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the thesis and motive of this essay? Thesis: Through their rampant misogyny and boastful displays of material wealth, mainstream hip-hop artists display a false masculinity that reveals insecurity, femininity, and a new beauty myth that’s impacting American males. Motive: A set of surprising trends arises that should be of concern to the AfricanAmerican community as well as anyone that listens to or associates with anyone who listens to hip-hop, seeing as hip-hop’s enormous market share in popular music today could be speaking of political rectitude and enlightening its listeners rather than shaping a highly reproducible and fabricated image. What is the essay’s greatest strength? The analysis I put in really has a strong voice and advances my argument a lot further. I’m glad that I was able to stress placing analysis of every quote in on this revision. What did you learn about your writing process? It is actually possible to have too many ideas for 10 pages. How successful were you in meeting your revision goals? My paragraph organization is still a bit cloudy at times, but I think I tethered the big paragraph about homosexuality to the thesis fairly well. I’d say I was 80% successful.
Gabso 2 Jon Gabso WP121P Rebecca Hansen March 26th 2007 Beats, Rhymes, and Beauty: Masculinity in Mainstream Hip-Hop Hip-hop has gone through some drastic transitions, from its invention in the late 70’s via the Sugar Hill Gang to the advent of gangsta rap in the early 90’s to the bigmoney stars of pop hip-hop in the late 90’s like Mase, Puff Daddy, and Juvenile that lead us to the money-minded mentality of today’s mainstream artists. Throughout these transitions, black culture has established two fronts of this art: the mainstream, and the conscious. Artists like 50 Cent, whose subject matter is entirely focused on their own worth in guns, money, cars, jewelry, and girls, have arisen as a consequence of this dubious musical genre known as mainstream hip-hop, and believe it or not, its artists are hiding beneath a thick veil of false identity meant to serve a new kind of beauty myth. Also within the realm of mainstream hip-hop lies artists who make “booty music”, or “crunk”, that objectifies women underneath a veil of energetic beats and includes misogynists like the Ying-Yang Twins. Imani Perry maps out the sociopolitical issues of these developments in her book Prophets of the Hood. A set of surprising trends arises that should be of concern to the African-American community as well as anyone that listens to or associates with anyone who listens to hip-hop, seeing as hip-hop’s enormous market share in popular music today could be speaking of political rectitude and enlightening its listeners rather than shaping a highly reproducible and fabricated image. Through their rampant misogyny and boastful displays of material wealth, mainstream
Gabso 3 hip-hop artists display a false masculinity that reveals insecurity, femininity, and a new beauty myth that’s impacting American males. Mainstream hip-hop has, in recent years, defined itself through the image of a “pimp”, and its recent works have discussed issues of enormous material wealth with a narcissistic bravado. Curtis Jackson entered the rap game in 1996 under the wing of Jam Master Jay of hip-hop forefathers Run D.M.C. (Birchmeier) He would come to be known later, with the arrival of his breakthrough record Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ in 2003, as 50 Cent. One of the biggest hits off that record is a track that serves as a bit of an anthem that composes the quintessential mainstream hip-hop image, “P.I.M.P.” In this track, 50 discusses his infallibility: “I’m bout my money you see/girl you can holla at me/If you fucking with me/I’m a P-I-M-P” (Jackson). The fact that 50 is about his money and must warn women who are attracted to him that because of this he’d rather sell a woman then love her establishes 50’s persona as someone who’s larger than life. This line is a summary of what the song and mainstream hip-hop as a whole paints its subjects as on a personal level. Rappers like 50 look at themselves as massive monoliths of amazement, and anything that comes out of their mind falls under this general mindset. Houston MC Mike Jones comments on how fame had brought him what apparently made him whole: “Back then they didn’t want me/ Now I’m hot they all on me…Before I came up in this game these hoes didn’t show no love…I bet they change they mind when them [1984 Cadillac Eldorado rims] come rollin’ up.” (Jones) Here Jones’ narcissism is shown through the common Houston trend of heavily modified classic cars as a status symbol, as he bluntly states that before he had nice cars he was unloved, but now that he does he can have whatever woman he wants. Perry points out an aspect of 90s hip hop that helps
