RE: Hyper-Masculinity in Hip-Hop: Pt. 1

This is a response to an original piece by Jason Kavuma, which you can (and should) read first, here.

Amongst all the reflection you’ve done on 2015 over the past few weeks, it’s probably safe to conclude that the year held an attitude geared towards progression. As Jason would tell it, it was a defining year for gender-roles. Feminism continued to be fought for, and men were invited to question the notion of forced masculinity. More specifically, hyper-masculinity. We fought for the highly controversial right to be ourselves in 2015.
 In Jason’s piece, ‘Hyper-Masculinity in Hip-Hop’, he points out that men in hip hop are coming around to gender identities that have less to do with hip-hop’s previous obsession with forced masculinity. The way he arrived at this conclusion? By observing that male rappers are coming around to being less intimidated by women who bring home a larger slice of bread than them — even going so far as to form relationships with them. 
 Can we consider this a ‘feminist’ attitude in hip-hop? If it is, Jason’s right to point out that it’s far from the pinnacle of feminism in this genre. It’s an indication of baby steps. Baby steps with the potential to lead us… where, exactly? He leaves things pretty open-ended here, concluding, “My question is, where will this lead to? Who knows. But at least we’re starting somewhere.”

2016 needs to be the year we drop the ‘at least’ attitude. It’s just not enough anymore, and arguably never has been. If this critique of hyper-masculinity and trend of feminism is to live on in hip-hop, we should be asking what role feminism will ultimately play in it. Does it have a shelf-life in this genre? And if so, is it a short one? Only destined to carry out its lifespan in the form of enabling men to flex their #sadboyz aesthetic?

Something I noticed about Jason’s original piece, it more so focused on the places feminism is taking men in hip-hop. Which wasn’t entirely a bad thing, I’d just like to balance the scales a bit more. 
 Hip-hop has always been a male dominated field. Now that we can all agree there is an inherent problem with this, we can start taking baby steps in the right direction. When women first entered the market, they took a tiny portion of the profits in the industry in comparison the profits men were taking home. This was not coincidental. The small handful of women in the industry have always been pitted against one another. The media constantly portrays them in competition with one another. As Tinashe pointed out in an interview with xoNecole, “There can’t be five black girls winning.”

This highlights an even more important aspect of where feminism in hip-hop needs to be focused: on its roots in black feminism. It’s no coincidence that white women in other genres exist in larger numbers and take home larger profits. At 23, Miley Cyrus has a net worth of $165 million, and Taylor Swift has a net worth of $200 million. Compare this to the earnings of Nicki Minaj, whose net worth in 2015 was just $50 million, and Rihanna’s — $120 million. How big of a portion of Miley’s $165 million do you think came from exploiting black culture?

‘Hip-hop feminism’ is an official term coined by Joan Morgan in her book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks it Down (1999). The book identifies hip-hop feminism as its own school separate from black feminism. In hip-hop feminism, the personal becomes the political through acknowledging how race, class, gender, and sexuality influence our treatment in society. 
More importantly, it acknowledges that women in hip hop experience different lived experiences than ‘traditional’ feminists in the Women’s Liberation Movement (which was mostly a white movement that excluded women of colour from advancing women’s civil rights). Another hip-hop feminist, Reina Rabaka explains in her book, Hip Hop’s Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement, the connection between media, hip hop, feminism, and intersectionality:

“All of this is to say, hip hop feminism is much more than feminism, and it focuses on more than feminist issues, misogyny, and patriarchy. Hip hop feminists use hip hop culture as one of their primary points of departure to highlight serious social issues and the need for political activism aimed at racism, sexism, capitalism, and heterosexism as overlapping and interlocking systems of oppression.”

It’s somewhat ironic that such a strong school of feminism emerged out of hip-hop to begin with. Hip-hop culture has always been something that any self-respecting woman (and feminist) has carried a love/hate relationship with. Why love something that just doesn’t seem to love you back? We have a long way to go before feminism in hip-hop turns into a man’s walk — and a woman’s. To answer your question, Jason, we’re yet to see where this leads us, but maybe the conversation at this point needs to be about where it should lead us.

Although Jason does allude to these possibilities, just not so directly; let’s stop distancing female rappers from the game by calling them female rappers and put them on level playing field with rappers. Let’s keep getting excited about our female counterparts making triple the money male rappers are making. And if a woman wants to start wearing less and going out more, by all means, let her do it sans judgement and sans a catchy tune meant to shame her for it.

Some trends coming out of 2015 I’d love to see more of in 2016:

  • Women reclaiming the term ‘King’. Little Simz is crowned the King of Rap in her interview with Interview, and is quoted for her lyrics, “What they fucking mean she’s not a king / All these backwards bitches need to realise it’s 2015 / We redefining the very definition”.
  • Holding male artists to account for their shitty crimes against women. E.g. Not buying R. Kelly’s album because of the child pornography allegations against him, questioning artists who work with Chris Brown, calling out Tyga on his alleged relationship with (at the time, underaged) Kylie Jenner
  • JME breaking down hyper-masculine attitudes associated with a meat-eating diet and being extremely and educationally vocal about his vegan lifestyle over Twitter.

We clearly have the potential here to grasp feminist attitudes in hip hop to instil social change that goes beyond male rappers feeling good about flaunting their female counterparts’ income. I’d like to see us use it.