When is booty shaking right?
As women's rap grows in the mainstream, so does the criticism of their reclamation of sexuality through their lyrics. Predominantly from male rappers who have been using women's sexuality as a vehicle to promote their own careers since rap's inception.
In recent years the music industry has seen an influx of female rappers gaining notoriety both in the mainstream and underground. Whilst artists like Cardi B pick up Grammy's and rappers like Rapsody receive nominations, once underground artists like BbyMutha, Rico Nasty and Noname are also experiencing newfound popularity and expanding the tapestry on modern rap. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with women progressing in any industry - this has been met with pushback from male stalwarts. Most baffling, is an evident desire to undermine female rapper's sexual expression. In a recent interview on the Breakfast Club Power 105.1FM, Snoop Dogg paid homage to The Squad. The Squad are four female congresswomen in the United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar. In a landscape of U.S. politics underpinned by publicly palatable sexism (amidst other forms of bigotry), The Squad's willingness to stand unapologetically in the face of Washington has drawn praise from a number of commentators. This includes Snoop Dogg who at 42:30 of the video states that their cause is important because he's tired of "seeing girls shaking their booties, and showing their titties, and feeling like they gotta, you know show they ass." He then goes on to motivate prospective female listeners stating "You can be something different, use your mind. Cover your body up, let a man have some imagination and think and be like one of the women up in the office up in there" . Even though it is obvious Snoop Dogg was attempting to show support, his comments are symptomatic of patriarchal attitudes that are pervasive throughout society. Unfortunately, straight black men within the rap industry are not exempt.
Firstly, I can not be the only person who watched this clip and thought "has Snoop Dogg ever seen a Snoop Dogg music video?". To his credit, radio host Charlamagne Tha God pointed out "that's saying a lot coming from you. Mr bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks" a counter point which was sadly laughed off rather than expounded upon. Aside from the hypocrisy of Snoop Dogg's comments given the lyrical content and imagery of his own career, what his comments also illuminate is a strange assertion that body confidence and intelligence are somehow mutually exclusive. Women generally seem to be held to a higher standard in terms of respectability in order to be taken seriously. If for example any of the squad were to want to post photos of their bodies, would it somehow negate the gravity of their political impact? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already fought back against internet trolls who deemed a video of her re-enacting a dance from The Breakfast Club proof that she was a "clueless nitwit". The most confusing element of Snoop Dogg's statement is the "let a man have some imagination and think and be like one of the women up in the office up in there". It is not clear whether he is saying that more conservative clothes leave more to a man's imagination, adding an added allure to seduction. Which is not the point of being a congresswomen. Or perhaps that not being distracted by women's bodies will allow men to be inspired to emulate the success of The Squad. Neither make much sense.
More on the subject of female rappers, an interview with A$AP Rocky on The Angie Martinez Show highlights the hypocrisy of how lyrical content is measured depending on the rapper's gender. Whilst actually attempting to praise female rappers A$AP Rocky compliments the work of Young M.A. and Rico Nasty. Rocky states that usually when he listen to female rappers his mind drifts to thoughts of having sex with them. The exact terminology he used is "rag 'em". This in of itself does not strike me as morally wrong, though perhaps a strange thing to announce for no reason. From 7:50 onwards he explains his view that when you listen to most female rappers content is about other rappers "wanting to dress like them" and boastful claims like "bitches on my dick". Messages that despite his apparent aversion to, can be found in most A$AP Rocky verses such as his verse of Fucking Problems which literally contains the line "All these motherfuckers wanna dress like me". When writing this article I also checked if the phrase bitches on my dick came up in any A$AP verses. The results may not surprise you.
There is no doubt that some rap music promotes sexualisation of women, materialism and unnecessary extravagant displays of wealth. For certain people these are deal breakers and reason enough to stay away from the genre, which is anyone's right as a consumer. Personally I find them enjoyable (in the context of music). Whichever side of the fence you fall on: to insinuate that female rappers promoting these things is somehow more wrong is sexist. Particularly from someone who unapologetically rapped about ejaculating in another celebrities mouth. To criticise the sexuality displayed in female rapper's music, particularly from Rocky's positionality, is absurd. It showcases the way women are held to a higher regard artistically which is arguably representative of life in general perhaps best explained through the content of the Dalyt freestyle below.
