It has been around three decades since hip hop emerged on the American cultural scene. The music genres which are associated with hip hop cultural phenomenon, especially gangsta rap and contemporary R&B are believed to define “street” youth culture. These two hip hop music subgenres seem to be more influential than the other as there is more emphasis put on lyrical content than the music itself. The abundance of offensive words and messages in the songs makes them also controversial. Before listening to gangsta rap songs, one must be prepared most of all to hear extremely explicit language. The great number of derogatory terms embedded in the song lyrics is especially disturbing as they are greatly addressed to women – women of color in particular. Most of the cases involve name calling and violent attitude directed more likely at women in general than a particular person. Women in those songs are mostly placed in a sexual context and called e.g., bitch, whore, hoochie, slut. Promoting violent sex theme was well documented in the Kubrin and Weitzer’s research on the sample of 403 Amercian hip hop songs produced throughout the 1992-2000 but also noted in other articles/books etc. on the songs from the period 1987 – 1993.The scholars have found that the main purpose of such songs is to justify violence against women and make it a legitimate tool of social control.In such a view hip hop music promotes a set of gendered norms and enforces sanctions for those who do not abide those set up rules. Eminem’s song Kill You,for example, describes women as “vile, venomous, volatile bitches”. Many other popular rappers, like Redman, Outcast, degrade women to being a “chickenhead” – coined by association with giving oral sex.
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Whilst such terms are commonly perceived as pejorative, there are instances they may sound somewhat positive. One of the most successful rappers, Ludacris, in his hit song ”Pimpin’ All Over the World” raps: “I used to think that it was way too cold, til I went to Canada and saw some beautiful hoes…”And according to Ja Rule “every thug needs a down ass bitch”, i.e. a girl who is tough, and demonstrates her solidarity with her man and the gang they belong to. While these terms may not carry derogatory connotations in these songs, women are still positioned here within the sexual perspective. Interesting to notice is a fact that offensive terms aimed towards men are usually words with feminine connotation (bitch, pussy): ” I’m slick and slippery/ On a high-speed chase all the way to the victory. / Y’all niggaz is stone cold mysteries. / Too weak, can’t stand in the ring with me. / Put a pussy back in his place, straightlaced.”It also seems like to humiliate women goes hand in hand with getting respect from the other men. Men are referred to be “pimps” who can get a lot of “hoes”. (…) Legalize pimpin for all the pleyas, puttin’ fine ass bitches in the streets and the hood.”While in most of the songs a degrading women motif would appear randomly throughout the song, there are also cases in which that would be the main theme. The best example is Too $hort’s ”Ain’t Nothing Like Pimpin’”: “Ain’t nothing like a mother fucking bitch! / You nasty, once a month bleeding, mother fucking, nasty ass, mother fucking bitch! / I hate your mother fucking ass.” To justify their attitude towards women, many rappers give many reasons for doing so, such as women being too shallow: “We couldn’t get no play from the ladies. / With seven niggas in a Nav [Navigator] is you crazy?/ So we all said “fuck you bitch” and kept rolling.”
Sometimes verbal disrespecting turns into violent threatening. According to Kubrin and Weitzer aggression towards women appeared in almost 18 percent of the hip hop songs analyzed by them.Extreme hostility towards women represent the songs of Eminem’s where he attacks his relatives, especially his mother and ex wife in“Under the Influence”: “all bitches is hoes, even my stinkin’ ass mom.”In the song “Kill You” he even threatens to kill them: “Bitch I’ma kill you! / You don’t wanna fuck with me. / Girls leave – you ain’t nuttin but a slut to me.” He also seems to be perfectly aware of the fact his lyrics cause controversy. In the same song he admits to that: “Oh, now he’s raping his own mother/abusing a whore, snorting coke/ and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?”
