I like whatever young people are listening to all over the country. I just left the Bay and although it has seen its heyday, boy can I get down with some hyphy music, like E-40 or Mac Dre.
I have written about negotiating my feminism with my love for hip-hop, so this is something I have given a lot of thought to. And frankly, sometimes I can handle it, but most of the time I am thinking, was that really necessary? And there are moments that are so over the top (like Nelly’s Tip Drill track) which is just too much for me and I am grossly offended and ready to boycott the artist.
Does this music have sexist attitudes in it? It sure can and a lot of times yes. But it is also what my friends and my community listen to and not all of it is horridly offensive. Some of it is just cute. I actually got into commercial rap by hanging out with lesbians (well that and working in public schools for 5 years). I am not going to make a case for some type of reverse signification where we are reclaiming the music. We aren’t, we are human and we like good beats with cheesy bass lines and corny lyrics and relate to the universal themes of sexual attraction, love and heart break.
I have no idea how I will continue to reconcile my love for mainstream commercial hip-hop since I am aware of its nefarious corporate packaging, mistreatment of members and a form of music that people of my generation (from the golden years of hip-hop) consider to be responsible for ruining hip-hop as we know it. However, I will make the argument that I don’t think rap/hip-hop is any more sexist than other male dominated forms of music. So maybe your guilty pleasure is cock rock and mine is faux mainstream gangsta’ rap. Either way, if you see me dancing somewhere and you are like, “omg is that Samhita from FEMINISTING” just know I recognize the potential contradiction, but also, like everyone else like to have a good time, dance with my friends and have taken myself to the task of mastering the balancing act of hip-hop love and feminist self-preservation.

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73 Comments

  1. leighbee
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    how is the third comment above me still on here? very classy, “Devil Lover”, i didn’t realize how superior you were until i saw you were on a feminist website at 3:42 a.m. what a useless, degrading waste of words.

  2. Legba Carrefour
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Samhita is hot shit could have any man or woman she wants, Devil Lover.
    And that includes your ugly ass stuffed in a duffel bag. Or two.
    Hearts and flowers. :-D :-D :-D :-D

  3. Danyell
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I think it’s pretty clear that misogyny and sexism exist in all genres of music, especially in the mainstream. Why it seems that rap gets singled out the most, or seems like rap is somehow more sexist, is beyond me. Perhaps more rap videos have images that are seen as blatantly over-the-top sexist to some people, whereas rock music has a constant stream of sexism that is somehow less obvious to uncritical spectator. Maybe its because rap is still a relatively new genre (compared to rock) and some people were never able to get with it or took the time to understand it. Maybe people are just so used to rock & girls table-dancing for those videos that they forget what sexism looks like until they see a rap video with a girl in a hot tub, getting champagne poured down her ass. Or maybe Black people just get all of their actions examined with a fine-tooth comb because of inherent racism and the assumption that Black people are more “animalistic” than White people.
    I do love hip-hop, but I think about 90% of the rap that ends up on MTV is some of the worst junk I’ve ever heard- and not just for lyrical content. But I try to stay away from mainstream music in general. Of course, every once in a while, something tends to force its way in my head. Hip-hop is such a fantastic genre with so much possibility, commercial rap breaks my heart a bit.
    But there are also plenty of sexist songs by White rock artists that I like in spite of their offensive nature, so I get where you’re coming from. Maybe someone should write about that to help make a more even plane for discussion?
    And I don’t think that frat4437′s comments were intentionally racist. I think it’s wise to always be questioning our motivations as feminists. I think her wording left something to be desired,and could have used more thought on her part, but I think she attempted to be respectful and does not deserve to be banned. Otherwise that means the rest of us have to watch our tongues for fear of accidentally offending someone. I know I’ve been kicked out of feminist communities for much less. Meanwhile we have someone like DevilLover trolling about, saying much worse, much stupider things!

  4. Danyell
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    P.S. DevilLover…Really? REALLY??
    Do you think you’re clever? …Or cool? (Are you still in high school, perchance?) Did you even read any of the post? Or do you just Google-search for pictures you think are ugly and then harass the people who post them to make yourself feel better? Seriously, what’s broken inside of you that you feel justified in talking to other people like that?
    You’ve managed to make yourself seem like the saddest, biggest waste of human existence in just one, poorly written sentence.
    Way to go.

