In this ten-minute Black Tree Media video, sent in by Janet F., black intellectuals and artists debate sexism in hip hop. The video features over a dozen perspectives — Stanley Crouch, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Ben Chavis, Nelly, T.I., Chuck D, MC Lyte, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Mike Jones, Master P, and Kim Osorio — and covers a lot of ground.
My apologies if the video is preceded by a commercial:Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Ollie — November 5, 2010
Did a project on this last year, and I'll paraphrase one of the best explanations I read from one rapper, who explained that if you write a song about being a good father, the record labels will simply reject it. There is this initiative to be "harder" then the last guy. Thats how stuff sells.
And since money is the most important factor here, consider who's actually consuming this music. Several journals I read stated that the biggest consumers was white teenagers from suburban environments. In other words, the people buying this have little exposure to the /actual/ ghetto.
One conclusion i drew from my research was that Hip Hop very clearly represents one hegemonic male. Making it very very easy for teenagers to feel secure in their masculinity by following the very clear guidelines laid out by the popular hip hop artists out there. Of course they'll buy whatever is harder, because to do so is to ensure that you are male, you are cool, and you are accepted.
Next step, how do we break this cycle? Copyright laws are protecting the agenda these record company's have. It isn't about the music or the expression, it is about the money. Why are we protecting these record companies? They essentially /invented/ an industry that relies on record sales. Why are they threatened by P2P sharing? It is because this allows instant access to narratives that might contradict the hegemonic male they have so carefully crafted in the media!
Copyright laws restrict artistic integrity, while protecting this cyclical, culturally-destructive business model. Artists cling to it because it is the only way to protect their intellectual property, but it doesn't benefit themselves OR society to reduce art to money... unfortunately it's the only way to musicians to feed their families, heh.
So in conclusion, somehow copyright laws are responsible for rape... what? ok but seriously they don't help...
Casey — November 5, 2010
No, let's go with that. Copyright laws are responsible for rape.
Tepsidell — November 5, 2010
This clip frustrated the hell out of me. T.I. and Nelly seemed to be very disengaged with some concrete facts: They are pushing misogyny! The claim that it's the audience's responsibility is ridiculous. The facts are on the table: Their art is aspirational, promoting a lifestyle that most listeners cannot have. All people, especially those with high public visibility, have a responsibility not to just "be a mirror" but to be the change. How does this conversation go on without the artists accepting any culpability?
Another thing that never comes up in these discussions is what a conscious listener's ethics are or ought to be. I love rap and hip-hop and going without those who've said misogynistic things in songs... that'd be harder than vegetarianism in the South.
Ryan — November 5, 2010
Negative role models in hip hop is just one part in a feedback loop of negative influences affecting this section of society. Whether these portrayals caused the problems in hip hop culture is a chicken-and-egg problem, and ultimately unimportant. Even if hip hop is not responsible for starting misogyny, the best way it can help to fight it is to stop being a cultural "mirror", as they put it. No more reflection, no more feedback, and then maybe hip hop can become a positive influence on culture, as it was in its beginnings, rather than a negative one.
atorres — November 5, 2010
Another fantastic resource for this topic and related topics (homophobia in hip-hop, corporate control etc..) is a documentary by Byron Hurt called "Hop Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes." I think you can even find it on youtube.
I think it's unfortunate that a conversation about sexism in hip-hop only has two women on the panel. And, that during the 10min video, the women are consistently interrupted, talked over, and not allowed to finish their comments...one woman even speaks to that out loud, with little change. I'm not saying it should be all women on the panel...I recognize that in order for any real change to happen, men need to be discussing these issues with each other and holding other men accountable, but they also need to be checking in with women and getting insight about the impact of sexism from those who experience it.
I also find it irritating that instead of holding Nelly accountable for his role in perpetuating offensive and negative images of women in his videos, Kim Osorio and the audience end up making excuses for him and clapping and congratulating him for just being there at all to join the discussion. Seems to me like a pretty low standard, especially when I would argue he didn't even discuss, he was actually quite defensive and minimizing. Same goes for TI as well. It seems like the message is that anytime a man merely shows up to discuss "women's issues" he is seen as a saint worthy of praise from us, regardless of what he actually contributes to the conversation in terms of his own accountability for his role in perpetuating sexism.
