May 15, 2021
Women, particularly women of color, have been viewed in certain ways – as sex objects – since the days of slavery. Today, this old myth that it is acceptable to mistreat women has re-created itself through Gangsta Rap music; the type of harsh lyrics in these songs are produced with the sole intent of disgracing women of color. The subject matter in these songs deals with situations that portray women as not having any value and as being only sex tools for society. This article will explore and discuss the effects of Gangsta Rap music and the negative impact that it has had on the young generations in our society due to the use of profanity, the promoting of killing, and sexually graphic videos. Indeed, women of color are constantly being sexually exploited, which has translated over to the “Gangsta Rap” music culture. This has reinforced a racist myth created centuries ago to maintain slavery institutions and to ensure they are not a threat to the white high-power structure wealth.
Pimp C and other rappers speaking about the music industry. Courtesy of Chosen King
A sub-genre of hip-hop, Gangsta Rap, has been constantly criticized for its misogynous and homophobic lyrics and the glorification of violence and drug use. Sexual images of women, guns, and a gang lifestyle have marred the genre. Artist such as Snoop Dogg, and Death Row Records Suge Knight have all been criticized for promoting a culture of violence. The rivalry between the East Coast (Bad Boy Records) and West Coast (Death Row Records) came to a head in the 1990’s with the violent deaths of the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur.1 Gangsta Rap artists are considered to be highly negative role models for young black males.2 The images and the lyrics promote violence and sexism and also have a negative perception of young black males in not just in American society but the world.
The reality that has been presented in Gangsta Rap music is its celebrity culture that has always been connected to two extremes: “the reality of the ‘thug’ life of the streets on the one hand and with a specific sort of ‘American Dream’ reality that presents climbing from the bottom to the top on the other hand.”3 The record industry is responsible for the shaping and creating images of great interest, as the industry traditionally “moulds” their artist in accordance with current tastes and trends.4
Traditionally, the labeling of women of color has been closely tied to sexual characteristics, as it has been used to describe their identity as exhibiting “animalistic” or primitive traits. In the vocabulary of Gangsta Rap music, the “Jezebel” term has been replaced by a number of other descriptive terms, frequently referring to women in a derogatory manner. The tendency in Gangsta Rap is to refer to women as “bitches”, which is a commonly used graphic term describing women.5 The definition of the word, according to slang term is “a derogatory term usually a female.”6 It also states that the word can mean “a servant”.7 What is very interesting about this particular word both sexes address each other with this word.8 Another version of the word “bitch”, which is used as a signal of aggression in Gangsta rap, is the word “hoe”. While the “bitch” concept is considered gender-neutral by some, and thus regarded as non-offensive on the basis of sex, “hoe” is directly derived from the word “whore”.9 Although the term has become “familiarized” as part of normal speech, these words still have a negative connotation to most people in regards to sexuality.10
Today in Gangsta Rap, the pimp-image is being portrayed by many rap artists to a great extent as a result of the music business that focus on the need to increase record sales. These characters that are played out by the “pimp rapper” are more likely to have videos with images of women half-naked who “strut their stuff” alongside the rapper, who is fully clothed.11 In black relationships, the pimp/prostitute relation is often echoed as the liaison between young girls and men who are involved in criminal activities. The currency is sex, and the prize is money, respect, and power. The woman gets clothing, jewelry, and security in return for her “favors.” Her criminal boyfriend uses her good looks and sex appeal as a means to heighten his own status as a man among his boys, whereas the woman takes the role as the trophy, a real-life pretty doll serving her man’s needs.12
Thus, this relationship reverts back to the relationship between the prostitute and pimp, and a very unequal dependency, that is comparable to the days of the slave serving their master.13 In some ways this makes the woman socially accepted as a prostitute, as she uses her body as sellable goods. The woman is conscious of her boyfriend’s criminal activities, and she accepts them, as the money makes her lifestyle possible. This type of exchange corresponds to videos in which women are portrayed as easy and promiscuous. This accepted “criminal boyfriend-promiscuous girlfriend” is a constellation that contributes to the maintaining the notion of women of color as “sexually liberated” on the man’s terms.14