Violence covers a broad spectrum in hip hop. Not only is it perceived as a legitimate tool of manipulation between men but also serves as an answer for disobedience of women. Such insubordination is interpreted in many ways. According to the rapper Dr. Dre: “snobby-ass bitches get slapped out of spite”.Another popular performer – Mase warns his potential sex victims to get tested on sexually transmitted diseases beforehand or else: “If she make my nuts itch, I kill that slut bitch”.Eminem seems to have issues with women in general and promotes violence as the only communication means between men and women. Usurpingand assuming power on women in hip hop songs are often represented by descriptions of rough sex: “Hit you with the dick, make your kidneys shift/ I’m guaranteed to fuck her till her nose bleed.”The myriad of misogynistic American rap songs mainly present four recurring instances of violence. Rappers pride themselves on sex acts that are harmful to women. They justify other acts of violence and threaten women who try to defy male supremacy. They also seem to encourage other men to resort to violence acts whenever they find it suitable. Violence seems to be the most appropriate response to women who abuse such gendered protocol, i.e. don’t “know their place.”
One of the most characteristic features of misogynistic rap lyrics is sexual objectification of women. This notion means that a person is perceived through the prism of physical attractiveness with disregard to the person’s intellectual abilities.Kubrin and Weitzer, in their paper on the misogyny in rap music stated that sexual objectification of women was noted in 67 percent of the songs analyzed. The main conclusion drawn from these lyrics is that women are only good to satisfy men’s sexual pleasures. The title of one of the N.W.A songs, “Findum, Fuckum, and Flee.” may serve as creed of the street code, according to which men’s goal would be pursuit of pleasure and sexual exploitation of women.Puff Daddy’s intentions are brazenly blatant in: “Call me Sean if you suck, call me gone when I nut. / That’s the end of us, get your friend to fuck”. While his fellow rapper, Too $hort, honestly admits the only thing he would try to get from women is sex without strings attached: “I ain’t Romeo, Prince Charming, or a knight in shining armor./ I’m only out to fuck a bitch, fuck tryin’ to charm her. I treat a fine ass bitch like dirt./ No money in her purse, a fuck is all it’s worth./ ‘Cause Short Dawg’ll never cater to you hoes./ And if you ain’t fuckin,’ I say “later” to you hoes.”
A pretty disturbing fact surfaced in this Xzibit’s song. Judging by the lyrics, women are considered to be men’s property: You got titties and ass./ But I got a dick and some cash./You ain’t talkin bout shit./ Then I’ma smash, bitch./ On three, on me, bitch, you my property.”This brings back to life one of the atrocities of slavery, when black women were often forced to keep exploitive sexual relations with their slave masters in exchange for better treatment, food, or simply to satisfy the oppressors’ urge.It seems that even though the American society has come a long way from the times of slavery, black women are nowhere near to being treated as free, independent individuals. As the American culture critic bell hooks points in her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, black women in America have been oppressed from the 17th century till today by white men, black men as well as white women. She argues that women of color have been omitted by the white feminist movement as well as the civil rights movement. The author perceives feminist movement as being a white middle and upper class struggle which showed no interest in issues of women of color. Black women found themselves trapped into confines of both gender and race. Thus, they have never been liberated from the institutionalized sexism – patriarchy, and racism. Additionally, in bell hooks’ opinion the Black Power movement was both patriarchal and misogynistic. As much as it aimed to overcome racial divisions it also sought to reinforce the sexist ones.Black male attitude towards their female counterparts presented in number of hip hop songs manifests their pursuit to keep women subordinate. Nowadays many rappers often express how they would put women in the right spot, as Too $hort: “Hoes be nothin’ but slaves for me, / ready to go to their graves for me.”, or Xzibit: “ (…) I’m hard on my hoes that’s how it goes./ Bitch, get up off your toes, and get my six-four [Chevrolet]”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American politician and sociologist, in his report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, also known as Moynihan Report, released in 1965 analyzed the data from the U.S. department of labor and drew a conclusion that black women had significant advantages over black men to be employed thus they could provide for the family more effectively. He also suggested that the traditional African American household is ruled by the matriarchal and emasculating women, an archetypical Mammy, which would imply that black men were symbolically castrated by their female counterparts. In order to stop degradation of the Negro family, black men need to seek the ways to restore their manhood.The lyrics of contemporary hip hop songs suggest that by degrading women, rappers may seek to regain their manhood. They suggest that the only desirable image of a black woman is the promiscuous and oversexed one as in Redman’s: “I turn an independent woman back into a hoochie.Notorious B.I.G. humiliates educated girls: “I like ‘em educated, so I can bust off on their glasses”.