  5. Danyell
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    And one more P.S. (I know, right, I should shut up already)
    But in case I didn’t make it clear, I don’t think that occasionally enjoying things that are sexist make you less of a feminist. I once had someone tell me I wasn’t a feminist because I liked Eminem. Yes, some of his lyrics were disgusting and his whole angry persona is so old hat at this point, but musically it was just so good. Plus I knew a lot of it was satire and other parts, total bullshit. But the good news is that I didn’t exactly *buy* any of his music…
    While some of you may think it’s the worst thing ever, I don’t think that one inconsistency cancels out everything I’ve ever done in the name of women’s equality. To suggest otherwise is way more offensive than those lyrics ever could be.

  6. Aint I A Woman
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    How is that DevilLover comment still here…ugh horrible.

  7. Samhita
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh my word so sorry lovely commenters of Feministing! I thought it had been deleted. It is take care of now. Eeeek.

  8. Posted September 25, 2008 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    He’s not perfect, or the posterboy of feminist issues, but his music is entirely different from the style of current mainstream hip hop/rap. He talks about people, and real life, and has very insightful and compassionate takes on a variety of issues. Here are a couple links to lyrics of songs that are good examples of this.
    Hope you like, I know for me it’s amazing to be able to listen to this genre and not have to feel objectified or shitty-instead i feel empowered and in touch. (PS. I just met him for the first time last week at his show. I can also say that he is a very nice guy who treats his fans well.)
    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/atmosphere/dreamer.html
    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/atmosphere/thewomanwiththetattooedhands.html

  9. Shanpo_
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    For some reason my original post ^ got cut off at the beginning…anyway the person I am talking about is Sean Daly with Atmosphere.

  10. Yolagringo
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I think most mainstream rap, rock, and country music is soul-crushing on many different levels: Materialism, sexism, canned beats, homogenized, is not creme-filled, etc. I really do enjoy these posts though!

  11. puckalish
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    FumikoF79,
    I’d love to know what it is, exactly that you DO listen to… I mean, someone already mentioned Ani DiFranco, but seriously… there’s plenty of crappy rock and folk music out there, from a feminist perspective…
    So don’t write off all of hip hop… Listen to Latifah, to Shelly B, to the Coup, to Dead Prez, to Jaguar, to Queengodis, to… well, some of the other folks mentioned above (like, say, even 2Pac or Goodie MOB) who actually say some downright uplifting or heartening things… give it a shot, you’ll be surprised, I promise.

  12. jennyolson
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    “And I don’t think that frat4437′s comments were intentionally racist. I think it’s wise to always be questioning our motivations as feminists. I think her wording left something to be desired,and could have used more thought on her part, but I think she attempted to be respectful and does not deserve to be banned. Otherwise that means the rest of us have to watch our tongues for fear of accidentally offending someone.” – I kind of agree with you danyell
    Geez guys, What frat4437 said didn’t seem that bad, I don’t think he/she deserved to be banned without at least a warning or something.

  13. Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really listen to any contemporary rock, but Arcade Fire and The Decembrists have never made me feel bad for not wanting to have sex with them, called me a gold-digger, or sang about nothing but diamonds and Cristal. People always bring up the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Zeppelin on these threads but their songs were written 30 years ago. What’s Lil Wayne’s excuse? Or is it ok because that’s his “culture?” Not so long ago, my family’s culture was going to monster truck rallies, leaving dismembered cars on the front lawn, eating spray cheese, and enjoying Jeff Foxworthy unironically. There’s always something better to aspire to.
    And if you like to dance (Because, I admit, it’s hard to dance to AF and The Decembrists)–Yelle, MIA, Stereototal, and Fischerspooner have never made me feel uncomfortable the way commercial rap does when commercial rappers calls women bitches, hos, and violence.

  14. Posted September 25, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Argh, I’m not illiterate, just tired. That last line was *supposed* to read; “blah blah other bands have never made me feel uncomfortable or upset the way commercial rap does when the rappers call women bitches or hos, or the way they talk about violence.”

