They said I can't rap about being broke no more
They ain't say I can't rap about coke no more
The Wife Person and I have driven to the D.C. area four times this summer. And, with each drive comes a couple dozen or so new additions to my Spotify playlist; a trip soundtrack occasionally interrupted by Google Maps prompts and debates about glazed donuts. The additions to the playlist usually depend on the mood I was in when creating them. Since I was feeling unusually nostalgic Friday afternoon, the songs/artists I ended up adding were all from the late 90s. DMX. The Lox. Black Rob (Yes, that Black Rob). Beanie Siegel. And Eminem.
Put your hands down, bitch, I ain't gon' shoot you
I'ma pull you to this bullet and put it through you
The quoted lyrics are from "Kill You" — the second track on Eminem's 2000 The Marshall Mathers LP. And also probably my second favorite Eminem song. ("Stan" is first.) It is clever, creative, vile, violent, alliterative, angry, silly, hilarious, and reprehensible. Whichever way you feel about Eminem — love, hate, admire, abhor, whatever — "Kill You" is a model example of it.
Blood, guts, guns, cuts, knives, lives, wives, nuns, sluts
It is also — like much of his music — shockingly and unflinchingly misogynistic. So shocking that the Wife Person and I addressed it.
"Yeah, Damon, I don't think he'd be able to release this album today. Or, he could, but he wouldn't be as popular."
"I think he would be. Tyler the Creator is basically a poor man's Eminem — with the same type of content and lyrics — and he's still able to thrive today. There'd be more push back, criticism, and protest because there are just more avenues for that now. But yeah, I think he'd be just as popular."
"Maybe. (Laughs) I wonder how many songs are still going to be on this travel playlist when the alien lands."
The alien the Wife Person is referring to is the baby she's currently carrying. A girl baby. A baby girl. We are having a daughter, a fact which…
1. Will likely lead to me writing approximately 44325641263264 different posts and thinkpieces about raising a daughter. (So be prepared.)
2. Has created more ambivalence about my relationship with rap music.
I'm far from the first person to express mixed feelings about hip-hop; specifically, being a fan of a certain type of rap music and attempting to reconcile it with adulthood or new parenthood or personal politics. Both Panama and I have done it before on VSB, and I even wrote about it for Complex a couple years ago.
When my dad would drive me to school and basketball games when I was a child, he'd play Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and Miles Davis and other artists he grew up on. People who grew up on rap—specifically, the ultra-vivid and ultra-violent rap music from "my" era—will not have the same luxury. I can’t imagine a parent breaking down “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” the same way my dad broke down "Trouble Man" to me.
And these conversations will continue to happen. Because hip-hop is such a vital part of so many of our lives. They're such a vital part of my life that memories from my adolescence are helped put in chronological order because of when certain albums were released. And because misogyny in hip-hop — rap music, specifically — isn't just annoying. Or even inescapable. It's fundamental. It is as ingrained in rap's culture as White supremacy is in America's. It's built on it and continues to thrive because of it. Obviously, all rap isn't as unambiguously misogynistic as Eminem's "Kill You." But you'd be hard-pressed to find any popular rap music — even rap music created by women — that's completely devoid of sexism. Either in the finished product or the creation of that product.
Consider last week, when Drake received praise for praising Nicki Minaj in "Back to Back" ("shout outs to boss bitches wifin niggas"). Implied in that line is the idea that a man should be ashamed of being with a woman more successful than he is. And if the man should be ashamed of it, naturally the woman should be too. Again, this was a line that received praise. A glance at the top of the hip-hop mountain on a Forbes list of the richest rappers shows one (50 Cent) who's currently being sued for millions of dollars for leaking a sex tape of a rival's ex-girlfriend, another (Jay Z) who's spent much of his career making songs about leaving condoms on babyseats, and one (Dr. Dre) who has a highly-anticipated biopic about his group set to be released. And also has apparently beat so many women that there's an actual article titled "Beatings by Dr. Dre" that chronicles these incidents.
And this is where the relationship gets complicated. Because I have no desire to stop listening to and supporting rap music. At least not right now. Admittedly, I am not the same 18-year-old who only listened to nihilistic and misogynistic music. My tastes have diversified; my sensibilities mellowed. Kendrick Lamar is a far cry from JR Writer. But I can't honestly say that the music I enjoy now is without traces of it. And while I won't listen to certain types of music while she's around — and will attempt not to allow her to listen to it until she's of age — if she has any type of savvy, curiosity, or observational skill, she will undoubtedly become aware of the type of music daddy (and mommy) listens to when she's not around. Because, according to every parent I've spoken to, kids find shit out. And she will try to understand, if girls are great and beautiful and smart and sweet and strong and awesome like we've taught her, why I'd enjoy listening to music that often expressed the exact opposite feeling.
And I won't know what to tell her.