“So why are we viewed as less than equal?”
This is the very question that Beyonce Knowles-Carter posed in “The Shriver Report Special Edition: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink” where the Grammy award winning star addressed gender equality in the United States.
While Knowles-Carter took on the topic of equality regarding the work place and politics saying, “ Women are more than 50 percent of the population and more than 50 percent of voters.
We must demand that we all receive 100 percent of the opportunities.”, she interestingly did not tackle the disintegration of the female voice within her area of expertise, Hip Hop and the music industry.
From the early 1980s up until now there has been a drastic change in the way women are seen, valued and appreciated by not only men but themselves within the hip hop culture going from uplifting and positive to degrading and misogynistic.
In 1984, hip hop group U.T.F.O released the song “Roxanne” where they rapped about a woman not giving them the time of day, and wanting to be their man.
The opening verse, “there goes that girl they call Roxanne, she’s all stuck up, cause she wouldn’t give a guy like me no rap, she was walking down the street so I said hello, I’m Kangol from UTFO, and she said “So, and I said So. Baby don’t you know”.
I can sing, rap, and dance in just one show, cause I’m Kangol, Mr. Sophisticata, as far as I’m concerned ain’t nobody greater”, showed a level of cockiness and slight arrogance yet never crossed into the realm of being disrespectful to the woman they were talking about.
What followed was a plethora of remixes with the most famous being “Roxanne’s Revenge” by the then 13 year old Roxanne Shante.
Her response to their song, “ I met this dude with the name of a hat, I didn’t even walk away, I didn’t give him no rap, but then he got real mad, and he got a little tired, if he worked for me, you know he would be fired, his name is Kangol, and that is cute, he ain’t got money, and he ain’t got the loot, and every time that I see him, he’s always a-beggin’, and all the other girls that he’s always tryin’ to leggin’, every time that he sees me, he says a rhyme, but, see, compared to me it’s weak compared to mine, a-every time I know that I am sayin’ somethin’ fresher in any category I’m considered the best, and every time that I say it there ain’t nothin’ less..”, was the beginning of a female revolution within the Hip Hop culture. Women who were outspoken and demanded to be heard.
In 1986, Hip Hop group Salt-N-Pepa released their debut album “Hot, Cool and Vicious” that featured the hit “I’ll Take Your Man”, well I’ll take your man right out the box, and put him under my padlocks, so when you see us together chillin’ in the place, cold walkin’ and sportin’ him in your face, go ahead roll your eyes, suck your teeth, keep huffin’ and puffin’ like a dog in heat, You can call me a crook, a robber, a thief, but I’ll be your butcher if you got beef.”
The lyrics were bold and unapologetic, demonstrating a strong sense of confidence throughout the song and ultimately their career.
A few short years later MC Lyte released her debut album “Lyte as a Rock” and a year after Queen Latifah did the same releasing “All Hail the Queen” which was highly praised within the Hip Hop community for it’s feminist overtones and positive outlook.
The lyrics behind “ladies first”, “Strong, stepping, strutting, moving on, rhyming, cutting, and not forgetting, we are the ones that give birth, to the new generation of prophets, because it’s ladies first..”, as well as “there’s no time to rehearse, I’m divine and my mind expands throughout the universe..”, made the song a feminist anthem.
By 1990, Salt-N-Pepa had released their third album, and in ‘91, Lyte released her second album and from there more and more female hip hop artists began to emerge. In 1994 Lyte’s hit single “Ruffneck” went gold, making her the first female Hip Hop artist to do so. The song was also nominated for a Grammy.
Aside from females, an overall emergence of both east and west coast artists and groups took place as well.
This musical revolution would later be crowned as the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Around that time groups like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, and the Wu-Tang Clan were on the scene and songs like “Bonita Applebum“, “Hey Bonita, glad to meet ya, for the kind of stunning newness, I must beseech ya, Hey, being with you is a top priority, ain’t no need to question the authority..“ and “Buddy”, “For the lap, Jimbrowski must wear a cap just in case the young girl likes to clap, ain’t for the wind but before I begin, I initiate the buddy with a slap..”, were all over the airwaves.
These songs and others like them talked about the sexuality of a woman yet managed to keep it tasteful yet complex.