These stereotypical images have their roots in the times of slavery in America. Southern white males would consider black men and especially women as possessed by their hypersexuality. The reason for such supposition might be cultural differences between Western Europe and Africa of the time. European travelers who visited Africa were often stunned to see semi nude native black women and commonly accepted polygamy. Nakedness in that time was perceived as a manifestation of indecency. The travelers embraced such a shocking experience by assuming that all black women are promiscuous by nature. Later on the contrast between the clothed Victorian ladies and half-naked native African women may have prompted assumptions that white women, on the contrary to black women, are civilized and sexually pure. Hence the symbol of black women reinforced by such depiction was “Jezebel”.It seems that African American women could not escape from the image of an instinctively promiscuous Jezebel assigned to them back in the slavery era. Stereotypes that were set at that time still affect black women nowadays. What is more, the stereotype of a seductive and lewd black woman has been perpetuated by their male counterparts. As the Jezebel image applied to black slave women might have been a way to justify maltreatment they were given, such reasoning applies also today.
Another justification for disrespecting women may be a fierce peer pressure on young men in ghettos. Male promiscuity is highly valued there.Casual sex with no commitment gets a man proud patch of a player, proves of his masculinity and helps to get respect from the others:” I had niggas making bets like, did he fuck her yet?/ Ask her did he touch her bra, when I say nah they say ahh / So tomorrow I use that pressure to undress her.”The Kubrin and Weitzer’s research shows that bragging about sexual achievements was present in 58 percent of the songs.Most of it implied how easy for a player is to talk a girl into having sex: “You see I order one bottle, then I fuck with one model/ Then I order more bottles, now I/ got more models/ I’m from that city where them niggaz don’t play mayn/ I take a chick to my/ room like caveman/ So ask your girlfriend my name (…).”
Women, especially attractive ones, are also treated as a symbol of achievement. Having a lot of casual sex proves that you are either a player or have a lot of money. As these seem to be the only means of getting a girl into sexual intercourse in the ghetto: “Say dog, what kinda nigga be on top of the world?/Million dollar status got me on top of ya girl.”Ability to sexually please a girl is perceived as a symbol of one’s high status. Below there is an example of how the rappers fondle their ego in that matter: “While your bitch be crying “please don’t stop”. . . I fuck her like I know you won’t./ If that’s your bitch, homeboy you’d better keep her ‘Cause she won’t stay off my beeper.”The female is used here just to partake in a sexual competition between men. Women cannot be granted any respect from the rappers, as they are described to be as much interested in heavy drinking, sex, and money as men. The only difference here is that a man will be positively referred to as a “player” or a “pimp” but a girl will be always called a “bitch”. Lyrics also imply that if a girl is being promiscuous and greedy it also justifies the maltreatment she receives from men as in hit song “The Gangsta, the Killa, and the Dope Dealer”: “All on the grass [marijuana], every bitch passed [out]/ A first not last, when we all hit the ass.”Women are treated as a commodity which can be consumed, used, passed to someone else and given out: “I know the pussy’s mines, I’ma fuck a couple more times/ And then I’m through with it, there’s nothing else to do with it./ Pass it to the homie, now you hit it/ Cause she ain’t nuthin but a bitch to me.”
Prostitutes are the classic example of sexual objectification and exploitation. Such image of a woman is to be expected in hip hop music since it has emerged out of ghetto setting. This theme has been found present in one-fifth of the songs analyzed by Kubrin and Weitzer.Prostitution and pimping are celebrated by rappers and classified as a justifiable means of economic achievement.These themes do not seem to be taken into consideration by any other music genre. Some rappers to get more credibility claim to have been a real life pimps ( Ice- T, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, K-Luv). Pimping has a broader meaning in hip hop than just managing prostitutes. To “pimp” something can mean to sponsor it or to accessorize it. The term pimp is often used as a substitute for “player,” a man who mastered in seducing women or hustlers who show off with their nouveau riche assets. This kind of a pimp chic imagery is a popular topic among rappers. Some even devote the whole songs to glamorize such lifestyle: ”The fancy cars, the women and the caviar. /You know who we are/‘cuz we’re pimpin all over the world.” There is also a number of rap songs in which we can find a lot of references to the “standard” definition of a pimp – man who headhunts and employs prostitutes.
