As an 80’s baby, I’ve had the privilege of watching Hip Hop as a “Culture” and Rap Music as “The Musical Art Form” evolve into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s no secret that we live in a male dominated society and this is also the case in regard to Hip Hop. Women have an interesting history in Hip Hop/Rap Music as artist, consumers, fans and outsiders looking in. Women have supported Hip Hop from Day 1 but at some point within the culture, Hip Hop started to attack our Women. Don’t get me wrong, Hip Hop has also opened many doors for Women in terms of careers and has provided opportunity for financial wealth as well. You can say this genre is the gift and the curse but we’ll revisit this notion in a few minutes. I will address some of these examples but the primary goal is to look deeper into what happened during the evolution of the culture as it relates of our Women.
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s you would see young women watching the guys (Blacks and Latinos in the early days) break dancing, graffiti writing/painting, rapping against one another and of course rocking the parties (Block or House Parties). To put things in perspective, the ladies were there from the start. The ladies were our girlfriends helping us carry our records crates. The ladies were there hyping us up to battle other MC’s in the neighborhood. The ladies dressed in matching attire and danced with us. The ladies supported all the local events. I mean, you didn’t care about any event if the “ladies” were not in the house. Remember what the DJ’s were yelling back then? Ok, let me help you out my friends. “All the ladies in the house say Yeah, or Hey, or SCREAM.” If you heard a large roar from the ladies, you knew your event, party or gathering was rocking. As we live in the current phase of Hip Hop over 40 years after it’s inception, the DJ still ask “Where the ladies at?” With all this being said, the loyalty ladies have exhibited for Hip Hop came with a price.
Where did things start to take a turn for the worse in regard to how women were viewed, treated and represented? This very question can be debated from various angles. I’m personally not here to debate, rather share my perspective and analysis. It’s easy to point the finger at Eazy E., NWA, Too Short, 2 Live Crew, and later Snoop Dogg for the misogyny in Rap Music. It’s easy to point the finger at rappers from any region in America since the late 80’s when the lyrical focus somehow took a bad turn. To dive closer to the core and essence of the misogyny we have to look at what happened in our communities. Art when it comes to music often imitate life. During the mid 80’s the Crack Epidemic started to run rampant in black and brown communities. Cocaine was in the suburbs but I digress. Yes, I know the Government is ultimately responsible and I've written about the Reagan Administration in the past. Anyway, the breakdown of the black community and the inner cities started to manifest.
During this time period you saw “Broken Homes” become “Normal” and the family structure slowly started dissolving. Men and Women started using and at some point abusing drugs. In poor communities Women started selling their bodies in Prostitution. The birth of the “Pimp MC” started and was sensationalized in our culture. Rappers started reciting tales that set the foundation for the age of the “Pimps and Hoes” in Hip Hop. This terminology took off and exploded. The music was shifting rapidly from a mainstream perspective. You can hear similar lyrics 30 years later. You also have the “Drug Dealing MC” persona that evolved like a wildfire. This also shifted the way Women were viewed. The Drug Dealers and the Rappers (sometimes the person was both) looked at Women like they could be bought. Some of the Women were opportunist as well. They ran behind the money, fame, and lifestyle often accepting the drama that followed. The mentality went from Women being glorified in parties in the late 70’s and early 80’s to “That’s my B*tch” around 1988. The imagery started to change in the music videos as well. At one point Women were praised in Rap Videos and later they were looked at as Strippers, Baby Mamas, Addicts, Jump-Offs, or just a “Big Butt.” On a side note, Women don't get a "pass" right here as they chose and choose to participate. The days of Kid-N-Play dancing with the ladies or LL Cool J needing love were being overshadowed by a more aggressive era. As I previously stated, art imitates life and the ghetto’s were getting more violent and disconnected so it reflected in a lot of the music. Mass Media manipulation didn’t help either. Unfortunately, Women got caught in the crossfire.
Record Companies share some blame as well. As much as I blame societal conditions, the Rappers, and the fans, these Record Executives are “Puppet Masters”. Record Companies make Billions off “Black Pain” and “Black Struggle”. They don’t care if Black Rappers look like fools or if Black Women are depicted in a negative light. They care about money. Record Executives use the temptation of money and a life of luxury to lure young impressionable men into puppets. No, I’m not defending these guys for offensive and misguided lyrics that degrade our women. Record Labels also dangle enough money to temp a woman to “Pimp” herself out as well. It doesn’t matter to them how you look to our community or society in general. The goal is to sell records and if dysfunction pays the bills, so be it. Money is hard to ignore and temptation is one hell of a drug. It’s easy to say what you wouldn’t do until a check for $325,000 is 2 feet from your fingers and you’re promised that more is on the way. There are artist that sold (sell) their souls for a quick buck. When you are from humble beginnings, instant gratification is like hitting the lottery.
Hip Hop and Rap music is very complex. Without Hip Hop we wouldn’t have Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, MC Lyte, and other artists who were positive and represented women of our culture to the utmost. Women have become Business Owners, Business Moguls, Authors, Models, Designers, Movie Stars and Television/Radio personalities because of Hip Hop. Rap Music is like Tupac’s personality. One minute Hip Hop says “Where the B*tches At?” and the next minute Hip Hop says “Keep Ya Head Up.” Depending on the artist, Hip Hop will call our Women “Sluts” or “Queens.” The layers at times can be exhausting to a segment of fans. As some Women got older, their love for the culture overall started to weigh on them. I’ve talked to female friends who are in their 40’s and they don’t embrace it the same. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of them still do and compartmentalize the golden music from the trash. A Woman will tell you “I only listen to the beat or he isn’ talking about me so I don’t care.” If you know me you know I love Hip Hop but can admit its shortcomings. I also recognize artist like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Chuck D, Common, The Roots/Black Thought and many others have done a good job showing love to women in general. There are also plenty of MC’s that are women (some listed in this blog) who always spread positive energy and take imagery serious. As we move into future generations we know there is an obligation to educate our youth - They are watching. Maybe Women have a love-hate relationship with Hip Hop waiting for “Him” to grow up… (?)
Queen Latifah - Ladies First