Gender and Sexuality in Hip Hop
Annotated Bibliography Midterm
Lane, Nikki. “Black Women Queering the Mic: Missy Elliott Disturbing the Boundaries of Racialized Sexuality and Gender.” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 58, no. 6/7, Jul/Aug2011, pp. 775-792. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.581921.
In the world of hip-hop, male artists repeatedly refer to women as “bitches” and “hoes” and overall use gendered language. Nikki Lane critiques Hip Hop Nation Language (HHNL) and emphasizes how women like Missy Elliot redefined black sexual politics through language and style. Several women in hip-hop have worn men’s sportswear and oversized baggy clothing, like “one of the boys,” thus dressing in queer style. Dressing in this way along with word selection, exaggerated tones and diction, women are able to reshape gender structures in hip hop. By challenging gender structures through their own expression of femininity, women in hip hop question heteronormativity and bodily representation.
Penney, Joel. ““We Don’t Wear Tight Clothes”: Gay Panic and Queer Style in Contemporary Hip Hop.” Popular Music & Society, vol. 35, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 321-332. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03007766.2011.578517.
Citing famous rappers like Kanye West and Pharrell, Penney dissects the role of fashion and how the black male body presents itself in the hip-hop industry. Kanye and Pharrell are two hip hop artists who are known for wearing tight, fashionable clothing and have created their own clothing lines, in addition to having voiced admiration for gay fashion designers. However, when artists deviate from the norm of hypermasculinity in hip-hop, the response can be aggressive, reactive, and forceful. Wearing tight clothes can incite panic within hip-hop due to fear of erasure of the hard, heterosexual image that men continually exude. Penney overall argues that artists have felt threatened by queer style due to homophobia within the hip-hop community and fear of the adoption of a more feminized masculinity.
Smith, Marquita R. ““Or a Real, Real Bad Lesbian”: Nicki Minaj and the Acknowledgement of Queer Desire in Hip-Hop Culture.” Popular Music & Society, vol. 37, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 360-370. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03007766.2013.800680.
Hip-hop culture is predominantly heterosexual, leaving queer people feeling alienated and ignored. Marquita R. Smith examines how queer desire is expressed in hip-hop and can be used to both empower and objectify. Smith looks at the lyrics of rapper Nicki Minaj, who has rapped about wanting girls to expose their breasts to her and how she would pick up a “real, real, bad lesbian.” Queer desire expressed by female rappers can appeal to the queer community; however, it also creates titillating imagery that appeal to the straight male fantasy. Smith details how female sexual desire in hip-hop can appeal to both queer and heterosexual listeners, which can overall make sexual exploration in hip-hop complicated.
Gender and Sexuality in Hip Hop
In the entertainment industry, an artists’ presentation is crucial, especially in hip-hop. Historically, men have donned baggy clothing and bling while women have worn tight, revealing outfits. Fashion and presentation serve as important tools for promoting masculine and feminine norms and heterosexuality. When hip hop artists digress from these norms, panic and fear arises within the hip hop community. This is due to the history of homophobia in hip hop. For some, a rejection of heterosexuality and traditional masculinity and femininity mean the integration of queerness. Queer lyrics also reject heterosexuality. Changing fashion, presentation and the exploration of sexuality through lyrics incite hysteria within the hip hop community out of homophobia and fear of changing patriarchal, heteronormative hip hop.
A common theme throughout these pieces is the idea that an artist’s presentation and fashion choices speak to their sexuality. In Nikki Lane’s article, Black Women Queering the Mic: Missy Elliott Disturbing the Boundaries of Racialized Sexuality and Gender, she examines Missy Elliott’s role in hip-hop. Lane emphasizes that Black women in this industry can combat oppression through their outfits and lyrics. Missy Elliott has been known for wearing baggy clothing and men’s sportswear, thus dressing like male hip-hop artists. Doing so rejects strict, oppressive notions of how women in hip-hop should dress. This also applies to men in the hip hop industry as well, which Joel Penney explores in We Don’t Wear Tight Clothes”: Gay Panic and Queer Style in Contemporary Hip Hop. The black masculine identity in hip hop is tough, strong, and “gangster,” displayed by wearing loose fitting clothes. These traits equate to heterosexuality. When male hip hop artists present in such a way, they are proving their heterosexuality which bolsters their sense of masculinity. However, wearing tight, form-fitting and “feminine” clothing, ideas of masculinity and heterosexuality are challenged. When artists reject the hypermasculine, “gangster lifestyle,” they are seen as gay or queer, which is not accepted in hip hop. Wearing tight clothing as a mainstream male hip hop artist is seen as the promotion of gayness. The choice of wearing clothing outside of the norms of hypermasculinity overall equates of queerness. Male artists who choose to dress in such a way are not necessarily gay or in support of the queer community.
In addition to deviating from fashion norms for women artists, Missy Elliott has been vague about her sexuality. Her lyrics are not overtly heterosexual, leaving listeners questioning her sexuality. Additionally, Missy Elliott is aware of her appeal to queer women and does not combat this. Like Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj has explored her sexuality through her lyrics. Minaj mentioned other women’s breasts and lesbians in her lyrics. Lyrics like these are an expression of queerness in a heteronormative industry. Nikki Lane and Marquita R. Smith, author of “Or a Real, Real Bad Lesbian”: Nicki Minaj and the Acknowledgement of Queer Desire in Hip-Hop Culture, both exemplify the theme of how lyrics and dress can convey hetero and homosexual desirability. Expressing female sexual desire through queer lyrics is crucial in a homophobic industry. Deviating from heterosexuality and embracing queerness can reshape hip hop and serve as a gateway for inclusivity and visibility.
To improve articles on queerness in hip-hop on Wikipedia, I will look at the lyrics of both women and men artists. I will examine interviews with artists and look at research that has been conducted on homophobia, queerness and fashion within the hip hop community. This may be challenging to do, as I am not sure where to start. There is a plethora of information on these themes, which can be overwhelming. The fashion industry is constantly changing and few male artists wear baggy clothing today. Though fashion is constantly changing, hypermasculinity still exists in the hip hop industry. However, exploring fashion, lyrics and queerness in hip hop is crucial to including queer voices in hip hop.