Women in Hip-Hop: Part 1

This is going to be a multi-part series discussing different aspects of women and feminism in hip-hop music.

I think one of my biggest reasons for writing this post is to respond to one of America’s number one culture vultures, Miley Cyrus. I grew up adoring Hannah Montana. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that this same pop princess decided that she wanted to take a stab at hip-hop music. After failing miserably even while showing off her whole ass, she decided that hip-hop music was no longer fit for her, deeming it “lewd” and claiming that it disrespected women, after attempting to profit off of it by oversexualizing herself. Nobody asked her to twerk her nonexistent ass while wearing booty shorts and Jordan’s, but she did it anyway. And despite her bullshit apology, this whole scenario is still quite irritating. So I decided to put together a piece showcasing all of the different ways in which hip-hop music, and male rappers, in particular, celebrated and championed women.

One of the most beautifully recognized songs that truly supports women is Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”. Whenever people talk about Tupac, they recognize his thought-provoking lyrics, with this being no exception. Even someone who repped a “thug life” tattoo on his chest wonders why “since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman and our game from a woman/we take from our women, why we rape our women–why do we hate our women?” If only he could see how much progress we’ve made today! Oh, wait… With songs like “I Get Around”, Tupac definitely had his fair share of referring to women as bitches and hoes. But that never took away from his overall goal of advocating for women. Another group that had a similar yet surprising message in their song was the Beastie Boys. In their song, “Sure Shot”, MCA raps that he wants “to say a little something that’s long overdue, the disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and the friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end”. MCA and the rest of the Beastie Boys have quite a few misogynistic lyrics, but in my opinion, something this powerful has such an everlasting effect. It’s unfortunate, but it is a part of hip-hop culture to brag about the sexualization of women. However, by flipping the script and speaking out on that as well, rappers are taking ownership of the lyrics and asking their audience to think twice as well.

I think one of the most beautiful metaphors that I’ve found for expressing just how strong and important women are is this idea that God is a woman. I’m not a particularly religious person in any way, so please do not take this as me attempting to preach any sort of gospel or push my religion on anyone. But the idea that God is a woman is such a beautiful one, especially when spoken by men. In Common’s “Faithful”, which I go a little bit deeper into in the Hip-Hop Songs That Changed My Life tab, he begins the song by questioning “What if God was a her? Would [he] treat her the same, would [he] still be runnin’ game on her? In what type of ways would [he] want her?” By questioning this idea, Common wonders if women would still be treated the same as they are in today’s society. Would they still be objectified and disrespected? Would he continue to take advantage of their trust? He then describes how their relationship would work, because of this newfound equality. It’s amazing to play with this idea that we have to imagine a woman as a higher being just to respect them and to recognize just how much we fail to do so in our everyday lives. Ab-Soul, who actually practices a belief system known as Thelemites, the belief that God was misgendered as a man and in reality is a woman, created a whole album as an ode to women. Although some of the metaphors and lyrics are a bit more aggressive, his songs such as “God’s a Girl” and “The Law” all refer to God as a woman. He uses sexual innuendos to draw attention to women, showing that their sexuality should be the main focus because of their divine femininity, reassuring the listeners that “God’s coming, she’s just taking her time”. Our society doesn’t typically discuss the actual pleasure women receive, and even questions if some parts of a woman’s body exists. By drawing attention to it, Ab is stressing the importance of something that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition, and instead is the reason behind a lot of criticism for some women. Mac Miller also touches on the idea that women are higher beings in “The Festival”, which is off of his album titled The Divine Feminine. He refers to God as a woman, even seeking her approval by “[asking] God if she believe in me and will she accept me as a deity”. 

One of my biggest criticisms, however, of rappers advocating for women in hip-hop, is their exclusion of all women. They tend to fight for their ideal woman. Rappers like Drake and Webbie have made songs talking about independent women with an abundance of money and knowledge, praising them for having their “nails done, hair done, everything did”. On the other hand, there are numerous songs condemning women for focusing on these same things, essentially shaming women for not being natural. Others like Jay-Z have made songs about women taking care of men when they’re down no matter what it does to their own mental health. However what about the women who strip for a living to make their money, or who have decided that they are done babying toxic men? When did women have to follow certain criteria just to earn respect? Why are we any less for showing off our body or wearing make-up? Although he isn’t my personal favorite, I have so much respect for J Cole for asking “now is it real? Eyebrows, fingernails, hair/is it real? If it’s not, girl you don’t care/what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see”. Although he’s rapped about natural beauty such as Aaliyah and Lisa Bonet in the past, he brings up this idea that just because a woman likes to get dressed up and wear makeup does not make her any less beautiful, and if anything her flaws make her even more so. Kendrick Lamar is another rapper who has a similar idea, claiming that “Whit told me, ‘a woman is a woman, love thy creation’/it all came from God, then you was my confirmation”, showing that all women are divine creations simply because they are a woman.

