Commentary: There’s a mantra of misogyny in rap music


Emma Uffelman, Acalanes High School

Misogyny in modern rap music shackles women to objectification and degrading stereotypes.

On the first Friday of second semester, my friends and I followed our well-established routine of relaxing in a car and listening to music over fast food. As we caught up after a long week, a catchy rhythm began to play through the speakers. 

My friend queued songs from Gunna’s latest album, DS4Ever. My initial, passive interest quickly turned to disgust by the thirteenth second, at which point Gunna managed to repeat vulgar and demeaning language seemingly countless times. I did not think the incessant put-downs could get any worse, but then the popular rapper continued with graphically explicit and derogatory terms to oversexualize women and diminish their worth to mere sexual objects.

The moment I listened beyond the adrenaline-inducing beat to consciously process the lyrics, the meaning of the words left me feeling violated and objectified. Given the prevalence of derogatory rap lyrics, I have since grown a distaste for numerous rap songs. It was as if the veil was lifted from the entrancing beats I used to listen to passively. I have since become more discerning of the lyrics woven into a catchy tune, and I challenge all rap enthusiasts to be more aware of the message behind the music.

   While the rap industry produces a majority of Gen Z’s favorite songs, their commercial and even award-winning successes mean misogynistic lyrics often go unchecked or simply accepted. The long-term cost remains to be seen, but signs of the societal effects of misogyny are already apparent. Studies show that music not only affects our mood and behaviors, but also ties into our personalities. 

Dating back to the 1970s in the Bronx, hip-hop and rap originally took form as an outlet for those who faced urban despair throughout New York City’s economic collapse. In an article from Icon Collective, music industry writer Rory PQ accounts how early rap and hip-hop artists spoke powerful phrases to musical beats to steer younger generations away from violence, gang-life and drugs.

The hip-hop movement has since gained the largest following out of all genres in American music. According to a survey conducted in 2018 by Statistica, Americans listen to rap/hip-hop more than any other genre of music. While modern rap finds its root in the more positive musical movement of the 1970s, the agenda has now detoured to a less honorable direction, more intent on promoting violence, drug use and, predominantly, the objectification of women.   

Notable men have written pro-feminist rap songs such as Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up” and Common’s “The Light.” These songs do not excuse the fact that the same rappers use derogatory terms and contribute to misogynistic portrayals of women. In the end, I applaud those who put out songs that promote feminism, but these actions do not make a positive difference if they and other mainstream artists still contribute to the belittlement of women. 

I also understand that there are several rap songs out there that refrain from even mentioning women. These songs can contain valuable political and social commentary, as well as progressive concepts. Songs like these that spur social change should not be grouped up with their misogynistic counterparts. The issue at hand is that the majority of the time women are mentioned in rap, they are portrayed in harsh and offensive lights. This then becomes the standard in rap music and, unfortunately, the decisive impression of females for a generation of young minds.

This negative portrayal of women in rap music is so prevalent that most of us have become largely accustomed to the terms used to describe and refer to women. In Gunna’s “Mop,” he chants the same derogatory term 14 times, managing to use it four times in the song’s 13 second opening. The offensive nature of such terms is something everyone is aware of, regardless of whether they listen to rap or not. Therefore, their offensive nature is not up for debate, but broadly accepted by consumers. 

More alarming is the media’s critical praise of the sexual subjugation of women. “Mop” is a prime example of how rap songs commonly depict women in demeaning sexual scenarios. Fans and critics alike analyze the lyrics as if they are masterful pieces of rhetoric giving us all permission to accept the lower standard of women. Users on Genius—a site in which users interpret lyrics of songs—praise “Mop” for its good use of “imagery and simile to create an odd but powerful and original lyric.” 

