Critiquing Hip-Hop/Rap Music - When The Call For Nuance Is A Call For Silence
I have never blamed “all” rap for any one or all social ills. Anytime I discuss Black music, it has always been with an intersectional lens.
Like I wrote about Black music before:
Contrary to popular belief, Black music is NOT the only music that contains elements of sexism or misogyny, nor is it the only type of misogyny in our institutionalized sexist, culturally misogynist, rape culture-defending, kyriarchal society. The implication that it is, is inherently racist.
It is important to note that in a kyriarchal society, sexism and misogyny can impact everything, including a variety of forms of music and art. I have always rejected the racist notion (racist since most rap artists that are highlighted for this are Black men) that only rap is misogynist. This idea is ludicrous considering how utterly sexist and misogynist our very government is (view everything from the legislative attacks on reproductive rights to the light sentences given to rapists, assuming that they are ever brought to trial or arrested), let alone art and music.
I have a whole series of essays about intraracial patriarchy, sexism and misognyoir, yet I started the essay list by discussing how there are Black men who actively reject this form of thinking. But even with them doing so, the work is not done yet. This type of thinking is still a major problem intraracially (and interracially, of course). Within those essays, I also discussed how their thinking and behavior are shaped in the White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society that we all live in, not solely abstract and inherently pathological. However, discussing this shaping, using an intersectional lens, is not blanket absolution of culpability for individual decisions.
Like I tweeted yesterday, in regards to music:
Do NOT to use “but society at large is misogynist” as a scapegoat for accountability in regards to music. It’s a lens, not scapegoat.
If someone tells me “society at large is misogynist,” they are telling me a truth that I know well. But, if they are telling me this as a scapegoat for the likes of Rick Ross and his equivocation-free, no nuance to be discovered RAPE lyrics so that I will not comment on them, I reject their silencing tactic.
Black men (primarily cisgender heterosexual; not speaking of transmen who are targeted because of homophobia and/or transphobia) need to check their male privilege here. The likelihood of one being raped, outside of incarceration, is slim to none. Thus, while they demand I bop my head to the lyrics of an ex-corrections officer turned rapper (which I would think would offend them, but I guess not) rapping about “enjoying” rape, they obviously cannot conceive of the fact that my perspective and experience is not going to be like theirs. They have not dealt with street harassment and rape/death threats for TWENTY YEARS like I have. They have no 1 and 4 chance in being raped. Black women NEVER make excuses for police brutality experienced by Black men. Yet, so many Black men make excuses for the violence that we receive at their hands, and worse, some joke about it or rap about it.
Obviously, not every single rapper and every single song is as vile as Rick Ross’. Every song does not mention rape or even sexual violence of any type. Of course not. I own hip hop and rap and I like the music that I own. I do somewhat curate my music—I don’t automatically love any rap just because a Black man made it. I deserve choice just like any other consumer or human being. When I was in my 20s, I went to a few clubs that played hip hop music. When I listen to songs like “Liberation" by OutKast and "Still Standing" by Goodie Mob, I feel as thoughtful, refreshed and inspired as I would when I listen to some of my favorite hip hop and R&B songs by Black women.
I also own some questionable rap. Plenty of “bitches” and “fuck niggas” and other words and phrases that stand out to people who aren’t listening to the full context and stories within the songs. They’re waiting for the word “bitch” or “nigga” to be used to “prove” how awful “all” rap is and all Black people are, by proxy. They pretend that sexism, misogyny, classism, consumerism, capitalism, and violence are these random things that exist solely in rap music or among Black people, not forces impacting the same rappers who employ them conceptually with literary devices in their songs. I don’t have time for those people. I am very aware that music can be both creative and dynamic as well as problematic and packed with “isms.” (I wrote about this before).
However, are people REALLY going to use the argument about “musical complexity” for Rick Ross rapping about RAPE? Seriously? He made himself Saran Wrap and Vaseline on a fingertip clear in the song “U.O.E.N.O.” There’s nothing to debate.
Naturally, there are people who are going to blame Black women (and Jamilah Lemieux alluded to this very thing in her essay on Ebony, Rick Ross Thinks Rape Is a Punchline). While some Black women do purchase questionable music (as MOST Americans do, from a plethora of music genres) and dance, since when is dance applauding actual rape in certain songs? If watching a film (whether one likes the film or objects to the film) where a murder occurs is not applauding the murder itself or asking to be murdered, why would this apply to rape in music? Why would anyone think that purchasing a rap song from a different artist means that we applaud rape in Rick Ross’ song? Many Black women have just as much difficulty completely divorcing themselves from some Black music that is misogynist as they do from some Black men who are misogynists. This cultural difficulty is not permission for rape or violence.
There has to be a space where Black women (who are survivors and victims of a great deal of sexual violence, and not perpetrated by strangers jumping out of bushes but often by Black men that they know) can discuss hip hop and rap without Black men deciding that we are just being non-nuanced racists like many Whites are. Whites can afford to put on Blackness like a costume in the way that Miley Cyrus does or blast this music in their cars in the way that White men do, knowing that they can easily turn it down when a cop pulls them over and not expect to have their heads bashed in or be shot. They can blankly group all music by Black artists together for consumption, appropriation, stereotype or destruction. That’s the luxury of White privilege. Black women cannot afford to pretend like all music are “just songs” and have no connection to actual life. I’ve dealt with Black men use songs like Ross’ and much, much worse as a part of their street harassment activity against me.
If Black men are going to demand nuance from Black women on the topic of hip hop and rap, yet when they receive it, disregard it because of male privilege, they are in effect trying to silence me and silence critique altogether. I won’t be silenced.