Fighting Misogyny in Hip-hop


Fighting Misogyny in Hip-hop

Screen shot from random Nelly video

Fig 1. Random Screenshot of Nelly’s music video

[source here]

The world of hip-hop and rap has been notoriously known for displaying black masculinity in its music and work, which often expresses strength, ego, and menace that derives from the street. Artists and audiences in hip-hop/rap culture have been used as a medium for hip to express their social struggles and misfortunes freely but sexism and gender inequality is often found in the context of the genre. Over the years, prominent female figures in hip-hop and rap culture like Salt-N-Pepa, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot have taken a stand against misogyny and have strongly opposed how it plays a negative role in the society through their work and influence.


Misogyny is a type of hatred and disfavor towards women that demises the female race. It can be found in numerous forms that could be traced in the lyrics in hip-hop/rap songs. Many of the songs may have sick beats and sound catchy but in reality the lyrics brings backlash of violence and objectification towards women.

In Her article Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwomen, Michelle Wallace wrote her view about the problem regarding misogyny in hip-hop and rap culture. In an article from The New York Times called “Pop View; When Black Feminism Faces The Music, and the Music is Rap,” she quoted “Like many black feminists, I look on sexism in rap as a necessary evil.” Wallace views rap as an important element and platform for poor urban blacks to express their frustrations and thoughts in a creative manner. The biggest appeal of rap comes from the use of symbolic representation to portray contradictions in life. However, when it comes to gender, rap has not resolved a thing (Wallace). Although styles may vary from one artist to another, it seems to be a well-known fact that only a small amount of male rappers respects women as equal individuals in our society.

It is obvious that feminist and women in the black community have taken initiative against the use of women-objectifying-sexist messages in the hip-hop culture, but it is a challenging mission as the mass favors rap songs related to sex and violence. With that being said, record industry sees it as a quick sell and encourage artist to produce and compose more materials with explicit messages encrypted in the song. In a way, it stimulates current and new rappers to work towards that direction to achieve success in their music career. (Cheairs, 2005) An interesting study done by Gretchan Cundiff of Elon University was done to analyze the content of lyrics that displayed signs of misogyny in rap music. The study conducted a test on songs from the Billboard top 100 from the year 2001 to 2010 that included rappers like Eminem, Jay Z, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Dr.Dre. The results of the study foundthat 40% of the songs sampled were identified with physical violence, 10% directed towards sexual conquest and another 10% shown patronizing language in lyrics. However, eight songs (40%) displayed overlapping misogynistic messages and 15% were identified in the category containing demeaning language and sexual assault. Five songs by rapper Eminem made up one-fourth of the sample studied. Rap/hip-hop artist Ludacris ranked next in the study as three of his songs represented 15% of the songs sampled. Songs by both artists contain lyrics samples illustrating physical violence towards women. [See fig.1]




Fig 1. Shows the percentage of songs displaying different types of misogyny messages encrypted in the lyrics found in the Billboard ‘Hot-100’ Singles from year 2001 to 2010.(Cundiff, 2013)
The shocking amount of misogynous content in hip-hop music,  it is becoming evidently serious that it has not only affected  women but also the younger generation in the African American community. A test was conducted to study the effects of misogyny in rap music has on young black teen’s attitudes and behaviors. The study was done to determine whether rap music encourages black teens to act out violently and become involved drugs. Teens who were found exposed to rap music admit that they were more open towards violent behaviors. The majority of teens that were exposed to rap music are more likely to associate themselves in illegal money related activities.  (Johnson, Jackson and Ghatto, 1995)

A number of psychological effects could be seen associated with misogynist themes. Another study on the exposure of rap music containing explicit sexual imagery formed unfavorable evaluations towards women in the African American community. (Gan, Zillman and Mitrook, 1997.) Statistics have shown that African American women account for the smallest percentage of purchases of rap music.,(Cheir, 2005) Such numbers can make one wonder about how the world of hip-hop will be like in the next 10 years if black male artist continue to diminish women as sex objects in their music and work. Gender equality in rap and hip-hip culture has been an on-going issue for those oppressed by the message the genre has to offer.

Female hip-hop artist
The statistics and outlook of misogyny may be negative for hip-hop and rap culture but female hip-hop and rap artists have been actively confronting stereotypes in the rap and hip-hop industry. A good example can be seen in Salt-N-Pepa, an all women trio rap crew formed in 1985. Although the trio has been off the radar for years, this group has been asserting positive messages through their songs and lyrics choices. One of the famous hip-hop anthem the trio were known for is “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing,” where the message behind the lyrics and catchy beats calls for action for gender equality and pride (“I could be anything that I want to be baby/Don’t’ consider me a minority’”)(Dove-Viebahn, 2012).


Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing – Salt-N-Pepa


The lyrics from the song Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing  shows messages and themes suggesting female empowerment without diminishing the opposite gender. (Never let you forget that you’re a man/Cuz I’m a W-O-M-A-N). The song also confronts social and economic problems women face in the society where Salt-N-Pepa raps about the issue of respect and abuse. (Got to break my neck just to get my respect/Got to work and get paid less than a man.) Gender stereotypes and double standards are the main focus of the song where the lyrics talk about women getting labeled for doing the same things as men. They address the social biasness towards women. This could also relate to women’s sexuality that if they have multiple sexual partners they are labeled as a slut while men in the exact situation often get praised and idolized. (When I’m doin’ the same damn thing that he can/When I’m aggressive then I’m a bitch/When I got attitude you call me a witch). Salt-N-Pepa also addresses the objectification of women being seen as sex objects and the weaker sex.(Treat me like a sex-object (That ain’t smooth)/Underestimate the mind, oh yeah, you’re a fool/Weaker sex, yeah, right, that’s the joke (ha!))

