I've Been a Hip-Hop Fan All My Life, and I'm Done With Women Rappers Being Oversexualized
AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 01: Megan Thee Stallion performs live during the ACL Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 01, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder / FilmMagic)
Sometimes it's hard to be a hip hop fan. I've often got into conflict because I know that women, especially black women, who helped create a globally acclaimed style of music and culture, are still treated like sexual objects intended to serve the gaze of men . That weight makes it so hard to embrace the genre I've enjoyed my entire life when rappers like Doja Cat, Flo Milli, Rico Nasty and others bring so much more to the table than their looks.
Although I loved listening to hip hop in the early 2000s, I always wondered why most of what I heard was about the look or feel of a woman's body. And as I grew up, I saw that video foxes got a lot more attention than musicians. The discussion of women's sexuality in hip-hop stems from my experience with the genre, but the age-old debate can be traced back to its beginnings. Roxanne Shanté, one of the first hip-hop pioneers, recently recalled her experiences when the rise of video foxes began to overshadow rappers, which continues to affect today's generation of artists. "They made the videogirl more important than the rapper," Shanté said during the ABC News special The Real Queens of Hip-Hop: The Women Who Changed the Game. "What is happening now is that the talent the rapper has now is overshadowed by the sexualization of women in hip-hop. Then there is the next generation of rappers who come out and say, 'OK, now I'm sexy and I'm talented ... So what are you going to do now? '"
"Right now it's about looks. When you come into the game, you rarely look as slim as I do."
Body image is the focus of many new rappers, another tactic used to drive them out of this male-dominated space. Today's rappers are expected to "look" at the role at all costs. So not only do they have to compete (and surpass) their male counterparts, they also feel like they need to look better than the video vixen who have become Instagram models. The "BBL look" expected from these musicians is one of the reasons so many new artists feel they have no choice but to succumb to peer pressure and change their entire image. "Right now it's about looks," 21-year-old rapper Lakeyah told hip-hop veteran Angie Martinez. "You come into play, it's rare to look like me [slim]." Lakeyah also said she has heard several "suggestions" from strangers to surgically alter her body, particularly to improve her butt, and she is not the only one to have suffered from the pressures. Rappers like Coi Leray and Baby Tate both have had the unfortunate experience of being trolled online and shamed for their natural bodies, an all-too-common trend for any rapper who doesn't have a BBL look to rappers' physical appearance and their actual abilities. When are we going to leave physical appearances behind and finally focus on the skills of these talented moderators?
During Shanté's hip-hop era in the mid-1980s, she noted that "it was all about fighting rhymes and fighting raps". So when she got into the industry, she had to get in "with a certain amount of self-confidence". Other artists like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Da Brat followed in their footsteps with the same confidence to write their own rules. But today that confidence doesn't seem to mean much when a rapper's success is based solely on impossible body standards, rather than being able to master her craft. Still, there is a difference between oversexualization and rappers who choose their sexuality. On one hand, it allows the men in this room to hold onto power by changing almost everything about a rapper's physical essence. On the flip side, female rappers in this industry are taking with them exactly who they will be and taking that power back immediately. Just look at icons like Lil Kim and Trina who turned the whole idea of objectification and sexuality on its head. Their sexual heritage puts them in control, and decades later, it is freed artists like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, the City Girls, and others who did the same. Yes, they can still get backlash for their raunchy material and looks, but rap fans respect them for not giving up on it. They manage the backlash with their heads held high and understand that they stand up not just for themselves, but for an entire generation and even future generations.
Seeing how these women are themselves wholeheartedly has led to more empowerment movements and seeing other women rally behind songs like "WAP" is liberating. As a 20-year-old, it's still hard to figure out how to digest hip-hop and how women who look like me are represented, but understanding the nuances of this culture helps me determine which messages apply and what to ignore. As a woman, there's no perfect way to love hip-hop if we're still grappling with whether or not that culture actually loves us, but at least I get me looking at the women who continue to hold the torch for us some level of comfort that we will move through this space as always.
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