Video: Dalyt Freestyle w/The L.A. Leakers - Freestyle #74
It's worth noting that I actually think this freestyle is incredible for the most part. Content, flow, delivery - it has everything. From 2:40 however, Dalyt raps "Nicki Minaj, it's all fake butt girls wake up, never act silly. Shout out to Ill Camille and Rapsody real sisters who fight for our sister, push the agenda" rightfully paying homage to two of raps most lyrical content driven rappers. He continues "Don't be barbies, don't do parties, no VIP with Bacardi". A probable shot at the less philosophical Cardi B. To understand the relevance of this seemingly innocuous few bars, one needs to know the wider context of the freestyle and Dalyt's general subject matter. Most of it is comprised with musings of black liberation. In this sense, he posits women's role in this as being devoid of vanity and superficiality. Like Snoop Dogg he outlines women partying and being focused on their appearances as somehow being the antithesis of caring about social issues. As though human beings have a finite capacity to care about things. In fact, it is human being's multiplicity that makes life interesting and translates to music to make it reflective of life. Take Kendrick Lamar's GOOD Kid M.A.A.D City for example. I have never heard anyone claim that Backseat Freestyle or Sherane which are essentially songs about teenage testosterone fuelled lust and violence, cancel out the chilling depiction of the working class black communities proclivity to gang violence expressed in songs like The Art of Peer Pressure or Sing About Me I'm Dying of Thirst. On the contrary is it the holistic representation of the complexity of everything that makes a human being complete, that led to the album receiving justified critical acclaim.
Some female rappers have spoke out against the frequent undue criticism. Cardi B took to social media earlier this year calling for support for female rappers whose content is more lyrical. It came after Jermaine Dupri's comment that hip-hop has been infiltrated by strippers rapping in an interview with People magazine. She went on to highlight the aforementioned Rapsody as well as others such as Tierra Whack, Kamaiyah and Chika and pointed out the lack of support for them within mainstream rap. Jermaine Dupri has also claimed on numerous occasions that he has been more influential to Atlanta rap music that Outkast, so it is debatable how seriously anyone can take his comments about hip-hop in the first place. Nevertheless, Dupri's statement usefully illustrates the flawed logic in the demonisation of sexually explicit female rappers. Megan Thee Stallion has also called out the double standard in the way rappers content is judged. In her cover story for The Fader she rightly points out that if she was making noises like Lil Uzi and Playboi Carti it is unlikely she would be taken seriously. She goes on to clarify that she likes both of their music, but the point remains valid. Contrarily in her own music Megan The Stallion favours lyrics that are as clever as they are raunchy. Her mountainous presence of Cash Shit with DaBaby bears testament to this in which she raps "Bitch, I'm a star, got these niggas wishin' He say he hungry, this pussy the kitchen" clearly unbothered by any prospective detractors of explicit female sexuality.
The rhetoric surrounding strippers, in Dupri's own comments, and rap in general is almost unanimously negative. Cardi B herself has faced criticism for her past working as one. Strippers and strip clubs have been a vital part of the aesthetic and culture in rap, particularly in Atlanta rap. Outlets such as GQ and Noisey have both documented the central role they play. It is well known that for up and coming rappers, your song receiving a positive reception from the strippers at a big club can be a massive career game changer. For a male Atlanta rapper to discredit someone for having been a stripper is the epitome of having your cake and eating it too. If of course the cake was made out of sexual exploitation and hypocrisy, and no one needs a slice of that. Furthermore his and Rocky's criticism that all female rappers rap about the same thing, ignores the fact that most male rappers follow a very similar character arc. During the interview Dupri jokingly points to several imaginary female rappers in Oprah-esque fashion smirking "okay so you've got a story about you dancing in a club, and you got a story about you dancing in a club" almost as though a huge proportion of rap does not follow the narrative of someone rising out of poverty through gang affiliation and the surrounding challenges.The conditions and societal constraints of underprivileged black working class men in the U.S. sometimes leads to criminal activity. Rappers are predominantly from this demographic and express themselves and tell their story through rapping about their experiences. If the same is true of women who have been strippers, I don't see the justification for criticising them if they choose to rap about it. The only real difference is that unlike gang violence, being a stripper isn't illegal.
What is most telling about all of this, is the hypocrisy. Rap has endless external critics, particularly the more conservative minded who likely take offence in any performed vivacious sexuality, vanity and sex work whoever the practitioner is. Within rap though, there is a rampant culture of only criticising these things when female rappers are the proponents. I would argue that most of the people criticising these things aren't actually against them in principle, so much as not being the beneficiary of them. At it's core rap music is a vehicle through which members of the black community have been able to alleviate themselves from poverty and lack of representation put upon them by a calculated system of oppression in the United States. To create a similar oppressive model within rap, where female rappers are creatively undermined unjustifiably is an insult to the importance of what rap represents creatively and economically. Setting unfair higher standards for female rappers who want to display their sexuality stagnates their ability to progress within the genre. Tastemakers within rap have been the profiteers of a genre that fights systemic oppression and should therefore be committed to disbanding it where they can. They would be wise to remember that assuming the role of the oppressor in a new context does not achieve this.
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