You need to login to submit an event!
Continuing on from my feature posted earlier this year, I’d like to move even deeper in my case that hip hop is not about what a lot of people think it is about.
The striking resemblance of Robin Thicke‘s Blurred Lines to Marvin Gaye‘s jaunty classic Got to Give it Up has not been fun nor playful enough to barricade itself from the recent onslaught of criticism regarding its subject matter, and subsequently its explicit music video too (though even the ‘clean’ version is still arguably rife with the same connotations). In the whole mix, Justin Timberlake‘s music video for Tunnel Vision has too caught some of the same heat for its flagrant use of nudity, albeit in somewhat of a different, “more artistic” light due to the content’s excursions into voyeurism…or is it merely singular romantic interest? The interpretations drawn from these songs and their music videos are bound to span across the spectrum of sexual libertarianism for some time now, but needless to say they’ve resurrected – if not, reminded us of – the old toxic friend to Hip Hop: the degradation of women.
I’m not in the business of actively promoting the above videos, so if you’re really jonesing for the jiggling of breasteses, vaginal voyeurism and double-standards of the dressed/undressed gender, go search for them yourself, whether on VEVO or YouTube or RedTube or what-have-you. But what I have put myself in the business of for the purpose of this article is reminding folks that whilst Hip Hop can be unabashedly unbecoming in its attitudes towards women, the entire genre – nay, culture – is not blanketed in boorish biases of “bitches, Bentleys, Benjamins and mo’ bitches”.
So in light of said cultural artifacts which have thrown fuel to the fire of – and reignited debates pertaining to – the misogyny that Hip Hop has been infamous for as far back as the mid-80s, I couldn’t help but feel the need to list five songs which act towards the contrary. Because just as shitty as the stereotypes that Hip Hop perpetuates in its one-dimensional treatment of women, so too are shitty the stereotypes perpetuated towards Hip Hop as one-dimensional because of this treatment of women by an admittedly alarming amount of cohorts, naturally all male (though female rappers are not above it either).
In short: Hip Hop is retarded for making misogyny an overshadowing proponent of its music, but audiences would be just as simple in assuming that there is nothing more to it; of course all of this just makes Chris Rock‘s jokes about defending rap music only ring truer.
I promise this is the final disclaimer: I will admit to a slight air of paternalism prevalent in some of the following songs, but that’s a whole can of worms I’m not willing to open up in this article. Yes, that paternalism could in fact be counter-productive, but points go to these artists for at least having their hearts in the right place and going against the grain, even if the end result may – in retrospect – be paternalistically patronizing towards women’s independence. And yes, all these artists are male, because it’s not female solidarity that has been brought into question with the dawn of Blurred Lines and Tunnel Vision: it’s the male perspective which (sadly) still dominates the majority of the media.
But naturally, all honorable mentions go out to female Hip Hop artists who have and still continue to succeed in (arguably) the man’s world that is Hip Hop: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, MC Lyte, Missy Elliott, Salt N Pepa, Ladybug Mecca, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Eve…and though she has done much to not deserve it, I still have to give some of it up to Nicki Minaj.
Alright, let’s get into the videos. For further discussions on sex and gender relations, please see me after class; no really, I genuinely enjoy these discussions, so all comments are welcome.
2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up (1993)
If 2Pac is not the first name you jump to when you think of Hip Hop which is positive towards women, it’s almost understandable – no artist in Hip Hop has come under fire for such split subject matter regarding gender. But anybody who knows even smidgeon about 2Pac knows that he was one of the first true activists in Hip Hop to say the least, and that’s aside from being a renaissance man altogether; it shows in his music too, as he could touch on any concept whatsoever – poverty, religion, violence, racism, partying, the acquisition of wealth, unsavory alliances, safe sex, dangerous sex, fun sex…just good old fashioned sex.
And to no surprise, being the epitome of an artist who exhibits more than just one dimension of Hip Hop is a sure-fire way to bring criticisms on such a broad range of subject matter, especially regarding sex and gender: he could have songs as sexually-charged as I Get Around and How Do U Want It (yet another XXX music video), but would always counter them with heartfelt, respectful gems like Dear Mama, and this:
Lupe Fiasco – Bitch Bad (2012)
This track is not so much an appraisal of women as it is an addressing of the effects the use of the word “bitch” in music has on the self-concepts of women, and on the developmental effects upon young children being increasingly exposed to it; I personally cannot stress the importance of such a song in this day and age, where older generations are seemingly doomed to go with the perceptions that they’ve known, but it’s never too late for the younger ones. This track is not a condemnation of language but rather a call for a re-evaluation of responsibilities; whilst not the most intriguingly cryptic of Lupe‘s songs, that is rightfully so as this is a message that should not require deciphering:
Outkast – Jazzy Belle (1997)
You should have already picked up on the wordplay on ‘Jezebel’ in the title, and at least some of the connotations surrounding females that come with such a comparison. But Andre 3000 and Big Boi have delivered us a deceptive little number: you’ll spot a line here and there which implies (or outright states) that a man should have ownership over a woman, and will go to great lengths to acquire her through professing his love for her, singing her praises, this-that-and-the-other-thing, and all that’s good and sundry…but the undertone of the song altogether that the bitterness that our protagonists exhibit towards these women in fact stems from their inability to attain and tame them.
Though the hidden focus here is reflected back onto a man’s own insecurity, it brings to light a woman’s independent nature and attempts to relieve a woman’s burden of having to live with being labelled by insecure men as manipulative and unscrupulous in their sexual endeavours. I highly recommend you check out the uncensored version of the song, though the fact that it has been censored for VEVO speaks volumes of the nature of censorship…but I digress.
Common – Come Close (Ft. Mary J Blige) (2002)
Now, not all songs that maintain respect towards a woman need to be driven by a social conscience…in fact, whatever happened to a good old fashioned love song to sing a woman’s praises? It’s a boon to Hip Hop that we have a gentleman like Common who not only makes the kind of uplifting music that drives the clouds away, but has rightfully seen vast amounts of success for his craft. And whilst The Light understandably garners huge amounts of praise as a love song exemplary of conceptualising a romantic couple as a singular, equal entity, its goodness effectively overshadows another one of Common‘s heart-warming and respectful ballads. And it even has a music video sprawling with “NAWWW” moments…especially at its conclusion.
Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing) (1998)
Alright, I lied. But this isn’t a song – more importantly, a message – that I could merely let slip by just because I said this would be a list of songs by male artists. Now I could divulge in greater detail about this song, but the chorus really says it all: “Girls, you know you’d better watch out/Some guys, some guys are only about/That thing, that thing, that thing…“, though one of my favourite one-liners here: “Respect is just a minimum.” I can say with utmost conviction that if you want, you can dismiss the other four songs in this article for whatever reason, but you’d be doing yourself an absolute disservice for dismissing this. Don’t take it from me; take it from Ms. Hill herself. (Again, I recommend the uncensored version for the song’s full effect).
And there are oh so, so, so many more Hip Hop songs which empower women which have spanned time, exposure, gender, race and whatever other attributes you can conjure up, and naturally the ones you may be aware of may not have made this list, though I am sure they are just as important. But this should at least be enough to assure some of you naysayers that there indeed is an element of Hip Hop music that rises above the stereotypes. Just like any genre worth listening to, if what the mainstream puts out is not to your liking, that doesn’t mean the stuff you’d enjoy doesn’t exist: you just have to look a little harder to find it.