The notion dates back to the days of slavery in the United States, which ranged from 1600 to 1865. The situation for women of color during this period spawned many narratives of the brutality and dehumanizationing conditions that they had to endure. This notion comes from the ways in which the white slave master would refer to women of color, and their classification in society. Through this, their primitive commodities were reinforced, and their sexuality comprised through rape and other forms of humiliation, even though this was brought on by the white slave owners, not by the men of the same race and color.15 This same notion of women of color back then is still upheld now, and the definition of black men and women of color fit into what is called the code of chivalry in bipolar stereotypes, in which women of color are seen as sexual brutes and savages.16 However, this classification gives us a clear view that black men and women of color are identified as equal in the sense of being equally savage, identified as such by their white slave owners.17 The glamorous rapper’s pimp-image lifestyle that is being presented through the media and other pop-culture channels, contrasted with the heavy beating of women and drug-dealers poisoning the community, is not being done by the slave owners but the Gangsta rappers themselves.18
The bias of Gangsta Rap that has been fostered by record label companies is recapitulated in the kind of rap music that gets the greatest airplay on radio stations, in every city in the United States. In reality, what this does is that it perpetuates the mindset that you can only be a man – a Latino, or a black man – if you act hard, degenerating women, degenerating each other, and killing each other. This gives way to hegemonic masculinity and the negative images of women, driven by the interest of generating record sales. ” As long as this types of music continue to sell, ‘record labels will continue to put ethics and morality aside’” and continue to promote killing, and negative images of women.19 In reality, this music stays alive because the record labels and the producers pressure their artists to maintain a certain image in order to maximize their sales. Not only do the record labels encourage artists to become hardcore and to abandon social and political issues, they also force focus on material wealth and sexual exploitation, due to the type of contract agreement that is made, without true understanding of the ramifications.20
One important conclusion is that Gangsta Rap music has been heavily criticized the disastrous affects it has had on the youth for constantly exposing them to themes such as substance abuse, murder, suicide and sexual violence, which reinforces and is normalized by the frequency of their portrayal.21 One of Gangsta Raps most famous artist known as Dr. Dre, formerly of N.W.A ( Niggaz With Attitudes), and one of the music industry’s top producers, stated in 1995, “Living up to what you say on records… it’s all entertainment. Anybody in the f*cking right minds knows you can talk about shootin’ somebody on a record but a muthaf*ucka ain’t really gonna really go out there and do it unless you want…..stupid. You know what I’m saying’? This is entertainment…you know? … we make records. It’s entertainment, that is all it is. This is like our f*cking jobs, you know?” One of Gangsta Raps most famous artist known as Dr. Dre, formerly of N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitudes), and one of the music industry’s top producers, stated in 1995, “Living up to what you say on records… it’s all entertainment. Anybody in the f*cking right minds knows you can talk about shootin’ somebody on a record but a muthaf*ucka ain’t really gonna really go out there and do it unless you want…..stupid. You know what I’m saying’? This is entertainment…you know? … we make records. It’s entertainment, that is all it is. This is like our f*cking jobs, you know?”22 Unfortunately, there are rap songs that send positive messages, but these songs do not fit the music industry’s agenda.
Real men don’t exist in mainstream Hip-Hop. Courtesy of VLAD TV
In the end, it appears that the Hip-Hop (Gangsta Rap) does not like women at all, to objectify them as trophy pieces or, as in the contemporary vernacular, as chickenheads, baby mamas, or bitches.23 “But just like it was unfair to demonize men of color during the 1960’s solely as wild-eyed radicals” whenever they fought for their rights, it is also wrong to dismiss Hip-Hop without taking into account the ways in which the record labels exploit the ignorance of the young artists, which has lead to this current state of affairs.24
And anyone who speaks against these misogynistic fantasies and offers an alternative solution is labeled as the enemy. There is nothing new about violence, homophobia, and materialism. The issue is wanting to put an end to it and not recognizing it. We must remember that the explanation for sexism is socioeconomics in the Hip-Hop world, and that it is used as a way to silence anyone who critiques the culture. It also gives you the clear understanding of why the misogynistic objectification of women of color in Hip-Hop is so elusive and why we are not able to understand it and destroy it. Hip-Hop (Gangsta Rap) completely ignores the fact that women too are raised in these poverty-stricken environments filled with violence, and are left to raise their children in these conditions as well.25
Hip-Hop and Gangsta Rap owe all of their success to the ideology of hating women. It perpetuates and reaps the benefits of objectification. Sexism and homophobia saturate the culture of hip-hop, and any deviation from these forms of bigotry is made marginal to its lucrative and dominant expression.26 There are not many artists who will dare to stand up for equality and respect between the sexes through their lyrics, because of the backlash they will receive. 27
