Summertime is dwindling down to its last days, and along with packing away the sundresses and grills from this season’s cookouts, we also better throw together a greatest hits playlist from these last few months to last us through the coming seasons.
But even as we’re bopping to the top 45 through these next few months, we have to remember that the lyrics and content of the songs we put on repeat are just as important as the beat that plays behind them. If there is one thing I am fed up with, it is being bombarded with the problematic and often downright offensive sentiments slid so casually into the music we blast on surround-sound speakers.
The genres of rap and R&B are rife with controversy, whether it be racially charged or centered around homophobic lyrics or statements artists may have let slip. However, there is one particular problematic aspect of rap/R&B that I find is continually perpetuated without consequence: the blatant misogyny.
Whether it be from the objectification of women and their bodies, the glorification of the shallowly fabricated “baddie” girl, or the lovely little nickname of “b**ch” that seems to be casually dropped in every song on top ten R&B hits list, examples of said misogyny are variable and over-abundant.
However, rap/R&B has seen a shift in the genre over the past few years, in which socially conscious artists are coming more toward the forefront of mainstream music, of which the two most notable players seem to be held juxtaposed to each other: Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.
Lamar has earned notoriety as both an artist and creative activist in recent years, being awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed 2017 album “Damn,” making him the first rap artist to earn such an esteemed award. Lamar is an artist that establishes the racially charged issues and black struggle contained in his poetic lyrics as a defining characteristic of his music. Coupled with the fact that his music serves as both a love letter to black culture and a tool of activism, Lamar seems like the perfect candidate to lead R&B/rap into a new era of politically and socially aware music that mirrors the best of the iconic era of “woke” 90’s hip-hop.
Cole, on the other hand, brings something more subtle to the game, being less obviously centered on social change and racially charged issues, at least in comparison to Lamar. Instead, he seamlessly weaves aspects of black culture into his music and refers to black struggle in the same breath, addressing these subjects more organically while also rapping about aspects of his personal life, experience, and thoughts. And although not a Pulitzer Prize winner, Cole, has made his way to the forefront of current mainstream rap/R&B, and has effectively established with his most recently released album, “KOD,” that he has not come to play.
While both of these artists at first seem to represent what 2018 would deem as woke, it does not take long to spot the cracks in this facade.
Cole, for example, has been long critiqued for his views on women that may glorify the natural beauty, but bash women he perceives as “fake.”And though “No Role Modelz” may be a bop, Cole proclaiming that “all I have left are reality hoes” that he represents as this generation of women in comparison to figures like Lisa Bonet and Nia Long gets to sounding a little too hotep-y for me, thank you very much.
Lamar faced a similar critique from a particular scene in his hit song of 2017, “Humble,” in which a woman who wears an abundance of makeup and a form-fitting top is stripped down to a simple top and bare face while Kendrick raps the phrase “I am so sick and tired of the Photoshop” and “show me something natural.” Both the scene and lyrical phrasing suggests that women of a certain type, like those that wear makeup, straighten their hair or wear weaves or makeup are considered “fake.” And that, my friends, is a pretty misogynistic sentiment. And so it seems even for artists that are representative of the more socially and politically active aspects of R&B/Rap, sentiments of misogyny are still peppered throughout their music.
Considering this, I find it is a source of inner conflict for me to join in the celebration of a musical genre that is a direct extension of my culture when issues like this remain unaddressed and non-consequential. As a proud African American, I am drawn to the music that has served as a creative outlet for my people as it has developed over the decades. However, as a socially conscious young woman, I find a struggle to celebrate black music when it seems to be plagued by demeaning representations of women in the general sense, not just to mention black women. This is not the first time, however, that women have been marginalized or else left out of black activist movements. From the Civil Rights movement to the Black Panther party, black activism has been regarded distinct from feminism and gender equality for black women. And it is disheartening to see this toxic trend continue. The solution to the problem must be found adjacent to the larger issue that causes it – the marginalization of women in R&B/rap. Perhaps with the addition of more diverse female voices in the genre, there can be more inclusiveness and respect cultivated within the culture. Embracing female artists may be the move for this summer.
More to the point though, I find it endlessly concerning the music that is largely regarded as a reflection of black culture to be currently presenting itself in this way. And whether this disheartening characteristic of the genre is reflective of larger issues of inequality that define American history, or similar issues that exist in the black community, I am beginning to think a lot harder to what I may be adding to my “Summer Jamz” playlist from the season.
Rin Davis is a documentarian, journalist, and photographer who is 2018 Vox summer Intern. She is a young black girl who loves both social activism and black culture, and strives to increase the social awareness in her community.