A Love/Hate Relationship with Hip-Hop

Fact: Hip-Hop, as a genre, is the embodiment of black machismo. Since its rise to popularity, mainstream rappers have spewed misogyny. Lately, it’s been difficult for me to tune out a lot of the sexist rhetoric of the majority of rappers I come across. I have also noticed that, as hip hop has spread in popularity in Sudan, the sexist rhetoric of American rap has started to appear in the way Sudani men talk about women.

Fact: Hip-Hop, as a genre, provides a platform for black expression and celebration. A lot of rappers that I was introduced to in my childhood helped me navigate blackness and find a space where that same blackness was not connotated with something negative. In African rappers, I found an added layer of identification. They rapped about issues facing African countries that I saw in my home country, members of diasporas talked about immigrant experiences I could relate to.

Question: Do you see my dilemma?

Bas’s Milky Way (left), my trip to Meroe (right)

On the left is Sudanese-American rapper Bas’s album cover for his latest album, Milky Way. Bas was the first Sudani artist that I’ve ever encountered. Initially, I loved the visibility of Sudanese people and current events that his fame brought. Recently, he has given interviews about the current revolution underway in our country. His album cover features the pyramids of Meroe, a source of much pride for Sudanis. However, his music contains a lot of the same degrading language about women that is so common in hip-hop.

On the right is a picture I took of Meroe the last time I visited Sudan. When I made my way back to home last winter, I thought a lot about what Bas meant to people in Sudan. I heard his music played at parties, saw his videos on the phone screens of cousins, friends, strangers. What I also witnessed was the imitation rap spurred by this Sudanese-American icon. There wasn’t just imitation of his style, but also of his “bitches”, his “hoes”. (This is not to say that Sudan does not have issues with misogyny to sort out or that sexist rhetoric is not found in Sudani culture, but there is new rhetoric introduced by Western rappers and a new brand of machismo that is foreign). Overall, I’ve stopped listening to him. He’s a great lyricist with good vocals, I just don’t have the energy to compartmentalise feminism.

I recreated Oddisee’s album cover for The Iceberg (left), with a friend (right).

Thankfully, I can listen to Oddisee without feeling like the “Bad Feminist” from Roxanne Gay’s speech. Oddisee, a DMV-based Sudanese-American rapper, is committed to producing music that fuels positivity and introspection without a lot of the violence and negativity of a lot of hip-hip music. Growing up between Silver Spring and Washington D.C., a lot of his music deals with the struggles of Black people in the United States. For this reason, I recreated his album cover in Meridian Hill Park, a place Angela Davis called “a symbol of Black Pride”.

Rotation’s Posta cover (left), my photo (right)

An example of inherited misogyny in Sudanese rap is the insertion of a “music video girl” in Rotation’s Posta video. The same girl that appears on the album cover features in the video standing in the background looking unfriendly. Performing the halal version of a music video girl would in an American rap video, she’s is used as a pretty prop while he talks about how much he wants her. Her treatment in the video is not necessarily derogatory, but the use of a video girl is a clear imitation of American rap culture. On the right I recreated the cover with a friend dressed in a white toub, a symbol in Sudan of female power.

Rejjie Snow’s Dear Annie (left), my pet brother (right)

Rejjie Snow is an Irish rapper, born to a Nigerian father and an Irish-Jamaican mother. After living in the U.S. for a few years, he realised how novel the idea of a Black Irishman is globally. In an interview, Snow expressed that he’s glad that Black Irish youth have a role model. This is beautiful. This could also be an issue because his music falls under the trope of great-black-empowering-music-that-doesn’t-give-women-the-respect-they-deserve rap. In my experience, a lot of the toxic masculinity, especially when it relates to women, that black men harbour stems from their rapper role models who signal these virtues in their music. This is one of the aspects of rap that worry me, its impact on young boys’ understanding of masculinity. (Young boys like the peanut in the picture above who charged me a cake pop and a museum trip for this picture.)

Blaklez & Reason’s DMX Prayer (left), my photo (right)

Not to mention the affects that representation of women in such music has on women and their perception of themselves. In their single, DMX Prayer, South African rappers Blaklez and Reason reflect on their hardships growing up and celebrate their success. The track is an inspirational story of two come-ups, Reason even thanks “his bitch” for helping him out with money when he didn’t have any. Even though this line is meant to uplift and thank, it relies on a slur to refer to the woman in his life. Using words like these not only normalises them, but contorts objectification/insult and respect for women. (No wonder the woman in their album cover looks so miserable!)

“I feel like when women try to have this conversation they end up feeling like they’re betraying a culture that’s supposed to be giving them a platform of expression. Or maybe we’re just desensitized to disrespectful language,” – Omnia Abdalla (model in the third picture).

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