The Portrayal of Females in Hip- Hop & Rap
The Portrayal of Females in Hip- Hop & Rap
“Well, hip hop is what makes the world go around.”
Snoop Dogg (Rapper)
So where did it all begin? Hip-hop also known as hip hop, rap is a genre of music that dates back to the 1970’s, rooted in the Bronx, New York City, mostly amongst African Americans and Latino youths, hip hop allowed them to channel their thoughts and expressions. Fast forward to 2012 and in the words of Snoop Dogg “hip hop is what makes the world go around,” it has evolved with music magazines, videos and other media making it one of musics most popular genres to date, however in the predominately male culture that is hip hop and hip hop, rap can women ever be seen as equals?
Hip-hop and hip hop, rap has over the years made as many enemies as it has made fans. Often refered to as a genre that encases sexism and misogyny, a term that refers to the revulsion shown towards the female gender, in particular in commercial hip-hop and rap. Feminist theory claim that misogyny can be manifested in number of ways such as the sexual objectification , violence, denigration and sexual descrimination of women.
In the words of Joan Smith “Misogyny wears many guises, reveals itself in different forms which are dictated by class, wealth, education, race, religion and other factors, but its chief characteristic is its pervasiveness.”(Smith 1989, xvii) . Joan Smith touches on education and rap, stating it is an art form of musical expression that rappers use to express their knowledge of where they’re coming from onto others, that may be coming from a completely different community or part of the world. Many rappers and people refer to the streets as education 50 cent (rapper) says ‘Hip Hop is a reflection of the harsh reality we grew up in,’  so when a male rapper refers to a female in an unpleasant manner it can be said that the rapper is just expressing his voice on how he is, or was treated by females. The rapper 50 cent, grew up Jamaica Queens, New York one of the roughest neighbourhoods in America, as a child he was exposed to female prostitutes, male pimps and gangsters, whilst men were seen as dominating figures in their roles as pimps and gangsters representing power and control, female prostitutes were seen as dirt, ‘hoes,’ and ‘slags.’ If 50 cent and other rappers like him have been brought up in this type of environment he or they will know no other depiction of females other than what they have seen in their societies. Remarkably many rappers do not refer to their Mothers or other female members of their family in the same way, they claim that they are simply responding to the vast majority of females that portray themselves that way. St Louis rapper Nelly gave a great example “If I came home to find my wife surrounded by three men in the room, would I be wrong to respond to her as a hoe? ” many would say that this would validate the point that if a female did not carry on in a particular manor there would be no need for her to be referred to or associated with such words.
The use of vocabulary in commercial rap lyrics is found to portray woman as objects of sexual desire. The lyrics ‘I said it must be ya ass cause it aint yo face,’ used by rapper Nelly in his song Tip Drill describes a conversation he is having with a female these hugely offensive lyrics degrades the opposite sex by suggesting that he is only attracted to her body and has no interest in her face, basically saying she is ugly this definantly causes the female to question her self worth. The lyric also acts upon the idea of the ‘male gaze’ and at the same time shows evidence of misogyny. Through out the chorus of the song the rapper refers to words ‘tip drill’ continuously, the term which means a female that is up for anything, together with the lyrics and video it is not hard to notice that the rapper is imitating the role of a ‘pimp,’ collecting his money as a queue of men line up to have sex with a single female. Some argue the song acts as method for Nelly to assert himself as a ‘pimp’ boosting his male ego and masculinity over the opposing sex. The tricky question however, is who is to blame for this? Is it the video vixen (the female in the video), that by choice has decided to prance around half naked and allow herself to become objectified to degrading lyrics such as Nellys, helping to connect the spoken word, to be physically seen by others? As hip- hop is viewed
Worldwide, certain viewers that have no clue of hip hop and its origins, would know no better than to believe what is seen in front of them, if an image is continuously put into your head slowly, but surely you are going to believe there is some truth in what you are being shown. What many of these women seen as video vixens, do is to allow themselves to be dressed and behave (simulating sexual positions, using water and oils in a sexual way), in a way that characterises the typical stereotypes of a ‘Ho.’ This leaves the values of representation on females from that community to be seen as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy.’
A common reason for video models to participate in videos is that they view it as an easy way to get noticed and make effortless money. The female model in these videos have taken it upon themselves to use their bodies to cause seduction and weakness upon the viewer, often Men. In the book Gender differences in seeing women John Berger mentions ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.’  So females have basically assereted there doinance by creating the desire of want from the viewer putting them in the more dominant position. Mellisa Ford is a prime example of a video vixen using her assets to gain a much profound postion in the industry, she has worked her way up from being a video model to being an actress and successful business woman. Mellisa has made herself iconic in the sense that she saw a weakness in men, and acted upon it.
