Conversations around the deeply steeped misogynoir in hip-hop culture have circled since the birth of the genre. Rap’s disdain for women has manifested in the art, through calyrical and visual content; and in practice, through the erasure of and normalized violence against women. As social dialogue has evolved over the last several years during the #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movements, hip-hop finds itself at a crossroads: while rap artists and the hip-hop generation are dominant voices in this era of social justice, the overall culture lags far behind in conversations about sex, gender and agency. Hip-hop has resisted true intersectionality for years, and it hasn’t just been pushback from men. For women, too, entering hip-hop as a fan, an executive, or as an artist implied an unspoken agreement to hypermasculinity and hypersexuality as the price of admission.
Right now, Black people are more directly challenging archaic and unjust norms and practices, from policy, to healthcare, to everyday microaggressions. That includes turning the lens onto ourselves — on the ways in which we internally perpetuate supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia in our own communities. Reflected back are multiple instances within Black experiences and culture where cis Black men are shielded, heralded, and protected at all costs, while Black women are selectively deemed worthy of respect or care.
This summer, hip-hop has thrown the frequent disregard of Black women into stark relief. Even as we’re organizing to hold the entertainment industry accountable for the exploitation of Black creatives and talent, we’ve been hit with near weekly examples of men not only failing to have Black women’s backs, but often initiating attacks against us. And it’s not just artists who engage in disrespect as a brand, but also our “conscious rappers” — hip-hop’s good guys — who by definition are supposed to have awareness. It begs the most simple question possible: Why?
The difference in regard for some women over others is a byproduct of hip-hop’s extreme madonna/whore complex. There are hit songs celebrating the single mother who made a way out of no way; the wife or girlfriend who holds her man down — whether riding through a jail bid, or tolerating cheating and emotional abuse until the man finally got his act together. On the flip side there are the b*tches who ain't sh*t but hoes and tricks, and the single mothers who are more annoying than admirable once the men have become the fathers in question. Rap celebrates the strip club and covets video models (now IG models), but condemns and shames actual strippers, sex workers, or even just women who empower themselves through their sexuality.
The internet chatter in response to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s modern-bordello-themed “WAP” video, released Friday morning, has included an oft-applied Lauryn Hill comparison as the example of proper modesty and class in women emcees. However, on August 6, just hours before “WAP” dropped, 2 Chainz had thong-clad strippers as part of his Verzuz match against Rick Ross, with little, if any, outrage to be seen. Jermaine Dupri came under fire last year for claiming the current women in rap were just “strippers rapping,” despite the massive critical acclaim and record-breaking accolades former dancer Cardi B has garnered during her meteoric rise. Songs about sex and power are central to hip-hop, but
apparently shameful when women are on the other side of the bars. We’re assigned limited roles to occupy in rap, all tightly defined, and defied at a cost.
Black women are exhausted and disheartened in general, and we’re finally being open about the ways in which we’ve both tolerated and been complicit in the continued mygonynoir and violence ourselves. The #MeToo movement largely skipped over hip-hop and urban music in general because so many of us in the industry were conditioned to accept that the game is the game, and that when there were issues to be addressed, they were to be handled quietly. Of course, as with all systems of abuse, silence just allows behavior to continue. Now, Black women are speaking out.
In early June, on the heels of George Floyd’s death and in the midst of amplification of calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, emerging and socially active emcee Noname took to Twitter to question high profile rappers she felt weren’t showing up for the Black Lives Matters movement. J Cole, feeling targeted, responded to her criticism with the track “Snow on the Bluff”;
“She mad at my n****s, she mad at our ignorance, she wear her heart on her sleeve
She mad at the celebrities, lowkey I be thinkin' she talkin' 'bout me
Now I ain't no dummy to think I'm above criticism
So when I see something that's valid, I listen
But sh*t, it's something about the queen tone that's botherin' me”
He goes on to basically condemn Noname for not being gentler in her criticism, suggesting that it’s better to approach people “as children.” The next day, Cole took to Twitter to stand behind his lyrics. “[Noname] has done and is doing the reading and the listening and the learning on the path that she truly believes is the correct one for our people. Meanwhile a n***a like me just be rapping,” said the St. John’s University Magna Cum Laude graduate. “I haven’t done a lot of reading and I don’t feel well equipped as a leader in these times.”
Noname responded with her own track, “Song 33”, with surprise; “Wow look at him go. He really ’bout to write about me while the world is in smokes? When his people in trees, when George was begging for his mother saying he couldn’t breathe, you thought to write about me?” That lyric echoes what many of us have been feeling — how, at a time of such incredible unrest and struggle, energy is directed towards Black women holding Black men accountable for actions that reflect the greater good. And then Black women are blamed for causing that misdirect of energy and time. Noname went on to apologize for how the situation was “handled” … something J. Cole, who wrote a whole song about a tweet, never felt compelled or obligated to do.
Black women are taught to be silent about our mistreatment. We’re told to hurt quietly. I’m not doing it anymore.
Maya A. Moody
About a month later, a conversation around colourism and fetishism in hip-hop spurned Soulquarian Talib Kweli, known for using his Twitter platform as a bully pulpit mostly to attack white supremacists, to launch a personal vendetta against a Black woman 20 years his junior on July 9. It didn’t end until Twitter suspended his account on July 23. On one level, Kweli’s two-week-plus harassment of Maya Moody illustrates the vulnerability of Black women on social media platforms like Twitter. Despite Kweli incessantly tagging Moody in tweets and hardcore fans doxxing her and her family, it took over 15 days for Twitter to suspend the rapper from the platform. On a deeper level, Kweli’s obsessive targeting of Moody, and how long it persisted, is a multifaceted example of whom hip-hop deems important.
