Women’s Image in Hip Hop
Women, namely African American, have played a crucial role in Hip Hop culture: from the beginning with Cindy Campbell the sister of Kool Herc — who demonstrated her entrepreneurship of promoting his block parties; the idea of entrepreneurship is still deeply seeded in Hip Hop today—to Debra Lee, the president and CEO of BET. However, accounts of hip hop often downplay, or completely leave out, the contributions of women to hip hop as artist, entrepreneurs, producers, writers, etc.
Women have influenced hip hop as much, if not more, than men; that is to say that all men can from one woman. In that case, why is it that currently in hip hop culture African American women’s image has been reduced to nothing more than the objects of their male counterparts? The answer to this question is not clear cut, but extremely complex. For starters, it is no secret that hip hop is a male dominated art form. In addition, the patriarchal society in which hip hop was created has a hand in how men, not just in hip hop, have this sense of male supremacy over women.
However it is not just the males fault for women’s status in hip hop; women are also responsible for the way in which they are treated and portrayed in hip hop because they readily partake in the mistreatment of themselves and other women. Academics such as Michael Eric Dyson, believe that women are in no way responsible for the comment, “they must like it and want to do it” (Dyson, 109), because he believes women partake in the degradation of their character in hip hop because of the deep entrench supremacy that has been imbedded into women’s minds, and that it is only a result of the limited roles men have delegated for them.
Deep entrenched beliefs or not, I believe that women have more power than Dyson gives them credit for; furthermore he sounds extremely sexist making that statement as well—women are not strong enough to choose what they will participate in. As women, we need to take account for our actions and be aware of what image is being pushed of us. It is the artist that uses the woman to sell his product, not the other way around.
Finally as advocates, role models, and consumers women and men alike need to be responsible for the art that they support, i. e. hip hop music, literature, video, art that is demeaning to females or shows them in a negative manner; there is no reason why an eleven year old should know what a video vixen and/ ho is. In short, it is the fault of the artist, the women who partake in hip hop culture, and consumers, alike, in why the African American women are ortrayed in such negative light in hip hop, i. e. video hoes, gold diggers, sexual objects, etc. It is also the responsibility of these three groups in how this needs to be changed because hip hop does in fact have a great influence over African American culture; and this is the wrong message to be sending out to the youth on how women should be seen an treated. “If people don’t like it, and they think it’s—you can always turn it off. You know what I mean?
So people act like they can’t turn it off. And you—you don’t got to watch the booty videos…,” Jermaine Durpri made this comment while defending the content of hip hop videos that are currently on television (Rose, 196); this is one of the solutions those in the hip hop give to protestors of how women are depicted in hip hop. This would be a valid solution if turning off the television or the radio cease the degradation of women in hip hop but this is not the case.
Instead of taking responsibility for the negative portrayal of women that is being perpetuated on to the African American youth, that soaks up hip hop culture, artist prefer to use excuses that dissolve their responsibilities as public figures: (1) “We’re not role models;” (2) “parents should be responsible for their own kids;” and (3) “if you do not like what you seem turn it off. ” The idea of “we’re not role models,” which hip hop artists are constantly trying to feed to the public is unfathomable.
From fashion trends to new dances to new lingo, hip hop artist set the trends in the African American communities: what they say is hot is hot, what they say is not is out! For example, how many black teenagers were rocking Tommy Hilfiger before it was made popular by rap artist or what black urban female knew anything about a Christian Louboutin shoe before Jay Z mentioned it in his song “Take You Home with Me (Body). Consequently, if hip hop artist want to use this excuse for why they are not responsible for the image that they portray of the black woman is foolish; frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves if they feel that way. Anytime you are a popular public figure, of any kind good or bad, you will have a following which will look up to you as role models. The message current artist are sending that the objectification of the black woman is okay is irresponsible because of their stature in this subculture. Artists have somewhat of a valid point when they say that parents are to be responsible for what their child see and hears; however, s a child gets older their parent’s have less influence on them and society takes over where the parent’s influence fall short of because the child spend a smaller amount of time at home, i. e. going to school, hanging out with friends, etc, so they cannot monitor their child’s every movement of everyday. Consequently, this shifts the responsibility back o the artist about what they are releasing to the public, or their audience; essentially this is why it is important for artist to know who makes up their fan base.
Rapper Nelly tries to redirect the responsibility brought on by this reasoning by saying, “I have an eleven year old daughter… and she has never seen the [Tip Drill] video… Now how is it that I’m on the road the majority of the time and I can stop my kids from seeing a video when you can’t…;” the answer to his question is quite simple, Nelly has many people who are paid make sure his child does not see his demeaning video; but for other parents, whom are working countless hours to pay the bills, it is virtually impossible for them to keep tabs on everything their child is doing, especially in this age of computer technology.
