I have been listening to rap since I was, well, perhaps too young. I remember listening to Shyeim with my brother on the way to school when I was eleven years old. I remember rapping along to Talib Kweli at the back of grade seven math class. I remember blasting J. Cole before varsity soccer games.
I love rap.
I am a feminist and I love rap.
And I have been defending this seemingly inherent contradiction for many years.
All too often I am asked, “Why do you listen to rap, it is so degrading to women!”
And although my instinct is to rebut this, it is the sad truth that most of mainstream rap music today is in fact degrading/offensive/damaging to women.
I mean, it’s hard to argue when this exists: “Put molly all in her champagne/She ain’t even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that/She ain’t even know it”. (Thank you Rick Ross...)
SOMEHOW it is socially acceptable for critically acclaimed artists to objectify, exploit, and victimize feminized people. It is more often than not that a rap song includes “bitch” or “hoe”, sexually objectifies women, normalizes abuse, or glorifies problematic relationships.
This is deeply upsetting for obvious reasons, but also because the roots of rap are beautiful. Rap lifts, brings together, and empowers people.
Thankfully, there is one rapper gaining recognition today by doing exactly that.
The London, Ontario rapper came on the music scene in 2005 with the release of his first album, When This Is Over. Ever since then he has been breaking stereotypes, pushing boundaries, and just generally being awesome.
In one of his earliest songs, I’ll Never Understand, he reflects on his parents’ experience in the Rwandan Genocide: “Because folks only holler if the cost/Of dollars lost is high/So regardless of the number of lives/When poor blacks die/They always turn a blind eye.”
He speaks of black stereotypes thrust upon society in his song Brother when he raps, “So young black don’t see themselves in/Scholastic pursuits/Or the more practical routes … And that narrow conception of what’s black isn’t true/Of course, we still feel forced to adapt to this view”.
Off his newest album, Flying Colours, he celebrates the struggles and accomplishments of Canadian immigrants and addresses deep-rooted issues affecting First Nations communities in his song Fam Jam.
Shad does what few rappers today do: rapping without offending. In fact, Shad goes one step further; he advocates.
He advocates for those less privileged, those without a voice, and those without clout. He supports and empowers feminized people.
He does what feminists do, but with such damn good style.
And as a feminist who loves rap, I think my prayers have been answered.
So if rap ‘isn’t your thing’ (which we should definitely talk about), can we at least agree that this nap-loving, backwards-cap-wearing, pizza-eating artist is worthy of our attention and praise?
And just to further prove my point, here’s a video. (You’re welcome in advance.)