  15. MisukoB
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    puckalish:
    Well I do listen to different kinds of music, but not songs that contain misogyny and sexism, I tend to listen to more feminist minded music, or just tunes without vocals, so I don’t say no to all music just like that, it has to do what negatives the music conveys.
    So I really don’t like (well don’t like is not strong enough words) songs, no matter what type it is, that constantly recreates the virgin/whore dichotomy.
    And I also tend to stay away from tunes if the creator is misogynistic themselves.
    Then there is music genres I very seldom or never listen to, even if it is more positive.

  16. Megs
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    FumikoF79 it is great that you listen to only feminist minded music or to music without vocals…but I for one need music waaaaaay too much to limit myself…I love all different genres and I like at least something from every genre I’ve heard.
    I listen to music according to my moods and sometimes classical/new age/singer-songwriter/whatever just will not cut it sometimes I need to roll down the windows and crank some Rob Zombie…that does not make me less of a feminist…and the fact that you only listen to your choices in music does not make you more of a feminist…it means that while I choose to recognize the sexism and listen to the music anyways you choose not to…no one is right or wrong here so judgements are not needed.

  17. MisukoB
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Megs:
    Well I did not say I was more of a feminist because of the songs I listen to, and nor did say I only listen to feminist minded music or song without vocals, I send I tend to, since there are songs out there that is neither but is also not misogynistic nor sexist. I don’t think I passed any judgements? I just told what kind of music I listen to. Sorry if my posts came out as negative to you.

  18. darby
    Posted September 25, 2008 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    While I’m no fan of hip hop and rap, I like a lot of rock and roll. There’s plenty misogynistic lyrics in rock music, so I can’t very well criticize any feminist who enjoys hip hop. I can remember a long time ago when some rock bands were criticized for their lyrics. I’m a big fan of one of these bands — the Rolling Stones. Anyone familiar with their songs knows how awful some of their lyrics are. So, I have my own reconciling to do.

  19. Posted September 26, 2008 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    Samhita, I disagree. I really hate how it’s becoming taboo for anyone to suggest anymore that black culture might be, on average, more misogynistic and homophobic than white culture.
    While on the one hand, I applaud the fact that folks are maybe getting over the idea that people of color are “uncivilized” and need to be shown the way by whites, but to say that the problem isn’t happening isn’t the right answer.
    Here’s why: increased misogyny in subjugated populations, manufactured by the privelleged classes, is a benchmark of oppression. As it relates to mainstream hip-hop, you need look no further than the rich white recording executives who control it to see how this relates.
    I look at artists like Immortal Technique – here’s a guy with serious talent who raps about poverty, war, class issues, racism, etc. with eloquent grace and insight…but then turns around and repeats the same old “bitches” and “fags” lines you hear in the worst shallow, mainstream crapola. To me, this is shockingly clear evidence of significant pressure from that musical community to conform to bigoted standards.
    And no, I don’t think those standards exist to the same extent in white music culture. Not because white people are better or more civilized, but because we have the privellege to enjoy something closer to gender equality.

  20. Danyell
    Posted September 26, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Jennyolsen- after that comment, I saw some of frat’s comments elsewhere and realized the racism is pretty consistent. So I think I may have been right here, but wrong overall.

  21. spike the cat
    Posted September 26, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Lauren.

  22. Salad
    Posted September 26, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Well I’m going to admit my un-feminist guilty pleasure, I love ZZ Top!
    Now I know some hip hop is clearly misogynist, but I think it’s also possible that some of it is unfairly given that label because its about sex and its explicit. Within the context of the song the woman is objectified, but that comes with raw sexuality. It’s about t+a because its about sex. It isn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be the operating mode one adopts out of the bedroom when interacting with women (or anyone) in the public sphere.
    As an artist one tries to capture that sexuality and experience in a song. We can’t really expect that the subject matter and execution of art should reside exclusively in the sphere of formal and politically correct society. Then it goes from art to bureaucracy and nobody wants to dance to it. The problem is, once created, art forces very personal experience into a public sphere.
    There’s a lot of issues surrounding that though, like why does mediocre, sexist “hip hop” get more radio play than more authentic, but political hip hop? Is it because everyday sexism is easier to swallow than the threat of Black or Brown liberation?

  23. Posted September 26, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    “…more authentic, but political hip hop…”
    More authentic hip hop IS political by definition!

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