Sexploitation And Women In Hip Hop

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Lauryn Hill performs her song "To Zion" at the Grammy Awards February 24. Hill won for Album of the Year for her record "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill". GMH - RTRM8HT
The recent ‘Industry Takeover: All Dayer‘ featured a variety of panels from people involved in various aspects of the music industry. One of the panels ‘Who Run The World? Girls!: The Women Behind UK Music‘ featured:

Carla Marie Williams: (singer songwriter)

Jamila Scott: (A&R)

Leila Singh: (Eskimo Dance PR)

DJ Melody Kane

Vick Bain: (CEO)

Paigey Cakey: Rapper

Colleen Harris: producer/reporter and host.

The talk featured everything from the unique journey women face in a male dominated industry to personal struggles each member of the panel faced.
During the Q&A section of the panel the two most notable questions were:

‘How should women conduct themselves and more specifically, dress themselves in the industry?’

This led to the panel discussing the idea of men judging women based on appearance. Long story short: if a woman is dressed like a stripper she will be treated like one.

The second question was more of a (really long) speech from a woman who felt that women should be free to dress how they please and female sexuality shouldn’t be controlled, because men can’t do so with their own. The response from the panel was that it would be nice, but the reality is if you depict yourself a certain way you open yourself up to disrespect.

So firstly:

NONE OF THE MEMBERS OF THE PANEL MENTIONED, IMPLIED OR INFERRED ANY OPINION NEGATIVE OR POSITIVE TOWARDS STEFF LONDON AND WHILE I CAN’T BE SURE, I WOULD IMAGINE THEY FEEL SHE’S WONDERFUL AND WISH HER THE BEST IN HER CAREER.

And 2. This article is written from a male perspective. I only have anecdotal references of what it is like to be a woman, but I certainly know exactly what is like to be a man, have male thoughts, be around men and the things (some) men think and say.

So I think it should be said, personally and factually that no matter how women dress whether it’s crop tops and suspenders or life-size bin bag, men will ALWAYS find a way to sexualise them.

Proof?

Here’s a creepy comment left on the fairly liberal Stefflon Don’s YouTube:

connor-creep

Aaaand here’s a creepy one left on slightly more conservative Pagey Cakey’s YouTube:

virgin-creep

Point is both can rap, both are talented, but both are women, so naturally creepy comments are left behind regardless of how sexual their content is.

You could also point to the fact sexual assault and rape culture is just as prevalent in conservative countries with a strong focus on modesty as it is in more liberal countries. Essentially how a woman is treated has little to do with how she carries herself and more about whether a man feels like raping her or not.

So as much as I can’t speak for the experiences of the women on the panel, I feel that their successes would likely have more to do with hard work and talent as opposed to dress sense. Which is where Stefflon Don comes in.

After building a buzz by remixing well-known tracks, Steff dropped With ‘Hot Property‘.

The track sees Steff with full cleavage and sexual metaphors on display, but most importantly: bars. The tune’s hard, no two ways about it. And left this listener and many others with the opinion that Stefflon Don can spit bars with the best of them.

So with Lady Lykez, Leshur, Nadia Rose and many other female rappers gaining momentum it feels as if right now is already a better place to be a female rapper than even 5 years ago. The feeling is that the scene is ready for more than one token female and actually is has enough room for a range of different female voices.

And despite the fact that there are many differences between Stefflon Don and Nicki Minaj, on the surface they have a lot in common. So naturally the same record execs that are scrambling  to create a billion Nicki clones are very likely to try to do the same with Steff. But independent artists have more power than 5 years ago, so if Steff is planning to emulate Nicki in any way hopefully it would be 2011 Nicki and not 2016 Nicki.

Nicki’s career is pretty much the definitive tale of the female rapper. She gained notoriety through skills and a breakthrough mixtape that displayed that; a solid debut album with hits and strong sales. And then, ‘Starships‘. It’s fair to say ‘Starships‘ is garbage. I mean it’s been said to death. But only in retrospect can we truly appreciate how bad it was.


And now let’s all reminisce on just how bass ‘Starships’ was

The reason for ‘Starships‘ was the success of ‘Super Bass‘. Before ‘Super BassNicki’s highest charting solo single was ‘Moment 4 Life‘ which featured Drake and went platinum. ‘Super Bass‘ charted at 3 and is certified 8x platinum. So naturally Minaj wanted another hit.

The thing about ‘Starships‘ and to a lesser extent ‘Super Bass‘ is that they could’ve been sung by anyone. Just off the top ‘Starships‘ sounds like a bad Lady GaGa b-side and ‘Super Bass‘ idk Ariana Grande? There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the songs. The only thing they do retain of Minaj is her sexuality.

Which is the problem many female rappers face. In discussions of female rappers very old people like to cite Lauryn Hill’sThe Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill‘. Which is undoubtedly a classic. A classic that was released nearly 20 years ago (1998). And to be fair ‘Miseducation..’ wasn’t really a landmark female rap album as much as a landmark album. She won the Grammy for Album Of The Year and didn’t win any of the hip hop awards  (best rap album went to JAY Z) so as great an album as it is, the elements that made the album a success haven’t carried over into the mainstream for female rappers.

In fact despite many notable mc’s such as Missy, Latifah, Lyte, Rage, Diggah etc the most notable element embraced by major labels is the sexualisation of female rappers. Before Nicki, Lil Kim was the most notable female rapper. With her sexuality usually at the forefront and her talent taking a backseat. This is despite the fact that Missy Elliot has sold millions more records than Kim.

While Missy has had undeniable influence on female rap and hip hop in general, for a female rapper to be successful it’s clear skills, talent and songs aren’t nearly as valued as sex is.

There are many exceptions to the rule but as long as major labels continue to control depictions of female rappers frankly they’ll always be highly sexualised. Why? Because it’s the easiest to sell. Hip Hop is a male dominated industry and executives feel the only way female rappers can appeal to a male audience is through sex. Hence why Nicki Minaj had to keep her long-term relationship with Safaree a secret for years, to appear ‘available’; as label executives feel the only way for a female rapper to appeal to a male audience is for said male audience to feel they’re in with a chance of fucking her.

But with rappers like Young MA blowing up there’s a chance that maybe hyper sexuality won’t be the only thing used to sell female rap music. On the other hand that does mean that instead of allowing the music to speak for itself; label bosses would simply create an army of Young MA’s , forced to bury their sexuality, effectively creating the same problem.

Male rappers aren’t defined by the sexual content in their songs. We don’t think of Skepta as a porno rapper; even Wretch has one or two sex songs, but they aren’t defined by them.

But independent artists are topping the charts, have more options in the deals they choose to sign and have more control over their image and how they choose to put themselves out there. Meaning that eventually how female rappers decided to depict themselves will be entirely down to them and not a roomful of old men who haven’t enjoyed music since Banarama.

So to sum up: Steff is sick, Paigey’s sick and as a result the future is looking a little less dick shaped.