How Feminism In Hip-Hop Could Bring Real Changes To A Sexist Industry

by Julian Sonny

Hip-hop is powerful.

It unites, connects and shares cultures unlike any other genre of music. It isn't about race, ethnicity or religion. It's about an attitude.

Its influence on our generation today is evident through the way we speak, dress and view the world.

Always changing, ever evolving.

And in many ways this culture sharing has done as much for our society as any political activist or movement over the past 40 years.

Still, the question Akoto Ofori-Atta pointed out in an article for The Root remains:

How do women actively participate in a culture that seems to hate them so vehemently?

In 1992, Dr. Dre released "Bitches Ain't Sh*t," which degrades woman to nothing but "hoes and tricks."

In 2011, YG made a remix with the same exact message.

The beauty of hip-hop is that people have the right to participate and express however the hell they feel through it.

But as Ofori-Atta expresses so deeply, a woman's role in the male-dominated art is filled with contradictions. She writes,

This gray area includes the contradictions of loving an art that is reluctant to include you; loving men who, at times, refuse to portray you in your totality; and rejecting sexual objectification while actively and proudly embracing your sexuality.

That's not to say all of rap is about belittling women, but sexism and misogyny have always been a popular theme for selling records.

To understand, look no further than the societal norms in which a majority of rappers are raised.

Hip-hop is a product of America's lack of stable social environments.

Often, the most beautiful music is inspired by pain. The rawness and real emotion that we hear in rap is unlike any other genre.

This music originates from a lifestyle rooted in different political and economic circumstances than most of us are used to and in the case of hip-hop we can see the result of America's inequity.

The lack of opportunities and instability for families in urban areas creates many more problems for communities, such as gang violence, drug trade and domestic violence.

As a byproduct of those situations comes sexual abuse, rape and the objectification of women. For many of these artists, this is just the life they're used to. They only perpetuate these values, make them mainstream and create acceptance.

However, sexism remains a widespread problem not just in hip-hop culture but throughout all of society.

Hip-hop feminism is changing the way we look at female artists.


Sexism in hip-hop hasn't just been a one-way street. Women have been fighting back and making sure their voices are heard.

Hip-hop feminism differs from traditional feminism in a sense that the gender equality artists seek is on more of a cultural level where they could seamlessly fit into the scene without being overlooked or discriminated against.

Queen Latifah was one of the first female artists to put her message out there in the 1993 hit "U.N.I.T.Y."

Its message speaking out against the disrespect of women in society delivered over a soulful beat could be summed up in the opening line: "Who you calling a b*tch?"

Most recently, Nicki Minaj has been the voice of hip-hop feminism simply by not being considered just a sideshow, but an established artist and top performer.

However, nobody pioneered this lane quite like Missy Elliott, who, during her prime, preached all of the values of sisterhood, pride and self-love all women should believe in.

She taught females to not be ashamed of things like their body image, sexuality and even if they've been abused in the past.

She also preached that other women aren't the enemy, often referred to her "chocha" and advocated that sex work shouldn't be anything for females to feel guilty about.

There have been many influential female voices in hip-hop, but it's women like Missy and Queen Latifah who have helped pave the way for today's Nickis, Iggys and even Beyoncé.

What can men do to help change these perceptions?

Not many male rappers are willing to speak out against these injustices against women.

That's because a lot of the gangster rap persona is about being an alpha male, which, in turn, comes across as disregarding female emotions and worth.

One man willing to speak up (at least early on in his career) was none other than Tupac.

In his song "Keep Ya Head Up," he opens up about the unfairness females go through and encourages them to know their worth.

Now, while Pac was by no means a feminist rapper, he had no problem calling out these injustices and it was never more evident than in the first verse of this powerful song:

And since we all came from a woman Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman I wonder why we take from our women Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it's time to kill for our women Time to heal our women, be real to our women And if we don't we'll have a race of babies That will hate the ladies, that make the babies And since a man can't make one He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one So will the real men get up I know you're fed up ladies, but keep your head up.

Still, he perpetuated much of the wrongdoing, but unlike many rappers, Tupac acknowledged he knew sexism was wrong and unjust.

Real music will spark real social change.

Hip-hop is powerful.

It's not just a cultural thing, it's a global thing. It brings people together and can create real change.

It's about expression and bringing up conversations that ultimately catch on in society and become important to the world.

What it will take create real social change, however, is a collective effort -- not just female artists -- but the industry to make strides toward not seeing gender, but beliefs and ideas.

Misogynistic lyrics aren't going anywhere anytime soon, unfortunately, but the more uplifting messages we have for women in our music, the more irrelevant those hateful ones become.