Gender roles in hip hop music
April 20, 2009
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Masculinity in hip-hop music was discussed April 16 to raise awareness during Sexual Assault Awareness month.
The event began at 7:30 p.m. in the University Student Union Ballrooms and was co-sponsored by Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity, Incorporated, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cal State Long Beach and the Women’s Studies Student Association.
A documentary film by Byron Hurt, an anti-sexist activist, called “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” spearheaded the event.
Jose Sanchez, a graduate student in sports medicine and a grad member of Sigma Lambda Beta, reminisced about the original days of hip-hop when he would carry around a boom box, a cassette player with headphones or listened to the radio for the music he once loved.
“Back then hip-hop was just called hip-hop,” Sanchez said. “Now we have East Coast, West Coast, Bay Area, South, Midwest … [wherein] hip-hop has been dismembered.”
Hurt’s film, which premiered in 2006 at the Sundance Film Festival, touched on the dismemberment of hip hop as well as examined images of gender roles in hip-hop and rap music.
The discussion following the film focused on how masculinity is projected for Black and Latino males and its influence on gender roles throughout these communities.
Ebony A. Utley, an assistant professor in communication studies and author of the forthcoming book, “The Gangsta’s God: The Quest for Respectability in Hip Hop,” was one of the keynote speakers, along with MG Hardie, author of “EveryDay Life,” and Christopher Eclipse,
choreographer and dancer for musicians like Beyonce and recently Flo Rida.
Utley questioned how representations of masculinity in hip-hop shapes the way they represent their respective creative areas of dance and writing. Hardie said he realized first-hand that focusing on the individual rather than the community is an effect of hip-hop on African American men.
“I was very selfish,” Hardie said. “I know a lot rappers are interested in the individual … when they rap about guns and stuff [without] thinking about the broader picture.”
Hardie said that when he became a father he started to think about how things would affect his daughter and he had to think outside of himself for once.
Eclipse said that he believes there is a line of masculinity and persona one has to keep even in the dance side of hip-hop.
“For instance when I’m talking to Flo Rida I have to speak his language because I can’t talk to him the way I would take with [a group like this],” Eclipse said.
Dignity and integrity are traits that Eclipse believes as a man he should always maintain regardless of the language he has to speak between the different artists he works with.
But Eclipse adde that “when I’m talking to Kanye [West] … it is a little more sensitive than with Flo Rida, or 50 Cent.”
A question surrounding instances of domestic violence such as in that in the Chris Brown and Robyn Fenty, known as Rihanna situation was brought asked by senior psychology major Chiamaka Okwu. She questioned whether gender is secondary in situations like that of Brown and Rihanna.
“Even though [Brown’s] lyrics aren’t implicitly about violence…if I say I am against domestic violence … or violence period [it makes] me as Black woman seem like I’m not protecting the black man,” Okwu said.
The speakers all agreed that both artists need help to regain their mental and emotional stability.
“[Some] Caucasians do all different kinds of things [like drugs] in front of their kids, inject themselves, get caught in bathrooms with [drugs] and [society] turns around and says give them a chance … but as soon as [African Americans] do something it’s over,” Hardie said.
Utley said she believes the situation between Brown and Rihanna happened because of patterns of domination and submission.
“Violence is the end result but domination and submission start very early in subtle ways,” Utley said.
“Chris Brown does all the leading when he dances … [his lyrics] like ‘girl I want to be with you [and] I want you to be with me’ [embody] domination and submission because his desires are primary and [the girl] is supposed to follow,” Utley said.
She pointed out that domination and submission are learned in environments where a person does the early stages of learning.
“In their relationships with their parents … [Brown and Rihanna] got used to those patterns at home and they play out in their careers, professional life and in relationships,” Utley said.
Natalie Torres, CSULB alumni, raised another question on whether or not hip hop will return to way it was before the male dominance and masculinity images. Torres wonders if she will ever love hip-hop again or be able to hear it the way it used to be.
“It’s almost like I’ve learned to hate [hip-hop] because those who are about hip hop [and] talk about hip hop have taken the good parts of hip hop and changed it into this mass media thing,” Torres said.
Eclipse believes that hip hop will reemerge, in the future, the way it originally began only it will have a different name; no longer known as “hip hop.”
“I … don’t believe hip hop is dead because I’m around enough people and artists who are generating work that focuses on positive life issues,” Eclipse said.
“The labels are waiting for artists to bring back [positive messages] and more artists are writing their own music, becoming producers and CEOs [so that they can produce these messages],” Eclipse said.
He believes it is the artists’ job to make sure these types of movements are activated. Hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill’s last major record, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” emphasizes the approach Eclipse outlined.
Hill’s 1998 solo album featured a song called “Superstar” that fits the message the speakers and Hurt’s documentary touched on.
“Hip hop started out in the heart, now everybody trying to chart,” Hill rhymes at the beginning of the track.
Overall, the student organizers felt the event was a good stepping stone. Audrey Silvestre (cant find), a junior women’s studies major and a member of WSSA, was pleased with the dialogue at the event.
“People had stuff to say and talk about [on the issue] because the conversation wasn’t stopping,” Silvestre said.
Trevon Williams, president of the NAACP-CSULB and senior Africana studies and Chicano and Latino studies double major, closed the event with his thoughts on how to change the negative effects hip hop has on masculinity and the community.
“If you don’t like what you saw [in the documentary] and want to change it, then don’t buy [the music],” Williams said. “You are the consumer with the cash [who] is making [this music] high on the charts [while still] complaining about it degrading women and consuming our culture.”
Utley was thrilled that the issue was brought up at CSULB with a mixed audience.
“College is about getting these experiences, learning from other people and not just the textbook stuff but more about open exchange and feedback, “Utley said.
For more information on “Hip Hop: Beyond Beat and Rhymes” visit Hurt’s website at www.bhurt.com and the communication studies department visit http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/aa/catalog/2008-2009/cla/comm/. For more information on Sigma Lambda Beta contact Greek Life, NAACP-CSULB e-mail [email protected] and WSSA visit their Myspace at www.myspace.com/wssacsulb.