Gender And Hip Hop: Ripe For A Breakthrough?

by Zettler Clay


The other day in the gym, a Kendrick Lamar tune blasted through the speakers. It was the radio version, much to the chagrin of the guy closest to me.

“Doesn’t even sound right,” he said. “It’s bitch, don’t kill my vibe!’” The “trick” that took its place didn’t meet his satisfaction.

I found myself nodding, not because I’m a glutton for the profane. Radio edits neuters the potency of the original song. Unless you’re a parent or an aural prude, the radio version of your favorite song grates you.

But there was something else familiar about the way he accentuated the first word. It was an intonation that also accompanies common recitations of Pac’s “All Bout U” chorus and Too Short’s “what my favorite word?” line.

What is it about “bitches and hoes” that makes it such an intractable cog of the hip hop engine?

Misogyny is bigger than hip hop. The word literally means “woman hater” and society’s marginalization of women came long before DJ Kool Herc came on the scene. Demeaning women spans many genres. Rap is no exception.

Rap music was never absent of condescending lyrics toward women. It’s the overwhelming amount of such lyrics that throws the sonic ecological system off. Ever since N.W.A. came on the scene over 20 years ago, the system has remained stuck in neutral.

When it comes to gender relationships within rap music, it is the lack of diversity of roles afforded to women that is the problem.

Women are not only Suzy Screws and Sasha Thumpers. They are mothers. Sisters. Aunts. Wives. Cousins. Grandmothers. Teachers. Confidants. Heroes. Ultimately, they are nurturers and life givers.

Mainstream rap music doesn’t seem inclined to support this notion. The songs that touch on the “softer” sides of male-female dynamics aren’t played on the radios and clubs, thus making these songs the least profitable of the bunch.

Many listeners miss the mercantile motives behind the dominant hypermasculinity pushed in hip hop. For example, Jay-Z delivered “Big Pimpin” in 1997. He later apologized about its content when promoting his book Decoded.

He now has a wife and a daughter. His music has evolved. Safe to say he won’t be releasing anymore Big Pimpins, a decision for which his career will not suffer for. It no longer makes sense for him to row that boat.

But he slips in the occasional line — “99 problems but …” and “I got a hot bitch in my home” — that gives fans shades of the old Jay-Z, which is why he shines as an artist.

The best art allows for full expression of the range of emotions of the human experience. Too much ribaldry begs for the sacred. Too much profanity, serenity. Despair, euphoria.

For every derogatory value placed on women within rap’s bars, there is something being revealed about our community we should probably pay attention to. With every mangled Emmett Till and date rape reference comes a macrocosm that is highlighted.

For years, rap has been taken hostage by an injurious ideology with little resistance from its practitioners. We’re beyond finger-pointing. All parties are complicit — the artists, the distribution companies, record labels, us.

“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” is purposely catchy enough to be commercial, but content-rich enough to reveal profound points. Being commercially and critically acclaimed in rap has been done by few artists over a long period. The reason for this is obvious: If there is no incentive to do both, then commercial will win out every time.

Once again, we are confronted with the profit motive. Unless there is heightened demand for artistic honesty in dealing with life’s issues, particularly qualms with the opposite sex, hip hop will plateau and thus fall far short of its rich potential.

  • Anon

    Does anyone else think there is a correlation between the rise in misogyny in hip-hop with the rise of the LGBT presence in hip-hop?

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    @ Be Real REALLY?, well you are in for a RUDE awakening LOL
    To answer Anons question, Absolutely, hip hop has been homoerotic for years!

  • jj

    I dont have issue with the song. even tho bitch is mostly used for a woman, it can go both ways alot of the time in the hood and rap songs. i believe he is referring to ANYONE who is being a hater, trying to get in his way or “kill his vibe”

  • Gail

    It is a simple concept. Hip-hop economic principle of supply and demand – as long as the cash rolls in who cares. The industry is under the impression that the days of consumer censorship are over and merchandise sales does not belie this belief.

    Ladies who refuse to be objectified or accept being referenced in derogatory terms refrain from association with those types of artist and their products.

    Seriously, no woman can rightly object if a man, or woman for that matter, calls her a derogatory name when she is head-bopping to music using the same terminology. What? It’s OK because it is ‘artistic expression.’ BULL!

