Although school's out and my summer plans included a heavy load of sleeping and suntanning, I have inadvertently signed up for summer school. Every time I turn on my car radio, I enter Hip-Hop Gender Roles 101, and so far my lessons have made me angrier than Snoop Dogg after a drug bust.
It's as though I enter an alternate universe where a woman's sole purpose on earth is to sexually pleasure her male counterparts. While the men are out "pimping all over the world," I've learned I should be waiting "clothes off, face down, ass up," and even though this would seem like a great deal (my man can struggle with airport security and jet lag while I lay back and work on my yoga stretches), I have become increasingly revolted by the messages blaring out from my stereo.
Rappers make millions of dollars off lines like "Game is the topic/ And what's between your legs is the product/ Use it properly/ And you'll make dollars bitch" or my personal favorite "Can you control your hoe? (You got a bitch that won't do what you say)/ You can't control your hoe? (She hardheaded, she just won't obey)/ You've got to put that bitch in her place, even if it's slapping her in her face," and despite the fact that these rhymes are filthier than Lil' Jon's dreadlocks, it is not their overt sexism or violent sexual references that make my jaw drop (like it's hot) -- it is my realization that these lyrics do more than entertain my male peers. Instead of simply promoting fads like Lacoste shirts and Cristal, through their music, rappers are spreading their views on women to an audience of teenage boys larger than Fat Joe's waistline, and I feel the effects everywhere I go.
From the school hallway, where on more than one occasion I have heard comments about the way I fit in my jeans, to the mall parking lot where pick-up lines usually begin with "Ooh, sexy ... " teenage boys express the same misogynistic sentiments as their rapping idols. I know that music is not the only driving force behind their behavior, but I believe rap's influence on my peers is stronger than the light reflecting off Jay-Z's ice.
My logic is simple. If 50 Cent and Nelly can gain immeasurable fame from replacing the words woman, girlfriend, and female with slut, bitch, ho, and numerous other creative terms, why should it be inappropriate when 17-year-olds, like an endearing boy named Brian that I met at a friend's house last Friday night, ask their friend if there are "any hot vaginas at the party in Solon?" And when I am accosted by lyrics like "I said it must be your ass 'cause it ain't your face" each time I tune into my city's hip-hop station, should I be surprised when I hear, "Walk that ass back over here, girl," as I take a stroll through my neighborhood? (At least rappers have the decency to rhyme when they are being chauvinistic and degrading.)
The truth, however, is that my tastes in hip-hop do not fall into simple categories, and although some of this music really does make me lose control, I love wilin' out to good rap as much as the next kidÃ¢â‚¬â€there are numerous empowering female rap artists who continually impress me with their music. No matter where I am, for example, when a Missy Elliot song comes on, my hips start going like a Hawaiian dancer on a dashboard and I know I will never feel repulsed by her rhymes.
Queen Latifah, too, consistently makes me happier than Akon after his prison release with her "I'll rap your chauvinist butts into a hole" attitude, and I'm always up for a talk about sex if Salt 'n' Pepa are the ones moderating the discussion. But even my classification of some rappers isn't as simple as Lil' Romeo's lyrics; although the majority of his music is distasteful, I can't deny that Snoop's most popular hits make me want to keep the party going till six in the morning.
My conflicted music moods have really got my bling-bling in a bundle. When Eminem starts rapping about "an ass like that," my first reaction is to swear off hip-hop and join the LeAnn Rimes fan club, but how can I when I'd be Will Smith's "party starter" Saturday through Sunday and Monday through Sunday (yo)? And though I truly don't care who Mike Jones is -- even now that he has his grill -- because I've never wanted to be his "dime that's top of the line: cute face, slim waist, with a big behind," does that mean I can't get on the "good foot" with Timbaland?
After debating the issue in my mind like Lil' Kim on the witness stand (except my dilemma won't end me up in jail), I've finally come to some conclusions.
Even though I have problems (99 even?) with rap because it can send messages that make teenage girls more likely to feel emotional and physical abuse are acceptable in healthy relationships, and even though I feel defeated every time I turn off my car radio because I can't find a station playing songs I am comfortable listening to with the windows down, I'll just hope that one day in the spirit of MC Lyte and Ms. Melodie, the future of popular radio will include new songs that don't make me want to alert NOW.
Until then I'll just have to wait for the day when my radio dial doesn't have to jump around (searching for the right station) like the women in Kanye's Work Out song.