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By Regina N. Barnett

Saturday, February 27, 2010.

Stepping away from Beyoncé – and maybe not a minute too soon – the topic of sex and women in rap is nothing new. It’s misogynistic, it’s hypersexualized, it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad. Okay. We understand. Tricia Rose, however, argues in The Hip Hop Wars (2008) that although the majority of critiques about women and rap music are negative, game does recognize game. Rose suggests that women rappers who are highly successful through a mainstream, capitalistic lens use their sexuality to their advantage.

In other words, “explicit isn’t always exploitative:” “even when such performers seem to be expressing women’s sexual power, they use sexually exploitative images and stories and sexually dominating personas similar to those expressed by many male rappers. They are hustlers instead of victims…they also rely on and promote male sexual fantasy based images of women as sexually voracious and talented in their ability to please men.”

While Rose does go on to say that the same niche that female rappers like Lil’ Kim, Trina, and Foxy Brown carve for themselves is still entrapment in a patriarchal system, there is an acknowledgement of using sex to their advantage. This by no means suggests anything against the genuine lyrical talent these ladies possess. Rather, it is refreshing to hear observations that go against the victim complex often tagged to discussions of black women and rap music. What is striking about Rose’s observation here is the open-ended definition of a gendered difference between male and female hustling. Is it a question of “my hustle is bigger than yours,” or standards that are not universal for rap performers?

While Rose and other scholars focus primarily on the prototype of sex rap legend Lil’ Kim, I’d like to focus on Miss Nicki Minaj. I’m still trying to figure out my position on her. From her interviews it’s obvious Minaj is extremely conscious, on her game, and knows how to finesse any discussion. Her raps, however, fall into the “respect my sexy” category. She looks and sounds like a hoodtastic Barbie doll. And, while she may possess lyrical ability, it often sounds choppy and dumbed down. In rap group, Young Money’s video “Bedrock,” the only way to distinguish Minaj from the video girls was her verse.

With that being said, Rose and T. Sharpley-Whiting’s analysis of the groupie fall into conversation here. In Pimps Up, Hoes Down (2007) Sharpley-Whiting suggests the increasingly vocal Hip Hop groupie (Ms. Steffans, I see you) and video vixens are staples in the continued existence of contemporary black masculinity. Sharpley-Whiting refers to the groupie as a dominant trope in Hip Hop: “whether we can verify her existence or she is merely an invention of a wanna-be hip hop player’s rhapsodic rap, the idea of the groupie is a powerful trope in hip hop culture. She is a metaphor for male sexual prowess, indeed, puffed-up black masculinity.” There seems to be a thin line between the hypersexual female emcee and the groupie.

Here are some similarities:

1.) They often affiliate themselves with or get their start through prominent male rappers or DJs. Lil’ Kim started with Notorious B.I.G. and headlined Junior M.A.F.I.A.; Foxy Brown held it down with Jay-Z and later with Nas' The Firm; Trina slipped and slid with Trick Daddy; Eve was the “pitbull in a skirt” with the Ruff Ryders; and now Nicki Minaj is the first lady of Young Money.

2.) In a music video, what distinguishes the woman rapper from the other women? This is especially prevalent in music videos done with male rappers. Some may argue camera time, but veteran video models like Melyssa Ford or Buffy the Body can have just as much if not more camera time than her after she delivers her stanza.

3.) Once they attempt to stray or break themselves from those established barriers of sexuality they are often stuck or snubbed into obscurity.

 The commodification of the black body is prevalent in Western culture. We want it – yes, it – male, female, queer, or straight. The voluntary consumption of black women in music and other cultural avenues hearkens back to the auction block. The auction block morphed into the manufactured space of mainstream production. Where do we go from here?

Regina N. Barnett is a doctoral student in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. She earned her MA in African American Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, her research interests include performance and gender identity, popular black culture, late 20th and 21st century black literature, and Hip Hop.

Ms Barnett blogs at Red Clay Scholar.



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