Who’s doing the influencing?
July 31, 2012
American rap artist Lupe Fiasco needs your help. He’s starting a revolution, and it’s for women’s rights.
As a role model and a performer, he’s part of a future where youth are taught to question labels.
But it’s an uphill battle against well-settled influences, engrained deep in popular culture psyche. It’s a paradox of demand and supply. The mainstream rap and hip hop industry fuels the norm and the norm dictates the lyrics and music.
In that pop culture world, women are objects. They look, act, and speak in orbit of the male ego. And often that’s an understatement. The catch is this: no-one speaks out about it. In fact, many artists disguise the issue by distancing themselves personally from the domain of commercial music.
Dwayne Carter (Lil Wayne), an American artist, recently told MTV: “I don’t know what anyone else believes, but I believe females deserve the ultimate respect at all times no matter when, or where, or how.”
Does he really believe that? How does that message stack up against the content he broadcasts to his tens of millions of fans? A Slate Magazine review of Lil Wayne’s music said that it “recreates in pornographic detail what are presumably his daily dalliances with all different kinds of [women]”, and discusses “his nether regions quite a bit, as well as the many women who have apparently been in contact with them.” The short answer would seem to be no.
Dwayne is typical of a generation of artists in his genre. Media interviews are graced media-friendly sound bites that most self-respecting adults would approve of. It’s too bad that the music they produce remains a thicket of disrespect towards women. Admittedly, that’s a strong assertion but the music’s content genuinely leaves little room for other opinions.
What about female artists? The uptake of female artists in the genre should lead to a more balanced outlook, except it hasn’t. Nicki Minaj is a popular female artist. While some of her music is harmless, pointing out that star ships were meant to fly, other compositions are dangerous for women. One song is entitled “You a stupid hoe”, a phrase that repeats 14 times as the chorus. Yes, I counted that unfortunately. All of her songs to a greater or lesser extent share the same vernacular as her male colleagues. She even describes herself as a “bad bitch”, which is intended to be a compliment.
That is a short but not exhaustive summary of the inheritance many artists are passing on to the future generation.
Lupe Fiasco won’t be. He’s a circuit breaker. What makes him so different?
Some of Lupe’s key aims are an end to the media glamorising negativity, status symbols dictating our individual worth, the divide between wealth, race, and class. He attached these with his 2007 album
On June 26, Lupe stood up for women’s rights. His single, “Bitch Bad”, has a simple message:
Bitch bad, woman good, lady better
By focusing on the labels and the underlying stereotypes, Lupe hopes to effect change. The song seeks to address the “fruit of confusion” for youth: “bitch” is a “psychological weapon”. It goes further too, recognising that youth have easy access to uncensored musical videos and readily mimic the behaviour of role models, like their parents.
GQ/BMW magazine interviewed Lupe and he reflected on his fame. It is “an opportunity to dwell in the popular culture world,” he said, while his allegiances remain to “counter culture” or the non-popular culture sphere.
The influence of music artists should not be underestimated. It should be encouraged, but on terms that speak to values we want to see reflected in society. Sometimes artists like Lupe do the hard work for us, and when they do, we need to become part of the demand for more music like it. The ideals of the White Ribbon Campaign are founded on the brave actions of people like Lupe, who stand up for what they believe in: non-violence and respect towards women.
xA nine-year-old and a 10-year-old who call themselves Watoto From The Nile wrote and performed a hip-hop song about rapper Lil Wayne’s derogatory and sexist lyrics.