New Breeds of Hip-Hop Misogyny

Misogyny, violence against women, objectification, and other forms of sexism have always been a part of hip-hop, just as they have always been a part of US popular culture. From Audio Two to 2 Live Crew to Eminem to Redman to Lil’ John, you’re not going to spend decades listening to (and loving) hip-hop without rolling your eyes or pretending to vomit at the prevalence of male-supremacist lyrical and visual content.

There’s so much to be said about it all, but Tricia Rose says it all much better than I ever could. (If you love hip-hop but you have not read her book The Hip Hop Wars, then you don’t really love hip-hop.)

What concerns me right now is a wave of videos which revel in another level of violent misogyny, blending stalker-rapist visuals with lyrics about all the creepy stuff that goes on in the guys’ minds. Two stand out: “Monster” by Kanye West (feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj), and “She” by Tyler the Creator. (Warning! The videos contain some disturbing imagery and plenty of curse words.)

Kanye’s video shows female corpses (all supermodel-gorgeous and scantily-clad) hanging from nooses, draped lifeless across couches, and (as in the pic) arranged in bed with Mr. West himself. Jay-Z raps in front of a couch with a dead woman on it, and elsewhere we see 18-year-old schoolgirl zombies jumping rope for some reason.

Tyler’s video is perhaps more unsettling, since it features Mr. the Creator as a more sensitive stalker type, who creeps into some young lady’s bedroom right after she gets done knocking some shameful boots (just as her husband or father — it’s unclear which — comes home). As a self-professed “Goblin” (the title of the album), Tyler lightly touches her face as she sleeps, rummages through her underpants drawer, and generally creeps over her in the night.

Why It Matters

As disturbed as I am by the violence in these clips, violence alone does not put me off good art. I love Silence of the Lambs and some violent rap artists like Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique.

As disturbed as I am by the sexism in these clips, sexism alone does not disturb me in this way. I’ve learned how to critique the negative gender dynamics in so much of the hip-hop I love, while simultaneously celebrating the positive, artistically viable elements — often in the same song!

What bothers me about these videos is the gruesome gendered violence, aimed specifically at women. It is sexualized violence, the same type that showed up in Cronenberg’s epically stupid movie A History of Violence (which disturbed me every bit as much as these videos, lest anyone think I’m picking on the poor rappers here). In all cases, the artists argue that these images are mere representations of the twisted darkness brewing inside everyone’s minds. So how can you be upset by it?

Well, I am upset by it, and I’m sick of seeing it celebrated uncritically. I don’t want people to stop listening to Tyler or Odd Future, or boycott Kanye. I just want someone — anyone — to acknowledge that there is some really twisted sexist stuff going on here, and that it’s going to a new level that’s qualitatively different from the “Baby Got Back” and “Jiggling Baby” misogyny of not so long ago.

Putting Nicki Minaj in the mix doesn’t change anything, by the way. Just as Lil’ Kim is expected to spit the same exact hypersexual nonsense as Luke, Nicki is — for better or worse — in the boy’s clubhouse, and so she’s expected to put on exactly the same masks. (I suppose it’s interesting that she’s attacking herself, which could be interpreted as a more nuanced recognition of the self-consuming nature of this gendered violence all around her, but whatever.)

I felt exactly like this when Eminem released him song “Kim”, in which he dragged his ex-girlfriend to the middle of nowhere and slit her throat while telling her to scream all she wants. This stuff matters! (It made Kim try to kill herself, for one thing.) And just like Kanye and Tyler, Em insisted that he was just “venting”, and giving voice to all the dark, twisted stuff that he’s got to deal with.

Well, you  know what, guys? If this is how you deal with that dark twisted stuff — by reveling in it, and making videos where you celebrate your violent impulses toward women — then you’re not doing a very good job of dealing with it. Has this “venting” helped your interactions with the women in your life? Have you come to understand your masculinity any better? If so, how?

If not (and I expect the answer is no), then maybe it’s time to knock it off with this stupid garbage, and write more lyrics about walking with Jesus (Kanye), or the contradictions of white America (Eminem), or .. well I don’t like anything from Odd Future, so I’m not sure what to recommend for Tyler.

Where This Rant Began

Thanks to Redditor SoTrueFlotsam for linking this article from Alternet, about how some people are wetting their pants over a new video from Rhianna, which shows her shooting a man dead, and then (via flashbacks) depicts her being raped by the guy.

Yet almost immediately, watchdog groups condemned the video for the murder aspect. Paul Porter, the cofounder of Industry Ears, released a statement: “‘Man Down’ is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song.” Paul Porter is a former program director for BET (who presided during its famously misogynist “Uncut” years), so it’s pretty laughable that the comparatively soft violence in “Man Down” offended his sensibilities so vehemently.

The author goes on to describe the absurd hypocrisy in condemnations of Rhianna’s video while few industry observers spoke out against Kanye’s. I had never seen the “Monster” video, so it just goes to show how ancient and oblivious I am when it comes to today’s hip-hop.

TimeWaster™

Lest anyone think I’m some stodgy highbrow stuffed shirt with no appreciation for lowbrow art, allow me to present my favorite Beavis and Butthead cartoon of all time:

Today I’m listening to: Gift of Gab!