Parents alone are not responsible for all social influences and pressures their children may face, so to deny the impact of the larger society would be the same as denying the power of impact of mass multimedia had on the society (Rose, 194). Many hip hop artists believe through their 1st amendment right to freedom of speech, it gives the liberty to say and write anything they feel, maybe this is right legally but it is morally wrong. For example in Kid Cudi’s song “Make Her Say (Poke Her Face), each artist on the track objectifies women by talking female “groupies” performing fellatio on them.
Rapper Common’s verse includes, “Say Bitch you should do it for the love, like Ray J/ But they say, you be on that conscious tip/ Get ya head right and get up on this conscious dick. ” Songs like this flood the airwaves and televisions, so how are we just supposed to just turn it off when it everywhere in the African American community, it all around the black youth: the constant demeaning of their women and the treatment as if they were only sexual beings.
The videos that are played on BET and MTV are referred to as soft- core porn (Miller-Young, 261), with woman “shakin’ what their mommas gave them” on video locations such as strip clubs, money being thrown and an occasional credit card swipe between the cheeks of their behind. Artist also deflect the accusation of hip hop’s degradation of black women by saying sexism was around way before Kool Herc invented the break beat and hip hop is not solely responsible for the negative image of women in the society.
This is true; there are already masculinist biases already place in the domains of advertising and new reporting: “the public face of both Hip Hop and rap is masculine and the mainstream discourse of rap as Hip Hop’s mouthpiece is masculine” (Phillips, 254). However, knowing the social impact hip hop has on the individuals that are apart of its culture, if hip hop ever took a serious and collective stance against the objectification and degradation of African American women or all women period, I am sure their following would take heed.
That stance could be the start of a revolution based on the influence artist has on the community of hip hop culture. So listen up all you ladies, Nubian queens/ black princesses, African goddess, choir girls young girls, models/ Skeezas, bitches, hoes, playettes, dykes, divas, housewives, gold diggers/ sac chasers, cum guzzlers, chickenheads, crackheads, baller bitches/ shake dancers and boosters. / Say what y’all want, we’re all one in the same/ No matter what they call you, or what you call yourself. There’s only 3 rules in this game:/ Keep your nappy-ass head done, do your motherfucking situps,/ And whenever you lay down on your back, make sure your paper is stacked. –Trina “Intro” from Diamond Princess It is not only the male artist that is responsible for the degradation of the African American female in hip hop. Female hip hop artist and video models/ vixens are also responsible for the negative portrayal of the black female in hip hop. They do not demand the respect from their male counterparts and in many occasions they degrade themselves and one another.
Take the Intro to Trina’s Diamond Princess album, she refers to women in many derogatory terms as well as names that have positive connotation but she eventually says, no matter how you view yourself, all women are pretty much the same from the cum guzzlers” to the “Nubian queens. ” She goes on further to say that no matter what women do, when they have sex the need to make sure they get paid, as if we are only supposed to serving our partner for payment. This only promotes objectivity of black women, in that they can be bought like a sandwich.
And as black women we wonder why rappers and young African American men have no respect for us; it is because the negative image that other black women portray of us. Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown are referred to, by Joan Morgans, as the “official chickenhead patron saints; they capitalized on their hypersexual lyrics and because the poster children for the “couture-clad hoochie mamas. ” They, like Trina, pushed the idea of “punanny for sale” (Morgans, 198): “No money money, no licky licky. Fuck the dicky dicky. Without directly stating it, rappers like Lil’ Kim and Trina promoted the new age prostitution, called “tricking. ” Female rappers also degrade each other. According to Lil’ Kim there’s only room for one queen bitch at a time and that seems to be the trend in recent hip hop, so long for the days when Missy Elliot, Eve, Charlie Baltimore and Vita were climbing the charts at the same time; if there is more than one female rap artist in the limelight at one time, they are usually at one another neck’s trying to do anything they can to destroy one another’s career.
It seems distinctly different from male rap beefs in that the beef is never over with females until there, again, is only one female rapper at the top of the charts. Female rappers go for the jugular in hopes that they will end the other’s career for once and for all. For example, Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj’s recent feud; Lil’ Kim retaliated to Minaj’s Roman’s Revenge “It’ll be a murder scene/ Turning pink Friday into Friday the 13th… Time for you to lay down… I put hands on this bitch like a spa massage… This the shit the other bitch almost go killed for… Lil’ Kim wannabe. In recent years, “video vixens” have come under great scrutiny about their image and how they are perceived in the world of hip hop and how that affects the image of the African American female in the culture of hip hop. The role of the video vixen, video model, video ho probably causes the most damage to the African American female image in hip hop. These are the women who are picked to be in a hip hop video to serve as eye candy, they help the artist sells their product but at the cost of the respect of themselves.
