Bitches and ladies: in defence of Lupe Fiasco [song of the week]

Lupe Fiasco has just released the video for his new single ‘Bad Bitch’. In it, he attempts to tackle the depiction of women in hip hop culture.

To me, Lupe is in a league above most of his contemporaries in the mainstream rap scene. His music has a sophistication that most sorely lack and he has a lyrical flow that is close to unmatched. Great rapping is like poetry — the words have a meter and fit the rhythm of the song even when you are reading them from a page.

At his best, Lupe’s lyrics can contain biting, insightful commentary on the society in which we live. The issue of women in hip hop is not a new one for him to be approaching. Take, for example, one of my favourite songs of his — ‘Hurt Me Soul‘:

Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half
Omittin the word “bitch,” cursin I wouldn’t say it
Me and dog couldn’t relate, til a bitch I dated
Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike
But I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked

And then there’s this absolutely brilliant little send-up of standard rap videos from ‘Daydream’ — possibly his most well-known single:

Now come on everybody, let’s make cocaine cool
We need a few more half naked women up in the pool
And hold this MAC-10 that’s all covered in jewels
And can you please put your titties closer to the 22s?
And where’s the champagne? We need champagne
Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand
And now hold up your chain slow motion through the flames
Now cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain

The subject of the post itself can be seen here:

Meanwhile, the song has not been popular with everyone. In a review that is now the subject of a massive Twitter campaign against Spin magazine, reviewer Brandon Soderberg slammed Lupe for ‘mansplaining’:

Lupe Fiasco Mansplains Some More in the Video for ‘Bitch Bad’ | SPIN | No Trivia.

The whole thing is an impressive exercise in mansplaining. Its hook goes, “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better,” which sounds sweet and all, but does any female want to be called “a lady”? And although the song is a bit more complex than described above — or really, muddled — it is the umpteenth example of so-called “conscious” hip-hop replacing one type of misogyny with another. While listening to Lupe’s well-intentioned grousing, I couldn’t help but think of Azealia Banks, whose pointed use of “cunt” on “212” blew minds and inspired enthusiasm, and whose clothing style might not meet Lupe’s approval. So much of the song’s characterization seems to hinge on the clothes the female character wears (and also how sweet or “nice” she is). …

So often, the appeal of this kind of commentary on hip-hop … feeds on outdated and simplified hip-hop stereotypes. The use of a 50 Cent stand-in for the video also plays into a decade-old understanding of hip-hop as the world of endless thugging and violence, which as I’ve said time and time again lately, just does not represent what rap music actually looks like and sounds like in 2012.

The use of the word “bitch,” sensitively deconstructed by Jay-Z on “99 Problems,” and currently being twisted and challenged by Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj, and many more female MCs, proves that the discussion doesn’t need a backpack rap hustler selling cynicism. [my bold]

The first thing that popped into my head when I read that was, ‘are we talking about the same hip hop?’

So I looked up the current number one in the US. The most popular rap song there at the moment? ‘Whistle’ by Flo Rida.

The lyrics in that song?

Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby
Let me know
Girl I’m gonna show you how to do it
And we start real slow
You just put your lips together
And you come real close
Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby
Here we go

Whistle baby, whistle baby,
Whistle baby, whistle baby

And on the subject of depictions? Perhaps these bikini-clad women on jetskis are the new, modern, respected hip hop women that Soderberg was referring to? Or the one on the horse? I think Soderberg may have been a little too hasty in announcing the end of misogyny in rap music.

But then, Soderberg specifically mentioned a few of the female rappers who are causing rap stereotypes to come crashing down like European banks. He seems especially fond of this ‘Azealia Banks’ character. I guess that would be the same Azealia Banks who sang this:

These niggas ain’t fly, got wings like always
You’re finger-fuckin’ the pussy
Lickin’ it all day
Niggas on me cause my position is real sweet
Niggas on me cause all my fabrics cost change

I see what Soderberg was talking about. I guess women everywhere can take comfort in the fact that they have Ms Banks fighting for their cause.

Lupe’s new single may not be the most eloquent deconstruction of gender depictions in hip hop ever written and it may be a little didactic, however that does not mean that it deserves the kind of criticism that Soderberg threw at it.

In terms of mainstream stature, Lupe is almost in the top tier of commercial success and has been around for almost a decade — making him far more influential than any of the other rappers that Soderberg mentioned. Also, he makes some of the best rap music around — infinitely more listenable than Nicki Minaj’s bland, overproduced pop stylings or Azealia Banks’ monotone drawl laid over God-awful David Guetta-esque backing tracks.

‘Bad Bitch’ may be a little obvious in its message, surely Lupe can be forgiven. After all, he has been discussing this issue for his entire career, at times with sophisticated allusions to rap culture. He has released this song as the preview single from his not-yet-released album, illustrating how important he feels this discussion to be.

Soderberg’s reaction is simply patronising, elitist and counter-productive. He clearly would rather maintain his sense of superiority over the average rap fan than give credit to a mainstream rapper like Lupe for doing something positive and important.

Soderberg elevates people saying far worse things than Lupe to some kind of false pedestal in order to whitewash the issue of women in hip hop, as though it had not been a serious problem since 50 Cent’s debut album. He is pretending that the hip hop world is going through a period of deep introspection so that he can slam Lupe for being too late the party.

It’s really quite pathetic.

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  1. #1 by jskaif on August 27, 2012 - 9:01 am

    Am I really going to comment in here?

    Lupe Fiasco, to hip hop is what Guetta to dance music.

    • #2 by MK on August 27, 2012 - 9:03 am

      And that comment is to insightful what McDonald’s is to fine dining.

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