  • E.M.S.

    Hit the nail on the head. What’s even more ironic about misogyny in hip hop is rappers are very quick to talk about how much they love their mama or their daughter, but any other woman is just another “b*tch.” There’s a disconnect in the male artist’s mind that I’ve never understood. If you love the women in your family so much, why are you disrespecting the ones in someone else’s? That woman you call a b*tch is someone’s daughter, sister, wife, etc. But apparently that’s irrelevant.

  • Eden

    I think it should be noted that people interpret the song as Kendrick talking about a woman, which he never specifies. So what does that say about us and what we think about women?

  • Marisa

    This is why I raise an eyebrow over this big discussion and debate over Beyoncé “Bow Down” now all of a sudden folks are debating about it. Interesting for more than a decade practically 20 years of songs with b*tches,h*oes and ass ass ass ass ass, and hardly an eyelash has been batted. Grown women well into late 20′s,30′s and even beyond are declaring themselves bad b*tches in first place. One of Chris Rock’s specials brought up he’s seen women dance to some of the nastiest filth around, and then the next breath declare “he aint talkin bout me”. Lets face it if people will listen to anything with these horrible lyrics and the excuse is “well the beat is hot” Jordan Shrug

  • J. Nicole of UrbanExpressive

    Truth is, we all are a little hypocritical. I don’t use the N word, but there are a slew of other offensive words I use in its place. B*tch being one of them. I’ve referred to both men & women as b*tches. Do I use it every day? No.

    Now, in regards to the Kendrick Lamar song, I heard it only a few times & I didn’t take it as if he is referring to a woman. But when certain men use the word (or even ‘chick’), I sometimes see it as them having issues with women or disdain for them. The others are products of their environment and I’ve noticed when I ask them not to use the word around me, they don’t.

  • P

    I think there is a difference between liking and respecting someone. A man can have a mother, a wife, or even a daughter, and still (dislike) women very much. He loves and respects the women within his immediate circle. However on the collective level, he may be a misogynist which makes him insensitive to how women are treated. It follows that hip hop becomes acceptable as well as other derogatory treatment of woman by various sectors. The same anger or discomfort should rise in a man’s spirit when (any) woman is mistreated such as when he is. It makes you wonder exactly how much women really mean to some men. Does he merely love the women in his life because they serve a purpose or does he truly (like) and love women?

    I personally think if a man truly cares for all women, he wouldn’t allow the mistreatment of any women to continue. He wouldn’t buy the music to help alleviate profit. It is the same logic behind parents not supporting this music. These profit makers don’t care, it’s all about money for them. On the same note, I sometimes wonder exactly who does B&H refers to? Sometimes I feel as if it’s just black women. Why b/c we are the ones who are the most disrespected, marginalized, considered as crazy, and the most difficult to get along with. So when I hear these derogatory lyrics, I consider it not only a disservice to all women general – but very detrimental to the state of our young black girls.

  • Truth

    Why has this type music continued to flourish? The biggest consumer of Rap music is white boys. The lyrics are pretty much their opinion of black girls/women and the black community. Doesn’t effect them nor their community. End of discussion.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    They may BUY more rap music, but those who listen to it the most are Black men and boys. Black male rappers make music for other Black males.

  • everythingl

    I’m sorry but that analysis is lacking. The majority of hip hop consumers are now white males. As hip hop went more “mainstream” the blatant misogyny increased right with it. Yes, we as women, for our own health, would do well to turn off mainstream hip hop. But you’re wrong for thinking that what we do will make the difference. Hip hop doesnt care about us. At all. It may give you some comfort to believe that we have control, but hip hop isnt concerned about what we think, how we feel or what we bob our head to. The responsibility lies with the creators, the distributors and the masses if people buying, who for the most part are NOT black women.

    Im tired of this idea that we can single handedly change whole systems that we dont control with this or that simple action. Meanwhile people are making billions at our expense.

  • P

    Our conversation needs to be about our RIGHT not to be dehumanized as women just like our right to not be dehumanized as black people or Chinese people or Muslim people or Gay people or disabled people. Etc. – for sure. But like I said, it is a disservice to all women.