Gabso 4 shape today’s use of material self-entitlement into the context of modern society: “The cars, the penitentiary, the blunt, and the struggle, all stand in as metonyms for hip-hop heads…They represent signature features of the community.” (Perry 130) When 50 Cent and Mike Jones rap, the “blunt” and the “penitentiary” appear scarcely and the “struggle” doesn’t appear at all. However, “cars” remain as a key component of mainstream hip-hop, simultaneously as an indicator of a community and a topic with a wide enough base to extend the appeal of the music. Considering the mass appeal of today’s hip-hop across race lines, the shift of these “metonyms” from race-specific issues like “the struggle” to the simple surface motif of material possessions as power extends the metonym beyond the black community and towards anybody who has or aspires to have material possession in any capacity. Through this shift in focus, mainstream hip-hop finds a wider audience through which to push its message. Whereas the message of hip-hop in years past focused on more race-specific metonyms, appealing mostly to the black community while facing pressing social issues, by phasing out the “struggle” mainstream hip-hop stunts its focus on the black identity and focuses strictly on the wealth and entitlement itself. However, this new focus that’s brought some MCs much higher sales is causing great damage to our society. The message that the new, more materially focused mainstream of hip-hop is selling has an odd focus on the rapper’s self image. The egotism displayed by recent hiphop artists shows a narcissistic tone that is slightly self-conscious. The self-promotion of 50 Cent is particularly narcissistic, as both of his two previous album covers, the aforementioned Get Rich… and The Massacre, have featured 50 standing with a stark facial expression, staring straight into the eyes of the onlooker, shirtless, ripped like a
Gabso 5 bodybuilder and glistening as if covered in exotic body oils. Additionally, in an article in marketing trade mag Brandweek, a self-conscious side of 50 is shown: “50 Cent…helped to develop the grape-flavored Formula 50 for Glaceau Vitaminwater. [This] will help spread the gospel about healthy hydration.” (Hein 5) Of course, a man so properly preened with such a healthy lifestyle must also dress well, and this philospophy takes us back into “P.I.M.P.”: “She got on Payless/Me I got on gator shoes/I’m shopping for chinchillas/In the summer they cheaper.” (Jackson) For a man like 50 to focus so much on his health and his personal appearance might suggest a self-consciousness that could be trying to get in touch with a side of himself that’s secretly homosexual, but Edisol Wayne Dotson comments on the state of men in music as such: “For male musical performers to become and remain a success in today’s music industry, they must have the body worthy of today’s rigid standards of male appearance.” (Dotson 83) 50’s selfconsciousness is not part of his own will, it’s actually a front meant to appease the needs of his record label in satisfying different markets. Would 50’s elegant lifestyle, piles of women surrounding him, and rough-n-tumble lyricism be read in the same way if he weren’t a beefy, ripped, Herculean statue? The answer is most likely no, and those in charge of mainstream hip-hop knew this while shaping Curtis Jackson into 50 Cent. The situation that 50 Cent is trapped in with all of his forced material gloss and vanity is part of a male beauty myth that pervades not only the actions of its artists but the structure of the genre itself. Naomi Wolf defined the beauty myth as a value of “beauty” that “objectively and universally exists.” (12) This suggests that there is a set of standards that attribute to this particular value, standards that can easily be transcribed to the money and cars of mainstream hip-hop. Although her book on the beauty myth focuses on
