The Rap Rhetorics Student Blog Part 4: Misogyny, Homophobia, and Queering Hip-Hop
Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! As you could probably tell from the last one, my Rap Rhetorics students have a LOT to say about the topic of misogyny, homophobia, and intersectionality in Hip-Hop. Without further ado then, I’ll let them tell you more about the topics themselves in this, our FOURTH INSTALLMENT of the five-part Rap Rhetorics student blog series. Thanks for checking it out!
It’s become no secret that in the United States, plenty of working industries operate
under a patriarchy. Even in music, gender inequality has remained an issue; according
to the Billboard Top 100 hits between 2012-2020, across all six genres featured on
those charts, male artists held the vast majority of most popular hits (statista.com). The
genre with the highest percentage of popular male artists was Hip-Hop/Rap, at a
whopping 87.7% men and only 12.3% women.
When taking a look at Hip-Hop’s most popular artists and their lyrics, it’s no surprise that
women may feel unwelcome in the industry, or are blatantly turned away when
attempting to find success. One example can be seen in one of Hip-Hops earlier
gangsta-rap groups N.W.A. and their 1991 song “Automobile,” an ode to nothing other
than date-rape (which also happens to be an explicit reimagining of “My Automobile” by
Parliament, which was released 21 years prior).
From the beginning, women have held important
roles when it comes to the genre of Hip-Hop.
However, the majority of these roles have been
either overlooked or oversexualized, and are only
seen as successful if they can be objectified.
In a study done by the USC Annenberg Inclusion
Initiative, run by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, out of 75
female songwriters and producers, 43% felt that their skills were discounted, and
39% felt that they were always being stereotyped and sexualized. This is only the
tip of the giant iceberg of statistics representing the misogyny that runs deep and
rampant throughout the hip-hop industry.
Misogyny is defined as a hatred for women, a term that was coined in the 17th
century, but has been around since the dawn of the patriarchy, and male
dominance, during the Bronze Age. Anthropologist David G. Gilmore gives a
wonderful overview of how misogyny came to be, rooted in the fear of men losing
power as well as their vulnerability. So, men exert their power over women to
control them. This trend is evident in hip-hop with how many artists grew up in
broken and abusive homes. Young men learn this behavior from their fathers and
this misogynistic cycle continues.
For example, in Kendrick Lamar’s song, “Father Time”, he ends the song by
saying, “Til then, let’s give the woman a break, grown men with daddy issues.”
He’s talking about the pain his mother went through because of his abusive father.
But in the same breath, he’s also talking about himself and the trouble he put his
spouse, Whitney, through due to his unresolved daddy issues and ingrained
Although this outright hatred for women has seen a decline in recent years with
female artists rising to the top of music charts, it’s still a very prevalent issue not
only in hip-hop but in our society as a whole. Shortly after Cardi B released her single WAP, “aka wet ass pussy”, she and featured artist Megan the Stallion were attacked by various political commentators such as Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and Fox news anchor Tucker Carlson. The song made headlines for its obscenity, being called filthy, degrading, and an imminent threat to young generations from Carlson himself.
But in the same year Meghan the stallion announced that Rapper Tory Lanez had shot her in the foot after an altercation at a party in Los Angeles. Despite her emotional testimony, she was received with slander and mockery, being accused of fabrication and her trauma being the subject of jokes. The treatment of Megan was abhorrent, but unfortunately not uncommon. In fact, Lanez exploited the situation by launching an album that of course was successful despite accusations.
Why is misogyny and violence against women acceptable, but we draw the line at women rapping about their own sexuality? A 2019 study that analyzed song lyrics of top charting songs- 43 percent of them being Rap/HipHop- found 201 occurrences of sexual slurs, objectification, aggressive and manipulative behavior, and explicit imagery in the 34 songs analyzed. Interestingly, not only are male artists more likely to express misogyny, but misogynistic lyrics from female artists do not show sexually aggressive behavior. Within the 34/201 counts of such behaviors directed towards men, fifty three percent were due to objectification and explicit content (Gray).
Still, someone famous once probably said, if they hate you, you’re probably doing something right. There are plenty of Wonder Women of Hip-Hop, but the most iconic is probably Beyoncé. Beyoncé is arguably the queen of Hip-Hop with the amount of music she has produced that empowers women and her success overall as the biggest women artist in the Hip-Hop industry. Her album, Lemonade, is her magnum opus due to her main message of the album expressing intersectional feminism and black empowerment.
