Posts tagged "gender"

Maybe I’m more likely to listen to single tracks by women?

Here are my most-played songs for 2010, with women highlighted. A note about this list: in actuality, the top ten is dominated by Gaslight Anthem songs, simply because I’ve listened to American Slang a ridiculous amount of times. As such, I’ve altered it with a one entry per artist provision to better highlight the artists involved.

01. The Gaslight Anthem - The Diamond Church Street Choir
02. The National - Afraid of Everyone
03. Taylor Swift - Mine
04. Young Jeezy ft. Plies - Lose My Mind
05. Hey Monday - Hangover

06. The Hold Steady - Hurricane J
07. Laura Marling - Devil’s Spoke
08. Vado - Large On the Streets
09. Robyn - Dancing On My Own
10. Dipset - Salute

11. The XX - Heart Skipped a Beat
12. Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
13. G-Side ft. Kristmas - Rising Sun
14. Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg - California Gurls
15. Eminem - Despicable (Freestyle)

16. Dum Dum Girls - Jail La La
16. Roscoe Dash ft. Soulja Boy - All the Way Turnt Up
16. Lady Gaga - Alejandro
16. Young Money - Roger That
16. Drive-By Truckers - (It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So
16. Lloyd Banks ft. Juelz Santana - Beamer, Benz or Bentley
16. French Montana ft. Curren$y - So High

Nine out of 22 (41 per cent), or ten if Young Money is made female by virtue of Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Roger That.” (I don’t think it is, and also, why did I so often need to hear Nicki use that simile to tell me how tight her flow is?)

As a college kid, I read umpteen essays about the meaning of the Black Aesthetic. What I took from all of that was the notion of writing about black people in a way that reflected their particular language, world-view and life rhythms. Hip-hop—at its best—tries to speak to black people in that way, but with a specific attention to those characteristics as applied to the young, urban and the mostly male.

The point isn’t one against universalism, indeed I think the universal is often found in the details. When you listen to a song like T.R.O.Y you hear rhythms and language which the black community takes as it own, along with a narrative that rings true for many African-Americans. But at the same time, it’s themes are quite universal and many of the experiences are not specific to black people. The dialect is black. The broader message, not so much.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “All Laid Out In My Green Velour…,” The Atlantic, November 9, 2010

I don’t know precisely what I want to say about this. Like… I appreciate it a lot when music works this way for any group of people, not just a specific race? Vampire Weekend, or Blur, or Ke$ha. That thing about “rhythms and language which [a] community takes as its own, along with a narrative that rings true for many [in that community].”

Also, because I know everyone loves talking about race and gender, you can also flip it to be:

What I took from all of that was the notion of writing about [women] in a way that reflected their particular language, world-view and life rhythms […] The point isn’t one against universalism, indeed I think the universal is often found in the details […] When you listen to [/read/watch/etc.] a [work] you hear rhythms and language which [women] take as [their] own, along with a narrative that rings true for many [women]. But at the same time, it’s themes are quite universal and many of the experiences are not specific to [women]. The dialect is [female]. The broader message, not so much.

Which also happens with a lot of art, but maybe it’s underappreciated?

Musings of an Inappropriate Woman: Diamonds aren't forever: the marriage question
Nov 19

Here is an article about how Emma Watson was in a scene that required impassioned kissing, and so she kissed passionately.


The Herbaliser, “Generals (ft. “Trap Clappa,” “Cheech Marina,” “Daddy Mills,” “A.K.,” “MacGuyver - Private E1” and Jean Grae)” (from Take London, 2005)

Not to detract from Nicki Minaj or anything, but that whole multiple-personality, she-can-really-spit-for-real buzz she’s developed? There’s a precedent for that.

Damn, I’d forgotten about this song. I was all about this back in 2005. Great track.

There are a lot of reasons Jean Grae never attracted the attention Minaj has, probably the biggest being that Nicki is pals with Wayne, while Grae was down with Talib Kweli. But a reason Minaj has done so much better than a whole host of other female rappers is that she’s worked out a way to wriggle free from the limited options of presentation constricting women in rap.

