I am a compromised and at times conflicted listener of commercial Hip-Hop. That is, I am a feminist who sometimes listens to rap songs that are essentially anti-feminist.
On the one hand, I know better. However I can be easily captivated by a BPM set to a hypnotic pace. I’ve danced to songs that glorify the objectification of women and contributed to the YouTube count of many artists who demean women with their words.
I’ve always been aware of the conflict between my Feminism and Hip-Hop, but historically I haven’t been determined or vocal enough to consistently demand and expect more.
Recently, on a song entitled "U.O.E.N.O” rapper Rick Ross casually rapped about sexually assaulting a woman after drugging her: "Put molly in her champagne, she ain't even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it."
He recently Tweeted an apology: “I don't condone rape. Apologies for the #lyric interpreted as rape. #BOSS.” Except it wasn’t an apology. It was Ross smugly shirking the responsibility he has to own up to the fact that he used his music as a means to contribute to rape culture.
There is no gray area here. This isn’t about a lack of interpretation, nor have we incorrectly deconstructed his perverse tale. Ross is far from a poetic rapper and his work doesn’t need extensive exegesis. What’s being described here is a woman’s drink being spiked and a sexual act. That is rape.
I’m unsurprised by Ross’ feeble apologies and explanations. After all this is the man who believes describing a woman as a bag of money is a compliment. However, I truly don’t think Ross grasps the impact of his words and what he’s actually describing -- which points to a broader cultural issue.
What Ross depicts in this song is what’s commonly described as date rape. In my view, "date rape" is a problematic phrase that’s slotted itself into our lexicon without the scrutiny it deserves. The use of “date” as a descriptor implicitly shifts part of the responsibility and shame on the victim (as dates tend to occur between willing participants) and attempts to sanitize the brutality of rape.
Whether the rape occurred on a date, on a plane or in a park, it doesn’t negate the horror of what it is. Rape.
I’ve followed the Rick Ross scandal over the past week or so and I’ve seen his defenders express various reasons why the anger toward Ross is misdirected and disproportional to the initial offence.
“It’s art,” “He’s playing a character,” “He isn’t the first rapper to rap about rape,” and so on.
I agree that Ross's work is art. And I have the right to critique art, especially when it romanticizes the violation of a woman’s body, for entertainment.
The Smoking Section’s list of 32 Overlooked Rape Lyrics in Rap demonstrates that the Rick Ross apologists are certainly right about one thing: He is not the first rapper to rape about rape. Many others have done so, using much more graphic imagery and vicious metaphors. It’s a disheartening list, proof that rape culture has become normalized in one of music’s most powerful and influential genres and many of us are desensitized to the fact.
Why Rick Ross? Why now?
Maybe because we are tired.
Women are tired of being raped. Women are tired of seeing their sisters and friends being raped. Tired of having to reinforce the point that it’s not our duty to avoid being raped, but for men not to be rape. Tired of the cases like the Steubenville rape trial where the violation of a teenage girl’s body is seen as a lesser evil than the “disruption” of the careers of young athletes.
Tired of rappers glorifying sexual assault.
So tired that we’re finally shifting the responsibility to where it should have always lain, with the men who choose to rape and all those who willingly perpetuate rape culture.
Personally, I’m tired of my own ambivalence when it comes to the misogyny that’s become synonymous with Hip Hop. I’m aware Hip-Hop didn’t create misogyny. That in its crudest sense, Hip-Hop is a dark mirror that reflects the parts of our society we like to pretend don’t exist. However this song awakened within me something I should never have allowed to lie dormant.
It’s about time I became enraged.