Is This Thing On?: What we talk about when we talk about music

Content warning: This column mentions sexual assault.

For my last column of the semester, I have to tackle a topic that is being discussed in all areas — on the hill, on the big screen, even in academia. Yes, I’m going to get in a fight with rap music and the harassing culture it perpetuates toward women. In fact, I believe that music lyrics are actually regressing in the opposite direction from the conversations happening in other areas of society.

Okay, let me say that excellent rap exists and is politically engaged and thought-provoking. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the rap that can be summarized as “men obsessed with wealth, who insist that all women want to sleep with them.”

Of course, I have to address our friend Chris Brown, the king of disrespect. Let’s not sugarcoat it, assaulting your girlfriend is criminal. After a few years, I guess he decided it was safe to show his face in music again and cranked out a few more records. One of my favorites is his verse on the 2014 song “Post to Be,” in which the theme is “If your chick come close to me / She ain’t going home where she [supposed] to be.” He croons at the end, “Bruh, don’t be mad about it / These chicks be for everybody.” Or how about, “Loyal” (2014), where C-Breezy brags, “Just got rich, / [I] took a broke [man’s] b*****.” Took?! His thesis is that if you aren’t loaded, your girl will leave you for a richer guy — just in more explicit terms. In Ty Dolla $ign’s “Paranoid” (2014), we see a common theme of rappers stringing along multiple women without their knowledge of the other girlfriend(s). Hey, monogamy is not for everyone. But when these “side chicks” find out about each other, they are suddenly labeled “crazy.” Sorry, I have no sympathy for his paranoia that these girls will find out he’s buying them each the same Range Rover. 

It’s also frustrating to see female singers involved in this toxic culture. In DJ Khalid’s “Wild Thoughts” (2017), Bryson Tiller raps, “Ayy, I heard that p**** for the taking.” Rihanna, you’re a queen, you’re not just “for the taking” by some scrub! What kind of message does this send to young girls and boys who hear this hit song a thousand times? Then consider that this kind of language is seen all over mainstream music — does it internalize this behavior in our culture?

Lastly, who could forget Jason Derulo’s super hit “Talk Dirty” (2013)? I don’t know where to begin with this one… He’s talking about “knowing what these girls need,” and with a language barrier, he says he doesn’t need to understand these girls except for them to talk dirty to him. At the end of the song, there is an Asian women who says in an accent, “What? I don’t understand? [laughing]” I don’t get what’s funny. 

It’s pretty clear that vulgarity in music, like sex in movies, sells. But when are we going to listen to what’s not being said and start talking about it?

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