See, rap is a genre that assumes its generic performer and listener is an African American male. There’s a lot of good about that, because there aren’t a lot of parts of society where young black men are normative, but it does mean if you’re not young, or not black, or not a man, you’re going to have a tougher time fitting yourself into the genre. 

As an illustration of how this works, most rappers can be roughly slotted into one of four archetypes: the gangster, the hustler, the trickster/pimp, or the scholar/intellectual. (I’ve stolen those categories from Imani Perry, FYI.) You don’t need to be a young black man to use one of these personae in hip-hop, but it’s easier if you are, and that’s a problem for women. If you try to feminize the pimp archetype, for instance, you end up with the woman rapper who uses sex as a way of establishing dominance. But while wielding your objectification for your own purposes is disruptive and means of asserting power, it’s still fundamentally limiting. That’s because sexual prowess isn’t seen as a symbol of social dominance for women the way it is for men, and a female rapper who bases her personality on sex will often find that the power she’s trying to claim will be turned against her through accusations of sluttiness. Her sexuality can’t be used as proof of her dominance over men — so what if she sleeps with a ton of guys, when guys are assumed to want sex anyway? — and it can’t be used as proof of her dominance over women because of the potential for slut-shaming.

It’s harder for women to use the gangster and hustler personae as well, because men, having physical strength women don’t, are better placed to make a claim for gangster superiority, and because hustling, for women, can too easily become conflated with whoring. That doesn’t mean women can’t occupy these categories, but because they’re designed for men, their hold on them is much more precarious. The only archetype a woman can uncomplicatedly adopt is that of the intellectual/scholar (see Lauryn Hill), which is all very well, but it can leave women trapped in the conscious ghetto. That’s what happened to Jean Grae, and this song is a good example; other than the absurd (and great!) novelty of MacGuyver, the twelve year old gangsta girl who leaves her teachers poisoned apples, Grae has to masculinize her voice to become the more roughneck characters.

And that’s why Nicki Minaj is so interesting and potentially revolutionary for women in rap. She has created a persona for herself that isn’t a female version of a male persona, but is actually organically feminine. In fact, she emphasises her femininity, and uses it to do things male rappers can’t. I disagree with Brandon Soderberg when he says ”[Your Love] and [Right Through Me] aren’t girly love songs, and people suggesting that to be the case are being straight sexist.” My take is that they embrace their girliness and as a result, and all the better for it. Minaj does things that would be difficult for a male rapper imitate because she doesn’t try to hide her femininity.

And unlike previous women rappers who either got caught in the trap of trying to adopt female versions of male personae, or were inimitable one shots (Missy Elliott, for instance), Minaj’s persona has the potential to be a blueprint for other women. (Can I get cute and call it a pinkprint?) With her career to date, Nicki has had to teach us how to listen to a female rapper rapping about female things, and having done so, there’s a good chance that other women can follow in her footsteps, knowing they can rap as women, and not women modifying a male presentation.

When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice,” she says. “It’s like, ‘I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.

Nicki Minaj (via youaintshitbitch)

Just because I like having sources for quotes: This is from an MTV documentary, “My Time Now,” and quoted here.

There’s a parallel with this and Minaj’s games of vocal dress-up, but we all knew that. Though, at the same time, I’d always connected Nicki’s array of accents and personae to be indicative of the relationship between femininity and self-customization. 

But like, also, I don’t want to make “she’s a girl!” the whole point to Nicki Minaj, though it is a big thing. Her accents and dexterous delivery and playbill of characters can just be Nicki doing Nicki as well.

The Hater’s Guide To Taylor Swift

And as someone who rejects the “one mistake will ruin your life” warning that is foisted onto kids (girls in particular), I suspect that most teens whose naked photos make their way into the public domain will survive the embarrassment just fine. We’re only three decades away, at most, from a presidential candidate being confronted with images and video from her impulsive adolescence — and I strongly suspect the reaction will be a collective yawn. So my problem with webcams and cell phone pictures has very little to do with sex.

