Language is very much in the news in the nation’s capital today.
Congress is scheduled to hold hearings on how the media stereotypes and degrades women, especially African-American women.
Rap and hip-hop have long been targeted as problem genres.
Depictions of violence, drugs and homophobia are just some examples of what critics – and even fans – point to as problematic.
More recently, hip-hop artists have been criticized for their extensive use of the “n” word, and disparaging language aimed toward women.
Illinois U.S. Representative Bobby Rush – a key proponent of today’s hearings – wants to hold the artists and record companies accountable for the effects of the language.
And one longtime fan of the music agrees.
She says it’s time for misogyny in hip-hop to stop.
A quick note of caution: this commentary contains strong language which may not be suitable for younger or more sensitive listeners.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Nikki Patin. I’m a writer, performer, educator and activist who helped run a small hip-hop label a few years ago.
I remember the day that my entire 5th grade class, spontaneously and in unison, rhymed the first verse of “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. I was a nerd in school. My single Mom could not afford Air Jordans, which made me an immediate social outcast. But at that moment, when I could rhyme and keep pace with them…it felt like I had a secret I could unravel with my tongue.
As I got older, it became harder to rhyme along. I began to notice slurs against Black women in music. Once I hit my early 20’s, I began to justify my love of hip-hop by saying that those MCs weren’t talking about me or that they didn’t mean what they said…they were just trying to sell records.
As a sexual assault prevention educator, I was responsible for teaching young women and men how to protect and educate themselves. I’d print out hip-hop lyrics and ask my classes to read them aloud. They were shocked by what they saw in print and admitted that the lyrics didn’t sound like that with the beat. The young women were particularly frustrated with the double standard that hip-hop seemed to stress: men can say and do whatever they want. Women can’t.
From “P.I.M.P” by 50 Cent:
Man this hoe you can have her, when I’m done I ain’t gon’ keep her.
Man, bitches come and go, every nigga pimpin’ know.
You saying it’s a secret, but you ain’t gotta keep it on the low.
Bitch, choose with me, I’ll have you stripping in the street.
This message is reinforced by anyone who raps or sings along with these lyrics, with few adults stepping in to educate young men and women about the danger of defining women in such narrow terms.
Hip-hop executives who green light concepts, artists, PR campaigns, videos and LYRICS aren’t saying anything, either. The Congressional hearing today will be the first time that many of them have to face the people who are helping their industry profit: Black women.
Hip-hop has become a modern-day auction block, where Black women’s body parts are detailed for value. The highest bidder’s chains are made of platinum, instead of iron.
When I talk about my anger towards this cultural conundrum with my friends, I get the same advice: boycott. Don’t buy their albums.
But how do I boycott a culture that forms an essential part of my identity and my community?
The sad truth is that, if nothing changes, Black women lose out. We’re the only ones in this struggle being asked to choose between our sex and our race, our color and our gender. We’re the only voices getting drowned out, while our bodies boost ratings and record sales.
But what if record labels sponsored and organized community forums where impact of degrading lyrics could be discussed honestly?
I hope record executives can recognize the power that they have to stop pitting Black men against Black women. I hope the Black male artists and CEOs can recognize Black women are still holding them down, even while we’re suffocating beneath hatred and lack of acknowledgment. I hope they can recognize that we need their support and protection, not their contempt.
In case no one recognizes me, allow me to re-introduce myself…my name is Nikki Patin and I’m a broken-hearted fan of hip-hop.
Nikki Patin is a writer, performer, educator and activist living in Chicago.