In addition to derogatory terms and objectifications, rap lyrics often promote offensive female stereotypes. One of these being the notion that women cannot succeed without male support, which is also known as the ‘gold digger’ stereotype. Oftentimes male rap artists will paint independent women as gold diggers in their lyrics to minimize their success and talent. Kanye West raps “She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years. I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids” in his 2005 hit “Gold Digger,” a song that is still widely listened to today. Fifteen years prior, EPMD rapped about that same woman in their 1990 “Gold Digger” song. Both West and EPMD perpetuate the stereotype of women whose primary goal is to get pregnant by rich and famous men. The frequency with which male rap artists paint women as gold diggers have diminished a woman’s value to the extent that we never really see her evolve with success on her own.

Rap consumers may argue that misogynistic portrayals in rap do not have a significant impact on them because they choose not to focus on the lyrics. If listeners are consistently listening to and chanting the lyrics of these songs, they must have paid attention to them at least one or more times.    

If humiliation and harassment are any indicator of rap’s influence, I have endured numerous cruel jokes and mistreatment by my male peers. For women, the negative impact of misogyny in rap goes even deeper. As a female teenager, I have found that the more I am exposed to this explicit music, the more I internalize the negative perceptions of women. I find myself exposed to the point of wanting to cover up myself knowing the probability that men might only view me as an object. I wonder if others filter the way I act, dress, or talk through the lens of the sexist perspective, as I find myself inadvertently viewing other women through the same filter. I am sure this outcome is common among all women. Meanwhile, the emphasis of the gold digger stereotype might fuel women’s doubts regarding their abilities to succeed based on merit rather than their appearances.

The chanting of rap lyrics is akin to the chanting of a meditative mantra, an ancient practice that promotes another form of positivity: the calming of mind and spirit. According to the article, Twelve Science-Based Benefits of Meditation, the repetition of positive words or phrases for 10 to 15 minutes has been scientifically proven to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as improve focus and mood. Is it any wonder, then, that the repitition of sexually degrading words can have a deeply harmful effect on the subconscious and conscious minds? 

The physiological effects are immediate the moment the words are planted in our memory and once the words resurface, they reverberate through our negative imagery and thoughts followed by harmful behaviors and disrespectful treatment of people, normally women.

This notion sheds light on the concept of implicit biases, the stereotypes and misconceptions of the subconscious mind. As my fellow Acalanes students and I learned in our equity cohort meetings of 2020, these perspectives are fueled by what we consume from the world around us. Implicit biases start as thoughts and the longer we choose not to accept and address them, the better chance these perspectives have at fueling our actions and behaviors. 

This outcome and the contrast between meditative sayings and rap lyrics are affirmed in the article “The Impact of Music on Emotion: Comparing Rap and Meditative Yoga Music” by Matthew Kwong. Kwong contrasted the behaviors of people who listen to meditation music compared to those who listen to rap music. His results demonstrated that listeners of rap music scored highest in verbal aggression. Furthermore, Kwong explains that exposure to rap songs’ aggressive lyrics leads to the activation of neural processes that develop aggressive language and emotions. In addition, the article’s abstract finding was that one’s emotional state can directly affect their daily behavior, thus proving an apparent connection between rap lyrics and their powerful behavioral impacts.

Meanwhile, Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University executed the largest study done on the correlation between music and personality types. North conducted a survey asking over 36,000 people from over 60 countries to rate music genres in order of preference, as well as questions about their personalities. In his results, he found that people were selecting music genres that matched their personalities, additionally proving strong ties between music and personality types. 

Whether rap listeners are listening to them or not, misogynistic lyrics are still there and the more listeners fill their ears with them, the more they are susceptible to developing misogynistic biases and personalities.

While we cannot stop rap artists from putting out misogynistic content, we can control what we fill our ears with. Let’s start by hesitating before pressing play to our favorite rap song. For non-female listeners, ask yourself: is this worth listening to if it makes me susceptible to developing negative biases against women? As for female listeners, ask yourself: Is this worth listening to if it makes me susceptible to developing a negative perception of myself?