By Kayla Williams
Staff Writer - The Boom Bap Hour Uncut
Modern Feminism in Hip Hop
“I really cannot wrap my head around the fact it's
Taken me this long to finally realize I'm fantastic
I used to write my little raps
They'd always look right past it
Like it's average”
Mexican- American rapper Snow Tha Product rapped these lyrics (from the song Bilingue) last year. These lyrics voice her frustrations of being a woman in the hip hop industry. She feels as if she is overlooked by big players in the field because she is female, even though she has delivered great lyrics, performances, and deserves to be taken seriously as an artist.
Unfortunately hip hop and the music industry are still riddled with sexism. In spite of this, women are persevering and paving the way for others as they have been succeeding in the genre of hip hop as of late. Last year’s charts reflected the highest total number of female hip hop artists making their mark on the Billboard Hot 100 during this decade. Saweetie, Iggy Azalea, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj, Lizzo and City Girls all had songs topping the charts last year. On top of this, Lizzo also impressively became the sixth woman rapper to ever hit the No. 1 slot, and the first to do so in two years. Her single “Truth Hurts” officially became the longest-reigning Number 1 single performed by a female rapper without any features in the chart’s history (Orcutt).
Not only is there a place for women in the industry as successful hip hop artists; women have also begun to show their sexuality in a positive light and use it to empower themselves as well as other women. A new wave of feminism has emerged through modern day hip hop artists’ music and images. These women have used their social media platforms to educate young women and speak about important issues like colorism, sexism, politics, and above all to stand together. They have also shown women as sexy, powerful, and desirable through their music videos and lyrics. Take for example, Texas rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who was the first female to be signed to 300 Entertainment’s record label. Megan Thee Stallion is known for her confidence, sensuality, and explicit lyrics. She presents this throughout her lyrics, videos, and live performances. In an interview with Pitchfork she stated, "It's not just about being sexy, it's about confidence and me being confident in my sexuality."
A large part of Megan’s appeal is that in her music, she raps as a dominant alpha male. Her song, Cash Sh*t , emphasizes her position of power in a relationship with a man. She raps that to be romantically involved with her, a man has to understand that she is in charge. Lyrics like, “Yeah, that's my dawg, he gon' sit down and listen. Call him a trick and he don't get offended”, portray her as a female pimp. This goes against the status quo of the typical gender dynamic in hip hop. Often male hip hop artists depict themselves as pimps in their songs or compare their lifestyle to that of a pimp (since pimps are seen as successful, powerful figures). The pimp is often used as a metaphor in rap lyrics, however female rappers like Megan are flipping the script and putting themselves in the position of power. In Cash Sh*t Megan raps,
“He know he giving his money to Megan
He know it's very expensive to date me
Told him go put my name on that account
Because when I need money, I ain't tryna, hold up,”
Megan has also been very vocal about her journey through college (which she is currently enrolled in) and has encouraged her listeners (who are in college), to do well during the school semester. Megan Thee Stallion studies health administration and is also becoming involved in her community by helping to foster better assisted-living facilities in her hometown of Houston, Texas. She popularized the phrase “Hot Girl Summer” and then wished her fans a “Hot Girl Semester”, promoting the idea that women can be sexy and have fun while partying in college, but can also be focused and successful in furthering their education.
In the past women who danced in hip hop videos were looked down upon and referred to as “video hoes”, but this viewpoint reflects negatively on strippers, who they are often compared to. Many do not understand or realize that some women dancers and artists in hip hop perpetuate this stereotype and present themselves this way purposefully. Some enjoy flaunting their sensuality and actually use it to promote feminism as well as for their own financial gain. More female artists who once performed as strippers are coming into fame and shedding light on their pasts. Record breaking rapper, Cardi B has spoken about her past experiences as a stripper and is not ashamed of her previous career. She has embraced her sexuality and referenced her past in music videos, lyrics, and live performances.
Cardi has advocated for exotic dancers and strippers, stating in an interview with Cosmo that she is honest about her past to ensure that people remember where she came from and to hopefully get them to respect her and her past experiences. She also urges people of all genders, to understand that women who strip need to be respected. Cardi points out that just because she was once a stripper, that doesn't mean that she is uneducated. She had gone to college, but did not complete her degree. She still has strong opinions about important topics such as police brutality, politics, and the Me Too movement, and these opinions should not be ignored or trivialized because of society’s view on overly sexual women. Cardi’s openness about her past brings up the discussion about sex workers, and the stigma that surrounds sex work as a whole. Women who participate in this trade are immediately looked down upon; their feelings are invalidated, their intelligence is questioned, and their voices are silenced.
