by Liz Putney

On February 7th, I listened to Amber Epps, or HollyHood, speak about the role of gender in hip-hop. Amber has a doctorate of science and higher education and she teaches about computers to her students; her alter ego, HollyHood, is a local hip-hop artist. She is 37 years old and crushing the stereotypes of women and race in hip-hop.

HollyHood began her presentation by giving a brief history of hip-hop. This genre of music was born in the Bronx and became popular through Black and Latino youth. Today, the primary consumers of rap music are young white men. When listening to the lyrics of most hip-hop songs, especially those sang by men, it is easy to see why violent and negative stereotypes surround this music. Jay-Z, in his song, says that women are either sisters or bitches. Similarly is the Madonna Whore Complex: a woman is either saintly and never goes out or is a whore who goes out and has fun; there is no in between. Women are consistently judged far more harshly than men in hip-hop and that is something that HollyHood actively seeks to change. She brought up the important, commonly noted fact that if a woman sleeps with many guys she is a slut, but if a guy sleeps with many girls, he is a “bro” and that is something to be proud of.

So why does music like this sell and still exist? The young white men who buy this music want nothing to do with female thought or empowerment. If they were to listen to music about uplifting women and enablement, they would be contradicting themselves and their own beliefs. The sad truth is, young white men still do not see women as their equals. In rap and hip-hop, women are referred to and seen as porn stars, sex objects, decorations, “bitches ain’t shit,” gold diggers, and our existence is solely to boost the male’s ego. Chief Keef’s song goes, “you gone suck my d*ck, or I’ll kill you.” Kodak Black raps, “I don’t want no Black bitch,” and yet both of these horribly crude songs are sold widely throughout the world. I challenge anyone to find a male rapper who has not referred to a woman as a bitch in one of his songs (spoiler: it is nearly impossible). However, Lupe Fiasco in his song “Bitch Bad” examines the use of this negatively connoted word. He says, “bitch bad, woman good, lady better,” meaning that calling a female a bitch is the worst thing that one can do and calling them a lady would be the best. Moreover, he notes that young minds are so impressionable that when they hear rappers calling women bitches, they begin to think it is an acceptable term to use. This music sells because the degradation of women is something that has become so normalized in pop culture that it would be abnormal for the white men buying hip-hop music to listen to anything else.

Women in this musical genre must either fight extremely hard to be lyrical or conform to the standards of modern day society. These standards for women in hip-hop include wearing little to no clothing and rapping about sex. We see female rappers like Nicki Minaj and Kreayshawn overly sexualizing themselves in order to sell music. The young white men buying this type of music do not want to hear about women lifting each other up, but they want to see butts, boobs, and sexual lyrics. HollyHood refuses to conform to these standards, as she and two others made a song uplifting and empowering women, while being fully clothed. She noted that she once made a “sexy music video,” but she did so for herself, not to please anyone else.

The final question that HollyHood brought up was this: is what entertains us part of what forms us? Are we bad people for listening to this type of music? Am I a bad person for enjoying songs that slut shame and call women bitches? Possibly. But, I don’t think that the music we listen to defines us—our own thoughts and opinions do. Obviously I, and many others, do not agree with the things that most rappers say about women, yet we cannot deny that the music is catchy. Unfortunately, the catchiness of these songs is why it will be difficult to see this type of music disappear. Society and social media nowadays teaches boys that showing their feelings and respecting women is not something to be proud of, and music about this will not sell. Luckily, we have women like Beyoncé to remind us all that girls run the world, no matter what any male says.