We can not continue to be duped as to why Hip-Hop is the way it is, which amounts to an argument as to why should we consume and celebrate genocidal tendencies created by Hip-Hop, and continue to allow the artist to benefit from its tragic results in the communities. However, as long as the wealthy record label owners can create hateful and violent lyrics for poor black boys, as long as there is an agreement that the common enemy is the female and that their power resides in a mans sex organ, women must not hesitate to declare war on the industry that has declared war on them.28
If the terms for winning are the degrading of women of color, it makes you wonder if any women were at the table when this deal went down. When did women agree to be dehumanized, humiliated, and made invisible? Rather than pretending to explain away the sexism of the Hip-Hop culture, why hasn’t the industry come clean? in the end it really doesn’t matter how women of color are treated. Sexism is the key to mainstream acceptability, and these record label executives know this. It’s obvious that if these are the terms for the creativity of people of color, women of color are the ultimate losers. This is exactly how these self-proclaimed thugs, players, and hip-intellectuals want women to be: on their backs and pledging allegiance to the Hip-Hop World. 29
If we all stood together and took a stand to condemn women-hating as the enemy of our communities, Hip-Hop would be forced to look at itself and change quickly and consistently. Hip-Hop would no longer be marketable in a way that the record label executives celebrate. “As things stand, it’s all about the Benjamins on every level of the culture. And [women of color] are being thugged and rubbed all the way to the bank.”30
Tupac on supporting the real. Courtesy of UnreleasedMuuzik
First and foremost, praises to God Almighty, for showering me with his blessings and guiding me spiritually throughout this entire research project.
I would like to express my gratitude to the following individuals for helping me throughout this entire process. I would like to thank Daniela Durán, my tutor, for her knowledge and expertise throughout the proposal stage and the drafting stage, and for engaging in my ideas for creating a great article. I would also like to thank Allison Magera (tutor) for helping organize my ideas and for engaging in my passion on my article. I would also like to thank Dr. Meghann Peace for the encouragement and the overall support on the topics that I’ve taken up because these are topics that are largely avoided. Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Bradford Whitener for his support as well, but most of all for helping me become a better writer and for his patience with me on the entire process.
I would also like to acknowledge the great men and women who fought for equality for all and have influenced me:
Dr. Harry Blake, Bro. Willie Isaac, Tom Mboya, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Wyatt T. Walker, Medgar Evers, H-Rap Brown, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Elton Chatman Sr., John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Dr. Ben Yosef-Jochannan, Malcolm X
My name is Christopher McClinton.I am a International and Global Studies major. I am very passionate about international relations with political, social and economic issues.Focusing on diplomacy, human rights and international law. I believe democracy is necessary for all people, regardless of their culture. Only through constructive discourse between people of all cultures will we find resolutions to our common problems, foremost among them being transparency in national elections and transparency from national leaders. One of my main goals at this point in my career path is to interact with people from as many diverse backgrounds as feasible. Such experiences, whether through employment opportunities, interacting with fellow students or volunteering in relevant projects worldwide, will be of tremendous value for me.Author Portfolio Page
This is a great article. The repercussions of the cycle that are talked about are very present in other forms of music. I found it shocking and disappointing when the article draws to light the vicious cycle that the music industry perpetuates with younger artists, making it seem that the only way for them to succeed in the industry is to repeat what others before them said and feed into the next generation. I think this is something more young people should be aware about.
Hey Christopher! What a great read! I love how your article highlighted not only the history of the derogatory terms commonly used within the industry but also, how/why they have become so normalized. One section that stuck out the most is the connotation of the term ‘bitch’ in gangster rap. It has always bothered me how the word is just thrown around in just a normalized reference to a woman and people will whole heartedly sing the song not even thinking twice about the meaning behind the words. Thank you for bringing light to this aspect of music and I hope more people will take time to learn more about the pragmatics and I hope the industry comes to the realization that although there might not be mal intent behind the words used, they may still come off in a certain negative way.
Christopher, you have a way of picking the most important topics to write about, I commend you greatly. These aren’t subjects that a lot of people want to discuss and it’s a problem. As a white woman, I will never know how it feels to be a woman of color, so I want to do everything in my power to be an ally. One way is by making people aware of these existing problems. As someone who listens to rap, sometimes when I actually sit there and listen to the lyrics I’m baffled. The way rappers talk about, sexualizes, abuse, and objectify women in their lyrics is absolutely disgusting. This was well written and I’m glad you brought this to light.