In the last couple of days our friend Talib Kweli has been the subject of numerous headlines. His take on the now infamous “Rick Ross rape lyric” created some twitter “beef” with fellow emcee Lupe Fiasco and hip-hop journalist dream hampton. The Kweli/Fiasco exchange was less of a beef and more of an enlightening debate between two esteemed emcees known for their “intellectual” lyrics and opinions on substantial issues. The exchange between Kweli and hampton was a bit more “messy”, almost personal. Think of an intense argument between friends where the argument isn’t actually where the emotion comes from. It’s like two friends arguing about the economy when the underlying issue is one of those friends owes the other money. Kweli and hampton do have history together as they worked together for Black August. Kweli may have felt that having a friend call him out on Twitter didn’t show the right support and may have put Kweli on the defensive in his response.
But we’re not really concerned with the messiness, our interest is the diversity of the hip-hop community’s reaction to current hip-hop lyrics. The Rick Ross lyric has received plenty of backlash as many have cited it as a direct glorification of rape and being insensitive to women. Hip-hop has always spawned controversy over their treatment of women…but being called names and looked at as sexual conquests has been “justified”, ignored, condemned and more depending on who you ask about it. However a lyric implying that a popular rapper drugs his women and enjoyed a sexual encounter without her knowing about it…isn’t something you can just overlook.
Kweli takes a more nurturing stance with artists making these lyrics, where Fiasco thinks a more condemning action within the community itself must be taken. hampton believes that Kweli’s stance is a bit too soft and expects more from him. Media outlets everywhere have said Ross should have made a more thorough apology rather than skate around the issue and call it a misinterpretation. Long-time collaborators with Ross can’t seem to be found for their thoughts on the lyric.
The major issue on all sides of the coin is at what point does hip-hop begin to take responsibility for their lyrics? Who takes responsibility? Is it for the community as a whole to point blame at specific rappers and condemn them? Is it time for other rappers to step in and open up dialogues with each other about changing these lyrics? Is it about the hip-hop communities and their neighborhood communities finding ways to balance out the content/lyrics of hip-hop?
At what point is society to blame for where these lyrics are inspired by and at what point does the artist step back and say, “I know this is happening but kids, women, etc might hear this and take it the wrong way”? Women are very much under-represented in hip-hop as is, so the next question becomes who speaks up for the women of hip-hop communities? Who do they hold responsible and how harsh of a “punishment” do they think he should face? Ross has lost his sponsorship with Reebok, but the “infamous” lyric hasn’t stopped him from releasing more videos, songs, etc. Why is no one asking someone like Nicki Minaj her take on such a lyric? Though the back and forth didn’t seem to be as enlightening or constructive, dream hampton is one of the few female personalities respected in hip-hop, that came forth and spoke on the topic with an hip-hop artist. It’s evident that there needs to be more women of her stature that can come forward and engage these dialogues with the emcees, especially the male emcees. It may need to be done differently but it seems that it is now a necessary discussion.
For decades hip-hop has been seen as a progressive genre that adapts to things before the mainstream does, but are they leaps and bounds behind when it comes to gender equality? What steps can be made to change this?