In a conversation about hip-hop, colourism and festishm of non-Black women, a tweeter listed, without tagging, 20 well-known hip-hop artists, including Kweli, who are married to Black women. Moody quote-replied to point out, “(A)lmost all of them are married to light skin women.” From this, Kweli launched what he claimed was a counter-defense against someone attacking his family, questioning his wife’s Blackness, and calling him a rapist (Moody posted articles about Kweli’s previous public issues with Black women, including accusations of harassment from his former artist, Res.)
Over the two weeks of Kweli’s hyper focused, constant tweeting about Moody — whom he eventually named his enemy along with anyone who defended her — and demanding she apologize and delete her account, none of his peers condemned him publicly. Because Kweli is an activist, and because he has been vocal in support of Black women in the fight for social justice, it was easy for fans and followers to accept his version of events; that this woman attacked him/his wife/his family. Fans defended Kweli by pointing to his catalogue (he did the same at times). But even if that were true, it didn’t merit his vitriol. Nor did it factor in that Moody is young enough to be his daughter with just a couple thousand followers to his 1M when he set his sights on her. Content and lyrics don’t supersede behavior.
After more than a week, and after blocking Kweli, appealing to Twitter, locking her account, and receiving media attention about Kweli’s harassment, Moody posted a statement with the caption, “protect Black women in more than theory.” It read, in part: “Black women are taught to be silent about our mistreatment. We’re told to hurt quietly. I’m not doing it anymore.” She said the unsaid part out loud; it’s a greater transgression for Black women to publicly say they’ve been wronged, than it is to wrong Black women.
On July 23, just before Kweli was finally suspended from Twitter, his wife took to a now-deleted IG live to address questions of why she hadn’t stepped in to stop him (although it’s important to note that his behavior isn’t her responsibility). Teary-eyed and visibly upset, DJ Eque revealed she was handling her own hurt at the hands of Kweli, that they were separated, that he had a “new family,” and lamented that people were worried about him — but no one was worried about her.
Meanwhile, news broke that Megan Thee Stallion had been shot during an incident involving reported beaux Tory Lanez on July 12. Partial details emerged suggesting Meg hadn’t been shot by accident as Lanez fumbled with or dropped his gun — as initially seemed likely (Lanez was arrested and charged for gun possession) — but had been shot twice, intentionally. She was fine, but her injuries were severe enough to require surgery. After initial reports, there were some jokes comparing Meg to Della Reese’s character in Harlem Nights, who was shot in the pinky toe, plus some jabs at her for being out with Lanez instead of social distancing, and cracks that Kylie Jenner was throwing subliminals at the rapper. Once it was clear Meg had been a victim of a crime, however, that set of jokes died down, but darker, meaner commentary continued. Rapper Cam’ron shared a transphobic meme (Megan has been a target of transphobic jokes because of her build), 50 Cent shared one depicting Megan as Ricky from Boyz n’ the Hood (the character was killed in a drive by shooting), former reality star (and one of the women often considered “exotic”), Draya Michele said in a podcast interview that Meg and Lanez had “Whitney (Houston) and Bobby (Brown) love,” adding “I’m here for it. I like that.” Draya apologized, but when she was challenged for making light of domestic violence, it was hard not to make note of how quickly Black men defended her and offered their support.
25-year-old Megan, whose image and stage name convey strength and fortitude, finally took to Twitter and Instagram Live to express her hurt and anger at the jokes. Echoing the spirit of Moody’s statement just roughly a week prior, Megan shared, “Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own.” She reminded viewers on Live that she recently lost her mother and has no family around her. She also talked about how scary the entire situation was, closing with “I just want y’all to know a b***h is alive and well, and strong as f**k.” The thing is, why should Black women have to be strong in the face of pain? Why can’t we have a moment to be sad and scared?
Spurred by anger and hurt over the death of original member of The Roots Malik B, singer and former affiliate of the music group, Jaguar Wright, started calling the band members and neo soul peers out for bad behavior on July 31, declaring the group unworthy of their high regard in hip-hop. She started with an apology to lyricist Flo Brown, whom she implied had given up her career at least in part because of experiences Wright bore witness to. “As a woman, as a rape survivor, as a sexual assault surivor, as a female recording artist that’s worked with I don’t know how many mysogynists throughout the years... you allow yourself to become numb to it when you see them treat women a bad way and discard them and get in the way of their careers, because you think at least it’s not happening to you,” Wright shared in an Instagram video. “We gotta stop that, women.”
Since then, she’s also accused Common of once attempting to sexually assault her, Talib Kweli of hiding in dressing rooms to watch women change, and accused the Roots collective as a whole of serially using and discarding women on tour. Ironically, out of three days of hour-long IG Lives chock full of revelations and accusations, the only claim that gained traction in distinctly rap-centered spaces was her assertion that Black Thought used Malik B as his ghostwriter.
Rap is no longer just a youth culture, or a counterculture; at 40 years old, with artists and fans who are even older, the reality that not much has changed is not only disappointing, it’s unacceptable. It’s infuriating that, in 2020, Black women still don’t feel they have a safe space to land in hip-hop, or room to express that without facing accusations of tearing Black men — and by extension the Black community — down. But over the course of this year, the collective callout by and on behalf of Black women is growing, without the quick dismissal and avoidance we’ve seen before. Real conversations about Black liberation, Black art, Black expression and Black ownership are predicated on the reconciliation of hip-hop’s relationship with women. Rap can’t shield itself behind outdated norms anymore; fewer people are willing to keep the secrets. Fewer are willing to tolerate the bullsh*t. Hopefully, the culture is finally ready to grow up.