From the earliest recorded musical works, women have been the topic of love and loss, hate and objectification. Feminist scholars have usually been the most vocal about the unfair labels placed on women in music and other art forms, but today more African American scholars, activists, and listeners are coming out to call for hip-hop reform, especially in the rap industry. It is in this genre of music that women are objectified as hyper-sexual and their male counterparts, through musical expression, proclaim them to be mere commodities to be used and discarded.
Although this topic has been on the forefront of many panels, discussions, and featured in several documentaries, the damage that has been done to a generation of listeners could be hypothesized as enormous. The degeneration of families and the maximalist rift between the sexes would be difficult to quantify as an effect of this type of music, but it seems to fit in as a microcosm of larger social problems. Violence and aggression are more prominent in many genres of music, including but not limited to rap. The alarming issue is how much more violent it is becoming and what it is doing to its audience.
For exemplary purposes the works of rapper Jay-Z will be used. Hip-Hop culture is about self-definition and shaking off the labels that are forced upon by certain members of our society. Yet, one attempting to define Hip-Hop might begin with Rap music. Rap music is a cultural expression, where through rhymed lyrics, the artist tells his story, making Rap a way of preserving memory. It is usually accompanied by highly rhythmic, electronically based music that adds to the desired effect of the song. Rap became popular during the 1970’s, built upon the older forms of art as Bebop of jazz, Black radio DJ’s, Blues singers, and the drum
music of Africa. It is widely accepted that Rap began in South Bronx, NY as apart of the growing Hip-Hop cultural movement of the time. Tricia Rose, in her influential book Black Noise writes that “Rap music is black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of Urban America […] From the outset, Rap music has articulated the pleasures and problems of Black urban life in contemporary America. ”(Howard, 1). If rap then is a form of story-telling, using these “black voices” it is likely that listeners, who do not identify with the characters will see this as such.
Much of what non-marginalized groups hear then, they may interpret as creative tales. However, those who do live in a marginalized group will accept this as truth and use this music as a barometer for their own relationships. It is members of these groups, who have stepped forward to proclaim that, though the negative treatment of women is a part of urban African American life in many cases, these rappers must be role models. Jay-Z, recently brought out of retirement is known for his objectification of women. The representation of women in gangsta rap music is certainly one of the most alarming aspects of the genre.
Snoop Dogg’s famous saying “still don’t love them hoes” can be found in nearly every song he has made since his debut in the early 1990’s. Artist Jay Z is probably most known for his characteristic style of “pimping them hoes”, as exemplified in a verse excerpted from his song “Big Pimpin”: You know I – thug em, f*** em, love em, leave em/Cause I don’t f***in need em/Take em out the hood, keep em lookin good/But I don’t f***in feed em/First time they fuss I’m breezing/Talkin bout, “What’s the reasons? “/I’m a pimp in every sense of the word, b****/Better trust than believe em.
Speaking of women as commodities, “b****es”, “hoes” and “gold diggers” has been the status quo in popular gangsta rap music for a decade, and the content is only becoming more and more denigrating. (Strings, 207-208). Though this alarm is echoing throughout may academic and social circles, it is important not to demonize the rap industry as introducing violence, vice, and sexual objectification of women. It is an issue that needs to be addressed as to its current effects, but, as stated earlier women have been objectified since the onset of art as an aesthetic pleasure.
Leo Tolstoy reflected on this very issue as early as 1890 in the novella, The Kreutzer Sonata. Fashionable dress to-day, the course of reading, plays, music, dances, luscious food, all the elements of our modern life, in a word, from the pictures on the little boxes of sweetmeats up to the novel, the tale, and the poem, contribute to fan this sensuality into a strong, consuming flame, with the result that sexual vices and diseases have come to be the normal conditions of the period of tender youth, and often continue into the riper age of full-blown manhood.
And I am of opinion that this is not right. These problems have always been and it is the hope of those most alarmed at the music of Jay-Z and others that the “tender youth”, who identify with and objectify women through this medium as their teacher will learn that it is unacceptable. The University of Chicago Magazine featured an article that highlighted the need for hip-hop reform, because of its negative influence on young girls due to the objectification of women in songs and videos.
“I love hip hop, but I feel at times that hip hop doesn’t love me back,” began Tamika Guishard, a documentary filmmaker and seventh-grade school teacher in New York City. Inspired after noticing the music’s impact on her female students, she made the eight-minute film Hip Hop Gurlz to investigate both the misogyny in videos and their effect on young women. “It seems like hip-hop videos today only use a beat, a few lyrics, and some objectified women,” Guishard said. She stressed that young girls digest those messages.
“How do you as a woman identify with hip hop if you are being talked about in a certain way? ” she asked, referring to hip-hop artists commonly calling women “hos, tricks, and bitches. ” “Girls do what they see in videos,” a black, pre-teen girl said in the film. “If I can get skinny, dress, and dance like that, I can be in videos too. ” “Hip hop influences the way these young women perceive themselves and their importance in relationships,” Guishard concluded. “The negative image of women in these videos has got to do something to their self-esteem” (University of Chicago).
That is the most important aspect of analyzing this genre of music, the effects of the negative objectification of women on young girls and the encouragement on young men to treat women as sub-human beings. In addition to the Jay-Z song highlighted previously, his music has alienated and angered young women, who have began speaking out for reform. In one of Jay-Z’s songs “Bit***s and Sisters” he puts women in two categories, claiming he loves sisters, but hates b*****s. Although he tries to show that he has some respect for some types of women Jay-Z objectifies even the ones that he claims to respect.
(B****)Sisters get respect, b****es get what they deserve Sisters work hard, b****es work your nerves Sisters hold you down, b****es hold you up Sisters help you progress, b*****s will slow you up Sisters cook up a meal, play their role with the kids B****es in street with their nose in your biz Sisters tell the truth, b****es tell lies Sisters drive cars, b****es wanna ride Sisters give-up the ass, b****es give-up the ass (Jay Z). So, then the objectification of women is a set-up for disaster.
With low self-esteem from many young African-American girls, who are raised listening to this type of music, the idea of a strong family will become more of a myth and the idea of never being “good enough” or stable enough in their relationships will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For young men, identifying with this type of music, the machismo and bravado that accompanies rap music, such as Jay-Z’s work will become part of their persona and they could be labeled as more feminine if they do not succumb to the rap lifestyle.
The rift between the two genders will become wider and family problems more prominent if this type of objectification continues. But, it does appear that those affected most by this negative form of expression are coming together to bring this issue to light for those, who are not aware of its implications.
Howard, C. “Hip-Hop and the Black Church: In Search for mutual embracing”. Newsletter: Boston Theological Institute. Volume XXXI, No. 13. December 12, 2001. Jay-Z. “B*****s and Sisters”. The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse. http://www. lyricsystem. com/jay-z/the-blueprint-2-the-gift-the-curse/bitches-sisters. html. 2002.