I was wandering around the Internet last night when I came across an interesting quote by Lil Wayne. You see, earlier this month, Hot 97 morning-show host Peter Rosenberg stupidly took the stage at Summer Jam to make some dumb remarks about performer Nicki Minaj, which – even if you agreed with what he was saying – was a pretty stupid business move: Minaj was set to perform later that evening, and the comments caused Wayne to cancel Minaj’s performance. Yesterday, Wayne explained his reasoning:
First of all, I approached the situation like this: that’s a female, first and foremost. Nicki Minaj is a female. I don’t know what anyone else believe, but I believe that females deserve the ultimate respect at all times no matter what, where, when or how.
You got that right: Lil Wayne, the guy who once rapped, “Man, I swear these bitches do it til they suck the brown off,” is a hero to women everywhere.
I had this in mind while listening to Curren$y’s excellent new album, The Stoned Immaculate. And not just this comment by Wayne, but hip hop culture in general. There seems to be a disconnect between what rappers say in their lyrics and what they claim to believe in their personal lives– to an unusual degree (my fiance referred to that dichotomy as borderline “psychotic.”) For example: Kanye West has a tremendous affinity and respect for his mother, and has written songs about her on multiple occasions. How, then, do you reconcile that with a song like, “That’s My Bitch?” How do you reconcile that with a song like “Monster,” which, while an honest portrayal of West’s negative side, is also— well, an honest portrayal of West’s negative side. When he says “Now she says that I bruised her esophagus. Head of the class, and she just want a swallow-ship,” it’s supposed to be shocking and offensive, sure; that’s the point. But it also comes from a real place, something that the rest of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy tacitly acknowledges.
Now, there’s a pretty lazy argument rap haters have, that’s some variation of, “it’s nothing but a guy talking about bitches and hos.” This is oversimplifying: Taken as a whole, Fantasy highlights many aspects of West’s psyche, and ultimately, he admits how shitty he can be on “Runaway.” But there’s an argument to be made that some 17-year-old who hears “Monster” on the radio is going to hear what he wants to hear.
And so Wayne’s quote, Kanye West, hip hop culture in general— all of these came to mind while listening to the new Curren$y album. Disclaimer: As I said earlier, The Stoned Immaculate is excellent, to be sure. Curren$y is clever and can turn a phrase with the best of them. And ultimately, the Louisiana rapper is far more interested in coming off as a pothead than a misogynist.
But it’s the little things. On the first track, “What It Look Like,” Wale introduces the album by saying, “We’re blessed to be here. It’s a blessing for you to be here with us.” Positivity on par with a De La Soul album. But that doesn’t really add up when you hear Wale say, “Every shy bitch can get a rose,” or when you hear Curren$y himself say, “Looking for dangerously hot bitches and safe sex.” I’m not saying that Curren$y is sexist, or hates women, or anything like that. And I’m not listening to hip hop because I find that it especially relates to me: it’s often the reflection of a culture I don’t belong to, and an examination of experiences I haven’t experienced.
But at it’s core, hip hop is an outsider’s genre, which is something I can most definitely relate to. It may be funny to think of now, but when the Beastie Boys switched from punk music to rap music, it was a logical progression. Malcolm McLaren and Debbie Harry were “early adopters” of hip hop, too. As someone who listens to punk music, it pisses me off when punk songs showcase misogyny or use the word “faggot.” Punk music is not supposed to be exclusive, it’s supposed to be inclusive: we are outsiders together.
And I feel the exact same way about hip hop. When I hear a rapper say “no homo” or casually refer to a woman as a bitch, it just makes me shake my head. Do better, you know? How are young women supposed to relate to Curren$y if on track one he’s already making it perfectly clear that he doesn’t really have the utmost respect for you, at least lyrically? And if he doesn’t feel that way outside of his lyrics, it’s a testament to his laziness that he can’t come up with another distinction for his female listeners.
In the latter half of The Stoned Immaculate, there’s a song called “Fast Cars, Faster Women,” which is about what you’d imagine a song called “Fast Cars, Faster Women” would be about. And it’s a good song, you know? Every song on this album is really good. But what went through his mind while writing that song? “Fast Cars Faster Women,” now there’s an idea no one’s had before. What’s the point? What are you actually trying to say that someone like, say, Rick Ross hasn’t already said about the subject. You like fucking, and nice cars, and here is your not-so-unique take on it. Same thing on “Jet Life,” which is disappointingly about women who take advantage of him because of his money (at least, partly.) It also uses the word ho — constantly, actually. Meanwhile, that sound you just heard was a million women rolling their eyes.
If you’ve heard Curren$y’s Pilot Talk albums or last year’s Weekend at Burnie’s, you probably have some sense already about what you’re getting here. And if you haven’t, rest assured: Curren$y is better than your average MC. World’s better. And singling him out for a rant about sexism in music is probably not completely fair: I could have written this about Killer Mike’s excellent R.A.P. Music, too. There’s probably some deeper conversation here about what an artist’s responsibility is, or what society’s responsibility is, but I’m not sure there are a substantial amount of people in the rap community who are interested in having it. Bottom line: give this album a listen, because despite all of the cultural criticism, it’s just good hip hop.
But, if you’re a woman, this is unfortunately just another rap record.
3.5 / 5 bars
BONUS: Read this excellent interview by Ebony journalist Dream Hampton with Too $hort.