The technique of using sex to sell has been proven as a successful formula to create the buzz around the artist and create instant popularity in the western world, hip hop and rap is just one genre that uses sexual contents to both physically and vocally increase exposure.
Hip hop is seen as a male oriented genre due to its masculine presence, which makes it hard for females to find there common ground and establish themsleves within the genre. Salt-N-Pepa are one of the pioneering female rap acts invloved in hip hop who took it upon themeselves to challenege the double standards and sexual power involved between men and females of this genre. Playing on the femenist idea of equality Mc Lyte of the group raps in her song Brooklyn:
I got the intro along with the cash flow
Make all the bad boys seem like nymphos
Yeah, I’m hard, I get sexy like Veronica
I use sex as an instrument like the philharmonica
In this Mc Lyte uses the dominant characteristics of the male figure as a metaphor to intelligently strengthen her presence against the male. She uses ‘phallic imgery through the word “hard” as being strong and street smart for both men and woman and being sexually erect for men’, she intelligently states that she uses sex as an intsrument within the lyrics. This shows that she notices the male empoweremnt but puts herself in the position of the oppposite sex to get her point across, but still maintains her feminity to gain the gaze with the word Veronca to symbolize her sexiness.
Rappers such as Queen Latifah and BWP (Bytches With Problems) have created a much more up front resistance to the objectification of females in hip hop by not using sex at all, Queen Latifah marketed herself by taking on the male persona of masculinaty to get her point across, she chalenges other rappers who uses the term “bitch” to refer to woman by releasing the song U.N.I.T.Y. in which she ends each verse with the question “who you caling a bitch?” taking a much more in your face approach to the situation. But inspite of the efforts of rappers like Queen Latifah on opposing to females misogynisitic representation in hip hop others like Lil Kim, Nikki Minaj to name a few have contradicted the efforts of there “sistas” to gain fame by calling themselves “bitches”and refering to other females as bitches in their lyrics and put across the image as themselves as gold diggers and coniving. They have subjected themselves to industry and media which has picked up aspects of so called reality and reshaped it to gain appreciation from the audience.
Fig. 1 : Nikki Minaj & Lil Kim
The figure above (Fig 1) displays both females in what some might call degrading and unlady like manner, this would make some assume that they are what the male rappers term a ‘Ho,’ now whilst both females were were not originally perceived in this manner, see Nicky Minaj in figure 2, they have and some may argue by choice become a subject to societies needs and perceptions of females in this genre in order to make sales.
Fig.2 Nikki Minaj
Figure 2 shows a young Nikki Minaj before her current fame, she is fully clothed not in the most attractive attire, but presents herself as a decent, respectable and independent woman. but she found her efforts were in vain as she was not taken seriously or seen as a good rapper, she therefore moulded herself to the image we have seen in figure 1, to gain more media attention and the needs of the consumers as a result she has eradicted all traces of her independent female image.
To conclude the article of blame, can clearly not be labelled on to a single race, gender or person, the male species could argue that they know no better and that their portrayl of women is all they know due to their upbringing, but in fairness these male rappers are reffering to just a small minority of females. Drawing on the influeneces of media organisations such as SKY and MTV they too have helped deliver the misrepresentation of women in this genre, by feeding children or people that know no better that this is the true potrayl of hip-hop and rappers and that the female sex are “bitches” or “hoes.”
The hip hop vixens or models along with some female artist often subject themeselves to degrading names and imagery connected to them, by using their body to make money and draw attention to themselves, this in turn has done nothing but add fuel to the males arguments and perception of them as the mannerism and image of strong independent females in this genre steadily vanish. True to be said we are all projects of our society and as a society, if we failed to accept this profound method of expressionalism the portrayl of females in hip hop and rap would not be as it is today.
Antifeminism and Family Terrorism: A Critical Feminist Perspective
By Rhonda Hammer “Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?” (Smith 1989,xvii). Page 176
Gender differences in seeing women [Berger, John. (1972): Ways of Seeing, p. 42]
 Dines, Gail. Humez, Jean M. Gender, Race and Class in Media. California: Sage Publications, 1995
Fig.1 Nikki Minaj& Lil Kim- google, (2012), Nikki Minaj & Lil Kim [ONLINE]. Available at: http://travatalkssmack.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/nicki-minaj-vs-lil-kim-wheres-the-beef/ [Accessed 23 April 12].
Fig.2. google, (2012), Nikki Minaj Before [ONLINE]. Available at: http://ego-living.com/2012/02/watch-nicki-minaj-rapping-before-she-was-famous/ [Accessed 23 April 12].