Guid Essay

Guid Essay

Hip Hop’s Betrayal of Black Women: Analytical Essay – Free Essay Example

The social power of Hip Hop during the late 1980s and the 1990s cannot be underestimated. Rap became in the most important musical genre of the period with huge commercial profits and public demand. However, as Wood emphasizes “like any industry or art form dominated by men, sexism was inherent” (Wood 2015). As the genre spread, more and more rap songs abandon social issues; these anthems were replaced by stories about excess that point out women as products worth having. Many rappers from the 1990s use the terms “bitch” and “whore” to refer to women, depicting them as gold diggers who were just interested in men´s money and fame.

In this context, Queen Latifah appears in the rap scene. She “called out the misogyny in hip-hop at a time when women in the industry weren’t being given opportunities to ask for much at all. She infused feminism into rap music when female artists were barely allowed through the door. And then she left it open” (Wood 2015). Latifah´s first album was released in 1990, containing feminist lyrics that search for the liberation of women from men´s abuses and violence. However, it would not be until the release of her third album in 1993, “Black Reign”, that Latifah turns a critical eye toward her own community.

U.N.I.TY (1993) becomes a symbol of feminist rap that directly denounces the sexism that exists within the African American community and the rappers who use offensive terms, descriptions, and images to refer to women. This song gained the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1995.

U.N.I.T.Y. begins with a chorus that stands for the union of African American women in order to overpower sexist men that mistreat them and insult them (lines 1 and 3): “Uh, U.N.I.T.Y., U.N.I.T.Y. that´s a unity/ (Who you calling bitch?). Besides, Latifah also encourages women to instruct men that they are worth their respect (lines 6, 8, and 10): “U.N.I.T.Y., love a black woman from (you got to let him know)/ U.N.I.T.Y, U.N.I.T.Y. that´s a unity (You gotta let him know)/ U.N.I.T.Y, love a black man from (you gotta let him know). She emphasizes the notion of love between men, and women, and between each other as a way to defeat sexism and racism. The chorus is used to separate the three different stanzas of the song.

In the first stanza, Latifah begins by assessing rap the capacity to freely express her complaints about sexism (lines 12 and 13): “Instinct leads me to another flow/, every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho´”. Notice hear the use of the term “brother”, in order to point out the African American race as responsible for this misogynist behavior. Now, Latifah addresses the sexist discourse that excuses this behavior by saying that men refer to women in these terms as just joking. She denounces this pretext and asks women to do the same (lines 16, 17 and 19): “Now everybody knows there´s an exception to this rule/ now don´t be getting mad, when we playing, it´s cool/ I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame”. Latifah ends the stanza depicting a sexist scene in which a man feels free to touch her, she encourages women to face this man as she does in the song by hitting him, if necessary (line 27): “Huh, I punched him dead in his eye and said ‘Who you calling a bitch?’.

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In the second stanza, Latifah is able to portray an image of women that emphasizes their marginal position in the gender and race discourse. Women are at the lowest of the social rank (line 38): “I hit the bottom, there ain´t nowhere else to go but up” because they suffer from racism for being black and from sexism for being women. Thus, Latifah is able to connect rap with African American feminist theories and literature by depicting the term “multiple jeopardies” which is explained in Deborah King´s Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology.

She describes how men discharge their anger and frustration on women, (lines 39 and 40): “Bad days at work, give you an attitude then you were rough/ and take it out on me but that´s about enough”. In these lines, Latifah tries to encourage women to stand up against abusers men, and intends to overturn the social conventions that tell women that they need a man to be someone (lines 44, 45, and 46): “All I knew was you, you were all the man I had/ and I was scared to let you go, even though you treated me bad/ you say I´m nothing without ya, but I´m nothing with ya”. The stanza ends with a warning towards men, she has awakened as a woman and she is not willing to keep putting up with men´s abuses, sexist jokes, and violence (line 50): “This is my notice to the door. I´m not taking it no more”

Finally, the third stanza mocks African American men´s attitude that trying to look hard. Latifah depicts them as ignorant that instead of doing something productive, act like gangstas (lines 68, 72, and 73): “I saw you wilding, acting like a fool/ now you wannabe… hard/ you barely know your ABC´s please”. In the final lines, Latifah points out women who remain quiet, she criticizes their silence and their lack of rebellion against men (line 76): “Uh, and real bad girls are the silent type”. She ends the song depicting how sexism mark women for life, not only physically but also psychologically (lines 77, 78, and 79): “Ain´t none of this work getting your face sliced/ cause that´s what happened to your homegirl, right? Bucking with nobody/ she had to wear that for life.”

It is clear, that, taking a look at rap, there are much more songs that depict sexist images of women than those which spread feminist theories. Bonnette tries to explain the causes of rap for being so conservative in this issue by pointing out the close relation that exists between rap and Black Nationalist organizations such as the Nation of Gods and Earths or the Nation of Islam, which: “allowed beliefs about subservient roles of women” (Bonette 2015, 95).

Nevertheless, Latifah´s song proves that the reason rap as a music genre and cultural manifestation cannot be described as sexist, or homophobic. Instead, it shows how rap is incapable to be labeled. Rap is born in an African American environment of poverty and evolves as a tool of self-expression for the disenfranchised. Consequently, the power of rap resides in its capacity to stand in opposition against anything, and Latifah proves it, by using a rap song to criticize and attack the own community in which it was born. As Rose explains: “These transformations […] reflect the initial spirit of rap and Hip Hop as an experimental and collective space where contemporary issues and ancestral forces are worked through simultaneously”.

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