My problem is that for countless young people — again, particularly for girls — their “private spaces” are no longer as private as they once were. Just a decade ago, a girl’s bedroom or bathroom were hers alone (even if shared, say, with a sibling.) In the looks-obsessed culture of American teenagers, the bedroom was a refuge. A young woman who had been scrupulous about her appearance all day could return to her bedroom at night, change into what was comfortable, and have at least a little waking time where her looks didn’t matter. Since the 1950s (if not before) a high percentage of teen girls have had telephones in their bedroom, but until the past decade, those phones didn’t transmit visual images. You didn’t have to get dressed up to talk. That’s all changed.

DJ Khaled - All I Do is Win (Remix ft. T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Nicki Minaj, Fabolous, Jadakiss & Fat Joe) [2010]

I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but I finally realized that I liked this song after I saw the Seattle Mariners play the Texas Rangers, and Ichiro Suzuki used this as his at-bat music. Hearing T-Pain’s autotuned anthem echoing around Safeco Field contextualized the dumbness of the song in such a way as to make clear its appeal: it’s like a home run scored by a batter who had been on three balls and two strikes and was fouling away each of the previous half dozen pitches. (Screw Rock ‘n’ Roll usually tries to avoid sports metaphors; this is possibly why.) The Mariners ended up losing that game, but Khaled’s continued adventures in avoiding diminishing returns stuck with me — helped along by the remix, which featured some actual good rapping.

But, um, what I really wanted to talk about was the video. First, in terms of cost per mainstream rapper, this has to be the cheapest rap video ever made. They didn’t even bother to rent real cars, just inserted some pictures grabbed off Google Image Search or whatever. The biggest budget item had to have been either the salary of the scheduler that arranged for at least some of these rappers to be in the same place at the time. Either that or Rick Ross’s cigars. Or Rick Ross’s lunch.

(Screw Rock ‘n’ Roll will never get tired of making Rawss fat jokes, and actually thinks they’re funny than Officer Ricky jokes.)

And considering the prominent Ciroc product placement, the shoot might even have turned a profit. You a customer, crony.

But what I really wanted to talk about is Nicki Minaj in this video, and how she’s the only woman.

OK, times up. We all noticed Nicki wasn’t the only woman in the video, right? There were also a whole bunch of video ho-fessionals. Now, now, don’t go calling me sexist; I’m just using the technical term. If I were being more accurate, I’d describe them as they were being used: “props.” No seriously, Diddy actually drags around one of the women like a literal object, demonstrating for her how to swing a baseball bat. She shows about as much of a response, positive or negative, as the bat does.

Rap Video Treats Women As Objects is a definite “Dog Bites Man” headline, and even though this is a particularly egregious offender (usually the girls are at least required to dance, an actual skill), this is not the purpose of this post. Frankly, I don’t see the point in making much out of the shabby treatment videos like this give women. It’s there because of certain views society has about women, and getting mad about videos that treat women as objects can only, at best, force videos to excise any sexuality, while society carries on with the same prejudices, only now cordoned off our YouTubes.

Which is why this video is actually great. While a whole lot of videos use women as props* this video features a real life woman who is as central to the action as any of the dudes. Nicki Minaj raps and shouts and claps hands and fights for frame space along with the rest of the guys. She’s completely the opposite of the prop girls who have to pretend they’re attracted to Rick Ross. And though we shouldn’t forget about the prop girls, what Nicki does in videos like this one, and in rap in general, is way more important. Opening up new avenues and creating new and better portrayals of women is far more powerful than scolding about old, negative ones. All Nicki does is win.


*It should be remembered that by the very nature of the music video medium, anyone who’s not the artist will probably be more of a prop than a character, but that doesn’t excuse the particular way women are used as props.

Overstating What Science Tells Us About Gender
Jan 07

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