“I left my bitch at home; I think I need a new bae”: these lyrics had me seeing red as I was out jogging the other day. I’d cued up Vic Mensa’s album There’s Alot Going On, purely off the strength of his guest verse on “Go with It.” I’d never listened to him before, so I was unprepared for such a seedy statement, but also unsurprised. Let’s just say it was far from the first time I’ve been bothered by the misogynistic mentality that’s so prevalent in hip-hop.
Vic leaving his “bitch” at home to cheat was quickly followed by a more romantic track on which he sings, “I could do you proper… proper.” Really!? After you just bragged about cheating and leaving your girl for a different one first chance you got? Yeah, okay.
The songs are literally placed one right after the other, which makes the contrast even more jarring and, if you’re a woman, distressing. It was basically the musical equivalent of this, but in reverse (which makes it even more absurd):
We all know two-faced fuckboys exactly like this, and it’s no more enjoyable to listen to than it is to deal with. How you can go straight from treating a girl like trash and being all-out disrespectful into casually trying to woo her with sweet-sounding platitudes is beyond me. If you only treat girls nicely for the purpose of potentially getting to fuck them, then you’re a misogynist. Straight up.
Sadly, Vic isn’t the only one with this deplorable attitude towards women; it seems to be the norm within the genre. Many of the rappers and singers I regularly listen to—Trey Songz, Childish Gambino, The Weeknd—are guilty, which is a source of constant conflict for me. I often wonder if I, as a feminist woman, should even be listening to artists who make misogynist music at all, because in a way that’s supporting them, which then gives them the opportunity to produce more potentially misogynist output in the future. By simply playing their songs, I worry I’m being complicit and perpetuating harmful, regressive attitudes towards women through the unspoken implication that I agree with all their lyrics, even when I don’t.
But what seems grossly unfair to me is that if I were, on principle, to boycott every artist who’s a misogynist, I’d have to give up a good majority of my favorite music—and why should I have to abstain from something I otherwise enjoy just because these men can’t get their act together? Often it comes down to a question of whether the artist does more overall harm than good, or if I enjoy the music more than I’m bothered by the problematic elements within.
I tend to be more forgiving if it’s an artist who only makes club music or bangers (ex. Future or Fetty Wap), simply because they’ve never addressed any subjects that weren’t strictly hedonistic or materialistic. It’s still bad, yes, but in my eyes it’s not nearly as awful as all the “woke,” socially conscious rappers who rap about cutting-edge social issues and current events whilst continuing to be openly and shamelessly misogynist in their music. I’m talking big names here too, the Kendrick Lamars and J. Coles of the world, not some random unknowns. (There are tons of others, but these the ones that come immediately to mind.) These men are looked up to in the rap and black communities and, in Kendrick’s case, have even become figureheads for anti-racism/pro-black movements.
What’s funny to me is how they have no trouble dropping hard truths on police brutality in one song, then turning around and bashing women just as brutally on the next. It’s highly hypocritical and a definite headscratcher. Should these men really be addressing important issues when they can’t even meet basic standards of human decency? I’m no big fan of the bible, but this verse seems entirely too relevant:
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Note that I’m by no means downplaying the work these men are doing; I think it’s great that high profile black men are speaking against racism. Due to their massive popularity, mainstream rappers have these huge platforms from which to influence people and it’s great to see them using that power for good. But if they presume to speak on social issues in their music, then they’ve willingly placed themselves in that position of power and therefore I feel they have the responsibility to be morally consistent. I don’t feel it’s right to only be progressive only on one chosen issue (usually racism) and be silent or hold problematic views on all the rest (misogyny, homophobia, etc.). It also doesn’t make logical sense to me. If these rappers truly care about healing society, I question how they can sit there and cherry-pick which important issues to care about.
I have to wonder, do black male rappers only care so much about racism because it directly affects them? Do they also care about the issues that don’t, like feminism? It sure doesn’t seem like it. I understand human nature is selfish so we’re going to be most concerned with the issues in our own sphere, and I also know everyone’s going to be problematic to some degree, but when it comes to women, it seems like the majority of rappers don’t care and aren’t trying at all.
I’ve heard people make excuses to the effect of, “Well rap has a long history of misogyny; it’s ingrained in the genre, so just accept it already,” but I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Just because something is standard practice and widely accepted doesn’t make it right, and doesn’t mean we can’t change it. Slavery was once legal, but we fought a civil war over that. Being gay was once considered a mental disorder, but scientific research changed that. Similarly, I think if enough rappers started to reflect a new attitude in their music (i.e. stopped exclusively referring to women as “bitches/hos”) things could change and the culture could shift. But I also know it’s highly unlikely to happen, because of the unfortunate fact that we live in a sexist society where misogyny sells, and since most of these big name rappers are just after a paycheck, they’ll keep giving the masses more of the same.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and the only way I can think of to effect change is by listening to female rappers who haven’t yet internalized the misogyny they’re surrounded with, or male rappers who are actually, genuinely woke and committed to bettering themselves and society. Here I’ll shamelessly plug my boyfriend’s “(Ugly) Issues Song,” mostly because he’s one of the only ones I know doing it right now (and with gusto!). I hope that one day, we’ll reach the point where these things won’t even need songs or blog posts written about them because they’re so darn obvious. I look forward to the day I’m free to listen to whatever I want without feeling disgusted, torn, or saddened by the state of the world.