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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