I’m wary of complaining about misogyny in hip-hop. It’s been done, it’s played out, and once you do it you’re automatically trapped in the humorless feminist box. Suddenly you’re the kind of woman who doesn’t actually listen to rap music, but occasionally swoops in to announce that rap is “the soundtrack to contemporary misogyny” and who tries to ban artists from performing.
Let the record show I’m all for free speech. (And to act as if hip-hop is a singular offender in the realm of musical misogyny is absurd. I mean, have you listened to this song lately?)
But I’ll admit being a hip-hop fan and a feminist can be a jarring experience. You’re forced to practice some of that good ole W.E.B. DuBois double consciousness, subbing in "woman" and "hip-hop fan" for "American" and "black."
You love Kendrick Lamar, but you cringe at his overworked metaphor of America as this loud, gold-digging black woman hellbent on emasculating black men. When you’re a woman and rap fan, you hear about so many ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ and empty female specters stripped down to their apparently essential parts that you either become inured or have sporadic, intense freakouts.
I tend towards the latter.
I also treasure the rappers who go at things a different way, who try to stay clear of the stale clichés of who and what a male rapper can be in 2015. That’s why Vic Mensa’s latest single, “U Mad”—accompanied by a new, menacing video featuring Kanye West—is so disappointing.
Let's start with the positives. Sonically, it bangs. It’s got those sinister horns, and visually, the presence of all that blackness—raging, seething, unapologetically black and unapologetically male, the banes of society, angry and united under a laissez-faire hook—is truly empowering. Black lives matter and also we don’t give a fuck and all that jazz.
But why is this song’s jubilant bravado at black women’s expense?
I had listened to “U Mad” a few times, casually, and mentally filed it away as one of those songs I’ll play when I’m feeling unsafe (Wrigleyville during any sporting event) and need something to make me feel invincible.
But when I watched the video, the brutality of Mensa’s lyrics became newly clear: “All I hear hoes callin’ out wildin; on the road like everyday / No questions, no questions please, just on your knees / Blow don’t sneeze / bitch shut up, don’t breathe.” That was followed (after Kanye’s uninspired guest verse) with “But if she bad I might hit a bitch in the elevator like Ray Rice.”
Really, Vic? Really Vic nee Vic Mensah, son of a Ghanaian econ professor and a public school administrator? Whitney-Young-attending Vic? In-a-long-term relationship-with-fashion-designer-Natalie-Wright Vic?
It’s a line obviously meant for crude shock value. But why is the go-to shock value subject du jour hitting women, beating women, raping women? And worse, unless the lines are especially egregious—think Lil Wayne "beating the pussy like Emmett Till"—it’s par for the course.
And on this note music journalists have let us down. Instead of addressing these issues with the rappers they interview, many reporters, especially in the quid-pro-quo, generally sycophantic world of hip-hop radio, let these sentiments slide.
Take this May 15 radio interview with Vic (play around the 11:21 mark), which might have been a good opportunity to talk about some of those more problematic lyrics. In the video, it seems as if fellow Sway in the Morning host Tracy G starts to move the discussion in that general direction: "I've read that 'U Mad' is about your girlfriend." But instead of pursuing how he wrote these lyrics about Wright, she lets Vic play it off with a joke about making sure his girlfriend doesn't listen to the song ("Smart," Tracy G comments).
Getting hip-hop to have a meaningful look at its casual, reflexive misogyny appears to be a Sisyphean task, and even more frustrating when you compare sexism in hip-hop to the meaningful strides the genre has taken to become a less homophobic, heteronormative place. To a certain extent, I get that this whole post is playing into the ethos of this song. But I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. To answer Vic's question though: yes, I am mad.