Can you love Hip Hop and be a feminist?
How do you reconcile your feminism when the beat bangs, the bars are hella dope, but homeboy suddenly tells you to buss it open for a nigga?
This is a question that has been asked many times over the past few years in an array of different ways and it's a subject matter I have tweeted about on several occasions.
And now it's something I have finally mustered the courage to write about.
Look, when I say I am an enthusiast I mean it. I have written articles about the music. I have covered Hip Hop events. I have co-presented a specialist Hip Hop show on a campus radio station and conceptualised and produced a weekly Hip Hop radio show for another.
So yes, I have been lost in the sauce of it all for years now. And each year my love for this seemingly controversial genre of music grows.
It's not blind love, though. I'm fully cognisant of the misogyny, objectification and rape culture that the genre has perpetuated for decades and I don't excuse it at all.
I find it just as necessary to call out problematic narratives in Hip Hop music as I do celebrating the positive messages in Hip Hop (if not more so).
I see a bunch of folks getting amped for MalumKoolKat's upcoming new track like he didn't sexually violate a woman just this year ??— Gravitas (@AfikaLulo) October 10, 2016
You see, my passion for a genre of music that has been said to hate women lies not in internalised misogyny, but rather my deep appreciation for how colourful language can be.
As a keen writer, the literary devices employed by Hip Hop artists really AMAZES me. Think triple entendres, backronyms, juxtaposition, portmanteau and streams of consciousness.
Quick example: "Took the G out your waffle, all you got left is your ego. Think about it for a second." Childish Gambino
[See explanation here]
And don't even get me started on the beats.
But before I lose my focus here, I want to take the time to highlight how it is possible to be an unwavering feminist and a Hip Hop-head - despite the crass lyrics which often shows disrespect towards women.
I'm not trying to sell Hip Hop to anyone here, so if you still hate this genre by the end of this column, we can still be mates.
We need to look beyond the sexism and heteronormativity that the media always uses to vilify the genre as a whole. There are actually so many other themes which Hip Hop has to offer.
Let me explain:
Hip Hop as a reclamation of previous oppressions
Female rap artists have mastered this very well. They have put the thing down, flipped it and reversed it.
What's the "it" I'm talking about? The misogyny and objectification of women.
When you take the very same weapon that has always been used to oppress you and you make it your own, you reclaim the power it previously wielded over you.
In All about the Benjamins Lil Kim spits the bars "only female in my crew, and I kick shit like a nigga do, with a trigga too / fuck you," and on Lady Marmalade she reminds us that "we independent women, some mistake us for whores / I'm saying why spend mine when I can spend yours?"
A word which often comes up in Hip Hop music is "bitch" and female artists have managed to give this word positive connotations through the commonly used empowering phrase "I'm that bitch," which is basically a self-affirming phrase.
And speaking of reclaiming words; the N-word with an "a" and not "er" has become a synonym for dude, guy, man and friend in black popular culture.
This is a word that was once used violently against black people until Hip hop artists took ownership of it, as Ice Cube eloquently said, "that's our word now."
Watch Ice Cube further explain its legacy here:
Hip Hop as poetic justice
Yes, if you listen to Hip Hop beyond what plays in the club and on commercial radio stations, you will find that there is more to it than "poppin' champagne", "making asses clap" and "throwing hunnids on 'em bitches."
That brand of Hip Hop is merely the equivalent of click bait in journalism - it's all just for hype and cash.
But once you move past the entry level (and admittedly catchy) stuff, you are able to appreciate rap the way it was intended to be appreciated - as Rhythm And Poetry.
Take for example this Rap Genius breakdown of Kendrick Lamar's 2012 hit "Poetic Justice", which gives the following interpretation:
I believe there is an essential irony in these lines.
Lamar is talking about real danger, love and problems, but what you can get is just ‘poetic justice’. Indeed, this bears a reference to the literary device of giving characters a quid quo pro in their conducts, but with ‘put it in a song’, Lamar adds another dimension.
Namely that in contrast to real problems etc. rap music can give you nothing but references in rap music. People shot, lost and forgotten in the album might ‘live forever’ (cf. the one in front of the gun lives forever in ‘Money Trees’) but the real problems aren’t solved.
Which brings me to the next facet of Hip Hop which has become more prevalent than its sexist lyrical content.
Hip Hop as social activism
Actually if you've watched Straight Outta Compton, you'll know that rap music was a way of calling out injustices from the very beginning. Hungertv.com explains how the rap group N.W.A.'s discography was pretty much a criticism of law enforcement in America ever since their hit Fuck tha Police.
Today the likes of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, T.I., J. Cole, Jay Z and Nicki Minaj (just to name a few) have used their music to address the police brutality which is still a major heartbreaking issue in the Unites States.
While locally, HHP gave us the Hip Hop classic Harambe, saluting those who fought for our freedom.
Reason, Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Stogie T and Zubs have all rapped about South Africa's racist history and the struggles black South African youth in the hood face, while constantly preaching the gospel of overcoming adversity.
Hip Hop as therapy
Earlier this month Jay Z - a rap legend and husband to feminist icon Beyoncé - released his fourteenth studio album 4:44 in which he not only admitted to cheating on his wife and took responsibility for his transgressions, but he also reveals his mom's homosexuality for the first time in a song in which she is featured in.
This is an example of how this genre of music can be a therapeutic outlet for the artists who create it as well as for its listeners too.
I know when I'm having a meh day, listening to a few 808s can take me from zero to 100 real quick.
But more importantly, I grew up with a lot of insecurities and confidence issues, which by the time I turned 20 had slowly faded away thanks to the arrogance and cool-headed energy exuded by rappers in their lyricism and swagger.
I'm not saying I'm arrogant, but when you hear "her attitude Rihanna, she get it from her mama" enough times, you start to believe it too. So I'd go as far as saying that Hip Hop really helped me find my self cav (local Hip Hop slang term for confidence/self-assurance).
And while some Hip Hop artists do indeed lead rather controversial lifestyles (like Chris Brown, who we all now have zero respect and time for), there are literally hundreds of other rappers who preach positive, feel-good messages in their art.
So no, I don't think Hip Hop suffocates feminism or that you become less of a feminist the more you enjoy it.
Besides, there are far worse messages heard across several other genres of music, which go unchecked because they don't come from the mouths of stereotypical "thuggish" black men.
I mean, with heavy metal band names such as Cemetery Rapist, album titles like Molesting the Decapitated and country song lyrics which promote the lynching of people of colour, one can't help but feel that a rapper telling you they like your D-cups may just be harmless banter in the greater scheme of things.
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.