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Hip-hop lyrics seem to be getting raunchier

 

Jones, Vanessa E., “Hip-hop lyrics and videos seem to be getting raunchier by the rhyme. But many critics, tired of the artist’s getting rich at the expense of black women, want the record industry to… STEP OFF.”  The Boston Globe, 22 March 2005, pp. D1, D5 (from Atlanta).

 

 

OVERVIEW

 

This writer’s introductory paragraphs are too good merely to summarize:

 

Watch hip-hop videos today and you’ll probably be blown away by the amount of skin on display. Breasts bursting out of bikini tops. Bottoms “covered” by thongs.

 

Maybe it’s caused by the success of crunk, the hard-core hip-hop sound from the South that’s dominating the charts. Or could it be the effect of hip-hop’s enduring obsession with pimp and stripper culture? Whatever the reason, the objectification of black women—both visually and lyrically—is all the rage.

 

You hear it in the Ying Yang Twins’ controversial hit “Wait,” a song so raunchy that only three lines of its uncensored version can be reproduced in this newspaper (or website):  “Switch the positions and ready to get down to business/ So you can see what you’ve been missin’/ You might had some but you never had none like this.” You see it in the latest videos released by 50 Cent in support of his best-selling sophomore CD, “the Massacre.”

 

But, as anyone following hip-hop knows, there is a rising opposition to this easy way to sell and sensationalize.

 

One example comes from a letter to the Editor of Vibe (March, 2005):

 

How can our black men, a lot of whom are influenced by magazines such as yours, learn to respect and honor their sisters? How can a young lady learn to respect and honor herself when all the messages thrown at her by the media tell her that she must become an inanimate sexual object in order to get any recognition? (from Djenaba Kelly)

 

In the spring of 2004 students from Atlanta’s SpellmanCollege organized a protest to a campus fund raiser by Nelly. It was in particular response to his video in which he swipes his credit card through a black woman’s bottom. Nelly was forced to cancel his planned campus appearance.

 

In January, 2005, Essence magazine began a year’s “Take Back the Music” campaign. Now editor, Diane Weathers says it may “go on (longer) until we see change.” Essence has begun a letter writing movement to programming directors at BET, MTV, and Fuse. In February, 2005, they held a panel at Spellman, including reps from BET and TVT Records to protest Atlanta-based crunk acts of Ying Yang and Lil Jon.

 

The University of Chicago plans a scholarly event, “bringing in more than a thousand to a three-day conference, in April, 2005, to discuss “feminism’s place in hip-hop.”

 

Vanessa Jones clarifies:

 

 

 These are not indecency campaigns. It’s not civil rights activist C. DeLores Tucker railing against impropriety of rap lyrics. Michaela Angela Davis, an editor of Essence prefers to think of the magazine’s efforts as an intervention by loving family members.

 

Davis goes on to explain that white stars like Britany Spears may be seen in the same compromising attire and actions, but they have other images as well. What Davis and others are complaining about is that black women don’t have the flexibility of such choices; they’re finding themselves locked into a stereotype.

 

Cathy Cohen, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, rejects a typical response of hip-hop artists and producers, that it’s all the responsibility of parents and that our society is sexist across the board.

 

While there is sexism out there in society, we have to be especially concerned with the media images of black women because, in fact, that’s how most people understand and interact with black communities. We live in a segregated society. People generally don’t interact. They may work with someone of a different race, but they don’t socialize or go to church with people of a different race. So the way you get introduced to other racial groups is often through the media.”

 

Anyone who has looked into this subject, studied American stereotypes, seen a video such as “Ethnic Notions,” knows that there have been, since the beginning of our history the stereotypes of the safe, overweight loving black momma and the sexually hungry prostitute.

 

It’s important to note that hip-hop made a dramatic transition into gratuitous violence and sexual images around 1992 and 1993. That’s when the industry started to pitch its sales especially toward young white boys.

 

Vanessa Jones has charted the way hip-hop artists and producers have flirted with soft porn.

 

50-Cent, “The Massacre”  Bare bottoms in “Disco Inferno” and women as decoration in “Candy Shop.”  (Sells 1.1 million copies in four days in Mar. ’05)

 

Kayne West, “The College Dropout,” A prostitute in tight dress seeks religious redemption in “Jesus Walks.” One tastefully dressed woman in “All Fall Down.” (sells 2.6 million copies in a year)

 

Lil John & the East Side Boyz, “Crunk Juice,” In “Lovers and Friends,” lyrics, “A man never ever dreamed to be? Up in here kissin’, fuggin’, squeezin’ touchin’? Up in the bathtub, rub-a-dubbin” (sales: 2 million copies in three and half months)

 

Ludacris, “The Red Light District,” Austin Powers spook, “Number One Spot,” emphasis on skin; attention to over-weight chicks (sales: 1.4 million in a couple of months)

 

Mos Def, “The New Danger,” Gritty images of people in the hood in “Ghetto Rock,” and attempt to humanize strippers (making money to raise their kids) in “Sex, Love, & Money.” (sales: 377,000 copies in couple of months)

 

In a panel discussion on this subject, vice president of A&R and TVT Records, Bryan Leach, said: “There are a lot of artists who think this is just a song. I know Lil John and Ying Yang Twins, a lot of these artists, personally, and they don’t walk around every day thinking, ‘I hate women.’”

 

To which MC Lyte, a respected female rapper herself responded: “So, they’re just selling us out, they’re just putting on an act to sell a record,” to which women and a few men in the audience responded with applause. Lyte went deeper:

 

There’s some law: They say after 500,000 CDs, you’re selling to a whole different realm. Now you are selling records to young white boys. I think the corporations understand their time to come in and take control of it. Once the control was taken away, then came all the nonsense.

 

Davis added: “We know that men love skin and cars and gadgets, and that’s what these videos have.”  Record company and artists respond:  “If it’s wrong for you or your kids, then, turn the channel and talk about it.”

 

Kevin Powell, a writer for Vibe magazine retorts: “All these words are easy for middle-class men to say. A lot of people who are affected by this are in the ‘hood…. A lot opf people don’t got parents who are going to tell them right from wrong. Some parents are working three jobs.”

 

Tricia Rose, who has studied black women’s sexuality and written Longing to Tell, challenges a deeper discussion. She says it goes much deeper than producing nicer images of black women.

 

Our language for talking about all this is not only antagonistic, it’s not terribly sophisticated. It just becomes, “Say nice things.” “Have pretty images of us, it’s nicer,” rather than talking more substantially about the power of human relationships. What do white men and other races and cultures get out of this representation? Why is the power of black masculinity wrapped up in the physical and sexual control of women? That’s what we need to talk about.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

 

1.  What is your relationship to hip-hop music and culture?  How do you respond to this article? What feelings come out?  What opinions do you have?

2.   Specifically, what most impressed you here?  With what do you take issue? What points need to be more widely heard or disputed?

3.   Where do you want to take this discussion: with friends? With children and young people? With parents?

 

IMPLICATIONS

 

1.   Hip-hop is huge; it has defied the prophecy that it would soon pass or fade.

2.   The images of hip-hop are pervasive and powerful. They affect children, young adults, and all of us.

3.   The processing and effect of hip-hop goes on in all of us, but differently if we love it, like it, tolerate it, or hate it. It’s bound to have a different on the very young and older listeners. It affects African Americans differently than it affects whites and other ethnicities. All these factors need attention and analysis.

4.   Underlying issues of media influence, there are always issues of consumerism. How we deal with our consumerist identities and tendencies must enter any discussion of media and hip-hop—as is pointed out in this article.

 

Dean Borgman  c. CYS