Arts and Entertainment

Redefining Role Models in the Rap Industry

An analysis of the double standard that women in the rap industry face.

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After rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released their latest song “WAP,” social media platforms blew up, outraged. Both men and women, terrified of the explicit, sexual language in the song, claimed that Cardi and Megan were setting a bad example for young fans. Political commentator Ben Shapiro notoriously mocked the song, exclaiming, “This is what the feminist movement is all about. It's not really about women being treated as independent, full-rounded human beings." Regardless of the “vulgarity” of this song, “WAP” has received an overwhelming amount of backlash from people, such as Shapiro, who have severely criticized female rappers, despite never commenting on any of the explicit songs performed by men in the rap industry.

As women in rap gained popularity in the music scene, so did this double standard. MC Lyte was the first female rapper to release a full-length album in 1998. MC Lyte, however, never discussed femininity on her album; in fact, she, along with two men, wore baggy sweat suits and a snapback on her album cover, as she wanted to avoid gender association. Over the decades, it has become common for female rappers to avoid sexuality in their music. Lil Kim’s record company, for example, told her that she had to mimic MC Lyte’s “male swagger” to be successful. Lil Kim instead unapologetically embraced her sexuality, rapping about glamour while wearing diamonds and lace. Rappers such as Lil Kim, Missy Elliot, and Queen Latifah, to name a few, were the first to normalize writing their own music, an expression of their femininity.

Despite this early success, female artists still fight to get the recognition and credit they deserve. It was only in May 2020 that a female rap duo finally topped the Billboard charts. With their remix of the viral song “Say So,” Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat were quickly followed by two other duos. Both Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” made their way to the top of the Billboard charts in the span of a few months.

As women tackle the issue of recognition in rap, they combat the imminent public reception. Older names in rap, like Eminem and Kanye West, and newer names, like Migos and 21 Savage, have built careers on songs that objectify women and promote violence. For example, in his song “Low Down, Dirty” (1997), Eminem raps, “Slap dips, support domestic violence / Beat your [expletives] while your kids stare in silence.” Yet, society praises Eminem as one of the greatest musicians of our generation. Kanye West, arguably this generation’s most influential rapper, has also had a career of questionable songs, though he always manages to receive the benefit of the doubt. In his song “30 Hours” (2015), he sings, "My ex says she gave me the best years of her life / I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right.” West consistently objectifies women in his songs and, in this example, follows the theme by minimizing a woman’s worth to her appearance.

This gendered double standard in rap only makes it more difficult for women to succeed. People who listen to music seek an escape from the mundane emotions that they daily experience. Artists aim to create music that empowers both themselves and their fans, but it’s impossible to do that if their lyrics continue to be publicly scrutinized. While men freely rap about degrading women, women are labeled “bad role models” for exclusively talking about themselves. Both men and women should be held to the same standards.

In an interview with Marie Claire magazine, Megan responded to the criticism of “WAP” saying, “A man can be as mediocre as he wants to be but still be praised.” “WAP” is an example of one way we are replacing decades of misogyny and objectification with self-expression and empowerment: through music. As such, female rappers should have the freedom to convey their ideas through their musical platforms without being shamed for releasing explicit music.

Through “WAP,” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion refuse to censor their music despite backlash. That, to me, is the strongest message a role model could convey.