“Intersectionality” is the recognition that often people fall under many different identities, and because of that their experience with racism or discrimination will also be different. Generalizing these identities can cause certain people to be forgotten or silenced. Intersectionality is important for understanding and analyzing Hip-Hop, oftentimes rappers identities tie into their music and lyrics. In order to fully understand them and their connotation, we must acknowledge all parts of their identity. Many songs focus not only on the empowerment of women, but also the embracing of their African American heritage.
A song that really sticks out to me that exhibits these two messages the best is “Formation.” Beyoncé emphasizes the importance of owning who you are in this song, this is expressed in the lines:
“My daddy Alabama,
You mix that n*gro
with that Creole,
make a Texas Bama
I like my baby heir
with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose
with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they
never take the country out me”
In the song Formation, Beyoncé also covers the importance of women and their role in the fight for social justice. Beyonce begins the song formation by discussing how she is proud of her heritage and black characteristics and features. Beyonce also discusses the importance of women in the battle for social justice. Beyonce tells women of color all over to stand together and to fight together. There are still racial injustices being taken place in today’s times and as strong powerful women she knows that they can help take a stand together to help fight for one another. This song is often described as a black power anthem.
Beyoncé’s success paved a path for all women artists to be able to succeed and not face the harsh stereotypes that were present in the past. An article from Berkley has brought statistics that prove that women have been underrepresented in the music industry. Over seven years on the Billboard 100, only 12.3% of songwriters were female, 21.7% of the artists were female, and finally, only two percent of producers were female. These numbers really point out how male-dominated this industry is. It is only recently that women in the Hip-Hop industry were able to succeed and be accepted as artists and supported by listeners.
Another Wonder Woman worth discussing is Young M.A. She is a female rapper who is also
a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and has been open about her identity as a lesbian since the beginning of her career. Since she began rapping, Young M.A had always advocated for being yourself. As she states in an interview with The Fader, “I hear from all different people…Oh, you made me want to go do what I want to do for myself and chase my dreams.’ That’s my purpose” (Rapper Young M.A Opens Up About Being Openly Gay). This statement by Young M.A helps showcase her goals and desires to be an inspiration to other artists who are not only women, but also members of the LGBTQ+ community. Young M.A’s energetic music combined with her influences she has made in the public make her a Wonder Woman in Hip-Hop
In many Black communities, homophobia runs rampant due to this concept of the Black Church. Christianity has a huge influence over the community, dating all the way back to the start of colonialism in the United States. One of the many things that White colonists introduced to enslaved Africans in an attempt to “civilize” them was Christianity. Having no other option other than to assimilate, many adopted this religion and has developed over the years into something that Black Americans can call their own: The Black Church. Despite its dark history, Christianity is largely responsible for many of the bigoted values that members of the Black community impose on their children to pass down for generations. This is why artists like Lil Nas X are hated across both Black and White communities, especially in regard to homophobia in music and Hip-Hop.
In his 2021 single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” Lil Nas X describes a desire to be on a first-name basis with his partner. The lyrics have obvious references to biblical figures, like in the lines “I’m not fazed, only here to sin / If Eve ain’t in your garden, you know that you can” (0:50 Lil Nas X). The music video also includes Christian imagery, and at one point Lil Nas is essentially having sex with the devil himself. The song as a whole serves as a middle finger to those who justify homophobia within Christianity and the Hip-Hop community; he embraces this “sin” and displays himself doing it in a very blunt way. So of course there was backlash.
This calling out of racism and homophobia in Lil Nas X’s music is related to a phenomenon called “intersectionality,” a term coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw. Lil Nas X is not only criticized by the Black community for being unapologetically queer in his music, but also by White audiences for his jarring Black joy shown in the form of sexual expression. These two identities join together to create a unique experience for Lil Nas and other openly queer Black men.
Altogether, the landscape for openly queer Hip-Hop artists and women in the industry is way more hospitable than it was a decade or two or three ago, but greater improvements need to be made. Thankfully we have a grand collection of talented iconoclasts who challenge America to wake up and see the world differently.
That’s it folks! Truthfully I thought this one came out pretty well, don’t you? Let me know. Next time we will wrap up the series and look toward the future of Rap Rhetorics. Thanks, as always, for reading our work.