Gabso 6 women, she warns: “Helping women to take the myth apart is in men’s own interest on an even deeper level: Their turn is next.” (288) The brand of the beauty myth included in mainstream hip-hop is a strong indicator that Wolf’s foreshadowing has come to fruition. Of course, 50’s aforementioned behavior involves a lot of preening to achieve a sort of objective and universal beauty, but it moves beyond just him into the entire infrastructure of mainstream hip-hop. In the case of women, the idea of an “objective” and “universal” beauty involved exclusion of women that didn’t meet the standards of this objective beauty from many activities. In the case of hip-hop, this is exemplified through the idea of animosity towards what many prominent MCs call the “bitch nigga”, someone who doesn’t partake in the activities of mainstream hip-hop and thus must be inferior. Atlanta group Trillville define this defensive mechanism in their song “Bitch Niggaz”: “You always talking like a preacher/But you some of the bullshit…Let’s meet at the parking lot…So then we can figure out who’s real and who’s fake.” (Edwards) Here someone that is “preaching” is seen as someone who can’t defend themselves physically, and since this anonymous person’s preaching is making Trillville feel inferior, they invite him to settle the dispute in a way that is more suitable for them: with fists. The beauty myth is also seen specifically in this song as a part of the same violent image that we see when 50 Cent flaunts his 9 bullet scars; the world seems to take a liking to a black man being violent. In “Don’t Push Me”, 50 violently takes offense to someone who finds him to be physically inferior: “Right now I’m on the edge…I aim straight for your head…Fill your ass up with lead/So don’t push me/I got something for your ass, keep thinking I’m pussy.” (Jackson) A person viewing 50 as a “pussy” could quite possibly just be 50 swiftly reacting to a gentile desbasement of his fake character, but since violence is just
Gabso 7 so much more attractive than words, he quickly reaches for his gun as if it’s a reflex. R.A.T. Judy explains the rationale of this black-on-black animosity as a “habit of thought toward…[a] world of global commodification” in which a “nigga designates the scene… of commodification, where one is among commodities.” (Neal 58-59) The idea of commodification is vital in the word’s inherent idea of objectification. From the original idea of a lower-class black man as an object there stems a dehumanization within which the figures involved establish their own caste of superiority to win acclaim from those who are not commodified. In describing this hierarchy of toughness and blackness there are terms and concepts used that directly parallel the female beauty myth. Women are dehumanized by ridiculous beauty standards, and rappers are dehumanized by the commodification of the violent black man. Within those who are dehumanized, there is “a defensive proof to aggressive competitors of womanhood” that causes women to hate women, just as rappers use the hate of the intellectually superior “bitch nigga” to support a defensive tone. (Wolf 30) Thus, within the structure of rivalry in the politics of mainstream hip-hop, there are direct structural parallels to the female beauty myth, establishing mainstream hip-hop as a subject of equal characteristics. Underneath the sound of this boldly violent music lies a subject that’s wriggling its way into the adverse effects of hip-hop’s violence: homoeroticism. As Naomi Wolf declares, “Using images from male homosexual subculture, advertising has begun to portray the male body in a beauty myth of its own. As this imagery focuses more closely on male sexuality, it will undermine the sexual self-esteem of men in general.” (Wolf 289) 50 Cent’s association with mainstream hip-hop’s own beauty myth structure and his self-consciousness that arises as a collateral of his surface narcissism are two values that
Gabso 8 are mentioned by Wolf as side by side with a more literal beauty myth. The fact that 50 poses shirtless on his album covers presents a homoerotic side to his self promotion, and the most striking part of this fact is that he has rapped about himself in a way that could be attractive to a homosexual, as he does in “Magic Stick”: “I got the magic stick…I’ll rock the boat/I’ll work the middle/I speed it up/straight beat it up.” (Jackson) It’s difficult to tell whether those words would be more attractive to a woman or a submissive homosexual man, and thus there’s an open-endedness to his seduction that could even be more likely to be geared towards himself as a narcissist rather than other people. Perhaps 50’s health-conscious image, flamboyant dress, and constant shirtlessness could be part of a campaign to make 50 Cent an idol of an unattainable beauty for homosexual men to strive for. Nonetheless, even if it hides a lot underneath the surface, 50’s