On: Sexism in Hip-Hop (Again, and Again, and Again)
So, I’m going to be brief about this, because at this point, the horse has been dead for weeks and certain radio stations are really trying to draw this out in the hope that they can raise the rather low ratings that they’ve had in the past year or so. Even so, something has been going on within the continuously simmering pot that is the Nicki Minaj v Summer Jam debacle that’s really been bothering me, and that is the casual discussion of feminism and how, in the eyes of Pete Rosenberg, sexism didn’t play a factor in the remarks that he made.
I’ve been on the internet a few times, I admit. I’m a Nicki Minaj fan, but more a fan of her genre and what she’s done for it (see: your new generation of female rappers and the ease with which they were able to become signed by major distributors) than her music itself (I still enjoy it, mind you). By virtue of being a Nicki Minaj fan, you have to wait for the inevitable criticisms that have weighed Minaj down throughout the entirety of her career.
1. “She’s just a sex-symbol, and a horrible role-model,” says fourteen year old girls who learn more about slut-shaming in those critical years of development that are puberty than they do about exploring their own identities—our society still teaches women regularly that they needn’t be concerned with their own identities, merely the policing of others’.
2. “She isn’t raunchy enough. Why is she making songs about her feelings, and about love? I want to hear Lil’ Kim,” says displaced Lil’ Kim fans who should probably be listening to Lil’ Kim and watching her flounder depressingly (in a drug-induced haze? I’m still wondering) from stage to stage, shutting clubs down but refusing to accept that times have changed and so too must she, if she intends to keep up with the deluge of whippersnappers that have since made her once household-name into a dirty one.
3. “She’s copying Lil’ Kim!” says Lil’ Kim fans who are operating in a world of denialism, plain and simple. I’ve said it. Ice-T has said it. M.C. Lyte has said it: There’s really very little similarity between Nicki Minaj and Kim unless you intentionally reach and consider what are often negligible similarities to be just that—similar. Indeed, they both wear wigs (and they’ve even been similar wigs at times). They both wear costumes (who in the entertainment industry doesn’t?); it’s worth noting that one major difference between Minaj and Kim is that Minaj’s look is decidedly cartoonish, intentionally over-the-top, and intentionally child-like in its conception. Lil’ Kim has always wanted to look sexy—plain and simple—and when that looked goofy, or child-like, or over-the-top, it was not intentional in the least, and I can’t be convinced otherwise. Kim’s countless responses to critics of her attire are nothing if not evidence of my point. That said, this isn’t a Kim bashing-fest (I’m a fan, albeit one who’s exhausted with her antics); the point is, lyrically? Kim’s charge that Minaj bit her flow are completely falsified and it takes only a pair of operating ears to hear that. In terms of appearance, Minaj is different; in terms of self-awareness, one has it and the other has always lacked it (this is why one of them is always, always in bad positions with partners, business, the legal system, etc.); in terms of sound? Minaj is more Busta Rhymes, more Missy Elliott, more the late Left-Eye Lopez than Kim. End of story.
4. “I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing ‘Starships’ later, I’m not talking to y’all right now, f-ck that bullsh-t. Bullsh-t! I’m here to talk about real Hip-Hop sh-t.” Ah. There’s that. That’s what Pete Rosenberg said, later defending his remark that “Starships was shit because it’s girly, and not real hip-hop.”
And therein lies the problem.
See, say what you like about Starships. The uptempo, RedOne produced anthem is unabashedly nonsensical, and an unapologetic foray into the world of pop-music. If its continuously rising platinum status is any indication, it’s a successful foray into pop. That said, perhaps Rosenberg is correct in his assessment that Starships is not a song for hip-hop purists. That having been established, to say that Rosenberg’s remarks weren’t mired in the cultural hegemony that is patriarchal sexism would be the very bullshit that Rosenberg himself has spoken on.
Make no mistake, though Rosenberg has said numerous times that his remarks were impersonal and not about women, they were. Perhaps making a statement that reveals his feelings on women involved in hip-hop wasn’t his intention, but the moment he addressed the women in that crowd (and only the women, suggesting that males weren’t fans of Nicki Minaj) and called their taste in music “bullshit”, Rosenberg expressed a sexist point of view. When he defended his point of view by saying that “girly bullshit” didn’t have a place in hip-hop, he was expressing a sexist point of view.
After all? Who says that “girly” can’t be a part of hip-hop?
What’s the matter with feminine hip-hop, or care-free hip-hop?
Nothing, except that men in the industry are continuously making sexist remarks, exhibiting sexist behaviors, and excluding female voices unless those voices serve to reaffirm the cultural hegemony that is already in place. So, while Rosenberg is attempting to direct attention away from himself by lobbing charges of sexism at another person, let’s not become distracted, and remember: Pete Rosenberg is not a hip-hop head. He doesn’t have love for the culture. Not as a whole. Pete Rosenberg has love for an aspect of a culture, and unfortunately, that love is for one of the only aspects of the culture that has received any real attention or validation—and that is the cis male aspect of hip-hop.
Let’s stop calling people like Rosenberg by the name “purists”; that is a misnomer. The term “hip-hop purist” is a misnomer, as it suggests that he’s interested in maintaining the unbridled essence of the culture. This is not Rosenberg’s interest whether he knows it or not. His interest is preserving the male hold on hip-hop, and reframing any criticisms of that as unreasonable. SO, rather than calling him a purist, can we call him a “sexist” instead? Or, at the very least, and “exclusivist”? While we’re at it, can we add people like T.I. (who recently told Azealia Banks that she has no business, as a woman, addressing him, a man) and Big Fendi (who’s regularly exploited the women under his charge since he started filming the Come Up DVDs?)? If so, that’d be awesome.