Even songs like the 1993 hit “I get around” by the late artist Tupac took on the topic of one night stands in a respectable manner. Although he does toss out the word “hoe” once or twice, he also turned right around and used the word “lady” and “girl” on the same track.
1994 brought the debut of one of the most influential hip hop albums to date, the late Notorious B.I.G’s “Ready to die”.
The intro, which simulates the birth of Biggie Smalls and his life to that point, features a small portion where a man is heard calling Smalls’ mother a b*tch for not being able to control her son.
While small, it was a major turning point within the depreciation of women within the culture. He even discussed it himself in the track following called “things done changed”. Although Smalls was not the only artist to use the word, it was one of the first times it was heard on such a massive scale considering it reached number three on the Billboard hot hip hop and R&B charts in 1994.
By 1996 and the debut of Lil Kim’s alb9um “Hard Core”, the innocence in lyricism had been lost in translation. The days of Queen Latifah’s legendary track “Unity”, where she assertively shouts, “who you callin’ a b*tch” were gone and replaced with hyper sexuality and embracement of the word.
On the intro of Kim’s album, Sean “Diddy”Combs simulates sex with a woman and during so he says “Yeah c’mon b*tch” which is then immediately followed by her hit song “Big Momma Thang” in which she proudly proclaimed, “I used to be scared of the d*ck, now I throw lips to the sh*t, handle it like a real b*tch..” On the cover of Kim’s album she is wearing a leopard bra, panties and sheer cover as she squats down with her legs wide open.
This album also heavily influenced the culture as it too reached number three on the Billboard hot 100 for hip hop and R&B. From there artists such as Foxy Brown and others began to display the same types of overt sexuality within their lyrics and appearance. Brown’s debut album was entitled Ïll Na Na” and a reference to her skills in the bedroom.
Tracks like “Get Me Home” featuring R&B group Blackstreet weren’t as vulgar as some of the records on Kim’s hardcore album but were a far cry from the day’s of “Roxanne’s Revenge”. From ‘96 to 2006 the rise of female emcee’s peaked and crashed.
Over the course of the following ten years feminist emcees such as MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Monie Love, Roxanne Shante, and Queen Latifah made way for the more sexual artists such as Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Amil, Charli Baltimore, Eve, Remy Ma and others who all but faded to black once physical representation became more important than actual lyricism.
As their time ended a new down south presence became unavoidable within Hip Hop music.
Artists like the Cash Money Millionaires, Ludacris, Lil John and the East Side Boyz, The Ying Yang twins and others came out and took the airwaves by storm. Around that time music videos were also a very big part of the music industry.
Raunchy lyrics about women combined with sometimes even raunchier videos featuring those women in scantily clad get ups combined and sealed the final nail in coffin of the powerful female voice that once existed in Hip Hop culture.
Feminism went from being about the power within the lyrics to the power of what is between one’s legs. From 2006 up until now, women have lost their voice almost entirely.
Unfortunately women went from being a strong voice within a culture developed by men to being merely a physical manifestation for them to objectify and talk about and to as they please.
Women went from being seen as queens and mother Earth in the days of Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang to being nothing but b*tches, hoes and baby mamma’s in our present day.
They went from dressing in over-sized clothing where nothing was revealed and still being sexy to leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. They went from uplifting one another in song to dissing one another and regarding each other as female dogs.
Choreography in music videos has been replaced with twerking. Natural beauty has been replaced with the artificial, and the “around the way girls” have been replaced with “big booty b*tches”.
While the answer to Mrs. Knowles-Carter’s question remains open for discussion and could be taken in many different directions, it’s very clear that something happened in the past thirty years.
A desensitization of the masses has occurred and whether the blame gets placed on men’s misogynistic views or on the fact that women accept and tolerate this behavior and way of speaking or even the technological advances made throughout society and the current age of instant gratification that we all live in, it really doesn’t matter.
For so long as the current spiral downward continues nothing will change. As a culture there needs to be a moment where a pause is taken and a historical and societal review takes place. Maybe then the missing link will be found and balance will be restored.
In the brilliant words of one of the most influential women in not only hip hop and R&B but the world as a whole, “We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life.
And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible. We have a lot of work to do, but we can get there if we work together.”
By: Brittnye Webb-Earl