Rap and Misogyny
Rap music is one of the modern “reinventions” of the music that was first brought to America from the rich culture of Jamaica. By the late 1970s, rap represented an aesthetic cultural expression for urban African American youths (Adam & Fuller, 2006). The genre gained popularity all over the world, possibly because of its regular beat and the way lyrics can be emphasized by that beat. In the 21st century, rap is considered “black music” or African American music, and there are certainly great musicians of such descent who have energized this type of music, with poetry as lyrics that speak of love or political statements that comment about mass media, poverty and racism. However, much attention has been brought to the topic because rap has started to be perceived as more explicit and endemically misogynistic (Roberts, 1996).
Adams and Fuller (2006) report that the “overt misogyny in rap music . . . emerged in the late 1980’s”, particularly in “Gangsta Rap”, where artists of that genre seem to advocate disrespecting and even degrading females using vulgar descriptions. Concurring, Oware (2010) added about the objectification of women in current rap videos,
“. . . the objectification of women occurs in the portrayal of them in skimpy clothing, vacuously gyrating around fully-clothed males, epitomizing current rap videos.”
But this disrespect of black women does not apply to the entire genre, as artist like Queen Latifah is, even if only by her name, taking a different tact then the gangsta rappers (Roberts, 1996).
Interestingly, Collins’ study (as cited in Oware, 2010) suggests that the rising appearance of misogynistic lyrics in rap stems from a disdain of women being able to accomplish tasks as well as men, which presents a threat to their masculinity. Adams and Fuller (2006) observe that,
“Within the confines of capitalism . . . misogyny has become a fine-tuned systemized ideology . . . which is reflected and supported by the economic, political and social structural institutions.”
As culture mirrors its institutions, the idea of African American male hatred of women, particularly in rap, is too broad an assumption. But the constant exposure of listeners to the idea and the lyrics suggesting (or stating explicitly) disrespect towards women, once again especially disrespect towards African American women, focuses on a stereotype that is wrong and dangerous.
Roberts’ (1994) article “Ladies First: . . .” discusses the female rappers’ connection with other women, Africa, and history but focuses on the popular female rapper Queen Latifah. The message about women in her lyrics is one of supporting each other. This at first listen may seem to run opposite of gangsta rap and its urban warfare lyrics. Her self-image and self-concept are high and powerful in a positive way:
“Ladies first, there's no time to rehearse
I'm divine and my mind expands throughout the universe.”
“Through the video images and the words of her rap, Queen Latifah creates a unified, but far from seamless, sense of intersection of the perspective of Afro-centrism, postmodernism and feminism.”
Oware (2010) has taken another perspective on gangsta rap. His article “Brotherly Love” focuses on the positive aspects of the strong friendships between men that demonstrate “progressive ways that male rappers express themselves towards others considered comrades or ‘homies’”. He urges the listener to pay attention in order to understand the complexities of male friendship presented in the music.
So while Rose (as cited in Adams and Fuller, 2006) may generalize Hip Hop as a cultural form that marginalizes and oppresses; Oware (2010) notes that rap music is usually more “dynamic”, enlightening and “complex” than realized by the casual listener.
Lack in Present Research
These three articles point to gaps in the knowledge about rap that could give important, valuable information to anthropological studies. Too many sweeping assumptions have been made about gangsta rap in terms of its negativity. The strong male friendships of gangsta rap may even reflect and/or be as strong as the female bonding which is clearly obvious in the work of Queen Latifah. Oware (2010) also made the startling point that data from white male research subjects is being extrapolated to black males in general. Once this flaw in the research has been remedied it would be interesting to study the dynamics.
I propose that gangsta rap with its strong masculine themes has more in common with its female rap counterpart than has yet been identified. The friendships and bonding between African American men and women, respectively, in their rap music may correlate favorably with each other. If so, rap music may in fact be giving a more realistic picture of the African American culture than assumed. Using African American research subjects would give more credibility and reliability to the research.
Adams, T.M., Fuller, D.B. (2006). “The words have changed but the ideology remains the same: Misogynistic Lyrics in Rap Music.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol 36(6), July 938-957. n.d. Web. Retrieved Sept. 2011from DOI: <10.1177/0021934704274072>. © 2006 Sage Publications.
Roberts, R. (1994). ““Ladies First”: Queen Latifah’s Afrocentric Feminist Music Video,” African American Review, Vol.28 (2G).
Oware, M. (2010). “Brotherly love: Homosociality and Black Masculinity in Gangsta Rap Music.” Springer Science + Business Media LLC2010. n.d. Web. Retrieved 20 Sept. 2011 from DOI: <10.1007/s1211101091234>.