The other day I was asked about how I enjoy the music of Kanye West, despite being a staunch feminist. Although there is undeniable misogynistic content in his songs, I overlook it because I love his production and enjoy his other themes– his criticisms of cultural system and capitalism (although he is extremely materialistic, he can still criticize the power structures that keep certain people in power), his mix of self deprecation and hubris, and discussions of race, family, justice and power. This doesn’t excuse him for his lyrical treatment of most women as sexual objects, but I acknowledge these problems in the context of how American society views hip hop.
I tolerate a lot more misogyny in hip hop than most feminists because white capitalism was what made it an inherent part of the genre. Historically, blackness has long been sold as transgressive to white kids– even when it was a white man performing it, as with Elvis and his heavy borrowing from black artists. Consequentially, more transgressive– which often manifests as misogyny– artists sell better, get more critically acclaimed and make their labels happier. I don’t have to be happy with every woman being labelled a slut but I don’t really blame black artists for having to play this terrible game of garnering audiences with it.
Furthermore, misogyny is baked into literally every genre but we focus on hip hop as a misogynistic genre because of anti-blackness (if this seems contentious, one can look into how often racist slurs are used in this criticism). I don’t think many white artists have been as scrutinized as hip hop artists are, despite being similarly problematic– the Decemberists are forgiven for being ‘in character’ when they sing about the rape and murder of women; John Lennon was abusive in life and in song (see “run for your life”). Indie music in general depict women as dead, infantalized, or depressed– overall, we are helpless creatures. Arguably, the former is worse than the latter, but I find the discrimination and aggressions that I encounter frequently less tolerable than the ones that are infrequent for me. This is likely a fault of mine. but I tolerate Kanye and hip hop because I encounter their style of misogyny less frequently in real life. I still draw my line at sexual and physical violence against women in lyrics, but honestly, I don’t think this content is much more common in hip hop than other artists.
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