Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Hip-Hop Lyrics and the Defaming of Women in Hip-Hop Culture

Hip-Hop Lyrics and the Defaming of Women in Hip-Hop Culture

Lauren Powers

Hip-Hop has been influential in shaping popular culture since the 1980’s. Ideas of black women’s sexuality have been a long running theme in the genre’s lyrics. These ideas often use derogatory language such as the terms bitch and ho to describe women. The language used in hip-hop came out of “gangsta” rappers trying to prove their hardness , assert their masculinity , and to tell women their place. This language was initially used in gangsta rap in the 1980’s by Ice-T, Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg, and N.W.A, to name a few.  Hip-hop lyrics were originally written as a response to racial tensions and feelings of disenfranchisement by the black community but it is now popular across the genre, and can be heard on every pop music radio station. Rap lyrics are written in the style of the “hip-hop nation language”, a termed coined by Samy Alim. This style of speaking is derivative of rappers and urban black culture and thought to be an oppositional language by many scholars including black studies scholar Geneva Smitherman.

This paper aims to explore the connection to gender, violence, and ideas of sexuality in mainstream culture and how hip-hop lyrics have shaped these ideas , and also how the demand for sexually charged lyrics by consumers has fueled the use of derogatory language directed at women. Other points of interest also include a review of black feminist literature and their critique of hip-hop music including discussion of bell hooks’ works on hip-hop, patriarchy, feminism, black culture, and violence.

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This sounds like a great paper, Lauren! Looking forward to reading it. Interested to see the different perspectives that you cover and the space that these terms live in. For example, Bitch can be an empowering term as well, depending on a woman’s viewpoint so what is the range of feelings from degradation to empowerment? And how do female hip hop artists feel about, handle, utilize, and redefine these terms in their own music?

    Comment by Siobhan Gregory | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  2. Let me help you Ms Powers with your equation with variables I never see placed due to people not being aware of them. When hip-hop first began…only the “bad” kids, the criminally inclined, the “kids” who could be out late at night were involved at its inception. Understand the “bitch” and “hoe” language existed long before hip-hop. Gangsters or “Bad” kids actually created and nurtured the music. It was ‘our” generations way of separating from the previous generation. Hip-Hop has been rebellious from its beginning when it was viewed as “noise” by the “older” crowd. And I only mean a few years older when I make that reference. For instance, when I was 18 in college in 1978, my friends who were 20-21+ saw it as childish. When the “gangsta” era hit, it was so readily received due to that being its nature from the very beginning. Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” described the conditions of their time. NWA described the mindset of theirs and previous times. See…even when Hip-Hop was in its infancy, when the music was “party” music…the parties often ended with violence. By the time NWA appears, crack has ravaged the streets. Young kids are beginning to make some “real” money and the price of “pussy”/women id going way down. Why? Money! You have to explore the environment of each era you decide to comment on Ms Powers for it plays a major role in the equation you are seeking an answer for. Thank you.

    Comment by Michael Dean | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  3. I’m really keen to read the paper, when will it be available?

    Comment by Harry Q. Hammer | May 24, 2012 | Reply

  4. Lauren: I don’t want to find myself merely responding to Michael Dean. From what I understand, “rap” and “hip-hop” should not be used interchangeably, particularly if both grow out of a similar source (tracing all kinds of line backward tot he first Africans being abducted to the US). That hip-hop ‘always was gangsta” seems historically inaccurate, though it may be accurate in Dean’s experience of it. Making allowances for dubious analogies, hip-hop (by the 80s forward) bears affinities with the disenfranchisement, angst, rage, and such expressed in US punk music–and they have, I’d venture, much the same source (the effects of Reagan’s neoliberalism in the US). Break disco, you get punk; break funk, you get hip-hop, to put it too briefly. I would tend to locate the generation of “gangasta” hip-hop as being a successful commercialization, which of course followed the path of least resistance, and made a fetish out of the (white) cultural construction of blacks (or the poor generally) as criminals, animals, inferior human begins. In 19th century France, Blzac gives many views of “glorified criminals”; this winds up playing, actually, to reinforce teh dominant discourse. Your feminist (I hope you don’t mind tht word) approach to the issue stands to explode the conceits of that, as feminism did in the US in the 1970s as well. The generation of neoliberalism (those who came of age from Reagan forward) were, in fact, “separated” from their previous generations (as Dean claims), but that separation was as much re-segregation as any sense of self-identity, as it turns out. Your project, as I understand it, stands to call out this fact. we’ve been living in a neoliberal haze for more than 30 years, with no end in sight. It is necessary, then, to reclaim the original impulses of hip-hop (just as it is necessary to reemphasize the original gestures of punk music, and not the current pablum that runs by that name). You have a very important project here–don’t allow yourself to be forced to “accept the terms” hip-hop is currently framed in (i.e., as Michael Dean is trying to frame it for you). His experience is true, of course, but it’s marred by a limited context.

    Sorry, that was a bit of a mini-essay.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

  5. I have not listened to much hip hop or rap, but I do like the cadence and the rhymes and the fact that it has its own sort of literacy. Division of the form from the content is of interest to me. Rather than limiting your analysis to the cultural context of the vocabulary chosen, I would like to read about the utility of the form in making young people who might not otherwise have learned to care about words, really, really care about cadence, rhymes and word choice. As much as I deplore the degradation of women in the songs, I recognize the positives of what it has done for literacy of some very intelligent young people. It is a wonderfully rich topic, and I would very much like to read your entire paper.

    Comment by Leslie Jenkins | May 9, 2013 | Reply

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