Listening to rap music as a woman is an internal dilemma

It’s August 2015, somewhere between the hours of 1-4 am. For some reason I can’t seem to fall asleep, so I need something to occupy my mind. I turn to Spotify for a release from my unending boredom. My thought process was that, ‘If I’m going to have insomnia, I might as well soundtrack it.’ Because this routine lasted almost all of this summer, the sheer volume of music that still reminds me of this time is overwhelming. 

There is something particularly nostalgic about listening to music from your mid-teens that just doesn’t compare to anything else. The songs you screamed in unison at your first house parties, the portable speaker in the park at the peak of summer; that becomes the soundtrack to your first taste of freedom that just can’t be replicated.

Around this time in my life, I came into contact with some hip-hop albums that, at aged fifteen to sixteen, I was convinced were actual masterpieces (however cringe-worthy it might seem now). I remember the first time I heard ‘Sucka N*gga’ by A Tribe Called Quest on my family desktop computer, and the first time I listened to ‘Prototype’ by OutKast (another 1-4 am excursion), which at that time I believed to be the best love song ever made. 

One night, I pressed play on Dr. Dre’s 1999 album, 2001: The Chronic. A widely acclaimed ‘classic’ loved by the masses and critics alike, it spawned massive hits like ‘Still D.R.E’, where he reasserts his domination as one of the founding fathers of g-funk, and “The Next Episode”, with a beat so distinctly recognisable that you know exactly what song it is within the first 0.5 seconds. An album filled with faultless production (all by Dre) and impeccable lyricism (none by Dre. Fight me.). There is no way to describe this album without using the thrown around term ‘classic’, as it remains a staple to any discussions on the best hip-hop albums of all time. 

If you are here for a review of 2001, however, you are in the wrong place.

There have been endless pieces written about why 2001: The Chronic was so important to the evolution of the genre as a whole. My thoughts on this album are personal; a reflection of my growth into womanhood after being so obsessed with an album that is so degrading and abusive towards women. This is something I have grappled with as I get older, as being a woman who listens to a lot of rap music can be exhausting.

I have found myself subconsciously drifting towards listening to music that isn’t so abjectly objectifying as I have gotten older. I have found myself cherry-picking the songs I can enjoy, and which allow me to sleep at night without thinking that they are atrocious abusers and misogynists who I am not only taking pleasure in listening to, but also funding through my 0000.1p per stream. 

In a genre of music so globally prevalent and embedded within many spheres of cultural entertainment, it is a tightrope I walk across every time I hear Hittman sing on the hook of ‘Ackrite’ that “snobby-ass b*tches get slapped out of spite” if they don’t have sex with him. To recite the popular feminist slogan, “the personal is political.” I cannot separate the personal choices I make to listen to certain songs and artists from my political stance as a black feminist (amongst other things). 

5 Years later

Listening to 2001: The Chronic five years after my obsession was eye-opening, and honestly, horrifying; not to hear men discuss women in this type of way (as it would be very naïve to be surprised at something so routine as sexual objectification), but at the fact I listened to it. So. Damn. Much. To the point that I now know almost every word to the first song, ‘The Watcher’.

I genuinely loved this album, and it was on repeat all summer of 2015. Aside from the fact that almost every single reference to a woman on this album is as a ‘bitch’ and that there is near to no way in which a woman is discussed without reference to sex. More importantly, when sexual advances are rejected, this often leads to violence. Oh, the male ego!

In ‘Light Speed’, when Dre makes a joke out of his assault of journalist Dee Barneseight years after the incident occurred, there is something quite dark about mindlessly rapping along to him making a mockery out of “strangling ho’s”. Not just because it trivialises a traumatic incident, but because it actually humours the situation, as Dre says that he “laughs when it is asked about in interviews”. In case you don’t understand the full force of this, Dre is making this joke eight years after the incident in 1991, giving him opportunity to reflect, grow and learn from past mistakes. But instead of doing this, he laughs at the absurdity that people are still talking about it. The fact that he only apologised to the women he abused in 2015 (ironically the same year I heard the album in full) makes it all the worse. 

Misogyny runs deep throughout hip-hop. Its roots in both the patriarchy and socioeconomic deprivation; its leaves that flourish and extend alongside masculinity complexes and objectifying lyricism. Violence against black women are the weeds that are uprooted and disregarded, and the cognitive dissonance that allowed me to ignore this fact shocks me to this day.

These are social issues that I think about every single day as a black woman

As I grow older, experience life and read more about universal understandings of black cultural production and distribution, I now have a much lower tolerance for casual misogyny and sexism. The deeply damaging and essentialist binary stereotypes of “you can’t make a ho a housewife” on ‘Housewife frankly just doesn’t hit the way it used to. As much as I did love (and still really enjoy parts of) this album, it was a moment of realisation for me that I didn’t see coming and shows how much I have grown as a person and how much more militant and assured I am in what I believe is right and just.  

2001: The Chronic holds its own as a ground-breaking album and is still endlessly sampled. It is both reminiscent of a specific time in hip-hop but miraculously hasn’t aged a day. Dr Dre’s production is almost fantastical in its brilliance, and without it, we wouldn’t have ‘Let Me Blow Your Mind’ by Eve, ‘Breathe’ by Blu Cantrell or the superior ‘Bag Lady (remix)’ by Erykah Badu. Not to mention that Kanye West ripped the drums off the sixth track, ‘Xxplosive’ and landed his first big break on a Jay-Z compilation album called The Dynasty.

I still maintain that this album is worth listening to, even if it doesn’t get your respect. To say this and still maintain that I find many of the themes on this album offensive, especially as a black woman is tricky and is a wider discussion that demands attention in our digital age. I have found that social media never strikes a balance in acknowledging both, as this conversation is far more significant than The Chronic and bigger than hip-hop. 

Saying this, the struggle continues; my internal dilemmas with both consuming specific forms of entertainment and my political standpoints live to see another day. Although I thought I knew it all then, I’m just happy that I’m no longer fifteen; despite all the comforts that come with being blissfully ignorant. 

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