Syd — November 5, 2010
So just wondering.....why are only rap and hip hop addressed in discussions of these issues? Because while the specific words may be different, I see pretty much the exact same treatment of women through any other male dominated music media (basically, all of them). When I listen to pop-rock music, it's usually a man screaming about how DARE a woman leave him doesn't she know that she's HIS, or yammering about idolizing a woman to a creepy extent for her looks. Those songs are just as formulaic and processed. They treat women with about the same amount of respect (as possessions, and mostly only worth something either because of her physical appearance or simply because the singer wants her). This is not how rap is, this is how most popular music by men is. The only major difference? The skin color dominating the genres. Rap, rock, pop, and R&B all tackle just about the same issues (country is a bit different, but frankly, not any better in it's treatment of women). But rock and pop are white dominated, and R&B is a very diverse genre racially, while rap is black dominated. In fact, whenever I see 'passes' given to individual rap artists by those who'd normally be upset by sexual, violent, or materialistic lyrics are NOT giving those passes to the many, many black rap artists who do not rap about needless violence, drugs, and sex (and trust me, they exist, even though the anti-rap crowd didn't hear them during their five-minute stay on b96). They're typically given to white rap artists like Eminem (known wife beater and otherwise violent criminal) and Mike Posner (not terribly violent or misogynistic, but doesn't seem to have a single thought in his head that doesn't involve weed or his hawt sexi lady weed dealer). Not saying these guys aren't talented artists (they are), but when they're held up as the 'good' rappers, leaving plenty of poetic, thoughtful rappers lumped in with Lil' Wayne, come on.
To deny that rap and hip hop are getting a bad rep because they are black dominated isn't a suspicion, it's a fact you'd have to be crazy to argue. Look at American music history: black dominated music genres were ALWAYS demonized until they became white dominated. Blues, jazz, and rock n' roll ALL got this exact same treatment when they were still newer (and trust me, it isn't a changing of times thing.....the content of pop music has remained more or less exactly the same since the early 1900s. I've listened to these songs. Anyone who clutches their pearls over 'what they sing about today' has either never listened to music with words in it, or is in the hardest denial ever).
Does this mean that rap shouldn't go in a different direction, and shouldn't try to objectify women less? No! Of course not! Objectifying women is bad! But you know what else is bad? Racism is bad! There is no reason rap should have to change when every rock song is about sex sex sex sex sex, and Justin Timberlake post-boy band has possibly THE creepiest, most misogynistic lyrics in existence. Rap is being held to an unfair standard, and historically, there's no reason to believe that race isn't a part (if not the only part) of it. The issue is not with rap. The issue is with popular music in general, and yes, what record companies and media outlets push. When rap first appeared, it was diverse (as was mentioned in the video). But what solidified rap's mainstream popularity were the rappers in the 90s, who tended towards violence and sex (though typically, it was less manufactured and based more in personal experience). That's what media outlets set their sights on. So, those are the artists who now become popular in the mainstream, while other artists (even artists who are more similar to the 90s rappers) are brushed to the side. If the artists that become popular, like Nelly or T.I. DO want to make a song and video about how smart a woman is, more likely that song won't even make it onto the album, and certainly won't be chosen as a single with a music video played on BET every five minutes. This does not excuse them, they are still partially to blame. They still have a choice: make the generic song that's likely unfortunate, or don't make nearly as much money and even risk being dropped by the label. They still have that choice. But the choice 'do I take the moral highground, or do I continue to make a living' is not a particularly easy one. It would probably take every artist from the most popular to the guy selling his CDs on the streets taking that action together to make a drastic change in a genre, though. Because yep, Nelly and T.I. could decided to write 'Your Brain Is Sexy' and 'I Love It When You Take Your LSAT Practice Tests' and get dropped by their label and have to go indie, but that would not get rid of the type of music they'd make, because 100 guys copying their older stuff would come in to take their place.