    I personally don’t think love is restricted. If it is, that falls under the radar of coexisting with someone for a reason or a cause. Maybe the people work together or their children attend the same school. As you stated a white supremacist is a good example, they don’t love us. They love only their people. This is the same for some men. They may love women in their immediate circle, but hate women based on individual “bad” personal relationships. Now here comes the acceptance of B&H being accepted in hip hop music. This is how some men can refer to women as B&H, but has mothers, a wife, and daughters. So the conversation is stop allowing dehumanization of women and to do this you have to begin my loving all women not by indentifying with your circle. This is how Rick Ross was able to go to one extreme to the next. If love was present from the beginning for all women, he would have never spoken those lyrics in the first place. As well as the other profit makers, I’m sure they have a mother, or a wife/daughter at home. They should care enough, but they don’t.

    As far as love, imo… Love isn’t restricted. And this is how I think selfless humans operate. They don’t see race, gender, or class. However, it is restricted to selfish humans which explain why this entire money making industry continues to dehumanize women.

  • everythingl

    Sadly, many men are taught that every woman in the world is evil except their mother. Even worse is the fact that many men learn this FROM their mother.

  • Clutch

    The piece wasn’t to talk about Kendrick Lamar – he was used as a reference.

    The point of the piece was about Gender and Hip-Hop and pondering if all the negative things happening currently within the Hip-Hop/Rap – will this be a breakthrough for a change in this music segment.

  • omfg

    @ The Moon in the Sky

    “They may BUY more rap music, but those who listen to it the most are Black men and boys. Black male rappers make music for other Black males.”

    so confused. what do you think the white guys are doing when they buy rap music? do you think they are just putting it aside somewhere for posterity? of course they are listening to it.

    i would say the difference between white male consumption and black male consumption is one fantasizes about the life talked about in a song while the other might actually already live it or is trying to or identifies with the lifestyle.

    but you know what? at the end of the day, what matters is who BUYS it. by this time, rappers know who actually buys their music. so, it’s a bit disingenous to act as though they don’t on some level rap for these white boys. in fact, i’d imagine they make everything more salacious in order to sell to them.

    what comes to mind is the video f*ck with dre day.

    imo, these guys are nothing but modern-day minstrels. they are disgusting lowlifes. i can’t stand the overwhelming majority of rap music.

    white people using the darkie cultural expression as an outlet for fantasies that are outside of behaviour that is considered poor for them is nothing new. they did it with the blues, jazz, r/b-rock music.

    our stuff is forbidden and that’s one of the reasons why they love it so.

  • everythingl


    Exactly. This ain’t about us anymore. And the fact that so many rappers are so quick to throw BW under the bus for some fleeting money and fame is disgusting. Meanhile BW are the ones always accused of being “disloyal.”

  • pamm

    The biggest consumers of rap is white boys?…I hear this all the time and I wonder at at its truth! and’ also the lyrics are pretty much their opinions of Black women and girls’…..LIES OF THE COWARDLY, SPINELESS, POS BLACK MEN! YOU(black men) did it and profited from it…SO OWN UP TO IT! These are YOUR WORDS AND BELIEFS! DONT HIDE BEHIND WHITES and RECORD COMPANIES.

    But I also know when the s***t hits the fan Black men who write, perform and profit from this so called music and culture will hide and put the blame on others for what they did and the poison they have used to bend the minds of youth and destroy any love or kinship between Black women and men….and also I know their enablers;i.e. Black women sista soldiers and the nothing but a black man crew will also come out making excuses for these grown ass so called men…pointing the finger everywhere but where it belongs. I dont know who is more pathetic …Black women or men.

  • everythingl

    You are soooo missing the point. Referencing mothers, daughters, etc is not to ask men to love all women the same. Its to point out that all women are human, just like the women in their own lives. BW will stand up for BM we dont know because we understand that an injustice against a BM we dont know could just as easily happen to men we love (ie, stop and frisk, police brutality, etc). Why cant BM do the same when ot comes to things like misogyny, domestic violence, etc?

  • Come On

    This is a stupid comment. Men don’t have to respect all women like they respect their mothers. It’s about showing a basic level of respect to women as human beings. This is what people expect.

