In hip hop music and videos, young black women are consistently portrayed as sexually insatiable vixens willing to debase themselves for the privilege of even the shortest ride on the music industry party train.
Despite the lack of respect, young black women play an enthusiastic part in hip hop culture, as do youth of all races who continue to make hip hop a worldwide phenomenon.
Tracy Sharpley-Whiting – a Vanderbilt University professor, young black woman, former model, feminist and a hip hop fan – researched this paradox and responded with Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. The book, published by New York University Press, offers an insightful look into the strip clubs, groupie culture and other aspects of hip hop that have given a voice to the disenfranchised while raising troubling questions about what those voices are saying and doing.
The Nashville community has two opportunities to participate in discussions on these issues. The first is an April 12 forum titled “Does Hip Hop Hate Women?” beginning at 4:40 p.m. in lecture hall 4309 of the Stevenson Center on the Vanderbilt campus. A reading and book signing by Sharpley-Whiting will follow at 7 p.m. May 10 at Borders Books at 2525 West End Ave.
Both events are free and open to the public.
“As disturbing as I find some of what’s going on around gender in hip hop, there are also things that we need to celebrate,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “It’s a cultural art form. It’s the soundtrack of black life in the United States, and it’s absolutely astonishing that it became such a cultural force globally.
“We have to revel in that kind of creativity coming from such a marginalized group.”
In the book, Sharpley-Whiting recalls walking into a class to speak at Brown University as a graduate teaching assistant. She was “doing my best impression” of Snoop Dog’s “One, two, three and to the fo” from his “‘Nuthin’ But a G-Thang” collaboration with Dr. Dre.
“It was one of those rare moments where my contradictions were laid bare – humming such a salacious, sexist tune,” she writes in the prologue to Pimps Up, Ho’s Down.
That experience helped lead her to seek out young women immersed in the hip hop world to see what they had to say about it. Pimps Up, Ho’s Down features chapters on the rise in sexual tourism by black men in Brazil, the maneuvers of groupie-rap star relations, the sexual abuse of black women and strip club culture.
The book paints a complex portrait with one constant: Black women always at the bottom of any pecking order.
“That doesn’t mean I find hip hop depressing,” Sharpley-Whiting said. “I find the state of gender and race relationships depressing. Just because aspects of hip hop may be misogynistic and sexist doesn’t mean that misogyny began with hip hop. Hip hop just happens to be the youth culture of the moment and therefore takes the wrath on a lot of issues.”
Any solutions will involve changing society rather than stifling hip hop’s blunt articulation of what’s going on, Sharpley-Whiting said.
“I do urge young women to be more politically conscious about the choices they make and the opportunities they take,” she said. “They’ve become reducible to dispensable and exchangeable commodities of sex and beauty in commercial hip hop, and I hope that space can be created for opportunities beyond that.”
For more information on the “Does Hip Hop Hate Women” forum on April 12 at Vanderbilt, go to www.rapsessions.org. The event will be recorded for podcasting on VUCast, the website of Vanderbilt News Service, at www.vanderbilt.edu/news.
Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS