Among other things, I’ve identified as a hip hop feminist. The term does the job of expressing my engagement in a culture of commodified blackness. I’ve also talked here about how hood feminism resonated with me. But neither term truly speaks to my inner feminist hoochie; nor explains the complex, sex-positive, financially ambitious, and self-affirming components of my feminism. But through these lens, I’ve been able to identify other spaces that do. Trap music is one of them. It’s easy to get caught up in the problematic elements of drug dealing and violence in communities of color, themes that are prevalent in trap music, but there is more than meets the eye.
Let’s back up because I’m sure at least one person is wondering: what is trap music? Here is a technical definition. It’s different from the kind of luxury rap (think Jay-Z) that glorifies the wealthy lifestyle of the 2%. It is the exact opposite of earthy, dense “conscious rap.” Trap music is about the “turn up.” It’s fun. It’s youthful. It’s male-dominated. It’s anthems for drug dealers and the perfect backdrop for urban strip clubs. It’s about trapping: getting money, as opposed to having money (and the name comes from “trap”–a location where drug deals go down.) It’s about throwing money away. It’s the latest slang and the loudest played. It’s the “problem” with today’s black community, according to Fox News and old school hip hop heads. But if you think it’s the the last place on earth you’d expect to find feminist messaging, you’d be wrong.
Don’t believe me? Examine these lyrics.
“F**k me on the first night I still have respect for ya.
Shawty woke up on the side of me and I was next to her.
That’s what I call a long night. Don’t blame it on the alcohol.
This not a one night stand, cuz if you fire then Gotti bound to call.
And I forgot your name so,
you shouldn’t be ashamed, though.
Imma call you throw that p***y back. You call me hang low.”
-Yo Gotti “I Wanna F**k”
In this song, Gotti is clearly respecting a woman’s decision to sleep with him on the “first night” and not discrediting her character or worth as a person for doing so. He also dismisses the notion that it’s only appropriate for men to engage in such behavior. His narrative illuminates consent (in the chorus he makes a direct ask). This is trap feminism at it’s finest.
Within trap music, access to women’s bodies and sexuality are usually viewed as the perks for men with newly acquired wealth. But if you’re a trap feminist like myself, you’ll find that women are occasionally active agents, negotiating the terms under which they use their bodies and sexuality. Travis Porter’s “Make it Rain” is an excellent example. In the chorus, a woman rhymes, “You wanna see some ass. I wanna see some cash.” The entire song is a response to this demand. It’s a smug, combative response, but the demand is met. When we step away from the filter that views women like this as victims to a male-dominated sector, and instead accept them as independent agents navigating their daily spaces, we’re able to seek and find trap feminism.
More than just female voices within hip hop, trap feminist lyrics offer a culturally specific glimpse of women on the “come up.” They create a narrative that portrays women also trapping. Yet when it comes to trap music, we are only concerned with male responses to female sexuality, as opposed to deconstructing the narrative of those women. It is not so hard for us to imagine women negotiating sexuality, power, and money when we’re talking about sex workers, Slut Walks, or, dare I say, Miley Cyrus. We acknowledge how women can navigate and even flourish in male-dominated, corporate settings. So why not women in rap? Beneath it all is an almost romanticized, black-and-white notion of the trap being a site for violence and crime; a place where no good and no feminism can come about. Preconceived notions about race, class, and sexual expression permeate and allow us to only see these spaces as oppressive and unproductive. That doesn’t have to be the case.
I need a feminism that acknowledges that a reference to a woman as a bitch does not necessarily erase her autonomy. I need space that would rather examine consent than fixate on the use of the word “hoe.” I need trap feminism because I support women saying yes, saying no, or saying “…if you pay my mortgage this month.” But most importantly, I need feminism that works not just in the classroom, in books, and online, but in hoods and traps alike.
Sesali: A wise man once said “Trappin ain’t dead. N****s just scared.”