Salt-N-Pepa were not the only advocates for female empowerment in rap and hip-hop culture.Yolanda Whitaker a.k.a Yo-Yo,  who was first introduced to the industry by male rapper Ice-Cube, is another female rap artist that is an activists against misogyny and sexism within rap and hip-hop. Her music career has mostly been dedicated to empowering women against the oppression inflicted towards them (Johnson). She is well known for her debut album, “Make Way for Motherlode” in 1991.Her second album Black Pearl received better reviews for her positive message advocating against the traditional gangsta rap style and lyrics.


“You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” – Yo-Yo ft. Ice Cube

Instead of bathing in fame and fortune, Yo-Yo uses her music and talent to break free of gender stereotypes that were formed in the hip-hop and rap community. She also speaks out about the unfair treatment black women have been getting from the hip-hop and rap community in the past. (It’s me, the brand new intelligent black woman Y-O-Y-O/Which is Yo-Yo, but I’m not to be played). Like Salt-N-Pepa, Yo-Yo too empowers women without disrespecting men. (But this Yo-Yo is made by woman and male /I rhyme about uprights uplifting the woman/For that are superior to handle by any male)

Another female rap legend is Queen Latifah,  who doesn’t fall short when it comes to issues related to oppression and gender. Being a multi talented artist, author, entrepreneur and Cover Girl, Latifah was only 19 when she was titled as first lady of rap to gain success in her debut album. She confronts sexism in  “U.N.I.T.Y”  (“who you callin’ a bitch?”) and “Ladies First ft Monie Love” where Latifah addresses gender stereotypes and social assumptions (“some think that we can’t flow/ stereotypes, they got to go”) (Dove-Viebahn)
Instinct leads me to another flow


“U.N.I.T.Y” – Queen Latifah


Latifah speaks back towards gender stereotypes and inequalities that women face in the hip-hop and rap culture. The lyrics portray her anger and frustrations towards how disrespectful a man is when he calls a woman a ‘bitch’ because he is degrading women. She uses her songs to bring awareness about the consequences of name-calling and labels. (Everytime I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho/Trying to make a sister feel low/You know all of that gots to go) Besides empowering women through her strong lyrics in her songs like both Salt-N-Pepa and Yo-Yo, Latifah has also ventured out to other media platforms that build a community for women as she spread her influence and to empower women of all sizes and ages. Latifah has been active since 1993, but has recently spent most of her spare time writing motivational books on self-esteem. Latifah has also recently sign on with Sony Pictures for her very own talk show The Queen Latifah show that debuted in Fall 2013.
Melissa Arnette Elliot, well known for her stage name Missy Elliot,  was born on July 1, 1971.The 42 year old American rapper is  also a singer-songwriter and record producer. She is the only female rapper with six certified platinum (records?) by the Recording Industry of America. Elliot’s inspiration to empower women against misogyny came close to home. When Elliot’s mother finally left her abusive husband for good after having enough of his ill treatments, Elliot was motivated by her mother’s courage and newly found independence, and has since then determined to pursue her dream of becoming a formidable artist. (Aceshowbiz)


“Work it” – Missy Elliot

Elliot fights misogyny in hip-hop and rap culture by telling women it is okay to embrace their sexuality as long as they are in control of the situation. She urges women to break free from social oppression against women and their sexuality.(If it’s 9 to 5 or shakin’ your ass/Ain’t no shame, ladies do your thing/Just make sure you ahead of the game).

Newer versions of female advocates against misogyny in hip-hop culture can be found in contemporary hip-hop artists.  Beyonce’s “If I were a Boy” and “Run the World(Girls)” and Ciara’s “Like a Boy” are recent releases that not only empower women but has also been actively critiquing and confronting gender roles and stereotypes. (Dove-Viebahn)

Even though hip-hop gives a voice for many to express their social frustrations and issues, the issue of sexism and misogyny seem to manifest in within the genre. Hip-hop does not only play a prominent part in the African American society but it is also an important element in the US culture. (Blancard) Female rap and hip-hop artist from different backgrounds have emerged in the entertainment arena and have been enthusiastically fighting against deteriorating messages directed towards women, appearing as hopeful advocates for the future for both the African American community and the U.S.


Work cited:

Cundiff, Gretchen . “The Influence of Rap/Hip-Hop Music: A Mixed-Method Analysis.” Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications. 4.1 (2013): 76-77. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Dove-Viebahn, Aviva. “Future of Feminism: Hip Hop Critiques

Gender.” N.p., 26 Mar 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

Blanchard, Becky. “Poverty & Prejudice: Media and Race.” Ethics of Development in a Global Environment (EDGE) . n. page. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

Gan, S.-L., Zillmann, D. & Mitrook, M. (1997). Stereotyping effect of black women’ssexual rap on white audiences. Basic & Applied Social Psychology. 19.3 (1995), 381-399. Web 27 Nov.2013

Johnson, J. D., Jackson, L. A. & Gatto, L. Violent attitudes and deferred academic aspirations: Deleterious effects of exposure to rap music. Basic & Applied Social Psychology. 16.1-2 (1995) , 27-41. Web. 27 Nov.2013

“MISSY ‘MISDEMEANOR’ ELLIOTT LYRICS.” N.p., n. d. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

“Queen Latifah.” AskLyrics. N.p., n. d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

“Salt N Pepa.” AskLyrics. N.p., n. d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Wallace, Michelle. “POP VIEW; When Black Feminism Faces The Music, and the Music Is Rap.” 29 Jul 1990: n. page. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

“Yo-Yo” AskLyrics. N.p., n. d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

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