Let’s Talk Masculinity and Hip-Hop

My favorite YouTube show is Hot Ones, a celebrity interview series where guests answer questions while eating increasingly spicy chicken wings. Despite the gimmicky premise (which does inspire some fantastic content, like this Terry Crews battle cry), the well-researched questions can lead to some surprisingly insightful answers.

The latest Hot Ones guest, Offset, offered an answer that pleasantly surprised me. After host Sean Evans asks about the rapper’s lyrical themes on his new album, Offset talks about the importance of vulnerability in men.

“…I feel like you’re a stronger man when you [talk about your feelings], period, instead of holding back,” he says. “We all got feelings. I don’t care how tough you’re supposed to be.”

In a genre that celebrates hyper-masculinity, I’m impressed by Offset’s willingness to get vulnerable on his new projects. His answer made me reflect on hip-hop’s current culture, which is historically associated with toxically masculine language and behaviors.

After thinking about some of the artists I’ve listened to over the past few years, I realized that Offset’s sentiments on vulnerability aren’t that uncommon in the current hip-hop climate — more and more rappers are breaking out of traditionally masculine habits.

A variety of rappers, both new voices and hip-hop royalty, have been breaking gender norms in their music and personas. Young Thug and Jaden Smith have been throwing away gender roles in their fashion. BROCKHAMPTON and Frank Ocean are openly queer voices in hip-hop, writing about their same-sex attractions with the same ferocity of their straight counterparts. Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, J. Cole, and countless others have called out toxic masculinity in the hip-hop world.

(“BROCKHAMPTON” by Nicolas Padovani [Flickr] is licensed under CC by 2.0)

Does this mean that hip-hop is more feminist than ever? Definitely not.

We’ve seen blips of progressive social change in mainstream hip-hop since its inception. Groups like Public Enemy and NWA were calling out police brutality in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, and other rappers prominent in the 1990s were advocates for women’s rights in hip-hop (see this great Shout Out! post from 2016). Macklemore reached the number eleven spot on Billboard for “Same Love” earlier this decade.

But these progressive voices exist in a culture where the chart-topping singles still objectify women, as well as vilify any behavior or speech that could be considered feminine. Further, our culture still allows convicted sex offenders, domestic abusers, and hate-speech spewers to top the charts. Artists who exemplify these toxically masculine attitudes are given the highest rewards, and artists who speak out for social change are considered ‘soft’ by hip-hop heads. 

And while I applaud Offset for urging men to be more vulnerable and communicate their feelings, his lyrics, both as a solo artist and as a member of Migos, aren’t exactly feminist (translation: they’re pretty damn problematic).

So, what’s my call to action? Seek out artists that don’t subscribe to this hyper masculine caricature that surrounds hip-hop culture. Celebrate and share tracks that go against the grain.

Also, go listen to BROCKHAMPTON. They’ve got some progressive-ass bangers.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Masculinity and Hip-Hop

  1. Just when I was about to comment, but waaaaaait what about the most successful artists in the industry you were like, OH BUT WAIT, there’s still lotsa work to be done. Thank you for a well thought out piece that covers its bases! A lot of fun to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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