Controversies Surrounding Hip Hop Cultural Studies Essay

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Throughout nearly thirty years of its existence on the music scene, hip hop has been considered a very controversial genre. It consists of many subgenres which all serve to define "street" youth culture of African American, economically disadvantaged, communities. Rap is still one of the most popular music styles, yet it has been recently receiving increased backlash for its misogynistic lyrics. The analyses of the popular rap songs presented in this thesis indicate that the overwhelming amount contains disturbing messages directed at black women and reveal their status in the urban society. Most of the upsetting traces in male artists' hip hop lyrics involve disrespecting and violent attitude toward black females, sexual objectification, and women's betrayal.

Aggression covers a broad range in hip hop. In many cases of male rap songs their lyrics seem to promote a set of gendered norms and enforce sanctions for those who do not abide the patriarchal set of rules. Violent attitude not only is perceived there as a legitimate way of interaction between men but also serves as a punishment for disobedience of women who try to defy male supremacy. The motif of violence is connected to another significant element of misogyny in hip hop - sexual objectification of women. Women are judged there by physical attractiveness with disregard to the their intellectual skills. Many lyrics imply that women are only needed to satisfy men's sexual pleasures. Some commentators explain existence of such messages in rap music as a reaction to the feminist movement. Other critics try to explain misogynistic behavior of black men by referring to strong archetypes ingrained in African American culture. Black males due to historical circumstances and the inability to provide for the family, have been perceived as being symbolically castrated by their strong female counterparts. Such hatred toward women presented in these rap songs may have been ignited by the male need to refute this perpetuated image of a strong, black emasculating matriarch. By disrespecting women in the songs black men may have found a way to regain their manhood and stop degradation of the African-American family. Although they act against the perpetuation of the black matriarch stereotype, they eagerly uphold other symbolic features ascribed to black women. In many songs they suggest that the only desirable image of a black woman is the promiscuous and oversexed one. The label of a Jezebel, a seductive and lewd black woman initially applied to black slave women, is still used to describe African-American women in numerous gangsta rap songs. Another justification for sexual objectification of women may be a fierce peer pressure on young men in ghettos. Male promiscuity is highly valued there. Casual sex proves of masculinity and helps to get respect from other men. What is more, prostitution and pimping are celebrated by rappers and acceptable as means of economic achievement. Interesting to notice is that such themes do not seem to appear in any other music genre.

The third noticeable issue in male rappers hits is the lack of trust ascribed to black women. A considerable number of hip hop lyrics strongly advocate the idea of black women betrayal of their race in favor of the evil white supremacist patriarchal system. The infamous events of rape accusations of black American "heroes" as Tupac Shakur or Mike Tyson or political figures as Clarence Thomas by black females surely influenced a number of hip hop artists who eagerly express a lot of distrust in black women, attractive women in particular. They make it obvious that women cannot be trusted because they are a hazard to men - "pimps".

Not all of the male rapper songs discredit women, but the extent of the objectification, and intensity of insults and aggression towards women are extreme. The only noted instances when rappers talk about women in a somewhat positive way, are sexual references to their physical attractiveness rather than to the inner beauty or intellectual skills. All the songs with significant traces of misogyny analyzed here have appeared on the Billboard list. Many of albums containing such songs attained platinum status. This implies that production of such songs is not only accepted by the music industry but also sought for by the great number of consumers. Hip hop aspires to be the voice of the urban communities, which makes the trend towards maltreatment and objectification of women a very disturbing fact.

If it goes about female rappers, nearly all messages embedded in their works analyzed here serve to empower women in various ways. Female pioneer rappers grouped into "Queen Mothers" represent a mature approach to life and issues of the ghetto. Their lyrical expression provides back lashing voices against male sexism and misogyny. However they do not relate to feminism and do not stand in opposition to men. They have to deal with a great identity conflict whether to be loyal to their race or gender. That is why they prefer to be called womanists as their mission is to demand respect not only for black women but for community in general. The second crew of female rappers "Fly Girls" distinguish themselves from the pioneers by the sense of fashion. They seek to empower black women not only by the use of the lyrics, but also by accentuating their outer black beauty and sexuality. Another group of female artists taken into consideration are raunchy "Sistas with Attitude." They have created and imposed their own definitions of womanhood through their use of vulgarity, voice intonations, and sexuality. The use of sexually explicit lyrics by women is liberating and emancipating for them, and by doing so they refuse to be perceived as sexual objects, and place themselves as subjects instead.

There is also a lot of contradictions in the female rap music. Many instances of "Sistas with Attitude" songs showed traces of women self-exploitation, as well as offensive and humiliating lyrics about women in general. Moreover in some cases the same artists who on one hand aim to empower women, humiliate them on the other. Such contradictory lyrics nullify the positive messages that are conveyed by female rappers. The consequence of that may be perpetuation of sexist notions of femininity, and disempowering of women. Although female rappers seem to be extremely conscious of their sexuality sometimes this self assurance comes as an effect of degrading other black women. Applying such misogynistic standards followed by men, women only strengthen the confines of their own oppression. That is why the way black women are perceived through the prism of hip hop depends on both black men and women.

For a long time hip hop was considered to be a unique expressive manifestation of the collective consciousness of African-Americans. Rap was admired to perfectly define the youthful audience of the inner cities. Nowadays hip hop faces an unprecedented criticism about its negative effect on society. Nearly all aspects of hip hop phenomenon (culture, fashion, music) have been commercialized and transgressed to the mainstream. The generation which have grown older finds it hard to relate to the contemporary hip hop culture. Yet, the potential to gather masses in hip hop still exists. Many events have shown how hip hop can induce a great impact not only on popular culture but also influence the politics. The strength of hip hop lies within the ability to spread the word freely. No matter what messages it conveys, they quickly reach the audience. Rap may serve as a great informative tool and provide answers to many troubling questions. Such an enormous potential can be used in a number of ways in order to rejuvenate black society. Some enthusiasts of this phenomenon claim that that hip hop, if wisely led, can surpass the achievements of the civil rights movement.