The impetus for this piece came in two distinctly different parts. First was my friend William Brewster’s KRLX radio show that showcases “the greasiest of classic rock” (KRLX, Wednesdays, 5:30 to 6:30). The second was an op-ed in the New York Times this week by Jennifer Finney Boylan titled “Should Classic Rock Songs be Toppled Like Confederate Statues?”
In his show, Brewster was reflecting on the misogyny of a certain Aerosmith song. In the piece, Boylan asks whether certain classic rock songs should basically be cancelled. It is important to examine and critique past art. But a focus on the venom in the music of our past conceals the poison we are producing and absorbing in our present.
Why isn’t Boylan asking this question of rap music, the most popular music of the day?
Of course, one cannot indict every song in an entire genre. There are thousands of rap songs that contain no hint of misogyny, and there is fantastic rap music written by women. But the top ranks of popular rap music are littered with songs that objectify women and promote misogyny.
To avoid cherry-picked evidence, I will simply examine songs that are currently on the Billboard Top 100 Hip-Hop songs this week (the week of November 6).
Number one this week is “Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow. Highlights include “And these girls know that I’m nasty / I sent her back to her boyfriend / With my handprint on her ass cheek.”
Coming in at number two is Drake’s “Way 2 Sexy”. A snippet of one of the verses goes “You a turnt up little thotty, ain’t no wife about it / I’ma fuck her friends and send her back to Metro housing.”
Songs number three (“Essence” by Wizkid) and four (“You Right” by Doja Cat and the Weekend) on the Billboard Top 100 are devoid of apparent misogyny. Songs five and six (“Who Wants Smoke” by Nardo Wick and “Knife Talk” by Drake) do not include obvious misogyny, but substitute it for a gratuitous glorification of violence: “I’ma kill 14 n***** if 13 bitch n***** play” and “Let it bang / until his brains hang and his mama sang.”
Song number seven, “Girls want Girls” by Drake might take the cake—at least for this week. Some gems include: “Ain’t tryna be out of shape, well, stay up on them curls then / If gym don’t work, get surgery / I’ll pay for that, my courtesy” as well as “And I got two pretty bitches, keep ’em both on fleek,” “Starin’ at your dress ’cause it’s see through / Yeah, talkin’ all the shit that you done been through / Yeah, say that you a lesbian, girl, me too.”
I don’t want to spill too much ink dwelling on why these songs are misogynistic because it is blatantly obvious. They treat women as something to be owned. They glorify sexual conquest of another man’s woman (again, women are treated as property). They treat women as disposable, to be used for sex then discarded. They extol a version of masculinity where value is gained or lost based on how many women you have slept with.
Rap is the most popular form of music today. The men that wrote those lyrics are today’s rock stars. Rock stars have always been idolized, and they have often been problematic. But the problem has never been worse.
Our popular music is saturated with degrading images of women as hoes, bitches and whores who deserve to be kicked to the curb. The music on the radio, and on Spotify (Rap Caviar is the third most popular playlist globally on Spotify), promotes a truly toxic masculinity that glorifies sexual conquest and sees women as property.
These songs dominate the zeitgeist we tell ourselves is the most progressive ever. But the truth is that the degradation of women cannot be stopped if it is continually being blasted into our ears. Our generation cannot overcome the culture of misogyny we inherited if this is our soundtrack.