Everyone seems to have an opinion on Rap. From the diehards to the “backpackers” to the “Stans” to those who can’t stand the sound of it. There has been a fiery debate over the misogyny elected in a lot of popular rap songs. To critics of the genre, most advocates say “You little stupid ass bitch I ain’t fuckin’ with you!” And perhaps, all jokes aside, there lies the problem. The present misogyny inherent in the art form is a thorn in the side of most critics. Political figures, on both sides of the political spectrum have spoken out against the effects of rap music. News pundit, Bill O’Reilly, has proven to be particularly vocal on his disdain for the genre of music. He also claimed that rap music is responsible for the decline in organized religion.
“The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior, and that sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.” – Bill O’Reilly
On top of their dislike of the culture, another easy strike against it exists. Even the alleged “conscious rap”, which aims to enlighten listeners on social issues, tends to err on the offensive side at times. For instance, take J. Cole’s No Role Modelz. Based on its premise, we have a song about uplifting women in an era where there are no prevalent female role models. But what do we have in virtually every other line? Bitch here. Ho there. So how is it that we can have a potentially uplifting female ode with derogatory terms being spewed? The answer is two-fold. Yes, misogyny is present in Hip-Hop. There is no denying that. Just like misogyny is present in any other American subculture because it’s a product of the society we live in. However, what must be understood is that rap, just like many other forms of art, uses figurative language to enhance the messages it unveils to its listeners. This is not to say that all of Rap can be excused as figurative. Clearly there are times where rappers are being extremely literal in the things they rap about. Bobby Shmurda, anyone? Too soon? Okay, but conscious rap is an important distinction from the rest of rap music. It is extremely reliant upon figurative language, especially in the times where misogynistic language is being used.
So let’s revisit No Role Modelz. This time we will use our keen eye for detecting figurative language out of seemingly offensive lyrics. “I don’t want no bitch from reality shows, out-of-touch-with-reality-hoes.” I know what you’re thinking. Certainly, this can’t be the line in which I choose to justify conscious rap. Well it is; so bitch, don’t kill my vibe. Yes he says “bitch” and yes he says “ho”. But here’s what you didn’t hear. When he raps he “don’t want
no bitch from reality shows”, one must understand the gravity of the female representation on reality television. These are women who, for the most part, don’t have real jobs. They tend to be women of color who are married to successful men—namely athletes and you guessed it—rappers. Shows like Love & Hip-Hop or Basketball Wives present women as trophies for men who otherwise have it all. It makes it seem like these women need not intelligence or ambition but simply beauty and to marry well to live a fruitful life. They often bicker intensely between one another which further perpetuate stereotypes of women—and deepen the typeca
sting of black women and women of color in this country. But that’s a lesson for another day. All J. Cole is simply trying to say is that he doesn’t want women to replicate the false illustration of women on reality television. You should just be yourself.
Still don’t believe me? Fine. Let’s look at another example. Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda received just as much backlash as it did praise. Why? Because her bare behind was on the single’s cover and the whole song was about how great her ass is. (But the children!!)Understandably, this angered many people. Many critics, including self-proclaimed (white) feminists claim that she sexually objectified herself to sell records and be provocative. This would further prolong the war against misogyny. However, what Minaj is doing does not further misogyny. In fact, in a field dominated by men, she attempts to perfect the craft while destroying the standards of what women should look like. The divulgement of her lyrics using figurative language paints an accurate narrative of her efforts. As funny as it may sound, when Minaj raps “I got a big fat ass” she means it. Unapologetic and stone cold. She chooses to be bold with her figure in a society where the Eurocentric standard of beauty is extremely prevalent—thin, white, blonde-hair, blue eyes. Minaj noted in a tweet the irony taking place. The same reviewers that praised the Sports Illustrated edition, featuring white Eurocentric models, for baring their ideal figures bashed Minaj’s cover artwork. However, she plans to remain as a rarity in the entertainment industry in the midst of women who do not necessarily look like her.
Suggestive lyrics in both songs, though seemingly offensive and retrogressive, are doing their part to overcome misogyny and promote powerful thinking women across all races and cultures in this country. Because Hip-Hop has become such a global enterprise, this shift in thinking also crosses international lines. Both No Role Modelz and Anaconda are societal gems in efforts to overcome misogyny. This can only be understood using figurative language—conscious rap’s medium of expression.