Carli Cosenza: Why male rappers need to be held to a higher moral standard

Sunday, January 7, 2018 - 2:32pm

The average American consumer spends 24 hours per week listening to music. Among those consumers, the most popular genres to listen to are R&B and hiphop. In fact, Forbes reports R&B and hiphop are responsible for 25.1 percent of all music consumption in the United States. Earlier this fall, it was almost impossible to turn on the radio and not hear the song “Rockstar” by Post Malone and 21 Savage, which led the Billboard Hot 100 for eight  consecutive weeks. So, it’s reasonable to say a significant portion of our population likes rap music. It’s even reasonable to say rap music, and rappers specifically, exert an influence on the values of their listeners and thus popular culture. Take a look at the anticipation surrounding the release of Kanye West’s new clothing collection, Yeezy Season 6, for example. This is why rappers, with such a massive platform and the ability to influence millions of fans, must also face responsibility for their words and actions.

As an outcome of the #MeToo movement, which denounces sexual assault and harassment, several men in positions of power, from Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to comedian Louis C.K., have finally been held accountable after decades of getting away with horrendous acts of sexism. As a dedicated fan of hiphop, I understand its significance as a cultural phenomenon with a deep-rooted history of art, words and movement. And as a cultural phenomenon, it must lead by example, particularly in the way it treats women. It is time for rappers to be held accountable.

It’s no secret that misogyny and sexism have troubled the hip-hop world for quite some time. It’s also no secret that the issue has, for the most part, been dismissed in the industry. Remember when the makers of “Straight Outta Compton” left out the part about Dr. Dre’s abusive behavior toward women? Or how about the fact that rapper Rick Ross refuses to sign female artists to his record label in fear that his desire to have sexual relations with them would get in the way? In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, Ross openly explained his rationale: “I gotta be honest with you. She’s lookin’ good. I’m spending so much money on her photo shoots — I gotta f**k a couple times.” Not only is Ross unashamedly objectifying this hypothetical female artist, but his reasoning shows he believes he is entitled to the artist’s body because he spent “so much money” promoting her — he deserves sex. His ideology reflects a male-dominated field with little regard for women as professional equals, but instead as commodified sex objects.

In a more direct sense, lyrics hold the most direct influence over fans. Lyrics are sung by fans, used as captions for pictures and can even become common slang (remember “thot”?).  As a female listener with a president who dismisses jokes about grabbing women’s genitals as “locker room” talk, it is growing more and more frustrating to listen to rap lyrics. Take the beginning of 21 Savage’s verse from “Rockstar,” for example:   “Drankin Henny, bad b*****s jumping in the pool/And they ain’t got on no bra (bra)/Hit her from the back, pulling on her tracks/And now she screaming out, ‘No Mas!’”

 

21 Savage paints the picture of a pool party filled with naked women who clearly have nothing better to do than drink and be sexy. Next, he jumps into a vulgar description of having rough, potentially unwanted intercourse with a woman who is begging him to stop. To me, the above exchange does not seem consensual. It doesn’t seem enjoyable for the woman; on the contrary, she wants it to end. To me, it seems like sexual assault. As a female listener, it is disgusting to hear lyrics like this. I ask myself, “How on earth was this song, with those lyrics, #1 on the Billboard charts for nine straight weeks? How did listeners allow this to happen”?

Another one of most popular songs of 2017 was “Bad and Boujee” by the new-money Atlanta rap trio Migos. The song spent 36 weeks on Billboard Charts and skyrocketed the group into popular “Culture” (pun intended); however, the song is a misogynistic anthem. First of all, the title “Bad and Boujee” is a shortened version of Offset’s line “My b***h is bad and boujee”; this implies Offset’s ownership of a woman who he does not respect enough to call a woman, but rather a deprecating “bitch.” Second of all, the line “F*****g on your b***h she a thot, thot, thot” reinforces the objectification of these women as sex objects that are essentially being passed around among the rappers. There is no evidence of any respect for women, period.  

As a longtime and dedicated fan of hiphop, I have always been the first to defend my favorite music genre; however, my identity as a female has finally taken precedent. I used to look to rap lyrics as a source of confidence, but the more aware I become of the inequalities and sexual harassment that women face every day in this society, the more discouraged it makes me feel. I am deeply disappointed by the misogyny that continues to permeate hiphop. With the influence that rappers hold over popular culture, this behavior must come to a stop.

I now want to ask all music listeners: What do you think? Why are we still allowing this to happen? Do you feel okay rapping along to lyrics that degrade, insult, harass and objectify women? What kind of example are we setting by allowing this behavior to continue? We need more female leaders like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. Women deserve to be treated equally in all industries, and hip-hop has the ability to set the standard. We must hold these rappers to a higher moral standard in order for a society of consumers to do the same.

 

 

Carli Cosenza can be reached at carlic@umich.edu