It really is beautiful to see men acknowledge that they appreciate things such as intelligence, a strong work ethic, and ambition in a woman, but it is also important to note that all women deserve respect, and not just those who may seem like the perfect package. Conversely, it does seem as though appreciating women that embrace their sexuality is a newer idea that we are getting comfortable with, so it isn’t too surprising that we are just now seeing rappers talk about this. In songs such as Common’s “Misunderstood” and Lil Wayne and Wyclef Jean’s “Sweetest Girl”, you hear tales of woe as they describe strippers who felt that “at first strippin seemed so empowerin/but bein meat every day is devourin” and women who are out on the streets who “never thought that [they] would come and work for the president/bruised up scarred hard”. However what about the women who decided that they wanted these lives for themselves? In fact, in Common’s “A Film Called Pimp”, he approaches this topic from a different angle. As he spits game at a woman on the streets, MC Lyte retaliates with “you must not know of me, I’m the mack here, ought to have you hoe for me”. As he tries to get her to work under him, she asserts that he doesn’t have the strength or the game and that she’s actually the real pimp in this situation. That kind of confidence is so damn badass. She doesn’t want you to feel sorry for her. Instead, she wants you to bow the fuck down. She knows what she’s worth. As much as I hate to use this example because I find Usher to be creepy as hell, he had the right idea in “I Don’t Mind”, as he sings that he doesn’t mind if a woman makes her money by stripping. It’s her decision to make, and some women are extremely proud of what they do.

Jidenna also tackles this idea of a woman being defined by her sexuality in his song “Trampoline”. If you know me, you know that I would absolutely devour this man. My goodness, he is fine as hell. But one of my biggest attractions to him was when he released this track about a woman being judged for enjoying her life and shaking her ass. The chorus sings this idea that “the lady ain’t a tramp, just cause she bounce it up and down like a trampoline” especially because “she might even have a wedding ring, or a doctorate in medicine, or the daughter of the reverend, or the daughter of the president” (alluding to the amazing HARVARD student Malia Obama who was simply out having fun). Essentially, just because a woman wants to put herself out there in a manner that might be deemed somewhat promiscuous in our prudish, judgmental society, she is no less accomplished or successful. In a more crass manner, Rick Ross rapped on “Free Enterprise” that “if a chick was game, we would run a train, send her on a bus then forget her name, but now the bitches be the realest ones, I done cried on the shoulder when I’m feeling numb”, showing that even if a woman did choose to put herself out there and partake in certain scenarios, it did not take away from her character (although it could be argued that he’s talking about a very different woman but I’m gonna have a little faith in Rick Ross). 

Although I absolutely LOVE this song, Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” always rubbed me the wrong way in terms of coming across as a bit judgmental. When I say I LOVE this song, I am not kidding. You can hear me belting it out in the car, in the shower, in the bar, everywhere. However, as someone who likes to celebrate her body and embrace her sexuality, it did make me feel a bit attacked. This particular post strays away from female MCs because that will be in another part of the Women in Hip-Hop series, but I think this needed to be mentioned in regards to my earlier point. Lauryn sings as a friend, offering the listener some advice about how she should conduct herself. But in my opinion, a friend would not judge you for being sexually active unless it was directly affecting your health or mental well being. I think a friend would support you no matter what, and be there for you when you needed them. As I mentioned above, this idea of sexually liberated women is still not a universal one, but I do think it’s important for women especially to uplift one another, rather than to advise them on how they should live. We all know most men just want sex. But maybe some women are okay with that. I think that if we start to see male rappers rap about how women should be respected no matter what because things like sexuality do not define their womanhood, women would feel more comfortable with embracing themselves.

In a time when women are feeling especially attacked, it’s extremely important to band together and stand with them. As hip-hop music has shown, rappers with strong voices in favor of women have drowned out the misogynistic lyrics. Women have managed to pave their way through hip-hop history, whether through their hard-hitting lyrics, their sexual enticement, or their female empowerment. But no one type of artist had any less of an impact than another based solely on their approach. Stay tuned for the next part of the Women in Hip-Hop series as we dissect the different types of female artists that have developed through hip-hop and how they managed to shape this subgenre.

As always, you can find the playlist of songs below to listen along as you read. If you have any ideas for this series, please feel free to leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or fill out a contact me form.

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