Kubrin and Weitzer’s research takes into account the standard definition of a “pimp” and notes that this theme was detected in 20 percent of the misogynistic songs. Most of them contain the same message that women are good only to sell sex and men can usurp the right to access to their bodies:
No need for rest haven these hoes
Let’s show ‘em what they pussy made fo’
Let’s me and you lay in these hoes
And show ‘em what they pussy made fo’… .
Let’s leave without payin’ these hoes
And show ‘em what they pussy made fo’.
The misogynistic images of women are also present in many contemporary R&B hits, even though this genre has been perceived as less provocative and explicit: “Ace mizzy get all the hoes. /Gonna teach them shit they want to know. / Like fuck that pussy ass 9-4 girl./ Make that bucket a pot of gold”. These lyrics convey extremely disturbing misogynistic messages especially that hip hop aspires to be considered as a true voice of the urban ghetto. In that case, judging by the lyrics, the ghetto seems to inhabit pimps, pimps in training and prostitutes. While women are being described as sexual objects, men get the message to cherish the life of a pimp. Women seem to be “painted with the same brush” and not considered as an individual human beings. The only interaction between these two parties boils down to a scenario of what a pimp would do to a prostitute.
Another piece of advice, recurring in many hip hop songs, is the one that a man has to be careful of whom they put trust in. And women seem to be the least trustworthy. Among the representative sample of 403 rap songs, Kubrin and Weitzer extracted the misogynistic ones and noted that almost half of the misogynistic songs exposed such attitude of distrust towards women. Another fact worth noticing here is that the lack of trust is directed at all women with no exception. All women in general are considered tricky evil creatures. For some rappers a question “How could you trust a ho?”is rather a rhetorical one. Others unveil specific reasons why they “can’t trust’em”. In a song “I Need to Be” by Mase, a young girl is not only promiscuous but also will surely lie about her age which will get her admirer in trouble and most likely put him in prison: “See nowadays man you got to know these bitches age/ ‘Cause they ass be real fast when they be goin’ through that phase. / You fuck a girl that’s young, and you gonna end up in the cage.”
Many rappers in their songs criticize women’s gender solidarity oftentimes confusing it with women just being loyal to their family. For example, in previously quoted song, Mase advises his male listeners that defending is useless: “‘Cause her mom ain’t tryin’ to hear that you never knew her age.”A mother will be on her little girl’s side choosing to be loyal to her family. According to other rappers like Nas, not only do women stand up for one another but will also try to get some material compensation from men. Nas warns his male counterparts that it is a bad idea to force women into having sex, not because of the atrocity of this act, but rape accusation that may follow: “Don’t take the pussy, if she fightin’/ ‘Cause you saw what happened to Tupac and Mike Tyson./ ‘Specially if you large [famous], some hoes is trife [petty]/ Get you on a rape charge, have you servin’ your life.”
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The fear of being accused of rape and convicted may come from real life stories and black men experiences which received a broad media coverage. A legendary black boxer, Mike Tyson, was accused and sentenced for a date rape on 18- year-old Miss Black Rhode Island. Tupac Shakur heard the same charges from his groupie whom he forced to have a group sexual intercourse with. Despite being found guilty of rape, both convicts were considered as the most celebrated heroes of the hip hop generation in the 1990s. This fact well illustrates the gender conflict of that generation. During and after the trial, many black male church leaders defended Tyson claiming that the whole process was an attempt of the white supremacist to destroy a well-known black man. The president of the National Baptist convention in USA was suspected for offering a bribe to the Tyson’s complainant. For a substantial black male part of the society the issue was not about gender but about racism. The both trials were perceived by them as the spectacle created for the white audience .This example proves of an extreme solidarity within African American male society. Countless hip hop lyrics strongly reinforce the idea of conspiracy theory that is supposedly drawn by the evil white supremacist patriarchal system and black women’s betrayal.