They women are picked from casting calls, where they are objectified: when they show up to the casting call they are already half-naked in order to get the attention of the director, then they are asked to do degrading things such as dance explicitly and “shake their asses. ” It is a contest of who will go the furthest to get their fifteen minutes of fame. Once on set, they are treated with no respect more like sexual objects, many tell the stories of being sexually harassed by directors and members of the artist’s posse, but they feel that they are forced to take the mistreatment because they ant to have their 3 second frame shot. Many of which aren’t paid high rates, however it is the high profile video models, such as Karrine “Super Head” Steffans and Melissa Ford, which have help set the standards of the treatment of women to a new low. In Steffans’s book, Diary of an Video Vixen, she goes into great detail about the life she led as a video model, hoping in and out of the industry’s bed to get the airtime and receive a check, the same “punanny for sale” theme Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown tried to push.
Women like Steffans and Ford try to deflect the responsibility of the damage they have done to the African American by saying, they have bills to pay and why not use what God gave them to make a profit, they understand they are being objectified but to them it’s “all apart of the game:” SEX SELLS. But at what cost? Women like Steffans and Ford, hold themselves to higher standard of that of a stripper or prostitute, but realistically what is the difference, you are selling your body as goods.
It is a belief of Michael Eric Dyson, that these women are allowing for this degradation because of the internalized sexism in women: Not only are women blamed for the harm that befalls on men, but they are blamed for the limitation male society imposes on them. This is best exemplified by the self-serving justifications commonly offered for the exploitative placement of women in rap videos: ‘Nobody is making these women appears in the videos; therefore, they must like it and want to do it. ’ But that’s like making early black actor the heavies when they only choice in movies was between stereotypical roles. (Dyson, 109) I believe this has some validation; however the video ho is not the only role for women in the hip hop culture, the role of entrepreneur, writer, producer, etc. have been overlooked when talking about the limited places women have in hip hop. Despite internalized sexism, these women who subject themselves to be mistreated know that how they are being treated is wrong, however they still partake in the activities because they want to be famous. Last, and most importantly, the responsibility of the image of how black women are negatively portrayed in hip hop falls on the consumer.
In 2006, hip hop music earned $1. 3 billion, which is 11. 4% of the music market (Miller-Young, 264); much of what moneies were earned came for the demeaning of women, sexually derogatory lyrics and videos make up the marketing tools that help sell artist records. Take Waka Flack Flame, for example, his song “No Hands” was one of the best hip hop hits of 2010, but the turn “no hands” is referring to a female performing oral sex on a male without using her hands; this is what consumers are buying.
If as consumers, we took a stand and refused to buy hip hop material that is demeaning to African American women, or women in general, the artist will have no choice but to change what he/she is releasing because the material that portray women in a negative light will no longer sell. Women consumers have to especially be concerned about what is being marketed to themselves and their children: My Daughter can’t know that hip-hop and I have loved harder and fallen out further than I have with any many I’ve ever known. That my decision to end our love affair had come only after years of disappointment and punishing abuse.
After I could no longer sacrifice my self-esteen or that of my two daughter on an altar of dope beats and tight rhymes. – Rose quotes Lonnae O’Neal Parker (Rose, 124) Granted, if sexually derogatory of black women is the only thing that’s being released in hip hop than maybe as consumers we should (1) listen to something else, (2) dig deeper and find other hip hop music, other what is being shoved down our throats as mainstream, (3) make artist take responsibility for what they are releasing to the hip hop community.
In Hip Hop culture, women are writers, producers, editors, entrepreneurs, artist, etc. however, the negative image of women in hip hop constantly overshadows the achievements that women make every day in subculture. It up to the artist, the females that are apart of the subculture and the consumer to shine light on this issue so that eventually hip hop will not be seen as demeaning to women but a source in which they can prosper.
The image of African American women that is currently being portrayed in hip hop will only hurt the image of hip hop and the will distort the black youth’s image of how black women, or women in general, are to be respected and treated. Hip hop has the power to influence the youth, and it should make sure that it is doing it in an appropriate manner. ? Works Cited Dyson, Michael Eric. “Track 4: Violence, Machismo, Sexism, and Homophobia. ” Know What I Mean?. Philadelphia: Basic Civitas Books, 2007. 101-09. Print. Miller-Young, Mireille. Hip-Hop Honeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography. ” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 8. 1 (2008): 261-292. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. Morgan, Joan. When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1999. Print. Phillips, Layli, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, and Dionne Patricia Stephens. “OPPOSITIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS WITHIN AN OPPOSITIONAL REALM: THE CASE OF FEMINISM AND WOMANISM IN RAP AND HIP HOP, 1976-2004. ” Journal of African American History 90. 3 (2005): 253-277. Academic Search Premier.
EBSCO. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. Rose, Trica. “Part One: Top Ten Debates in Hip Hop:’Hip Hop Demeans Women;’ ‘Hip Hip is Not Responsible for Sexism;’ ‘We’re Not Role Models’ . ” The Hip Hop Wars. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2008. 113- 31; 149- 62; 187-200 . African American Music Reference. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. . Stephens, Dionne, and April Few. “Hip Hop Honey or Video Ho: African American Preadolescents’ Understanding of Female Sexual Scripts in Hip Hop Culture. ” Sexuality & Culture 11. 4 (2007): 48-69. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Dec. 2010.