    So because a woman is not your momma or a female relative, it’s not disrespectful to call her a b****?

  • The Moon in the Sky

    At the end of the day, it matters not who buys it in this case, but who is more influenced by it, which are black boys and men and which is what I meant by who is listening to it.

  • noir45

    One of the many reasons why I don’t listen to the music of today is that it lacks substance. Growing up in the days of the Isley Brothers, with whom many a baby was conceived, sung about romance, sex, and love. I remember the wonderful loves songs by The Stylistics, Heat Wave (Always and Forever, ladies) and Blue Magic. Today, it’s all mechanics and no love, but then again, many women listen and buy this mess. What’s more, they are bumping and grinding in the clubs to it to all the while saying, “He ain’t singing about me” to justify misogynistic lyrics.

    If we don’t demand better, we won’t get better. These artists are prostituting what the pimps are telling them to.

  • Ms Write

    I keep seeing the comment that the majority of today’s hip hop consumers are white males. I don’t know if I buy it. I would love to see some kind of data to back this claim. However, we must also remember that even if that fact is true, WE still have the biggest influence when it comes to popular culture. This has been proven time and time again throughout history, as we have always been emulated when it comes to style of clothing, music etc. If we as consumers make a demand for more diverse rap that reflects something other than hoes and violence, record labels will start to produce that because it makes sense financially. One can only assume non-black consumers will eventually follow suit. After all, didn’t they get Hip Hop from US? Stop giving all your power to the white man.

  • everythingl

    White people outnumber us. I believe 13% of the population is black. If you don’t believe that white boys are pushing sales of hip hip, just look at how they outnumber us. The music industry has slowly and surely pushed R&B and more thought provoking hip hop music to the sidelines. Now white boys like Justin Timberlake are being given credit for making good R&B, when real R&B artists aren’t getting 1/4 of the marketing, promotion and PAYOLA that JT gets. No, this is called cultural appropriation. Steal from us and don’t give us credit. Only promote us when we are behaving like coons and embodying stereotypes. None of this is coincidence. What needs to happen is that when black people get into decision-making positions they need to decide what’s right for their community instead of what’s right for their own personal bank account. Black men have gotten a lot of power to make decisions in hip hop and they are using that power to sell us out. It’s pathetic.

  • Ms Write

    I disagree to some extent. First of all, recent data has shown that Whites are not the majority race in many cities and states. I find it hard to believe that whites are the only people buying records when there are such large populations of Blacks, Latinos and Asians that also love Hip Hop/Rap culture. Secondly, research has been done thatshows we are the largest consumers and have tremendous buying power. So what does that tell us? We have more influence than we like to think and I believe its such a cop out when we throw our hands up and say all the power goes to the white man.

    Yes, a lot has been taken stolen and borrowed from us but I still say we are the trendsetters, and ultimately the taste makers for this thing we call Hip Hop. Also, why can’t Justin Timberlake be given credit for making good music,when every other mainstream R&B artist (except a few Neo Soul artists here and there) is making techno music?

  • everythingl


    “…recent data has shown that Whites are not the majority race in many cities and states”

    It’s always been the case that in many cities and states whites are not the majority. Who needs a study to know that? Whites are still the majority race in America (though they won’t be for long), and they STILL have the MAJORITY of the MONEY and POWER. THAT is what makes all the difference. We are not the largest consumers of everything because we don’t have all the money. And, again, you don’t need research to learn that we have SOME buying power. That’s self—evident. But none of this “research” that you reference addresses the point.

    This straw man you created. Who said white people are the ONLY people buying hip hop? No, it’s simple math. There are millions and millions and millions more of them than us, so even if a smaller proportion of them buy the music than us, it will still equal a disproportionate amount of dollars coming from them. They will still account for the majority of dollars flowing into hip hop.

    And, yes, we are trend setters. But we have also had damn near everything we’ve done stolen and appropriated. It’s the same old story. It’s great to be imitated, but boasting about being a trendsetter only goes so far when you’re being exploited. Seriously. And Justin Timberlake can be given all the credit he wants. When real black male R&B crooners get all the promotion and hype that JT does, than I won’t have a problem. All I listen to are neo-soul artists, and they aren’t just here are there.There are some black women and men making great music.You don’t realize that because you believe that nonsense that radio tells you to believe.