Another widely discussed event which revealed a problem of racial vs. gender loyalty within African American society was the controversial Hill/Thomas case. Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated for the Justice of the Supreme Court was accused of sexual harassment by his former employee, Anita Hill, in 1991. During the hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hill testified that for the duration of her employment at the Equal Opportunity Commission she was persistently bothered by the chairman’s (Thomas) unwelcome sexual advances toward her. What made the hearings controversial was not only the case of harassment, which had not been so openly discussed before, but mainly the fact that two main protagonists were black African Americans, well educated Republicans, who accused one another in front of the white, mostly male members of the Senate.Thomas carefully and wisely prepared his line of defense by making references to the many myths and stereotypes applied to African Americans during the times of slavery and post Civil Rights period. He reminded the public of many infamous events from the American history. He compared the hearings to the lynching performed by the whites on the freed black people in the past. The lynching officially was a way of punishment for rapes supposedly performed by black males. In fact this was just an excuse to sustain control over freed blacks. The myth of black rapist had been already deconstructed as being unjust and the white American society may have felt the burden of shame for the horrid lynching practices. By referring to it, Thomas may have attempted to evoke pangs of conscience among the white audience.He also manipulated with the stereotype of an overtly sexual black woman – Jezebel and castrating black matriarch. He presented himself as a hardworking successful man who has been lured by a Jezebel and unfairly accused by a powerful black matriarch. By applying such strategy he managed to convince the white audience about his innocence. If it goes about the fellow black counterparts, he opted for discrediting Hill in front of the black society. He addressed to her not as to a black woman, but to a woman who accuses an innocent black man for rape. Exactly as in the times of lynching. By doing so, he somewhat excluded her from the same racial group they both belonged to. Such maneuver helped him gain support also from the black society.After extensive debate, the U.S. Senate dismissed the accusations and confirmed Thomas by overwhelming majority of votes.Undoubtedly this case shows clearly an unresolved issue of gender and race conflict among African Americans.
These events may have influenced a number of hip hop artists who eagerly express a lot of distrust in black women, attractive women in particular. In many examples of lyrics cited by Kubrin and Weitzer, as well as a in a number of songs of the contemporary rappers like 50 cent or Ludacris, it can be noted that black male rappers pursue three things: money, power and sex with beautiful women. Whilst possession of money makes men powerful, money and power lure a lot of beautiful women. These three variables: money, power and women determine respect from other male counterparts. By applying such logic one can arrive at conclusion that loss of money would be followed by the loss of power. No wonder that male rappers would be extremely suspicious towards intentions of women to whom they are attracted. Such attitude permeates throughout many hip hop songs. Black women are being presented as beautiful, yet deceitful creatures praying on naïve men. Oftentimes, they are considered by the rappers to be decoys for set up. There are number of songs which describe such procedure: “ You know they [women] might be the one to set me up. / Wanna get they little brother to wet [kill] me up…/ Bitches be schemin’, I kid ya not. / That’s why I keep my windows locked and my Glock cocked.”
Another way for women to set men up, presented in some hip hop songs, is to get pregnant. This seems to be not only the concern of the rappers, but also a common prejudice among the male in ghetto neighborhoods. Elijah Anderson who devoted one of his works to the life of the inner city, states that to claim a child is against the street code of “hit and run”. The rappers warn their male audience: “Why plant seeds in a dirty bitch, waitin’ to trick me?/ Not the life for me.”According to many rappers, if a black male from the ghetto admits for getting a girl pregnant, it will mean a breach of the street code. But the greatest concern of men in such case would be paying child support: “I ain’t lettin’ nothin’ leak cause if things leak, then I’m a get caught/ And I can’t get caught cause you know how they do it about that child support./ Shit, bitches is cold on a nigga who ain’t got his game tight/ Getting 18.5 percent [child support payments] half your life.”
Generally speaking, collection of child support is a problem in the times of crisis, especially for unqualified African-American workers. Robin D. G. Kelley in his book Race Rebels, Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class presents how young black males in America have reacted to the limited labor opportunities during the twentieth century. He claims that most of the jobs available to the black working class were considered by them as “slave labor”. The author states that the reason why young black men would rather become hustlers or gangsters was to consciously protest against discrimination and lack of other satisfactory type employment. Such a rebellious attitude can be observed nowadays in gangsta rap as the economic situation of black working class have not improved much over the decades. A tough choice has to be made, whether to cater for own needs or the child’s. As the money for the children upbringing goes to their mothers’ pockets, the male frustration and resentment towards women grows. Being broke does not match the image of the self-proclaimed pimp or a player. As Too $hort raps:
“ No more player, no Shorty the Pimp
I get paid, divert a check and get 40 percent.
