Rap music, through the years, has shaped and impacted black culture in numerous ways. It has served as a tool for spurring social awareness and political consciousness, and its influence is undeniable in shaping black communities around the world, particularly the black American community.
In 2018, according to RollingStone, nearly a quarter of all tracks consumed in the U.S. came from rap, exemplifying its rising popularity.
Unfortunately, as the genre continues to thrive and receive acclaim, the recurrently harmful themes it promotes seem to be going nowhere. Rap music is infamously misogynistic and messages that promote violence are almost inalienable from the genre.
Misogyny in rap looks like the denigration and objectification of women. It is also evident in the reception of female rappers and their music. Rap by women usually has themes of the reclamation of their sexuality and they also tend to rap about money, as men do too. Rap by women with these themes is met with vitriol; case in point, WAP by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. The song received backlash from conservatives as expected, but shockingly, some unexpected names had a lot to say about it as well.
When women make rap music with overtly sexual messages it is treated as a public morality issue, “What about the children??” like these rappers make music with children in mind. Somehow, the problematic themes in rap music made by men elude those who make these criticisms.
Snoop Dog, whose lyrics were characteristically misogynistic and who has no regrets about those lyrics said; “That should be a woman’s pride and possession,” to Central Ave about the meaning behind ‘WAP’, which means ‘Wet Ass Pussy’. “That’s your jewel of the Nile. That’s what you should hold on to. That should be a possession that no one gets to know about until they know about it.”
So, men may speak about women’s bodies however they please as they have and continue to, but a line must be drawn when women themselves speak about their bodies and assert control over their sexuality?
Rap music may just be a reflection of the larger society and how it views and treats women but its harmful aspects are so normalised that people, even feminists may be desensitised to the misogyny and violence it spreads and normalises due to prolonged exposure to it. We have become used to the language and expressions that would be screaming red flags in other contexts.
The common practice of referring to women casually as bitches and hoes undoubtedly takes root in how these words have come to be an almost substitute for “women ” in rap music. The misogynistic lyrics and portrayals of women in rap manifest in the form of threats of sexual violence against women, derogatory statements about women in relation to sex, depictions of women as dispensible, gold-diggers and so on.
Misogyny is not only present in rap music of course and is rife in all forms of media, as it is in society around us. To listen to and enjoy rap music as a feminist; the best advice is to listen to women. Sure, rap by women can also contain harmful themes but they are less likely to than rap by men.
Songs like Amia Brave and Enny’s “Peng Black Girls” uplift black women, rappers like Noname and Rapsody spread political consciousness in their music and activism and queer rappers like CupcakKe and Angel Haze express themselves sans misogyny. Missy Elliott, an icon, has always channelled autonomy, self-love and sex positivity.
There are also female rappers who rap about their sexuality and bodies, and that is as valid as rapping about politics or social change. Women are all but forbidden from talking about such things in patriarchal society so, doing so is revolutionary in its own way.
As mindless entertainment, for those who believe rap is not political or doesn’t have to be (even though it quite often is), it passes messages that normalise and trivialise the ill-treatment of women and gay people and no, it is not just music when its messages are so wide-reaching and poignant.
Rap is definitely a force in black communities and is impactful in the quest for black liberation but, it cannot fully harness its potential for impact if it continues to denigrate black women.