  • Ms. Write


    “You don’t realize that because you believe that nonsense that radio tells you to believe.”

    Ha ha, generalize much? I actually don’t listen to the radio at all so your assumption about me is wrong. Nor did I deny the fact that there is some great music out there. I listen to many Neo Soul artists but these artists are not by any means mainstream. Please re-read my comment. I said MAINSTREAM. Mainstream as in Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Usher etc meaning what gets played on the radio (duh). Even Erykah Badu attested to the fact that it all sounds like techno.

    I don’t deny that whites, namely white males are in the positions of power in this country, the media, and corporations. I am not blind. However, when we deny our power as consumers I believe it’s a very defeatist attitude. Money does talk. We have shown that we as consumers DO have a say so. But because people want to throw their hands up and say we are no longer in control, that we have no power in what gets played on the radio, this nonsense music never stops. Maybe Hip Hop deserves to die if we don’t even believe we can take back our own music. SMH

  • Ms. Write

    *Not sure why the first comment didn’t go through so I apologize if this is a repeat.*

    First of all I don’t listen to the radio, so your assumption “that I believe that nonsense that radio tells you to believe” is incorrect and nothing that I said indicates that. Please re-read my above comment. I said MAINSTREAM. There are a lot of talented Neo Soul artists and other great R&B artists who I listen to but are not mainstream. Mainstream is defined by what is predominantly promoted and played in heavy rotation on the radio, e.g. Usher, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown etc. Even Erykah Badu attested to the fact that it is all starting to sound the same.

    I don’t feel like re-hashing my original comment so I will keep it brief. Yes, by large whites, namely white males are in the positions of power. I am not blind and realize this. However, it is a wholly defeatists attitude to just throw up our hands and leave it at that. At the end of the day, money talks. If you don’t believe in our buying power as consumers, you haven’t been paying attention. Good day.

  • everythingl

    Huh? You seem to define me not supporting artists or an industry that makes its money from demeaning me as having a defeatist attitude. You said money talks. Which is the point that I’ve been making this entire time. And if white men are spending the most money, THEY are the ones that hip hop is catering to. You are reinforcing my point. So what does a person with a non-defeatist attitude do? They support artists who are making the best music. THAT is what I do.

    I am a social worker. I know what a difference I, and any other person can make in other people’s lives. I understand where I can and can’t make a difference. I understand that most politicians are white men. That doesn’t mean I don’t vote. I support artists who are talented and have something to say. Nothing defeatist about that. If I could wave a magic wand and change the entire mainstream music industry I certainly would. The simple truth is that hip hop and mainstream media don’t gave a rat’s a** about us. My power is in making it known how I feel about it, not pretending like I can singlehandedly change it.

  • Ms. Write

    “You seem to define me not supporting artists or an industry that makes its money from demeaning me as having a defeatist attitude.”

    Really? Because that is not what I said at all. I merely said, we have to do more than just give up on a music genre that WE created. One of the ways we do this is like you said above, financially supporting GOOD music.

    So much gets lost in translation on the internet I guess.

    My whole point is that for a long time in Hip Hop, WE have let it become what it is. We have kind of created a monster. So how do we get rid of it? By making a demand for something better. Let’s say I believe your assumption that the majority of consumers are white male. Okay. This doesn’t take away from my previous point, that we ultimately determine what is popular and so far there hasn’t been a large enough demand by US for better music. There are still a large number of Blacks that have and continue to financially support this trash music, because it is “catchy” and has a “good beat” or because they don’t bother to look for anything beyond the radio.

    So if I know that Hip Hop is not only played in the United States but also worldwide, and that in many cases, people see it as a representation of Black people you better believe I think we should do more than just determine “we can’t make a difference here.”

  • Ms. Write

    Also, if you don’t believe we ultimately determine what’s going to trend in the Hip Hop industry, just think of one of the biggest names in mainstream music now: Lil Wayne. Do you think white kids in the suburbs were the first demographic to buy his music? I think not. We bought it, and then they caught on…

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