heavilymarketed narcisissm fits in with how Judith Butler relates the ego to the idea of society’s superego: “The ego ideal, what Freud calls the ‘measure’ against which the ego is judged by the superego, is precisely the ideal of social rectitude defined over and against homosexuality.” (29) One whose ego is healthy and viewed by the individual and justifiably so is then in some respects homosexual. On a sociological level, the reason why this bravado exists could perhaps be not only to rouse a homosexual beauty myth and make homosexual men feel inferior about their egos, but also to slyly refute that very same homosexuality that is viewed by society as effeminate and against the ideal of masculinity that 50 is hoping to portray in “P.I.M.P.” An important mechanism for rappers to try to escape from the hypermasculine image that is crafted for them is the various opportunities they have to publicly bond with their “homies”. Imani Perry points out that the possibility of homoerotic fraternalism in
Gabso 9 hip-hop is not to be ruled out: “Relationships between men in hip-hop, both hostile and warm, have often been seen as manifestations of hypermasculinity…I also understand the accentuation of friendship between men in hip-hop as a liberatory move…Critics like Nelson George have argued for a kind of homoeroticism in hip-hop.” (133) This statement, deeming fraternalism “liberatory”, suggests that these rappers are trapped in their own prison where their personality is not allowed to come out. The idea of hip-hop crews, or “cliques”, is a kind of respite for hip-hop artists to safely shy away from animosity for a moment and is also of interest to record execs due to the cross-promotion opportunities involved with other artists. Hip-hop fraternalism is also a concept familiar to 50, as seen by his quite chummy G-Unit collective, which includes himself, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Yayo, and itself has its very own clothing line. G-Unit’s lyrics are never homoerotic, but they do have an amplified focus on violence, drug deals, and all around toughness that protects their rhetoric from veering into something actually fraternal, which in turn protects them from naysayers claiming such a thing. This tactic of protecting any homosexual aspect from being revealed is actually of great interest to mainstream hip-hop, as the idea of an MC being homosexual would be seen as too contradictory and would require a fan an extended period of time to come to terms with the idea, a period of time far too long for a record label not to move the MCs units as much. The public is comfortable with a brute, violent, heterosexual male image, so an MC’s inner homosexual narcissism must remain concealed for the sake of sales. In reaction to hints of homosexuality shown in male fraternalism and flashy appearances, rappers like 50 turn to one thing to try to prove once and for all that they are indeed heterosexual: abusive misogyny. As Clarence Lusane noticed: “For many of the
Gabso 10 rap groups, their songs are one long extended sex party.” (Neal 360) The cooperation of women to engage in a heterosexual sex act with rappers despite the fact they viciously disrespect women is a system that tells the public that the rappers dislike women, but will definitely show one a good time if they shut up and buy their scam of hypermasculinity. 50 Cent displays misogyny in “P.I.M.P”: “I could care less how she perform when she in the bed/Bitch hit the track, catch a date, came and pay the kid.” Here he states blatantly that he doesn’t care for sex with some women, but if she can get him money he’ll pay some attention to her. The misogyny is also laid on thick in a cut off The Massacre called “Get In My Car”: “My game fuck with a bitch brain till she think she wifey/Spent a life savings in a day cos she likes me/Commitment for me? Aw naw not likely!” (Jackson) 50 will get with a girl for a short period of time to bolster his ego, but spending an extended period of time with a woman is just unthinkable, and perhaps he would much rather spend time with his G-Unit friends than a good, faithful woman. Imani Perry notices widespread trends like these: “Too often, hip-hop portrays women as gold diggers seeking only to take advantage of men, as disease carriers and self-hating, hypersexualized animals who shake their stuff for the camera” (Perry 128). The Atlanta duo Ying Yang Twins is a specialist in the art of hip-hop misogyny. A part of the southern “crunk” movement known for hiding strongly misogynistic messages under heavy and energetic synth beats, the Ying Yang Twins are especially known for their whiny, drawlinfused voices and an almost foreign slang vocabulary that even further obscure their misogyny. They first met real controversy with their hit song “Wait” in which they stated repeatedly their interest in “beating pussy up”, but it gets even worse in “Hoes”: “For real bitch, don’t take the shit wrong/Thinkin I’m nice, I’ll break ya jawbone/Get the fuck