Which is kind of a tangent because seriously, when was the last time the All-American Rejects or Justin Timberlake were demonized? When was the last time rock music was demonized as a whole (answer: when Elvis Presley was still shocking people by being white while doing his thing). Demonizing such a diverse genre bothers me, because those demonizing it very rarely have more than passing experience with it (want to hear positive rap about women? Come borrow my iPod. But those songs were never on the radio), and because the things wrong with it are present universally, but rarely challenged in other respects.
Sue — November 5, 2010
This was about what I expected -- not much. I was pleasantly surprised to see the misogyny of the Black Church touched on.
I think that Society is always going to need an "outsider zone," which will include a lot of objectionable, even shameful activity. But it's important that not just one group be designated as the "outsiders."
Although it was a joke, it would be interesting to see hip hop videos cast exclusively with white woman doing butt claps. Just how fast do you think the field would be shut down? Society's fine with the degradation of black women. Other groups, not so much.
Jill S. — November 5, 2010
They barely mention the matriarchal nature of poorer black communities. If young black men had better role models or *gasp* a father around, I think you'd find that rap music would have little influence on their behavior.
Fritz — November 6, 2010
I was very impressed with the panelist that mentioned the issue of black women in the church. He, at least, seemed to understand that black women are not only objectified in hip hop videos, but also in their own community of churches. I have never understood it and cannot fathom attending a church faithfully but never being permitted to evolve into a leader (I do know that many churches do indeed permit women to become deacons, pastors, etc, but there is a prevailing attitude this isn't appropriate in many evangelical churches).
Inny — November 7, 2010
I thought I'd read a comment here yesterday that black women are more objectified than white women...(correct me if I'm wrong) I don't know if that's the case in America, but is certainly is NOT the case in Europe. I would even go as far to say that it is in some cases even worse.
Here are just a few examples:
(this is not a very shocking video in Europe)
(and to think that there is also an uncensored version out there on the second one...)
(look at the vibrating butts...)
Anyway, I was surprised that this was discussion about R&B. I'm used to it that it can get worse in video's with white women or with mixed races. I do find it very good that they made comments about the black church, however. I have a friend who I think who's character is butchered by her church...She is even being told that she has to listen to and obey her husband when she gets married....
I think this video is a step in the right direction. But there are still a few funny things going on that stage. Indeed the women do not talk a lot (also due to the fact that the men walk right over them) and the fact that Nelly and the other guy who's name I do not know, are not willing to take a little responsibility, is kind of sad.
Next to that I do not think that it is a deep discussion with some scientific edges. I know that doesn't sell on TV and for some people this can be an eye opener. But I personally missed that. This certainly doesn't tell me something I don't know already.
That said. This video still made me a little happy. People are discussing this! Yeey.
eduardo — November 7, 2010
The whole thing with women in the church is actually in the bible. It’s wrong, but for those who follow the bible I guess it can be justified.
"As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."
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Tara — November 9, 2010
I was very disappointed by this discussion. They failed to stay on topic for the most important point that can come out of this discussion - what can we as a group do to improve this situation? Instead they wasted time focusing on other cultural areas that exhibit misogyny and T.I. and Nelly getting defensive about their work. No one is blaming individual artists for wanting to make money and making it by using misogyny in videos - so stop reacting to the discussion as if the world is attacking you. Blame the culture, but people need to come to terms with their role in that culture and how it affects them and the people around them.
Also, the panel is slightly misogynistic since it only featured two women - one of whom seemed adequately prepared in her argument, and the other who seemed completely run over by other other panelists.
One final gripe - why should Nelly get audience applause for showing up at the panel when it was against his labels wish? He still plays a huge part in the display of misogyny in his music and videos. His presence is a step in the right direction, but he didn't make strides in furthering the discussion.
Eve — November 12, 2010
I was struck by the imbalance in the conversation, so I counted a few things in the video:
# men: 6 (the host, Cornel West, and the 4 men on stage)
# women: 2
Length of time men spoke overall: 7:11
Length of time women spoke overall: 2:12
Length of time men spoke per person: 1:11
Length of time women spoke per person: 1:06
Length of time the audience gave extended applause to men: 0:52
Length of time the audience gave extended applause to women: 0:02
I'll just leave that there.
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