Gender Essentialism in Hip Hop and Rap: Ciara, Beyoncé, and Tupac

By Hilliary Frank

“Nicki Minaj is the worst rapper of all time!” This is an opinion often heard from many male students on campus. When asked the main reasons behind this, most talk about the ways she rhymes to even the things she talks about in her lyrics. Even more interestingly, some will never put her on a list of great rappers and keep the list filled with only one gender: male. This is a prime example of women being oppressed. In the twenty-first century, women are still put aside in hip hop which reflects American’s society of women in general. Gender Essentialism is common in the modern world. However, hip hop is helping to aid women in the fight to battle negative stereotypes.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, female artists were producing music that focused on the double standards society placed on men and women. An example of this is shown in the song “Like a Boy” by Ciara which highlights some of these labels. In the song, Ciara emotionally states “If I was always gone/ With the sun getting home/ (Would Ya Like That?)/ Told you I was with my crew/ (Would Ya Like That?)/ If I act like you/ Walk A mile off in yo shoes/ (Would Y Like That?)/ I’m messing with your head again/ Dose of your own medicine.”  This portion is played at the bridge of the song which is usually used in music to take a step back from the tempo of the song to showcase a point. Throughout her lyrics, Ciara explains the unfairness of these familiar double standards: Men can stay out late at night with their friends but if a woman were to attempt this she would be called all the negative names in the book. This is where Ciara uses repetition with the multiple lines of “Would Ya Like That?”. Ciara is emphasizing the topic of double standards and how American society places negative connotations on women who want to stand up to try to break these stereotypes. Ciara’s song and her musical success prompted another female artist to come out with a song talking about this issue.
Beyoncé Knowles in 2008 released a song called “If I Were a Boy” which responds to Ciara’s point of gender essentialism by highlighting the female perspective of what being a male is. Beyoncé opens her song with the lyrics, “If I were a boy/ Even just for a day/ I’d roll outta bed in the morning/ And throw on what I wants and go/ Drink beer with the guys/ And chanse after girls/ I’d kick it with who I wanted/ And I’d never get confronted for it/ Cause they’d stick up for me.” By using this line at the beginning of the song, Beyoncé wants to hit the issue right on the nose from the beginning to the end of the song. Beyoncé is using her opinion of a man to showcase the general opinion of what it is like to be male in modern society. Women are expected to be held at a certain standard unlike men and any form of nonconformity is looked upon negatively. Beyoncé clearly show this in her line ‘And throw on what I wanted and go’. Beyoncé uses the key words “I wanted” multiple times in these lyrics to open about how women often aren’t allowed to wear the clothes they want to wear because of fear from society, males, and even other females. At the end of the stanza, Beyoncé also informs listeners in the most important part of the opening lines by exposing society for its unfairness with ‘And I’d never get confronted for it/ Cause they’d stick up for me’. Women understand that men can get away with anything and not get in trouble for it. The ‘they’ she talks about is not just the male friends in one’s crew, but a much bigger they: American society.
Ciara and Beyoncé use their voices to explain the female perspective of the unfairness of gender roles in the twenty-first century. What prompted them to speak up about their struggles can go back in the late twentieth century when, through their rhymes would state their gripes about society. A famous example of this is the 1993 release of “Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur. Tupac used his music as a microphone to give voice to the legal problems in American society. One of the stanzas in his song reads “I wonder why we take from our women/ Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? / I think it’s time to kill for our women/ Time to heal our women, be real to our women/ And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies/ That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can’t make one/ He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”. Through his music, Tupac wanted to make a commentary about the problems in American society. Women, specifically women of African- American descent, need to be treated better than they were up until that point. Also, women deserved to have the right to their bodies and if they wanted to have the option of abortion. Tupac explicitly shows this by bluntly stating men have ‘no’ right to tell women what they want to do with their bodies. Women are often put in positions where they feel like they are not the one who can make decisions even with something like their own body.
The issue of women having control over their bodies is an important issue that is still a problem today. Women recently protested after the inauguration of the new president Donald J. Trump. In these protests, women will use lyrics from songs as a slogan to get their point across to the nation. Artist can talk about the social structure and the problems they give to people. Recently, in the hip hop world, more female artists are coming out with music that breaks the stereotypes of women especially women in hip hop. Artists such as Young M.A are prime example of women changing the genre of hip hop with their style of music and even the way they present themselves to the world. Even Grammy winner superstar Alicia Keys was one of the major speakers at the D.C marches last year. There are also women in different genres of music who are producing songs that fight the social norms and are sometimes met with negative feedback. Beyoncé’s recent album “Lemonade” is an album dedicated to women breaking stereotypes and being free to express their issues with society and become more proactive about it. These women are the first steps to break the stereotypes placed on women. Through music, American society will constantly be exposed and forced to change for the better.

Links to Music Ciara “Like a Boy”  Beyonce “If I Were A Boy”–IGAfeas  Tupac “KeepYa Head UP”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *