Dessa, Tupac, the Roots, and the rap misogyny problem

The mere announcement that Doomtree rapper/poet/writer Dessa is giving a lecture/performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum this evening has already stirred up a bunch of debate regarding her qualifications to give the talk.

"Mic Lines: Art, Ethics, and their Contested Connections," is expected to delve into the question of whether or not rappers have social responsibilities for their words, or if they can pull a Charles Barkley. And, it seems that she's giving us a taste of what she'll discuss in an essay published via Star Tribune today.

In the piece, titled "Free speech and hip-hop: When talk is cheap," she centers in on the idea that:
"Some rap music does trespass upon basic standards of human decency. The problem is bigger than sexual objectification -- it's real misogyny."
The writer of this blog is a white, male, non-rapper, and I couldn't agree more. Misogyny (and sexist and homophobic language that defiles males as well) cuts across all genres of pop music, and certainly finds a home within the personal tales in country music and R&B's .

An all-or-nothing unconditional pledge of allegiance is not what rap should ask of listeners. It is, rather, the signature tactic of witch hunts and totalitarianism.

Besides, the industry refrain "it's just entertainment" has worn thin. If rap music didn't affect public opinion and behavior, advertisers wouldn't pay for product placements.

And again, this is not difficult to agree with -- to a point. The part of the argument that is still up for debate is why a particular rapper (or any type of artist) gets popular in the first place.

Let's take a young fan of 2pac who was listening to All Eyez on Me back in the mid-'90s as an extremely hypothetical (and not at all autobiographical) example. "All Bout U" is one of the more sexist, degrading songs that the late Tupac Shakur ever released -- and there are many to choose from. The also-departed Nate Dogg chorus goes "Every other city we go, every other vi-de-o/ No matter where I go, I see the same hoe."

And this follows the premise -- that was completely autobiographical -- that as the song's collaborators Shakur, Dru Down, Nate Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Hussein Fatal, and Yaki Kadafi traveled to film promotional music videos, they'd often happen upon women that they'd met before at previous music video shoots.

For this listener, who defers to the also-dead, also-sexist Notorious B.I.G. in terms of East-vs-West wordplay anyhow, this song is not the first thing that any young person should hear when figuring out how to approach gender roles in the world. It's certainly not the first song a person should hear when developing a glossary of terms for addressing fellow members of the community either.

Does that mean that someone is attracted to this song because of its misogynist lyrics in particular? I would argue no. Honestly, I'd be just as happy, if not happier, if Nate Dogg's hook celebrated the joys of artichoke dip, or he was just singing names from the phone book. His melodious delivery and the Johnny J-produced beat are both that catchy. For better or for worse, this song represents the vernacular of Tupac's community, and true situations possibly enhanced by a bit of hyperbole. Because come on, was it always the same woman?

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 Most definitions of Misogyny characterize it as the hatred of woman as a group, the degradation of women in general, or the generalized sexual objectification of women. The Tupac song you use as an example here is not making generalizations about women as a whole, it is talking about a specific type of behavior seen in very few women. You clearly don't know much about Tupac, so let me suggest you look up the songs Brenda's got a baby, keep your head up, and wonder why they call you bitch, maybe then you can make an informed critique of his lyrics. Brenda's got a baby actually tells a story of rape very similar to the roots song you chose to use as an example here of a supposed polar opposite type of Hip Hop. For you to suggest that a fan of Tupac is some how too stupid to appreciate the work of the roots is actually pretty funny considering you are a journalist that is too stupid  to properly research the artists you choose to make ill informed statements about.


Good piece. I remember being 10 years old and listening, actually listening, to Cypress Hill, Tupac and the Death Row roster and being disgusted by the misogyny and violence. However, I was already used to the language and subjects from my grade-school classmates. It was an interesting dilemma. Listening to the music gave me a connection to my peers, but I was actively turned off by the lyrics.

As time went on, I was able to turn that music into nostalgic goofiness and listen to it with an ironic detachment, sincerely digging the music while pretending the lyrics are just corny fun. Is this the context that violent misogynistic rap is meant to inhabit, or should I be taking it seriously? I honestly think I give it too much of a pass, giggling about Snoop Dogg's ridiculousness while being fairly sure that he actually treats women like shit and wouldn't hesitate to pay someone to beat my ass in a club.


It's one thing to talk abstractly about the social function of music and what superstar rappers say or have said.  I think a much more constructive debate, however, particularly in this scene, is how sexism plays out even in underground, independent hip hop circles.  This mirrors more closely the way that sexism plays out in the larger culture.  More thoughts:

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Nowhere does this say that "a fan of Tupac is some how too stupid to appreciate the work of the roots." He just made a song that uses a lot of imagery and words that are disrespectful towards women, and there's not much disputing that here.


I would say that is very disputable, you say "disrespectful to women" as if the song was made to address women in general, as I said he's talking about very few woman engaging in a specific type of behavior, if you listen to the song wonder why they call you bitch, which is on the same album, he explains his use of terms such as hoe or bitch, he's talking about some women, not all, therefor his use of the term in that song is not misogynist, if the song were called "all women are bitches", or something to that effect than it would be misogynist, look up the definition of the word. 

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

If I follow your logic, if a person only calls some black people the n-word in certain situations, does that mean they're not being racist?

I'm not saying it's bad to like Tupac songs, and in a conflicted way, I like the song that I mention. And I agree that he has made songs that show positive messages about women too. Still, no one can control the effect that material like "All Bout U" has on another human being, and I suspect that if I played that song for my grandmother, the last thing she'd want to hear would be ANOTHER song by him to explain it away.

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