Corey Dulin: Rappers

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - 6:19pm

This is a man’s world. Despite all the accolades women have won and the inequalities we continue to work against, women still receive deplorable treatment and are usually left with less than they deserve. 

It’s evident in the scandal of Harvey Weinstein, who used his wealth and power to intimidate young female actors and make them feel like they had no choice but to do what he wanted. Weinstein then paid off his victims to keep them quiet and leave his reputation untainted in the public’s eyes. It’s evident in the continuous gender wage gap despite the fact that women are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree. It’s evident in the feeling of needing to have a makeshift weapon ready when walking alone at night and getting catcalled on the streets.

Sexism is ingrained in every part of our culture, and we can see and hear it play out especially well in hip hop. This is not a new discovery — we’ve known that hip hop has been criticized for its misogynistic lyrics in the past, and artists continue to perpetuate sexism. While hip hop artists have begun to reflect on how lyrics contribute to misogyny and create songs that do not focus on the objectification of women, radios still play songs with slyer hints of sexism.

We should expect more from this industry, but its representation of women is not surprising considering how male-dominated it is. According to Forbes, only one out of the 20 highest paid hip-hop artists of 2017 is a woman. That woman, Nicki Minaj, has some words for the industry.

On Oct. 25, Minaj released a series of tweets showing how undervalued she feels as an artist because she is also a woman.

Who society typically pictures as a rapper or hip hop artist is very different from Minaj. The image of a rapper is typically a man who is tough and intimidating, who wears his wealth on his sleeve and who says whatever he feels, no matter if it is offensive or crass. Society is not used to and not comfortable with women who display some of these characteristics; women who are assertive, outspoken or speak about taboo subjects, as Minaj does, are not embraced by society in the same way as men.

In one tweet Minaj notes that the discussion of “The Greats” often ignores women. Just type in “Greatest Rappers of all Time” in Google; there are only a few women mentioned. Some lists will include Minaj, Lauryn Hill, Salt-N-Pepa and Missy Elliot, but there’s no mention of other rappers like Queen Latifah or Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

Minaj elaborated on sexism in hip hop in 2014 during an interview with Hot 97.

“The game is run by men,” Minaj says in the clip. “Men feels like it takes something away from them to give a female props the way they would give Jay or Kanye or Em.”

In the interview, Minaj also points out the use of qualifiers as exceptions. “Don’t say I’m good for a girl,” Minaj tells the radio DJ. This is exhibited throughout our society, because when talking about public figures like artists or politicians, people often put “female” before their job title. No one does the same thing for men. There is no need to always use “female rapper” when talking about Nicki Minaj or other rappers like Cardi B.

Minaj also calls out the DJ for mainly playing tracks by Minaj that feature male artists. She can’t exist as her own entity; she has to have a man on her track or be featured on a track by a man. But clearly that is not the case — her songs "Super Bass” and "Starships” did just fine without featuring a male artist.

In addition to having the confidence often associated with maleness, Minaj is also very creative. She’s not just one artist — she has various alter egos. She’s not just changing hip hop because she’s a female. She’s changing hip hop because she is unique and crafts lyrics that become massive parts of our society — no one can forget “Anaconda.”

The influence of rappers like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B is undeniable, whether people want to recognize it or not. There’s no way to escape hearing lines from “Bodak Yellow,” the longest running number one song by a solo "female rapper," on any popular radio station. Hopefully, the success of Cardi B and Minaj will make executives and producers change the demographics of rap. Perhaps then rappers like Princess NokiaNoname and Sampa the Great will come to the forefront, actually get air time and replace the tired lyrics that objectify or criticize women.   

Corey Dulin can be reached at cydulin@umich.edu.