Breakthrough

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.

32 Comments

  1. 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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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?

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    • everythingl

      *Sigh*

      “…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.

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    • Ms. Write

      @everythingl

      “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

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  2. Ms. Write

    @everythingl
    *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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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.”

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  3. 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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