Guess who’s back with a brand new rap (based blog post)? Yep, you guessed right, it’s me and I have a confession; I love Eminem, Childish Gambino and especially Chance the Rapper. A good 20% of my iTunes consists of these three rappers. (Although admittedly the other 80% is predominantly made up of 80s classics and/or Spanish language faves). As I’m potentially the whitest girl to have ever existed, telling people that rap and hip hop are my favourite genres of music tends to come as a surprise. This is also because I’m a massive feminist and feminism and antagonistic rap don’t immediately appear to be natural bed partners, although, much like Nutella and spoon, once you realise how well they can actually work together, you’ll never look back. So, yes, you can be a feminist rap fan!
Why You Should Love Rap Music
There are several reasons I love rap and these rappers in particular, and not all of them are based on the fact that Donald Glover is both beautiful and hilarious in equal parts. Principally, I like to believe that rap adds a certain edge to my personality that quite frankly, and sadly, copious reading just can’t. (Soz, Shakespeare, I’ll finish Hamlet eventually!) I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like strutting down the road with super loud music blasting through their headphones – if you deny doing this you are a LIAR. Rap only lends itself to this guilty pleasure.
A further benefit of enjoying this music is that there is perhaps no better feeling than when you achieve that elusive perfect-rap-along with an Eminem lyric. (‘Two trailer park girls go round the outside…’ – Without Me) One particular karaoke booth experience proved that I do in fact have this talent, although I will be out of breath for a good five minutes afterwards, which brings me to my third point; rapping along to the lyrics is practically a cardio session in itself. Fuck the gym, listen to rap.
But rap isn’t all about hastily sung/ shouted lyrics. This is something often hidden in rap music, but fuck, Gambino and Chance can REALLY sing. If you don’t believe me, I only need to refer you to Gambino’s Live Lounge he did on 1Xtra. On the other hand, Chance has an oddly captivating smokers-cough singing voice, which is just as awesome. Listening to any one of his songs will make you realise that.
Another thing people tend to forget about rap is that it’s easily parodied nature has resulted in some truly excellent novelty rap (Hey, Lonely Island!). Shout out to them for getting Justin Timberlake to collaborate with them on the truly inspired Dick in a Box, and lest we forget the excellent I’m On A Boat. (P.S. Andy Samberg, give me a call if that marriage of yours doesn’t work out). Rap is more than people assume. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper are friends in real life, meaning when me and my mate Daisy eventually marry them, we can go on super cool double dates.
Can You Be a Feminist and a Rap Fan?
Yet whilst I have concisely summed up several important and excellent reasons to love rap and I could happily end this post now, rap still gets repeatedly portrayed as consistently and wholly misogynistic, racist and sexist. Yeah, rap lyrics are a double edged sword; they can be intensely profound, poetic, moving, hilarious and yet also become misogynistic, racist and aggressive. The most obvious examples are Eminem’s repeated diatribes against his ex-wife Kim. (‘Sit down bitch / If you move again I’ll beat the shit out of you.’)
I can practically hear you all questioning how the fuck I can even dare to defend this rap and try to make it fit with either my feminist values or, you know, good taste. Well, I can’t. I won’t even try. But this is bad rap; lazy, clichéd. Intense misogyny and violent sentiments usually don’t result in good rap music, and as much as it pains me to say (because I love Eminem) a lot of his shit songs are focused on these attitudes. Whilst I’m not implying that I don’t ever listen to songs that have questionable lyrics, in relation to women in particular, I’m saying it’s important to recognise the distinction. But the issue is that people do assume this is rap, when in fact rap is the self-reflective lyrics of Chance and Gambino that are quite frankly much, much better.
One of my favourite Gambino lyrics is from an unreleased album; ‘e.e. cumming on her face, now that’s poetry in motion’. (Freaks and Geeks). Some would say that this is a negative portrayal of women, I would respond that this is fucking genius; an e.e cumming reference? Take me now! Feminism and being a feminist rap fan isn’t about militantly rejecting anything that could be considered by some as mildly offensive, it’s about reflection, consideration, setting your own boundaries. In the same way religious people might be offended by blasphemy, women might be offended by this lyric. But I’m not and that’s what feminism is about; flexibility of attitudes.
Although, my biggest issue comes from rap repeatedly being made out to be worse than the equally insidious nature of mainstream music. Why does no-one seem to consider the charts and their manufactured, bubblegum pop/ club music vibe as damaging as rap? Why does rap have such a bad rap? (+1 for wordplay) I would argue that it’s because rap is traditionally a black medium, whereas pop…well, isn’t. (One of my excellent commentators made the astute point that black pop stars are often categorised as ‘R&B’ singers).
Anyone heard Timber by Pitbull and Ke$ha? (‘Face down, booty up, timber…I’m slicker than an oil spill.’) Or reggaeton superstar Maluma’s single Cuatro Babys? (‘Dos son casadas / Hay una soltera / La otra medio psycho y si no la llamo se desespera.’) How is this more acceptable than rap music? Most rap is much better than this, some is worse, but the difference is that this is much more mainstream, much more available and receives much more radio play than a lot of rap, outside of the 3005 and Monster level singles. However, this was most recently foregrounded by the slimy cretin that is Robin Thicke and his controversial song Blurred Lines. The intense profile and catchiness that this song admittedly had is surely just as damaging as the lesser/ never played shitty and horribly misogynistic rap music? Rap is the same as anything else; there are aspects of it that are cliché, badly written and give off the wrong message, but there are aspects of it which just redeem all that other shit.
