My (and Many Other Black Women’s) Complicated Relationship with Rap

I’m a 90s baby with Baby Boomer parents. As a result, Hip Hop is not something that was ingrained in me from birth, but instead something I picked up, tried on, and broke in until I was comfortable. My parents intended to raise me on Motown, 70s Soul, and 80s Slow Jams. However, I discovered Hip Hop at the age of 7 when I was at summer camp.

The year was 2000, so I wasn’t captivated by the light-hearted, melodic rhymes of “Rappers Delight” or the poignant social commentary of “The Message” or “Keep Ya Head Up.” The first rap song I ever loved was “Country Grammar” by Nelly. From there I was hooked, and I still am.

I love the classics from a time that I didn’t live in that I discovered on my own, and I love the songs that transport me to my memories of the years that they came out. I grew up in Atlanta during the era when Atlanta hip hop was stealing prominence from the East and West Coast, and there’s not a classic trap jam that doesn’t fill me with nostalgia. Nothing can hype me up like “Top Back” by TI, “Take Off” by Young Dro, and just about anything by Travis Porter. I went to college in New Orleans, and Bounce music sunk its unassuming claws in me, and now I’m completely addicted. I still bump J.Cole mixtapes from 2010. He, Kendrick, and Wale will always be the soundtrack of my college years. The new stuff is harder for me to rock with, but I caught some Cardi fever in Summer 2018.

Photo by Malte Wingen on Unsplash.

Growing up with rap music also taught me many things that I’m now trying to unlearn.

I developed ideas about sex, attention, and being desirable to men from women in music videos and how rappers responded to them. From rap, I learned to associate men (particularly Black men) with aggression, anger, materialism, and insatiable sex drive (in a nutshell, toxic masculinity). I learned that being a successful Black woman meant having a man or being able to take someone else’s. Rap also taught me that, as a plus-sized-but-not-in-the-booty, Brown-skinned girl, I was not considered beautiful by Black men.

These aren’t new observations. In the mid-2000s, I remember many a BET panel discussion on the subject matter of Hip Hop and what it means to the Black community. But when I was younger, I thought people who didn’t like Hip Hop were just old, and I still think that many of those anti-Hip Hop arguments came from a classist and anti-youth perspective.

However, I’m an adult now, and we’re living in an interesting time. We’ve become a generation who will not stand for the marginalization of groups of people. We are examining words for the power that they truly possess. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is being examined through a feminist lens, racist entertainers are being fired for fear of backlash from viewers, and celebrities being confronted for anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (most recently: City Girls, Kevin Hart, and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray for tweets written when he was 14). Black woman are some of society’s most vocal critics, standing up in all arenas to end racism, sexism, and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

However, at the same time, we’re living in an era where rap/trap music is king and still as misogynistic and destructive in its messages as it’s ever been.

In an age where Black women are so instrumental in fighting the problematic-ness of society, Black women are still being degraded and reduced to sexual objects by Black male rappers (often through language that promotes sexual harassment). Dark-skinned women are still being vilified, and female rappers who don’t discuss men as their main source of power and self-esteem are still scarce. So are female rappers in general, but that’s a whole other story.

I grew up learning how to separate my entertainment from my personal values as much as I could. But now that I’m working towards a Social Work degree that prioritizes social justice and am bombarded daily with activist social media posts, it’s harder to listen to the toxic masculine musings of the latest trap artist.

And yet, when I hear the line “I like a long-haired, thick redbone,” after cringing a bit, I commence to jamming. Kodak Black’s sexual assault charges and comments about dark-skinned women are something that I could never ignore, and yet, “ZEZE” slaps so hard for me. I’ve definitely posted “The only Christopher that we acknowledge is Wallace” (originally heard on “Oceans” by Jay-Z) in protest of Columbus Day, despite the fact that Notorious B.I.G. graphically promotes the physical abuse of women in “Get Money” by Junior M.A.F.I.A. (which happens to be one of my favorite songs).

This duality is not just my thing. It’s common in many Black women, and it brings up two questions for me:

  1. In a time when so much is becoming not okay, how is it that rap music still is?

Rap music has been attacked by prominent Black leaders, cultural critics, and presidential administrations throughout the years. Yet, its influence has only grown. A large part of this is because of White people. White obsession with rap culture has made them the largest consumers of rap music in the country, and White-owned parent record labels like Sony BMG, Universal, and Atlantic now invest billions into rap music and its current image (seemingly more than its actual lyrics these days). Why is this important? Because while much of Hip Hop has White ownership, there is an overwhelming White presence in other elements of society that have deemed certain things problematic. There’s been much discussion about the role of White male privilege in the LGBTQ+ community and the way that the #MeToo movement (now credited to Tarana Burke) was co-opted by White women. Perhaps the problematic aspects of Hip Hop are being drowned out by it’s fire beats because it primarily targets Black women.

2. How are we (Black women) still okay with rap music?

No matter how much White influence rap music has, the fact that Black women love it can’t be denied. The fact that we also purchase it, promote it, and have a hand in creating it can’t be denied either. I can’t speak for every Black woman, so I’ll only speak for myself. It’s the beats. It’s the lyrics. It’s the catchiness, and it’s the power to get me hype. But it’s also the fact that it’s my generation’s contribution to unapologetic Blackness. It’s rap music’s reverberating theme of being handed oppression and turning into a billion-dollar corporation. Rap music was the soundtrack to my Black childhood and Black adolescence. A narrator in my Black coming-of-age story. My parents can reject rap music because another type of Black music fills their memories.

For me, rejecting rap music feels a lot like rejecting the Culture, my culture.

In a time where my very existence is under attack, I’m not ready to deal with that right now.

This is not a call to action. If you take it that way, just know that I will not be acting with you. Not yet, anyway. I often take breaks from problematic rap and bump more conscious rappers, R&B, and other genres of music. I’ve recently been able to feed my soul through Christian Hip Hop (CHH) as well, but I’m still a rap/trap/Hip Hop fan to my core, and for now, the turn-up shall go on.

Writer. Master of Social Work Candidate at University of Georgia. A Black woman who keeps finding herself in the gray area.

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