A quick survey of the most memorable lines from nineties hip-hop is enough to confirm that the dominant hip-hop culture at the time was saturated with a normalized sexism. “B*tches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” growled Dr. Dre on 1992’s The Chronic; growing up in the nineties, I recall hearing children repeat this during middle school P.E. long before I ever actually heard the song. Likewise, Snoop Dogg’s motto/anthem “G’z Up, Hoes Down” was so embedded that these words were frequently etched onto bathroom stalls at the same school.
One notable response to the industry culture was Lil’ Kim’s 2000 song “Suck My Dick,” an aggressive ur-feminist reaction to the breed of mainstream hip-hop culture that glorifies sexism and objectifies women. On “Suck My Dick,” Lil’ Kim delivers a harsh response in the same vein as the sexist lyrical mode she emulates. She pulls out all the same tropes—glorification of her genitals (“Imagine if I was dude and hittin’ cats from the back/ With no strings attached / Yeah n***a, picture that! / I treat y’all n***as like y’all treat us”) and demands of oral sex and money (“All I wanna do is get my pussy sucked / Count a million bucks in the back of an armored truck”). Continue reading →
Taking Lorde’s 2013 hit “Royals” at face value, the song offers a critique of consumer-oriented capitalism and the cynical culture industry that drives it by juxtaposing the opulent wealth celebrated on Top 40 radio (is that term even meaningful anymore?) with the lived experience of its listeners, who have “never seen a diamond in the flesh” and for whom the life described in those songs is mere “fantasy.” And as was almost immediately pointed out, some of that ish was kinda racist. That is, Lorde makes her case against capital by targeting particular forms of wealth (gold teeth, Cristal, Maybach) that are strongly associated with popular black culture— or at least hip-hop, as one side of it. At best, black culture is collateral damage, and at worst, Lorde allies herself with the forces of white supremacy that claim their power in part by dismissing strategies of survival in black communities.
Now, I’m not about to say that she shouldn’t have known better or that lyrics by a fifteen-year-old are excusable—not to mention the number of other industry workers and executives involved with the song’s production, marketing, et al—because white folks need to be held accountable at every level. But the fact that the song was written not by an American white person, embedded in the particular set of race relations that in part gave historical rise to hip-hop as a cultural form, but by a New Zealander should give us pause. The racialized content of the song reveals the United States’ global cultural imperialism—in how it exports an American version of whiteness, with its sites of racial conflict. Indeed, another arm of that same global imperialism may be responsible for her hometown, at a cultural margin, being “torn up.” Continue reading →