Hip hop has a bad reputation. Many people view it as promoting misogyny and violence, and have a specific type of person in mind when they think of hip hop listeners. I used to share this opinion, and viewed hip hop as nothing more than a genre listened to by teenage boys trying to be cool, misogynists, and people who do bad things. It can’t be denied that many rap songs feature lyrics that are degrading and offensive to women, and that objectification of women is common in the genre. It’s understandable why many people come to the conclusion that hip hop is bad. However, I think that hip hop, like many aspects of black culture, is not given a fair assessment. When you look into its history, its use as a tool for protest and its international impact on culture, it is possible to see the positive change that hip hop can bring.
Since it’s inception as a genre in the 1970’s, hip hop has taken tough issues head on. Through it’s often blunt, and to some, vulgar lyrics, hip hop artists share about topics such as social inequality, police brutality, and domestic violence. Hip hop shouts about topics that are usually discussed in hushed voices behind closed doors, so it makes sense that it makes so many people uncomfortable. Hip hop originated in the Bronx, an underserved community comprised of mainly black and latinx people in New York. It began as a way for people to share their struggles and have their voices heard. From its origins in New York, hip hop has spread around the world and become a distinct cultural force. Regardless of your thoughts on the genre, it can’t be denied that hip hop has been a powerful tool for protest.
Hip hop started as a male dominated genre, however it has grown to include women. Female artists such as Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and Lauren Hill broke into the male dominated space in the 1990’s. They broke into the genre by acting exactly the same as male artists. They dressed like them, used the same aggressive mannerisms, and dance styles. This caused quite a stir within the industry, as it presented women in a new light. In male dominated hip hop, confident women are often presented in a negative way. Strong women are portrayed as something that needs to be tamed; women who are confident in their sexuality are seen as a bad thing. These women showed that this simply isn’t true. They showed that women can be confident, loud, and strong, regardless of what men say. They owned traits that are generally associated with masculinity, and by doing so redefined how women are associated with hip hop. The pioneering female artists of hip hop protested the idea that women are an object for male pleasure, and showed that women can be their own entity. Female hip hop artists of more recent times (2010s – today) tend to take a different, but just as impactful, approach to female empowerment in the genre. When you think of current female hip hop artists, women such and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion probably come to mind. These women dress in ways that embrace and show off their bodies. By doing so, they show that women are powerful and deserving of respect regardless of how they are dressed and what their bodies look like. Much like the female hip hop artists of the 90’s, they protest the idea that women in the genre are only there as an object for the male gaze.
Women in hip hop also take an intersectional approach to feminism, which is something that is overlooked in many other forms of feminist protest. Hip hop began in black communities, and is something has become an essential part of black culture. As such, it’s something that allows black women to share their struggles. Feminism isn’t a one size fits all concept. Women from different racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds have face different challenges when it comes to sexism. Female hip hop artists give a voice to women who’s needs are traditionally underrepresented in mainstream feminism. Black female hip hop artists show black joy and strength in a world where black pain often dominates media. They show black girls that someone who looks like them can be a successful, strong, confident woman. They also present features common in black women, such as curly hair, braided hair, dark skin, and big lips, features that have historically been used to degrade and mock black women, and present them as beautiful. I remember the first time I listened to the song “Brown Skin Girl” by Beyonce, I cried. It was 2019, I was 17 years old, and listening to the song was the first time I heard my features, brown skin and curly hair, described so beautifully. The song describes my features as something to be fallen in love with, not something to be ashamed of. It was in this moment that I came to see the positive impact that hip hop can have. I came to see that hip hop is a much broader genre than the explicit rap songs that many of us associate with it. Regardless of whether you love or hate hip hop, I encourage you to dig a little deeper into the genre and its history. The information in this post barely scratches the surface of how hip hop has, and continues, to be used as a tool for activism, and I think if you are able to challenge any biases you have towards the genre, you too will be able to see it in a positive light.
Hi! My name is Tiana, and I'm a third year Immunology and Infection major. This is my first year working with WEW, and I'm super excited to be working with such an amazing group to spread awareness about important issues. When I'm not studying or writing I enjoy baking, reading, and doing sudoku puzzles.