I do believe Drake and The-Dream have cracked the pop radio Rubik’s Cube of the “For the Ladies” (FTL) song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you do: it’s the horrible, condescending and often transparent tenet of yesterday and today’s hip-hop and r&b albums that’s supposed to make women feel singled out and taken care of, thereby selling more albums because This Isn’t Just Street Shit. Think about Ne-yo’s entire career, but notably the uncreative “Miss Independent” (and “She Got Her Own” remix) or the non-breakup parts of 50 Cent’s “Do You Think About Me,” recently, or that “felonious” Jay-Z and Usher collabo (and Pharrell a lot, too).
This style makes up 2/3 of Dream’s output (“Sweat It Out,” “Kelly’s 12 Play,” etc.) and Drake certainly dabbled on So Far Gone.
I really can’t agree with the idea that Usher, or Ne-Yo, or The-Dream make For The Ladies songs, because in the rubric that understands Street Shit and Music Ladies Like as being separate things, rap codes as masculine and R&B feminine. R&B stars don’t have to devote a sub-set of their material to women because it’s assumed that no men are listening to them anyway. That’s why when rappers do the For The Ladies song, they’ll draft an R&B singer for support. Like Kelefa Sanneh said: “Rappers can frame their gruff demands and commands as the perfect antidote to all that schmaltzy stuff. And crooners can frame their gentle, sentimental pleas as the perfect antidote to all that nasty stuff.”
But the For The Ladies jam is one of the many, many reasons I can so rarely take seriously the people who complain about misogyny in rap. All these whiners getting hung up on who’s saying “bitch” or “ho” and whose sex rhymes are a bit too brusque, without ever really considering the role such talk plays within the context of the song, or within the history of African-American music (There’s a good essay from round 1993 that discusses this, and if I can find it I’ll put up some quotes.) But For The Ladies really is misogynistic, imbued with a sense that women need to be condescended to with these limp gestures at sensitivity, and that they’re too stupid to see through the charade. They sound like songs sung by men who, other than perhaps sexually, have never had much to do with women, and have no interest in starting. This is the rap that dehumanizes women, not the other stuff. And when people start talking about this I’ll believe they’re actually interested in combating misogyny in popular culture. Right now they’re just further fucking up radio edits by requiring more words be cut out.