Thursday, August 18, 2005

He can't live his life this way

Just some very, very rambling thoughts...

Kudos to Kanye West for being the first (I think?) prominent hip-hop artist to take a stand against homophobia in rap music. Although I'm not exactly sure if saying, "Yo, stop it," is going to accomplish much. Yes, those are his words, not mine. And for the love of god, could we possibly take a stand against misogyny, too??

I'm not really sure why so much of music seems to embrace misogyny and homophobia; it's easy to point the finger at rap, but no one's free from blame (Sinatra's tunes aren't exactly female-friendly, and I don't really recall any genre that embraces gay issues, although there are artists here and there). It's fair to ask whether we should focus on rap at all -- but, if we do, there are other challenges. As critics note, cultural discussions about rap music often are framed incorrectly or are held to support hidden agendas (e.g., rap music = black culture, rap music = homophobic, so black culture = homophobic). When you really think about it, who are the most homophobic, ostensibly misogynistic women out there? Eminem, the Beastie Boys...hmmm...white boys. And no, by the way, they're not "just playing" -- it always bothers me when otherwise rational people insist this is the case. Rather, their lyrics reflect and authenticate a cultural legacy of violence against women and gays (for a good critical essay on how Marshall Mathers' rhymes evolved out of his cultural context, check out this site). If they were just playin', there would be no reason to continue using violent imagery in their everyday conversations -- the hatred Eminem feels for his wife would be limited to what his onstage persona, Slim Shady, espouses. Instead, however, in interview after interview, Mathers references violent acts against women to describe his creative process or to discuss his success (see same article). As a woman, I have some serious issues with the messages his music broadcasts -- and nothing I've read or seen convinces me that he doesn't hate us. C'mon: could anyone but a hypermasculine bigot have the stomach to write lyrics about slashing his spouse's throat, let alone sing those words in front of a slavering audience?

It's also interesting that we generally tolerate "thug culture" when it's embodied by white people (Eminem and The Sopranos come to mind), but we feel a little less comfortable around 50 Cent and African American gangstas...of course, that could be because 50 Cent is just a terrible musician who can't write...But I digress...

It's well and good for West to come out against homophobia, but I think the effects will be limited unless fans get behind him. And how many of us cringe at one of Tupac's songs but love another? Rap records sell incredibly well, anti-gay or not (as does rock, metal, etc). Why would a successful artist change his ways if it impacts his livelihood? After all, people have complained about negative images of women in music for years to no avail; no one's really become successful by doing something to combat those portrayals. (Think about the lyrics to Kanye's, "I can't live my life...")

It might be a start, but I'll stay skeptical until Eminem falls from the charts and someone with a pro-women, pro-gay agenda takes his place.


Christina said...

I came to your site from kid sis in hollywood. I think you are off base here. I don't think rap music is anti gay. In fact, I've never heard a bad rap song about gays. In fact the Milkshake song is geared towards them.

Secondly, there is such a thing as artistic freedom. Everyone has a different perspective and experiences. It may be that most are just showing their anger for the fact that TV and media are trying to...excuse the word...pussify men.

If they are upset about it. Let them. If I talked about beating up a guy in one of my songs, women love it and men aren't offended. Sometimes it isn't literal. I said before, if you don't like it, don't listen to it. That's your choice.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I hope this doesn't upset you. It's just my perspective.

Meg said...

None taken! I see both sides of the issue - I don't like hearing songs about women beating up men, either...

There's rap music I love and rap music I don't like, as with everything else...I don't listen to country music because I think it's also overly masculinized and violent, but that's my opinion. (I also just hate country music, but that's another issue...) :)

Thanks! Appreciate the input!

Anonymous said...

I, too, came here through Kid Sis's site.

I agree, Meg -- I think Kanye West's music is terrific and his anti-homophobic pronouncement, thankfully, has been heard.

There are, of course, lots of female rappers who have taken on the issue of misgyny endemic in Western culture (not just rap culture). Queen Latifah comes to mind, but there were others before her... MC Lyte, Salt n' Peppa, etc.

I really respect artists who embrace a role in society as social reformers. Spike Lee, for instance, always makes movies that are self-consciously ABOUT something. They make me think hard about myself and my responsibilities as a member of this society. (I'm more of a movie buff, but I do fancy myself a bit of a rap aficianado.)

Not that all artists have to do this, as Christina pointed out. Everybody should be free. But I, myself, do quite enjoy a bit of high-minded social consciousness from the artistic community. And Kanye West -- he knows he has our ears with his spectacular rhymes and beats, and he's got a good idea what he wants to fill our heads with, now that he's got our attention. He's out to change the world for the better. And to that, I can only say: wow.