The last time I took a hard line stance against something I read in a global online publication, I ended up eating my words very soon after. So it is not without some hesitation that I broach this even more sensitive topic, but if the worst thing that happens is that I get proven wrong, it sounds like a risk worth taking.
This time it’s not staged interviews or trifling clickbait about the music I love, it’s a moral indictment of it.
It’s a pretty standard critique using pretty standard reference points – “Rap music is so misogynistic, didn’t you hear that Snoop Doggy Dogg fellow shouting ‘bitches ain’t shit’? And I don’t think he was referring to our local kennel club…” But an unoriginal opinion is not necessarily a groundless one, so let’s see how this writer supports her age-old criticism.
We can excuse the fact that she uses The Black Album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and “Superman” as reference points to her assertion that 90s nostalgia is sparking second wind careers for aging rappers (all of these were released in 2003). I also won’t get all worked up with the “why do you have to agree with everything an artist says to appreciate their art?” question like I usually do. I’ll even let slide that weird paragraph where she postulates that sexism in art could be a marketing tool because “sex sells”; as though having the word “sex” as a root makes those concepts identical. These are small quibbles that don’t deserve more than a quick mention, the real issue I have is much deeper.
Firstly, I’m amazed at her lack of critical thinking and self reflection on her current or past motivations to listening to this music if she truly believes it “hates her”. She lists no redeeming qualities of this art form she finds so offensive, gives no examples of excellent moments made possible by rap or times it helped her through a difficult experience, yet she continues to listen and vaguely defend it to this day. She celebrates rap that avoids espousing these offensive attitudes and hauls out the old “conscious rap” fallacies about hip-hop only addressing social issues and empowerment in its early years, but this other breed that she claims to love despite its harmful content gets no further analysis than pointing out its ugliest facets. The sole explanation she offers for her paradoxical relationship with misogynist rap is that she was first exposed to it at a an early, impressionable age when her desire to be cool outshined her good judgement. But is that really enough to inspire over a decade of sincere interest? Could it be, as she disjointedly states in her closing sentence, that there’s more to hip-hop than these ugly passages? Might there be some aesthetic merit in the thousands of other creative decisions that go into making a powerful rap song? Can we honestly characterize her lifetime love of hip-hop as some weird musical Stockholm Syndrome where all she gets is abuse but can’t bring herself to change the radio station because it’s all she knows? It’s troubling that she doesn’t seem to be asking herself these kinds of critical questions about rap and herself, and instead seems content reaping whatever unspoken benefits of listening to rap while complaining and deriding it at every opportunity.
Staunch detractors would argue that these supposed “redeeming qualities” that go undiscussed in this piece are negated by the violent misogynist content and cannot possibly have a positive effect on the listener. To these people I would ask – do you own a cellular phone? a computer? Where were these products produced and under what conditions? Do you drive a car? Do you buy meat from factory farms? Do you order products through big box online retailers that could be acquired from a local independent business? Do you ever use styrofoam or plastic wrap? Do you wear polyester? Does the financial institution where you keep your money only do good deeds with it? Does your face wash have synthetic microbeads? All of these things are at least as problematic as the content of the rap songs she is taking issue with. Everything we do is problematic. The damage to our culture, environment, and other humans is far more devastating from these other actions, yet people find it much easier to shrug their shoulders and continue to perpetuate these problems without having moral dilemmas and writing thinkpieces about them. Why can we have such subtle, nuanced relationships with with all of the other terrible things we do while an entire genre of music gets a broad stroke dismissal?
I believe the reason that hip-hop, above all these other issues, inspires such outrage from people like Ms. Palmer, and the reason that she cannot reconcile her love and misgivings about rap to herself is epitomized by the title of her piece. It’s not that she’s primarily concerned about the damage they imagine the misogyny in rap music causes to our society, it’s that they feel personally attacked by these songs. “I love hip-hop but it hates me.” All of the other problematic activities that she engages in get a pass because she’s not the one directly suffering from their ill effects. Like when Phil Donahue got all butt-hurt and defensive when he felt like the black people on his “The Issue of Race” panel might not like him, the writer here is not primarily concerned about a moral violation. Like a petulant child she’s upset about not being loved, affirmed, and accepted by everything and everyone in the world at every moment.
Ms. Palmer, let me assuage your hurt feelings: rap music does not hate you. Rap music is not a living, breathing, single entity that is capable of forming opinions in favor or against anyone or anything, and the individual rappers that are capable of forming these types of opinions probably spend zero time liking or disliking any total stranger fan like you and me at all. It’s not about you, and the minute we realize this is the minute we can start bringing some intelligent discussion to the table. Misogyny is a HUGE problem that does need to be addressed, but its presence in an piece of creative expression need not indict its entire value.