I’m in a complex relationship. It’s one that, despite the constant teetering of staying and going, I find comfort in and revel in its familiarity. I am in love with Hip Hop and though I’ve welcomed it into my life with open arms and ears, it hasn’t been very kind to me and many other Black women who make homes out of its beats, bars and rhythms.
The genre, and by extension community and culture, has recently been lambasted with dark moments within the past few months. Kelis alluded to an abusive and violent marriage with Illmatic artist and ex-husband, Nas; Kanye West, along with a lieu of questionable things, aligned himself with public figures who have been less than kind to women and racialized people under the guise of “love” and “free thinking”; R. Kelly still hasn’t been held accountable in any capacity for his alleged actions despite the growing list of victims that have come forward, Kendrick threatened to pull his music from Spotify after the company implemented a “hateful conduct” policy and had R. Kelly and the late XXXTenacion’s music removed from the app’s playlists, and even throughout all of this you can count on their fans being far more forgiving to their very frequent blunders.
What’s worth noting is that same empathy is hardly ever extended to women, whose reprisal and reconciliation are placed in the public domain for unparalleled levels of judgment and scrutiny. An artist whose crucifiction has been made a spectacle is that of Azealia Banks. On various occasions she’s made homophobic and Islamophobic comments costing the artist a huge part of her fan base, performance opportunities and being exiled from virtually anything to do with the genre that gave her sustenance.
Similarly, Lauryn Hill has had a string of tumultuous occurrences in the early 2000’s including when she turned herself in for tax evasion, her less than punctual appearances to her own concerts and openly criticizing the Vatican amidst their pedophilia allegations in 2003. Media, fans and critics were relentless in unpacking how much of her statements and actions attributed to her mental health, which was just another example of the long list that were testament to how disposable the women of this genre are.
The Black women in Hip Hop who have wrestled their demons in the public eye are rarely afforded the same rallying [as men], and if they are, a loud crowd follows asking for proof of their claims.
Artists should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, especially when it’s at the expense of other people, regardless of their gender. However, I’ve wondered about the transformative possibilities of a more accessible redemption for Black women in the world of Hip Hop. Despite Kanye’s recent disparaging tweets and erratic actions, much of which has been contributed to his mental health issues, he has had the open support of his partner and peers, many of whom happened to be artists who are Black men.
Despite his being “cancelled”, his latest album, Ye, still reigns on the streaming charts. The Black women in Hip Hop who have wrestled their demons in the public eye are rarely afforded the same rallying, and if they are, a loud crowd follows asking for proof of their claims. Perhaps private instances of solidarity between artists occur and, rightfully, don’t need to be made public, but the battlefield of criticism they face is a lone one.
At its core, Hip Hop was a site for Black artists to express their grievances with their realities; the injustices they saw in their neighbourhood, the environments that were the backdrop to their youth and the plights of their lived experiences, amongst other things. Although as a fan and as an artist, to love Hip Hop is to enter a perpetual cycle of transgression. Hip Hop has been, and still is, largely dominated by men. It has, arguably, given them the space to express all aspects of their humanity in a way that women aren’t accosted and little work has been done to reverse this.
What happens when our women are not being taken care of? Yes, they are given the space to explore their agency, creativity and sexuality, that are routinely subjected to male fantasies, gaze and desire, but it’s necessary for us to be there when they fall as well. The lines of art and life become blurred when I see the gaps in how unavailable we are for women and the lengths of understanding are exponentially shorter than they are for men. I’ve always gravitated towards those kinds of women because fame, money and influence doesn’t make you immune to various aspects of our human condition. The weight of also having to come to terms with who and what you are on a public stage could be something of a daunting experience, but it’s one they are forced to shoulder.
Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of other genres that Black women exist in as well: Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey are Black women in Pop who have had to contend with their issues within the public sphere and many people have opted to ridicule them instead of offering the support that could have been useful. It’s difficult enough to stand on the frontlines with every aspect of your being placed before your art and contributions. This is surely not a call to say that these women exist in a realm outside of critique but they need to be given space to fall and rise and to not be held to an otherworldly standard that doesn’t exist for men. For Hip Hop to be as revolutionary as it has been for others, it needs to be much kinder to its most vulnerable fans and artists. It needs to be more kinder to its women.