All the homies talkin’ bad, hair down, walkin’ sad
Got the broad livin’ with me, baby sayin’ “Dad!”…
I could try to mack again but the bitches won’t want me
‘Cause I’m all washed up, broke, fat, and funky.
I lost everything that I worked to be
Never thought I’d be a trick, payin’ hoes to serve me.”
The lyrics make it obvious that women cannot be trusted because they are a hazard to men – “pimps”. If they do not get men in prison or ridicule them in front of other peers and hinder the image of a thug, they will surely drain pimps’ pockets. And this is what rappers seem to be the most anxious about.
Pursuit of money is one of the most reoccurring motifs in rappers songs. Contemporary artist 50 cent even named one of his albums “Get Rich..or Die Trying.” His fellow rapper, the Lox, notes that the streets seem to be filled with “gold diggers” on the prowl only interested in men because of their money: “Watch the honeys check your style/ Worthless, when they worship, what you purchase./They only see ice [diamonds], not me, under the surface/What’s the purpose?” One of the popular rap songs by Kanye West, “Gold Digger”, may serve as the best example of a song that describes a seductive, yet greedy woman who takes advantage of men. Kanye raps here about a type of a woman who is mostly feared by those black men who climbed up the social ladder, became businessmen, or celebrities and like to show off their recently acquired wealth. Those men are considered to be the easiest targets as they feel no limits for dispensing money and boast about their affluence. A “gold digger” is described as a very tricky “cutie the bomb”. Once she has set her sight on the super rich male target, the first thing she will try to do is charm and seduce him by the gorgeous looks. This “femme fatale” will try to blend in the elite circle to get to some wealthy male. In no time she will make him spend money on her and friends. The “player” will comply with the rules of this game just to impress the woman he desires. The main goal of a “gold digger” is to secure her life with the prey’s money. If she fails to drag his feet down the aisle, next step will be getting pregnant. This should suffice to claim a part of her “nouveau riche” partner’s affluence. Kanye West makes an ironic conclusion that oftentimes it happens that after eighteen years of paying the child support the baby turns out to be someone else’s.
Whilst men in hip hop songs do not see anything wrong in taking advantage of women, they seem to fear of getting such “favor” returned by them. Their concern is also not to get ridiculed in front of other men. If that happens, Kanye West gives them a self explanatory answer back: “she ain’t messin’ wit no broke niggaz.” There is also a message to black women in general in the last stanza of this song. No matter if she is a gold digger or a down to earth girl who stick to her man regardless of his material status, there is a bad ending for both of them anyway. If he a poor black man is ambitious enough, he will get rich sooner or later. However when it happens, he will: “leave your ass for a white girl”. This suggests that white women are ranked higher than black women in the hip hop social hierarchy.
The reason for positioning white women above their black counterparts by black males may have its roots in the issue of colorism. This issue refers to the instances when lighter skin tones are considered more desirable than the darker ones and vice versa. According to the findings of the study on the effect of images of African American women in hip hop on adolescents lighter skin tone and sleek hair texture would be considered as the main determinants of female attractiveness. These traits would be most sought for by both male and female who participated in the survey. Also historically these features were used as measures of social, political and economic significance for African Americans. Those who resembled European Americans would be located higher in the American social strata.Such supposition may have influenced the pursuit of white women by black men. The image of a strong, emasculating black woman versus a pure and submissive Victorian lady perpetuated throughout the years may be also considered as an explanation for black men fascination with white women. Yet still, all women, regardless the race, seem to be considered as an object, or an accessory to acquired wealth or as means of climbing the social status ladder.
The review on hip hop lyrics, produced by male rap artists in particular, has revealed a lot of disturbing messages especially about black women and their status in the urban society. A great number of lyrics aims to increase male domination over women. Women are portrayed as being just sexual objects in the men’s world. It is the world where a special code of conduct has been drawn by the male pimps who set normative rules that turn women into obedient prostitutes. Male rappers in their songs create a system in which women are subordinate to men in a number of ways. Some scholars and commentators explain existence of such messages in rap music as a reaction to the feminist movement. One of the black feminists who pays a lot of attention to rap music and sexism, bell hooks, argues that rap music aims to spread the word among the male part of the urban society.
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