By Comrade Sloth
When it comes to feminist theory, rap culture isn’t commonly considered to be a stronghold for the expression of women’s rights. Lyrics to rap and hip-hop songs have customarily included lyrics that are deemed misogynistic, sometimes rightfully so. Songs produced by some of the most successful artists in the genre can be rife with themes like sexual exploitation, which encourage female objectification. But a closer look at some of the messages portrayed in many of these songs points toward a different conclusion: that rap is actually one of the most progressive platforms there is for female expression, and that it has been unfairly stigmatized by those who assess it on a Eurocentric moral basis.
First, we must acknowledge that within rap culture, the concept of the “ideal woman” has shifted substantially in recent years. For centuries, American women have been subjected to social and psychological conditioning that they should be subservient, docile, and domestic creatures, which is the traditionally contrived role of women under European Protestantism. Now, we are starting to see the emergence of an entirely new persona: the phenomenon of the so-called “bad bitch.” Taken word-for-word it certainly sounds like an insult, but it’s actually a term of respect that even approaches reverence. Mentioned and praised by such prominent artists as Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Kreayshawn, and Rihanna, the term refers to a woman who is independent, self-made, and rebellious toward conventional gender norms.
And the push for female independence reaches beyond mere lyrics. The rap and hip-hop music culture has seen the proliferation of female artists who have staked out ground for themselves among the highest-paid female musicians. Perhaps the most famous of these is the black female rapper Nicki Minaj, whose net worth is estimated at around $70 million. A self-proclaimed “bad bitch” who frequently raps about her power and influence, Minaj’s music videos commonly feature scantily clad, full-figured women flaunting their bodies. While this is nothing new for the rap scene in general, it takes on an entirely different shape when these women are depicted more as a powerful, unified mob than a harem of subordinates playing backup dancer to a male artist. In the music video for “Anaconda,” Minaj raps about her sexual prowess, and the only man in the music video--the rapper Drake--remains seated and appears to be incapacitated by her power.
So while feminist critiques of rap culture aren’t universally wrong, anyone looking to denounce the genre on the basis of its overtly sexual portrayals of women must be careful not to jump to a Eurocentric paradigm of gender relations. It certainly begs the question of why portrayals of women’s sexuality in the predominantly white and male media are instantly perceived as being degrading toward the gender as a whole. While a reduction of women to mere sexual objects is certainly unacceptable, cultural attitudes and rhetoric that aim to sequester any mention or praise of female sexuality can be equally damaging.