An eccentric Hip Hop community exists as women and men from of all varieties come together to share the resilience of a movement that defined a generation of black Americans who with nowhere to voice the problems existing within their communities. In the 70s and 80s Grandmaster Flash, the Fab Five Freddy, and Sugarhill gang brought hip hop music to mass America. The Hip Hop movement has been non-stop and women have played a crucial role. Hip Hop is a force to be reckoned with in popular music. The consumer base of Hip Hop is often debated. The popular belief is that 70-80% of the consumer base of Hip Hop white. Others say it’s a statistic that does not take into account those unable to buy records or those who buy mixtapes and bootleg CDs. The reality is Hip Hop is huge– It is a global phenomenon and has become a staple in popular music and Billboard charts in America. Given the power of Hip Hop, the representation of women of color becomes a topic that needs to be further explored.
The world of Hip Hop has been and still is dominated by men but women are continuing to make headway and establish themselves as legitimate players within the Hip Hop music scene. With the birth of Hip Hop women were a force to be reckoned with. Lady B released the first rap record, Salt-N-Pepa were the first female rap group. MC Lyte and Queen Latifiah legitimized the role of women in Hip Hop. These female rappers explored their sexuality as women but also had to demonstrate that they could hang with the boys to. They demanded respect as female rappers in this male dominated game.
Today, MCs and singers Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Trina, and Nicki Minaj are continuing the tradition of female rappers but with more visible sexual presence then previous female rappers. Along with female rappers video vixens such as Buffy the Body and Amber Rose are regulars within the Hip Hop world. Now more than ever, the image of women of color in Hip Hip is hyper-sexualized. With Rap being commodified and sold the question becomes what role these women play in presenting the sexuality of women of color. Currently within Hip Hop music three dominant images continue to re-emerge: the video vixen, the sexualized rapper, and the conscious singer/song writer ultimately presenting two dichotomies the hyper sexualized woman of color and the conservative woman of color, one usually never interesting with the other.
Rapper Nelly’s infamous Tip Drill video set a fury of woman vocalizes the sexualization of black women in Hip Hop. Yet, Nelly’s video is only one of many that objectifies women in this manner. The video vixen, on set and off set, an object of desire. Since Africans were brought as slaves to the Americas and Caribbean, the sexualization of black women and women of color has existed. Black women were casted as the polar opposite of white women who were branded as innocent, fragile, and in need of protection. Black women were animalized, both socially and sexually, thought of as physically able to bare the same workload male slaves did, and always available to master for any call . It was necessary to objectify black women in this way in order to demonstrate there was a physical difference and any act committed against them was justifiable.
This ideology has become apparent in the way video vixens and female rappers are hyper sexualized. For video vixens, they have no voice or individual identity in these videos —they are simply an object of sexuality. This dominant image is not rare, in fact it’s the norm. For female rappers, their sexuality has become commodifed and sold to a mass market. Although the rappers have a voice in their own music their sexualized image is often a staple of their brand. Nicki Minaj has continuously defended her brand stating her sexuality is not a major part of who she is yet one would beg to differ when you see her in her performance and videos.
Surgery or not her famous figure draws comparisons to Hottentot Venus-Sartjie Baartman. This infamous image was used as propaganda in order to demonstrate the difference of black women and white women. Given the history and understanding that not all black women have this type of body, how does this reoccurring image contribute to the hyper-sexualization of women of color as object of sexual desire? Does this image continue to promote a hyper-sexualized image for women of color?
Many rappers, both female and male alike, will say they do not feel the image they are portraying of woman is demeaning but the reality is it is. Given the massive consumer base of Hip Hop why do we continue to reinforce this image and its associated ideologies? It is impossible to disassociate this image from its negative history. How can we possibly move on when the past is not acknowledged?
For women in Hip Hop the presentation of sexuality is commodified and sold. Yes they may present alternative body images for women of color but when they are constantly objectified it creates an unrealistic world for women and men of color. For the people buying these records, every video and song is simply a reinforcement of the way women of color should be treated and continues the tradition of women of color being dehumanized and objectified.
Elena is a student at Hunter College majoring in Anthropology with a specialization in Africana and Latino studies.