Race and gender have always been complicated issues in and around hip-hop—which occupies the complicated space of being consumed globally and produced primarily by Black men, yet largely influenced by White male label executives, fans and music critics. Two scathing criticisms of Lupe Fiasco’s “B*tch Bad” from SPIN's Marc Hogan and Brandon Soderberg are a powerful example of what happens when someone who is not emotionally connected to that which they profess to be an expert on is given a microphone and a position of influence.
Hogan’s “Lupe Fiasco Mansplains Misogyny on Counterproductive ‘B*tch Bad” opens by suggesting that two very different songs speak to a massive cultural shift around the word 'b*tch':
"Who you callin' a b*tch?" rages Queen Latifah, on her jazz-sampling single "U.N.I.T.Y.," originally released on the 1993 album Black Reign. "I'm a bad b*tch / I'm a, I'm a bad b*tch," repeats Nicki Minaj on her fire-breathing 2009 mixtape cut "Itty Bitty Piggy"…Clearly, something has changed in hip-hop's relationship with anti-woman slurs over the past two decades.”
Perhaps if Latifah's attitude had been the most pervasive one at the time in hip-hop culture; alas, '93 was the same year that Snoop’s Doggystyle was released and rap was becoming an increasingly hostile space for women. Fun fact about “U.N.I.T.Y.”- Latifah calls out a young girl for attempting to be a “gangster b*tch” after the popularity of rapper Apache’s hit song (produced by Q-Tip, creator of affirmative and loving songs about women) of the same name…meanwhile, Apache was her labelmate and homeboy. Contradictions and complications are not new territory for rap music, be from a “sanctimonious” emcee or a blissfully ignorant one, so the anger at “B*tch Bad” really seems unwarranted.
Hogan goes on to charge that there is no need for rap music to “scold” listeners, as the genre has grown to include emcees who are better at being thoughtful without being preachy:
“From Das Racist and BBU to Killer Mike and Big K.R.I.T., more and more MCs are remembering how to make rap that has a political charge without sounding like Tipper Gore.”
Here, the writer's cultural disconnect is painfully clear. The 12-year-old girl popping her butt to the latest Nicki Minaj track doesn’t know who Das Racist is. God bless BBU, a multicultural Chicago hip-hop collective that was progressive enough to name a mix tape “bell hooks,” but the average 25-year-old brother from that same city doesn’t know who they are either. As for Killer Mike and his ‘romantic’ tale of a violent relationship on “U Know I Love You” and Big K.R.I.T.’s narrative about stepping out on his problematic girlfriend to sleep with an overweight woman who will pay his rent (“I Ain’t Sh*t” ), both songs peppered with the b-word…Hogan fails to cite evidence that “B*tch Bad” is worthless.
If one anti-“B*tch Bad” piece from a White dude who will never walk down any of the country’s Colored main drags and have the experience of being called a b*tch for no other reason than being a woman and present…SPIN ran another one weeks later.
Writer Brandon Soderberg is obviously no Lupe fan, made blatantly obvious from his opening line (“Why must we continually endure Lupe Fiasco's half-baked conscious hip-pop?”) and slams the rapper for “mining the moronic 'lyrics over everything' attitude, reducing rap to a game of preaching to the converted,” as if this particular artist isn’t championed by fans for his style of rapping (and as if one has to be ‘converted’ to see the value in challenging the word ‘b*tch.’) This is from a person who has described the faux-gangster narratives of Rick Ross as "effective" and entertaining, yet clucks his tongue at the bra-busting rapper for exploiting ghetto life with his latest video, so weigh that as you will.
He goes on to reiterate Hogan’s assertion that the song is guilty of “mansplaining,” but in the very next sentence asks “but does any female want to be called "a lady"?
This is what happens when a person who is far removed from someone else’s world decides not only to peek in, but also tries to narrate from the outside. Speaking as an Actual Black Woman, not Race Non-Specific Pretend Woman referenced in this article, I can tell you that the word “female” is a far greater point of contention than “lady” amongst sisters. And while plenty of women eschew the word “lady” or the expectation that one has to be “ladylike” to be respectable, others still cling tightly to the term and the traits. “Female,” however, is a term often hurled from the same lips that favor “b*tch.”
While Soderberg says little about the scenes featuring small children watching rap videos and emulating them (I don’t think this dude is particularly concerned about what little Black girls are witnessing that may be to their detriment, sorry), he’s super annoyed by the images of a rapper and video model applying blackface and “perpetuating the sounds-good-but-doesn't-really-parse argument that male gangsta rappers and female models/video girls are the modern day equivalent of blackface performers.”
Again, the problem of reporting on Black life from the outside looking in…and I don’t care how hip-hop ‘approved’ you are, how many Eightball and MJG tapes you have from seventh grade or even if you bothered to take an Afro-studies class at whatever liberal arts college that taught you how to wax poetic about Dipset, you are on the outside. The imagery in rap music is even more damning than early 20th century minstrelsy because there are so many folks inside and outside of the Black community who will fight tooth and nail to suggest that the buffoonery is not only authentic Blackness, but the most authentic form of Blackness. Furthermore, and most damning, these images influence young people to aspire to some of the lowest forms of modern human behavior, such as standing around and calling the women of one’s community “b*tches” with the same casual tone one may use to observe the weather.
Soderberg whines that the video “feeds on outdated and simplified hip-hop stereotypes…(and) plays into a decade-old understanding of hip-hop as the world of endless thugging and violence, which as I've said time and time again lately, just does not represent what rap music actually looks like and sounds like in 2012.” Alas, while the writer doesn’t see the need for a 50 Cent stand-in considering 50’s lack of musical relevance in today’s market, the character’s mannerisms bring to mind Waka Flocka, Lil’ Boosie, 2 Chainz and others who have both done extremely well in the ‘hood AND amongst pseudo-intellectual hip-hop hipsters.
Ironically, this same writer cried earlier this summer that the current dearth of “street rap” on mainstream radio is a bad thing. This is White privilege at its finest: being able to complain that there aren’t enough narratives about Black death and pain on the Pop stations, without being touched by said death and pain outside of one’s headphones or whatever corny hipster bar one goes to drink artisanal beer and nod awkwardly along to Chief Keef.
I don’t challenge the right of other writers or hip-hop fans to take issue with Lupe Fiasco just because I like him. “B*tch Bad” isn’t a perfect song or video, nor is it reinventing the way in which we discuss a controversial word; however, I still believe it delivers a powerful message that is particularly significant to rap’s youngest, most-easily influenced listeners.
It’s bit absurd for two men who can enjoy rap music while existing on the outside of the culture that sustains it to dismiss the need for a conversation about “b*tch,” a takedown of gross stereotypes in rap culture and the influence that their favorite music has on kids who don’t look like them. Clearly, guys like Hogan and Soderberg aren’t here for a “supposedly serious rapper like Lupe Fiasco, or the many thinkpiece-writing raconteurs who spend their days on hip-hop panels” and considering what that rapper and those writers must look like to someone who gets to enjoy “everything but the burden” when it comes to Black culture, I can’t hardly say I’m surprised. But that doesn't make their words less frustrating.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com.