I have a fond appreciation for rap—both the music and the culture that accompanies it. I’ve been known to bump everything from Stylez P to Master P to El-P. Due to her proximity to me, my girlfriend has been exposed to a significant amount of rap. She’s usually very open to the genre as she grew up on the streetz of Alameda, but there are certain lyrics that she just cannot stand. At these moments of impasse, I’m forced either to defend the rapper, or defend my girlfriend: often a hard choice.
Most recently was a line in Big Sean’s latest hit, Dance (A$$). The song is filled with overt sexism one would expect from a song that’s chorus features nothing but the word “ass” and an MC Hammer sample. Regardless, in the second verse Big Sean raps, “Bitch look down, tell me what’s up/girl you talk too much, shut up.” At this point in the song my girlfriend is furious and I must agree with her. This lyric is ridiculously offensive to womyn, positing that the girl, who we can only assume is backing it up on Mr. Sean doesn’t even have the basic right of speech in their relationship.
Siding with my girlfriend is easy in this case, but I also think Big Sean talks too much. When it comes to lyrics from rappers I actually like it’s a much more complicated situation. Let’s take another current club slapper, “The Motto” by Drake and Lil’ Wayne. I’m a really big fan of these two guys. Like, as in “I might have written to Wayne in jail” fan. So when Wayne says “I almost drowned in the pussy so I swam to her butt,” I’m faced with a pretty major issue. On one hand, I can side with my girlfriend. The lyric is pretty graphic. Fine—it’s gross. Why did you drown in the pussy? Ohhhhh. Now I get it. While not as overtly sexist as the Big Sean line, Wayne does commodify the vagina without even mentioning anything about the girl it belongs to. On top of that there is the obvious reference to anal sex as a substitute for vaginal intercourse, an idea that the general public does not exactly subscribe to. I can see where she wouldn’t like the line, but my affinity for everything Lil’ Wayne and the image of him swimming warms my heart and wins out here. In his defense, I explain that this lyric must be taken for what it is. He’s being funny, and is not trying to put women down. I reference “Tha Carter” documentary where Wayne talks about not having time for sex, so its really not even supposed to be realistic I tell her.
This December, I was low-key obsessed with Azealia Banks, a female rapper by way of Harlem. Her single, “212” is highly revered as of the best rap tracks of 2011. Banks’ schtick is to be this sort of bad-ass bitch who does whatever the fuck she wants and can rap better than Big Sean, Jay Sean and Kreayshawn combined. It’s really fire. But the point here is that she takes the trope of sexism in rap and applies it the other way around. The best example is at the climax of “212” when she says, “I’m fucking with your cutie-q/ What’s your dick like homie, what are you into,/whats the run dude?” Everyone who hears this line is pretty taken aback. Banks isn’t the first female rapper to mention the phallus, but she does it in such an empowering way. Whereas Big Sean puts down women in his songs to make himself seem, well, bigger, Banks doesn’t have any intention of putting anyone down. She’s being herself. As a man, I don’t find myself offended, a fact which in itself might be anti-feminist. But the point is that it is possible to talk about sex and “courtship” in rap without being offensive. Drake might do this almost to a fault, constantly making the top of Ghostface Killah’s soft list.
I agree with my girlfriend on the majority of lyrics she finds offensive and it’s important for other women to recognize that may be blindly supporting an artist who is sending the wrong messages to little girls. I’m not suggesting Slim Thug write an exposé on 2nd wave feminism, but I definitely believe there is room for improvement in the genre.