The principal redeeming feature of rap is its intensely lyrical and far more considered nature as opposed to many other genres, particularly those dominating mainstream music nowadays. Rap is a tiny poetic insight into someone’s mind. (‘What’s better than tripping is falling in love.’- Interlude). It’s poetry for the ears, Wordsworth with a better baseline. It expresses a vulnerability we all have, fears that freak us all out. (Kids is amazing; ‘If we were kids, / I’d want to give you everything that you would want’, and Heartbeat is both so massively true and funny at the same time – ‘are we dating? Are we fucking? / Are we best friends? Are we something?…I wish we never fucked and I mean that. / But not really, you say the nastiest shit in bed and it’s fucking awesome.’ How is that not the most appropriate lyric of all time?) This is the thing; rap tells us about our life, it articulates what we can’t and makes us realise shit we never knew we wanted to know.
And at risk of turning this into some sort of love letter to Donald Glover, some of his lyrics most definitely speak to my inner nerd. For example, when he raps about wanting ‘a girl who reads books that no-one’s assigned to her.’ This is me. I can’t even articulate how much this is me. He somehow manages to weave ‘onomatopoeia’ into his lyrics and even dabbles in a bit of Spanish (‘yeah, mi casa su casa.’ – 3005), although nothing can top his and Abed’s Spanish rap in season one of Community.
But moving ever so slightly away from my worrying obsession for just a second, it can’t be denied that rap is so much more than it’s made out to be. It is at its core intensely personal and that’s what makes it awesome. (‘No matter what you say or what you do / When I’m alone, I’d rather be with you.’ – 3005) Although whilst it’s often profound, it also has the ability to make music from what Glover describes in All The Shine as, essentially, nothing; ‘I rap about my dick and talk about what girls is fly / I know it’s dumb, that’s the fucking reason I’m doing it.’ Chance wrote his first album whilst tripping on acid and comes out with lyrics in Cocoa Butter Kisses like ‘used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy and Chuckie / And Chuck E. Cheese’s pizzas, Jesus pieces, sing Jesus love me.’ (It works better out loud, trust me.) But then he raps about ‘everybody’s somebody’s every day / nobody’s nothing.’ (Everybody’s Something) That’s range, right there. Rap is awesome.
Although whilst it has soo many positives, it feels like rap is finally beginning to move away from the stereotype with which it has for so long being associated. Perceptions of rap are changing – it’s becoming more mainstream, for a start, despite lazy rap still bringing down the profile of the genre as a whole.
Macklemore is rapping about homosexuality, Eminem has allegedly expressed concern that his daughter’s boyfriend grew up listening to his music; these people are not unaware of the sometimes questionable values they are perpetuating, they are arguably more than aware of them than we are given that they wrote and performed them. Glover has repeatedly expressed his fear on Instagram that people will think he hates women and his own race, amongst several other things. (He’s as neurotic as me, it’s like we’re made for each other!)
Good rap focuses not on transmitting hate, but on reflecting; Chance raps about dropping out of college and getting high, Childish Gambino raps about love, feeling like he’s disappointing his family, his race (‘When it comes to black kids, one size fits all.’ – Hold You Down, ‘the world saying what you are, cos you’re young and black.’ – Outside) and for all his flaws, Eminem talks about substance addiction like no other. Good rap is not cliché, good rappers can write whilst tripping on acid and still produce an album as amazing as Acid Rap.
This is of course not forgetting about the whole genre of emerging rap that is wholeheartedly feminist from the outset. Take the Guatemalan Rebeca Lane, Mexican Mare Advertencia Lirika or Jezzy P. These women are doing more for the genre than pretenders like Iggy Azalea, whos appropriated a typically black medium for her personal gain and hasn’t even done it well. At least Eminem always recognised the fact that he’s ‘the worst thing since Elvis Presley/ To do black music so selfishly’ (Without Me).
Rap is a form of expression, like all other art forms. People analyse literature critically, assessing the reasons authors address sensitive issues. Why don’t they do that with rap, why do they just leap to the easiest conclusion? Yet, if rap is about self-reflection, so is feminism. They are both about assessing our world, examining flaws in society, overcoming them. Rap is moving forward, away from out and out aggressiveness as it becomes more self-aware of its own influence and impact.
So, in short, I’m a feminist rap fan. I’m feminist enough to love ignorant rap. I’m feminist enough to appreciate that perfection in ideology is not achievable. I’m feminist enough to see through the hypocrisy of the people who criticise this music blindly and without consideration, whilst ignoring the insidious pop music that their kids are listening to. I’m feminist enough to not give a fuck if you think I’M the hypocrite for liking this type of music. In the words of Tina Fey – whose rap debut on Real Estate proved once and for all that rap music is fair game for white girl feminists – ‘I’m out’.