Let’s keep it real: hip-hop hates me. I’m a journalist tasked with objectively surveying the music landscape of today, in spite of what’s currently “trending” and who makes the shortlist for my Top 5. But what’s most worth noting is that I am Black and I am woman — a Black woman who must navigate an industry that rakes in lofty sums of money annually for the degradation of my very being.
As an unabashed hip-hop head, I’ve willingly ingested the toxic byproducts of this billion-dollar industry in the same vein that nicotine affects the lungs of secondhand smokers. To think that hip-hop and femininity will ever come to a resolve is a far reach, one that I am well aware of. The same sentiment is reserved for the idea that rap could exist without misogyny. Spawned from the rhythms of blues, jazz and 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, hip-hop has long been deemed a man’s sport — and often at the expense of women.
The Queen Latifahs, Salt-N-Pepas, Lil Kims and Nickis aside, at its core, hip-hop is inherently derogatory and unapologetic ― especially when it comes to its women, who serve as both the muse and misused. Whether being referred to as b*****s, h*es and gold diggers or toted around like cuff links, there aren’t many safe spaces for women to simply exist in this culture.
Often times, I refer back to Ava DuVernay’s critical review of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. Taking to Twitter, the groundbreaking director acknowledged the difficulty in being a woman who grew up with and loves hip-hop. “To be a woman who loves hip-hop at times is to be in love with your abuser,” she tweeted. “Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours.”
This revelation instantly struck a chord with me and has remained transfixed in my mind nearly two years later, especially when listening to the likes of Migos, Future, Kanye West and more. As a fan of hip-hop, I’ve struggled in finding the dichotomy between the “b*****s” rappers routinely speak of and myself. Ultimately, what separates us? And how do I grapple with this while involuntarily bopping my head to music that condemns women, that condemns me? The answer isn’t simple, but I believe it begins with holding powerful men accountable for the hazardous environment they are creating and recognizing that my work plays a part in nurturing it.
More recently, I had to come to terms with this after watching Rick Ross’s telling interview with The Breakfast Club last week. In spite of his lewd comments about the lack of female rappers on his label, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by the Maybach Music Group founder’s inflated sense of entitlement. Asked by the show’s hosts about the type of acts he looks for when signing artists, Angela Yee questioned Ross about the lack of female talent on MMG’s roster, to which he gave a response worthy of a million eye-rolls: “I never did it, because I always thought that, like, I would end up f**king the female rapper, f**king the business up [...] if she's lookin' good and I'm spending so much money on her photo shoots, I gotta f**k her.”
While Yee took the comments in good stride and laughed it off, as did her male co-hosts (who laughed hysterically), the glaring truth in Ross’s statement is difficult to simply gloss over. Add that to the fact that Ross’s first interaction with Yee during his on-air interview, was to tell her “I need to see your legs though,” and later “I need to see you twerking at the next one,” in reference to a pool party they were discussing.
For someone who considers themselves a “boss,” one would imagine that Ross’s fully functioning brain has more control over his actions rather than his penis. But here we are. As a male executive, Rick Ross is afforded the luxury of being able to casually make statements that are textbook workplace sexual harassment and perpetuate rape culture. It’s as if Ross has learned remotely nothing from the backlash he faced after spitting racy bars on Rocko’s 2013 hit “U.O.E.N.O.:” "Put molly all in her champagne / She ain't even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain't even know it."
Ross’s behavior, however, speaks to a bigger issue at hand: powerful men and their ability to objectify and manipulate women as they please. In May, L.A. Reid surprisingly stepped down from his tenure as chairman of Epic Records due to sexual harassment allegations. Just this past month, R. Kelly made headlines for allegedly keeping women captive in a sexual “cult” under the guise of serving as their mentor for their singing careers.
So, is hip-hop simply a euphemism for the disrespect, direct violence and endangerment women face? In light of the stomach-turning details of Kodak Black’s, Famous Dexx’s, XXXtenacion’s and most recently Z-RO’s sexual and physical assault charges against women, one could easily say yes. But, what’s most intriguing is how men like Ross and Kodak are routinely given a “pass” by the rap community for their exploitative actions.
Ultimately, accountability begins and ends with us. While hip-hop has evolved into a money machine that drives several markets, most notably the advertising industry, the art form would be meaningless without its fans. Understanding the value of our dollars as consumers of rap, we are capable of making problematic men like Rick Ross address his misogynistic ideologies and, on a wider scale, put an end to R. Kelly selling out shows.
As a woman who is undoubtedly for the culture, I find my work to be a double-edged sword. However, I refuse to throw in the towel on a genre that supports my passion and has allowed me to bridge the gap for Black women in this industry. In using my life’s work to reflect the ugly truths about hip-hop as well as its promising future, I hope to inspire others to join me. Our voices together hold power beyond measure.