Gabso 11 on/leave me alone.” This terrible treatment of women is a sick convergence of the dangerously narcissistic egos of these rappers and a forced need for the rappers to make clear the fact that they are homosexual. Not only does misogyny in this case hide a man’s true identity, but it also reveals a childishly angry reaction to this forced concealment of the self. The public is beginning to notice the fallacy at last, however. The Associated Press recently reported a dip in sales of 21 percent from 2005 to 2006 of all “rap” albums. In the article, subjects complain of the identities of mainstream hip-hop stars becoming diluted, with one Nicole Duncan-Smith complaining that she “can’t really tell the difference between Young Jeezy and Yung Joc.”(AP) Also quoted in the report is Southern rapper David Banner, whose marquee hit “Like A Pimp” is not unlike the songs mentioned elsewhere: “Step into the club looking just like a pimp/We got cash/So we screaming out ‘shake something bitch’.” (Banner) However, even this minor offender remorsefully sees the world of mainstream hip-hop for what it is: “Look at the music that gets us popular…what makes it so difficult is to know that we need to be doing other things.” (AP) This latest development propels one to think about what a backlash on this subversive beauty myth could lead to musically; we might someday see Common, Talib Kweli, or even more surrealist MCs like MF Doom or Busdriver on urban radio airwaves. However, it’s still clear that in the year 2007, hip-hop’s male beauty myth still rages on, even if it’s in its last throes with rappers that carbon copy the style like Young Jeezy or Yung Joc. The fact that mainstream hip-hop has sold so much is one of the biggest tragedies of popular culture, as it is not always the product of the black culture the artists are part
Gabso 12 of, but part of a major label-based, predominantly white power structure meant to debase masculinity to a parade of meaningless wealth, perhaps to help out friends in the clothing, jewelry, automotive, and even firearms industries. Conspiracy theories aside, the beats and the rhymes that make hip-hop such an independently wonderful art have been hijacked by a misled group of hypermasculine puppets, and the manipulative nature of it all should be done away with.
Gabso 13 Works Cited Banner, David. “Like A Pimp.” Mississippi: The Album. Universal, 2003. Berger, Maurice, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson, eds. Constructing Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 1995. Birchmeier, Jason. “50 Cent Biography.” Allmusic. AMG. 9 Apr. 2007 <http://www.allmusic.com>. Crooms, M, and D. Holmes. “Hoes.” United States of Atlanta. TVT, 2005. Dotson, Edisol Wayne. Behold The Man: The Hype and Selling of Male Beauty in Media and Culture. New York: The Haworth Press, 1999. Edwards, Lawrence, et al. “Bitch Niggaz.” The King Of Crunk & BME Recordings Present: Trillville. Warner Bros., 2004. Forman, Murray, and Mark Anthony Neal, eds. That’s The Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. “Has rap music hit a wall?” CNN. 26 Mar. 2007 <http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/Music/03/05/music.rapbacklash.ap/index. html>. Hein, Kenneth. “50 Cent makes health hip, L.L. adds ‘Cool’ to category: rappers seek endorsements with vitamins, supplements, Chapstick.” Brandweek 5 Mar. 2007: 5. InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. Emerson College Boston, MA. 18 Mar. 2007 <http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itweb/?db=ITOF>. Jackson, Curtis. “Don’t Push Me.” Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Interscope, 2003. - - -. “Get In My Car.” The Massacre. Aftermath, 2005. - - -. “P.I.M.P.” Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Interscope, 2003.
Gabso 14 Jones, Kim, and Curtis Jackson. “Magic Stick.” La Bella Mafia. Atantic, 2003. Jones, Michael. “Back Then.” Who Is Mike Jones? Warner Bros., 2005. Perry, Imani. Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. 1991. 2002 ed. New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.
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