Being a Feminist Hip-Hop Fan

“Aye, Candace. Your boy Ab-Soul cutting up on Twitter.”

I rubbed the sleep out of my eye and sat up slowly in my bed. “What?” I asked groggily. It was mid-morning and my friend’s call had rattled me out of my sleep. “Go look on Twitter,” my best friend said. “Aw man,” I mumbled. I took my phone from beside my ear and thumbed through my apps to find Twitter. I logged on and headed straight to Ab-Soul’s profile. I sighed. Sure enough, he was cutting up.

In one tweeting session, Ab-Soul managed to question reproductive rights, claim women actually enjoy being cat called, and reduce women to “flowers” who are “designed to be admired.” The irony of Ab-Soul’s tweets is that in December, he dropped his fourth studio album, Do What Thou Wilt, in which he made bold statements about sexism.

“And we don’t speak on sexism as much as we really should.
The black man could vote before the woman could.
You sing hymns in church, I’m looking for the hers.
66 books in the Bible, they ain’t let a lady say one word.”

For him to claim sexism is a prevalent issue that needs to be addressed and then turn around and perpetuate sexist notions, it was disappointing but not surprising. When I initially heard his album, I was not impressed with his surface-level hot takes on misogyny. As a feminist woman who loves his music, I was already aware that his sexism preceded those tweets. In fact, his sexism was evident in the same album and albums prior. For many rap artists, sexism is something they always fall back on and unfortunately, I’m use to it.

Anyone who knows me, know that I am both a Black feminist and a lover of hip-hop. Considering the misogynstic nature of hip-hop, some would say that’s quite an oxymoron. They would be valid in thinking so too. There’s no denying that misogyny is an issue in today’s hip-hop. I can’t listen to one rap song without hearing women be referred to as “bitches” and “hoes.” Hip-hop thrives off the degradation and objectification of women so one could logically ask, “How in the world are you a feminist yet you love a genre that seemingly hates you?”

Well, let’s set the record straight about a couple of things. Hip-hop, in itself, is not inherently misogynistic. The beginnings of hip-hop were not founded on the subjugation of women. This culture came alive in New York City as a way for young Black youth to express themselves. With hip-hop, or any other form of art, people use it as a medium to express their own thoughts and feelings. It becomes a reflection of them. Hip-Hop evolved into a way Black youth could express their frustrations regarding poverty, racism, and police violence–N.W.A and their criticism of police brutality being a key example. Considering that hip-hop has always been a male-dominant space and men have always been socialized to be sexist, unfortunately hip-hop became a way for men to express their misogynistic beliefs as well.

It’s also important to acknowledge that sexism is not just prevalent in hip-hop. It exists in other genres as well such as rock and country music. Hip-hop receives the brunt of criticism because of double standards rooted in the need to stigmatize and demonize Black manhood in particular. People gauge misogynistic images quite differently when they’re projected by a white man with an electric guitar as compared to a Black man with a mic. It’s the same reason why hip-hop is painted as exceptionally violent when rock music–heavy metal in particular–is arguably more violent.

I criticize the misogyny in hip-hop, especially, because I am a Black woman and it is dear to me. It is an art form that comes from my community and is directly linked to my culture as a Black American. I feel that it is my responsibility to hold the men in my community accountable for harmful things they say and do–that includes acknowledging the misogyny they perpetuate in hip-hop music.

Because I was brought up in a Christian household that did not allow “secular” music, my love of hip-hop began rather late. I seriously began appreciating hip-hop in high school. Black Hippy, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and J. Cole were a few of my favorites. Rap legitimately pulled me through rough times. I loved everything about rap. I loved how diverse instrumentals could be. You could go from a smooth Dilla beat to a bumping Pharrell beat. I loved how for every feeling, for every occasion, there was a rap song for it. Hip-Hop was–and still is, always breaking bounds. It heavily influences mainstream culture.

Hip-hop has also helped me at my lowest. Rap pulled me through a lot. Growing up I had to deal with bullying at school, my parents’ divorce, and my mother’s depreciating mental state. Through those times, hip-hop helped me cope. I can confidently say that I would not know where I would be without hip-hop.

Later down the road, I came into what is widely known as my feminist identity. With becoming a feminist, I became hyper-aware of the sexism that permeates rap music. I began to have more troubles listening to rap. Suddenly, the “bitches” and “hoes” stood out more and I would feel guilty for enjoying the song. I then began to question myself. How could I say I’m a feminist and listen to music that degrades the very women I say I fight for?

And some will say, “Well, why not just stop listening to it?” Why do I have to stop listening to something that I have every right to enjoy? Hip-Hop is a part of my culture. Some of its greatest pioneers are Black women. Instead of telling women we shouldn’t listen to hip-hop, I think it’s time to hold rappers accountable for their misogyny. Black women have every right to enjoy rap without having to hear our womanhood get dragged through the mud.

I view hip-hop from a critical lens now. Yes, I’m still a fan and yes, I do acknowledge the good sides of the art and culture but I also acknowledge the faults. While I enjoy hip-hop, I am extremely critical of its misogyny. I am critical of my own favorite rappers as well, such as Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul. I will never deny that sexism is something they must work to unlearn, and as men, dismantle. My love for hip-hop comes with accountability now. There is room for women in hip-hop and I hope to keep working to make that space safe and respectful of women–especially for the ones that look like me.

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