In addition to breaking stereotypes, we have also started to see an influx of positivity and inspiration amongst female rappers. There have been many posts and positive comments made by women about other women in the industry. In July, Cardi B took to social media to shout out Rapsody, Tierra Whack, Kamaiyah, and Chika as a few lyrical rappers who deserve more recognition in the game. Rihanna tweeted last year that she would love to collaborate with Lizzo and called her “so bad*ss”. This is an indication of how more female hip hop artists are coming together to collaborate as well. In August of last year Megan thee Stallion and Nicki Manji released Hot Girl Summer, and a few months prior, Cardi B and City Girls teamed up for Twerk.
There is definitely still room for improvement from male artists, who should be encouraging their female counterparts. Although men rap about sex, their status, and their riches; they criticize women when they do the same thing. A prime example of this is when hip hop producer Jermaine Duprii created a major controversy in the music industry last summer after he shaded some of today’s top female rappers. In an interview with People, he called out Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Meghan Thee Stallion, when asked how he felt about them. “I can’t really say, I feel they’re all rapping about the same thing. I don’t think they’re showing us who’s the best rapper. For me, it’s like strippers rapping and as far as rap goes I’m not getting who’s the best,” he responded. Not only is his comment sexist, it is also untrue. Of the women mentioned, Cardi is the only one who ever worked as a stripper.
Jermaine clarified that his remarks were aimed only at the artists he was asked about (Nicki, Cardi, and Megan) -- and made a point to say that his statement was not meant to be a blanket label on all female rappers. He also argued against claims that he's sexist, saying nothing is further from the truth (Robidoux and Weakland). Yet lumping Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Nicki Manji, together because of their sexual lyrics does exactly that. All three women are have different flows and styles, and they make different types of rap music. Such statements by males artists, producers and the media minimize the achievements and progress women have made in the music industry.
Attitudes like Dupri’s further promote misogyny in hip hop and prove yet again that it is extremely difficult for women to succeed. It’s a double standard to believe that women should not rap about sex or be sexual, but it is acceptable for their male counterparts to do so. Dupri does not call out male artists for doing the same thing or state that there is a problem with male rap artists “rapping about the same things all the time”. He also belittles women who work as strippers by implying that, because they take their clothes off for a living they don’t possess any musical talent or have skill sets outside of sex work. To make matters worse, he also groups all female rappers together, even those who do not choose to express their sexuality, although he later claimed that was not his intention.
In response, Cardi B posted an Instagram video in which she states that raunchy lyrics are what audiences respond to. "It seems that's what people want to hear," she explained. "When I did 'Be Careful,' people we're talking mad sh*t in the beginning. If that's what people ain't trying to hear, then alright," (Saponara).
There is still much work to do, as sexism is embedded into many aspects of life, but hip hop (or any music genre) should not be excused from its partaking in furthering misogynistic views even though women are proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can keep up in this male dominated field.
Arceneaux, Michael. “The Obsession With Cardi B's Stripper Days Is Boring And She Deserves Better.” Essence, Essence, 25 Apr. 2018, www.essence.com/culture/cardi-b-stripper-past-hyper-sexualization-female-rappers/.
Hernandez, Emma. “Cardi B Opens up About Her Stripping Days and Her #MeToo Moment.” Life & Style, Life & Style, 3 Apr. 2018, www.lifeandstylemag.com/posts/cardi-b-stripping-me-too-movement-156306/.
Orcutt, KC. “Each One, Teach One: What Generations of Women in Hip Hop Teach Us about Perseverance.” REVOLT, REVOLT, 16 Oct. 2019, www.revolt.tv/2019/10/16/20917629/women-in-hip-hop-lessons.
Robidoux, Brandy. “Jermaine Dupri Defends His 'Strippers Rapping' Comment That Sparked Backlash From Cardi B.” Hollywood Life, Hollywood Life, 22 July 2019, hollywoodlife.com/2019/07/22/jermaine-dupri-defends-comments-strippers-rapping-interview/.
Saponara, Michael. “Cardi B Urges Fans to Support Female MCs Who Don't Rap About Sex.” Billboard, Billboard, 12 July 2019, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8519631/cardi-b-support-female-mc-dont-rap-about-sex.