I’ve never felt more empowered by a Drake song, or even a hip-hop song, than when I listened to his smash hit “Nice for What”. Sampling the great Lauryn Hill, featuring badass women in the entertainment industry like Issa Rae and Yara Shahidi in the video, and using a woman director to take control of that video, the song already had the perfect ingredients for a empowerment anthem. More importantly, the song’s message, glistened by one of the many social media friendly lines, “That’s a real one, in your reflection/ Without a follow, without a mention,” helps bridge the gap in hip-hop’s formerly failed efforts in trying to connect with women, specifically black women who’ve always supported the genre.
And considering the recent news about R.Kelly(who’s finally getting a share of what he deserves), silence about his pedophilic behavior from artists like Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper and other rappers with whom he has frequently collaborated speaks volumes to how hip-hop thinks about black women, who are R. Kelly’s victims. But “Nice for What”, through the music of a black woman who introduced the female perspective to hip-hop, provides a reminder to women that the genre has a space for them in 2018 as it did twenty years ago when “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was released. Furthermore, considering the recent accusations of domestic violence against Nas and Fabolous, and the sexual misconduct allegations against hip-hop producer Detail, the song’s message couldn’t be more appropriate.
Although “Nice for What” is a step in the right direction, the lack of response to these longstanding issues within the hip-hop community reveals that the genre has a long way to go in bridging this connect with black women. Hip-hop’s warm embrace of patriarchy combined with the success of the genre only make it complicit in cultivating internalized misogynoir that provides the space for black women to be silent about sexual harassment from black men or even worse——becoming apologists for those abusers (see: any R.Kelly fan). This cycle of black women feeling the need to protect black men, better described as the “ride or die” mentality, isn’t anything new because it traces back to slavery. It’s also understandable. But it doesn’t mean that black men are incapable of creating toxic atmospheres for black women.
“I was really naive. I was madly in love, so I took a lot that I shouldn’t have taken”- Kelis
I think the previous notion ultimately plagued Kelis, at least that’s what was heard from her Hollywood Unlocked interview in which she details her abusive relationship with Nas. Throughout the interview, Kelis repeatedly says that she isn’t weak, which becomes her main justification for not speaking up about being abused. After seeing Rihanna’s face when she was abused by Chris Brown in 2009, Kelis said that she wanted to speak out because she had similar bruises on her body. However, her love for Nas and her willingness to “stick it out” is what made her remain silent. She also mentioned that she isn’t perfect and could be combative at times. While this behavioral pattern of domestic violence victims isn’t uncommon (see: Janay Palmer, Ray Rice’s wife), it certainly shouldn’t make the behavior acceptable. Statements like these are defense mechanisms against domestic violence that validate men using women as makeshift punching bags for unresolved anger.
Nas being the culprit in this situation is even more telling. Lauded as hip-hop’s original woke king, widely considered as the greatest lyricist of all-time, and being responsible for a hip-hop classic, Nas makes it difficult for some, specifically his black male fans, to associate Kelis’ claims with his persona. In lieu of responding to Kelis’ interview, Nas liked “hotep-esque” Instagram comments of fans who used the age-old “black women want to tear down the black man” argument to defend him.
However, as people have learned (or have been unwilling to learn) with Bill Cosby’s downward spiral, “Illmatic” Nas is not Nasir Jones, who mentally and physically abused his ex-wife. Thus, Nas’ “good guy” persona within the hip-hop community does nothing but illustrate reasons why hip-hop needs its day of reckoning with the #MeToo movement.
“I’ll Olivia Pope this whole situation before I let somebody take my brother down”- Lil Mo on Fabolous’ domestic violence allegations
I hope that Emily B knows that the abuse she suffered isn’t her fault, either. Fabolous turned himself in to the police in March after a domestic violence dispute with his longtime girlfriend, according to TMZ. Emily B, whose real name is Emily Bustamante, claimed that the rapper knocked her teeth out after being upset that she went to Los Angeles without telling him. That was followed a video that surfaced online of Fabolous making violent threats against Emily B and her father. Fabolous even lunged at Emily with a pair of scissors in the video after she attempted to film his behavior with her phone.
Nearly two months later, Emily B is reportedly still living with Fabolous and she also supported him during his court hearing for the domestic dispute. Fabolous posted a Mother’s Day tribute to her on Instagram in an effort to show that “all is well” with their household.
While the reasoning for Emily B to stay with Fabolous is unclear, it’s seems as though the “ride or die” mentality that was present in Kelis’ situation plagued Emily B as well. And in a genre that indirectly condones women being accepting of whatever trouble that a man encounters, Emily B’s decision is not surprising.
“I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I was scared. Fear is a real thing”- Jessie Reyez on her encounter with producer Detail
Singers Jessie Reyez, Bebe Rexha and Tinashe have recently come forward about being victims of sexual misconduct from Detail, who has produced songs for Beyonce and Lil Wayne. Their statements come after two women were granted a restraining order against him for manipulating them and forcing them to have sex with him in front of other people. None of this news is surprising. In being a microcosm of society, hip-hop executives have continuously wielded their power and influence to coerce women to have sex with them.
The allegations against Russell Simmons are a reflection of that. Back in November, the hip-hop mogul faced over a dozen accounts of sexual assault allegations against him that traced back to the 1980’s, which was around the time of Def Jam’s inception and rise to prominence in the hip-hop industry. As multiple women have come forward about Simmons’ behavior, his response has ranged from him being apologetic about it to him denying all of the allegations. He also stepped down from his company to focus on inner healing while proclaiming the cringe-worthy “#NotMe” on social media to show how men were being victims of sexual assault allegations.
Nice for what?
The only fortunate part about this news is that more women in the hip-hop industry are speaking out about how they should be treated and their refusal to tolerate anything less than respect, which is something that most rappers have failed to do. J.Cole’s attempt to make a statement on women’s self esteem failed miserably with “Crooked Smile”. Although the song seemed to have a good message in conveying how women should celebrate natural beauty and be comfortable in their own skin, women wearing makeup and spending time on enhancing their natural beauty got falsely interpreted by him as women “killin’ themselves to find a man that’ll kill for them”. Just like he did with the gruesome “No Role Modelz” J.Cole projected his moral and beauty standards for women in “Crooked Smile”, which isn’t empowering for anybody except himself.
In a similar fashion, Kendrick Lamar also failed in his subtle attempt at women empowerment. With “Humble”, Lamar projected his own preference for natural beauty when he rapped, “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop/ Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/ Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks”, which wasn’t well received by black women.
Because of those failed attempts, the task of women empowerment within hip-hop has been completely left in the hands of female rappers, which is clearly shown in Cardi B and Nicki Minaj’s music and how they both represent freedom and feminism for black women. However, Drake’s “Nice for What” provides an example for not just the ways in which male rappers can empower women without projecting but it also represents a building block for how hip-hop can finally offer women the respect they deserve.
It’s easy for conservatives to look at this analysis and immediately condemn hip-hop as entirely misogynistic and using it as a means for equating blackness with criminality and other vices, but that’s certainly not what this is. Yes, hip-hop is misogynistic because it’s dominated by rappers who are male, and all men, regardless of race, are inherently misogynistic. This is simply a critique of a genre by a fan who wants women who’ve been disrespected and abused within the hip-hop community to get their due diligence just as other women in different industries have with the #MeToo movement. Considering hip-hop’s abuse is mainly directed toward black women, it’s easy to figure out why that due diligence has been delayed, but “Nice for What” is a poignant start for hip-hop reciprocating the level of respect it has received from women.