Dickslingers, Do-Gooders, and Good Misogyny in Hip Hop

Bleed Lovely: Good Misogyny in Hip Hop

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Bleed Lovely: Good Misogyny in Hip Hop

Originally published in Kitchen Sink Magazine:

I’d like to say I’m drawn to hip hop is for its populist sensibility, and its ability to always put one over on the man. And moreover, I’d like to say my favorite emcees are the capoeira-griot dudes who would never rhyme about a subject so pedestrian as some girl’s booty –unless, of course, it involved a detour through a few blighted urban communities and a fuckload of new vocabulary words.

Yet, in truth, I like hip hop now for the same reasons I liked hip hop when I was 13, and trying to puzzle out songs about doing it doggy style, or making a dollar out of 15 cents. It’s something I want to dance to or have sex to. Moreover, what really speaks to me, in hip hop, is the music in the writing -sometimes, also, the writing in the music, but not always- and the visceral thrust of the boombap.

Not that I’m trying to diss the well-honed agit-propists like Paris, Dead Prez, or Immortal Technique, or the intellectually rigorous cats like Ras Kass, whose “Nature of The Threat” is, admittedly, a phD thesis of rap. No doubt I got love for all of them. But in many cases, the persistent, sometimes abrasive, political-correctness of conscious hip hop doesn’t hold me with the same vice-grip as Ice Cube’s “Get Off My Dick And Tell Your Bitch To Come Here,” or anything by The Young Bloodz. You’d think, for instance, that I’d be down for the brainy –if somewhat tinny- feminism of the all-girl outfit Northern State, whose members came to hip hop from liberal arts colleges, rather than grimy streets.

Yuck. When it comes down to it, having sex to Northern State kind of wrecks the mood, because, well, you feel like MC Hesta Prynn is in the room with you.

But anyway, what the hell is wrong with me?

A friend told me this would be an impossible article to write, because let’s face it: If you’re trying to champion “good misogyny” in hip hop -wherein the “good” stands for “aesthetically pleasing” or “viscerally appealing”- you’re standing on shaky ground from jump. And if you’re a female journalist apologizing for morally repugnant lyrics about this bitch and that ho -because, you’re allowing the emcee’s delivery, and the aesthetic of his music, to ascend the substantive content of his lyrics- just forget it; that’s an untenable argument.

Yet, my perennial problem, in journalism, is that I’m not afraid of sounding off the beaten track, even if the stuff I say sometimes hurts people’s feelings. The larger problem, actually, is that –as one friend suggested- I’m wedged between a stodgy white feminism and a lot of sexist rappers, and surrounded by white people whose relationship to the music is more about “black buck” stereotypes than anything else. None of them really speaks for my own experience.

And anyways, arguing the case for good misogyny is surprisingly easy. After all, my favorite aspect of hip hop is its eagerness to come up against limits, and say what’s normally unsayable. It’s not actually about good versus. bad misogyny; it’s about good versus bad poetry. Oftentimes, in hip hop, good poetry makes really bad politics.

Take Biggie Smalls, for example: In truth, I have yet to meet a conscious emcee who can step to the B.I.G. In his tour de force song, “Hypnotize,” Biggie eclipses normal, literal levels of profundity by letting his metaphors for sex and violence loop into each other. The words sound so slack, and free, it’s as though Biggie’s completely unconcerned about what he’s saying.

Girls walk to us, wanna do us, screw us
Who us? Yeah, Poppa and Puff (ehehehe)
Close like Starsky and Hutch, stick the clutch
Dare I squeeze three at your cherry M-3
(Take that, take that, take that, haha!)

“Stick the clutch” and “squeeze three at your cherry” could mean cock the glock and shoot three so you “bleed lovely,” as Biggie would say. It could mean squeeze my stick in your cherry. It could mean stick the literal clutch on my car, before I lean out the window and pop three bullets through your eyeballs. Actually, it probably means all of the above, and more –given Biggie’s penchant for mixing the twin Freudian romances of sex and death. Lines about “squeezing three at your cherry M-3” are so bleak, and at the same time so much an extension of the rapper’s psychology, that they make me shudder. And yet, for some of us, it’s delicious: The violence becomes pornographic, and the sex is so rough, and scary, you can almost smell the barrel oil.

For every model of good misogyny I could cull from the hip-hop pantheon, there are at least a hundred examples of bad misogyny –so I need not waste too much space regurgitating them. When I think of “bad” misogyny, I think of bitch-and-ho lyrics rendered in the most perfunctory way possible. The rapper who immediately comes to mind is Top Forty radio’s new darling, Ludacris –a guy who is, apparently, very boring. Take, for example, the lyrics of his hit-song du jour, “Splash Waterfalls”:

I'm bout to throw some game, they both one and the same
Cupid's the one to blame - say it (make love to me)
I'm bout to shed some light, cause each and every night
You gotta do it right - what? (fuck, meee!)

Maybe it’s the crude AABB rhyme scheme: “same/blame/night/right.” Or the lack of imagination in Luda’s figurative language (“Cupid’s the one to blame…I’m bout to shed some light…” The title “Splash Waterfalls” alone is a strike against metaphor.). Or maybe it’s that increasingly annoying chorus of “fuck meees” that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever the case, it sounds as though Luda is slinging his dick every which way, and not really paying attention to where it ends up –his triumphal jeers fail to impress me.

Okay, some people would argue that Ludacris is speaking true to who he is, and that’s what’s likable about him. I agree, sometimes –I liked the paean to Atlanta, Georgia that catapulted him to fame a couple years ago. The guy’s got a real bald-faced southern sound that’s better suited for grinding your hips in a St. Louis club, than bugging out in your bedroom. Then again, a good southern sound isn’t always enough to save your ass from accusations of sexist politics, or poor taste –Luda recently posed on the cover of the famous hip hop rag, The Source, throwing knives at a young woman. Gross.

Yet, the bad misogyny argument is a little too easy for me to make. After all, as a female player in hip hop, I confront so much bullshit in my day-to-day, it’s just not worth my time, or energy, to criticize all of it. So in my writing, I try to avoid making diatribes, and go places that make me a little uncomfortable, even if they’re more difficult to argue, politically.

I thought that the first aspersion to be cast against me would be, “Rachel Swan, you’re a misogynist.” It made sense; in a way, I feel that the more I gush and coo about gangsta rappers, the more I invite such criticism. But people seem to like it, coming from a girl –that whole “flipping the script on gender politics” thing that makes Lil’ Kim a feminist icon, or whatever.

Well, “flipping the script” is kind of asinine –I like Lil’ Kim, but I hold her to the same standards that I’d hold any male rapper. In other words, I wouldn’t prop up a female emcee just because she acts like an asshole –she has to be asshole-ish in a way that’s artistically fruitful for her music.

Like last November, when I saw an emcee named Mak Diddy rock the mic at the Opera House in Hunters Point, I was smitten: I felt like every molecule in my body had been set adrift, and that, somehow, I was listing toward her. It’s a loose, clean feeling, like love –something akin to the feeling I got in high school, when I first fell for Biggie. Mak Diddy is 18, and came up as an R&B singer. But when she raps, she could out-gangster most any gat-toting jack in the neighborhoods of Filmore and Hunters Point –including her older brother, Jinicydle. Take, for example, the song “The Fam,” on which Diddy spits:

Off top you gonna be leakin’ so I’m handing you a cuff
And leave your brain all soupy like some Campbell’s chicken broth…
I’m a leader, I don’t follow, nigga fuck the fads
You got beef, I’ll have you sittin’ in blood like Maxi pads…
I leave dimples in niggas’ temples rippin’ through their tissue
Fuckin with me is suicide you’re begging me to push you.

I like Mak Diddy not because she’s hard for a chick, but because she’s hard, period. And, incidentally, her lyrics are just as politically abhorrent as those of any other traditional gangsta rapper. But it’s those raw images of “ripping through tissue” and “leaving your brain all soupy” that sound so beautiful, and cruel, they break apart all my internal systems of organization.

I know it’s possible for Mak Diddy to bring a herstory perspective to gangsta rap, and carve out a space for herself in that world, just like it’s possible for me to bring a feminist consciousness to writing about rappin’ misogynists. It’s just that not everybody is going to agree with me all the time, and I have to accept that –I’m coming at these issues with my own personality, and my own ambivalence, and maybe I see myself a little outside the roles that have been cultivated for me, within the sphere of hip hop/feminism/writing/politics.

And granted, we’re all supposed to think of these issues a certain way, and because of the taboo-ness of it all, it’s desirable to go the other way. Which is to say, maybe an anti-misogynist stance is exactly right, politically, but going the other way is exactly true, emotionally –and because my gut-feelings and my politics are often in such discord, it’s hard to argue an emotional truth in intellectual terms. Misogyny can be very sexy, just like any good poetry is sexy.

Except that, with misogyny in hip hop, the part I’m not supposed to thrill over is what most draws me in.