Hip-hop music and culture, a long-standing emblem for progressive change and social unity, is flourishing, sustained by the voices of the disenfranchised, but the genre is not without its blemishes.
For all of its messages of empowerment, hip-hop has always struggled to condemn the abusers who pollute the genre. Of course, this is not unique to hip-hop. We can find this reluctance to denounce sexual violence in every entertainment sphere—in every genre of music—because hip-hop’s struggle is only a symptom of the larger issue of rape culture in America. That being said, since we are a hip-hop platform, this is where our conversation has to take root.
Countless articles have already been published detailing the difficult intersection between being a hip-hop fan, being a woman, and most importantly being a Black woman. Take Kai Miller’s BET article, “Hip-Hop Hates Me: The Complexity in Being a Woman ‘For the Culture’”, which explains why the genre often times fails women, or “Why Feminists Can Love Rap & Still Give a Fuck,” by our own Selene San Felice, which explains why female hip-hop fans can still appreciate the genre despite the objectification of women. To love something, you have to be able to critique it.
This talking point doesn’t discriminate, either. Some of our most socially minded, community driven artists can’t escape the overarching shadow of rape culture. Take “Smoke Break” by Chance The Rapper, featuring Future. The thesis of the song is romantic—a desire to unwind with your girl—but then we arrive at Future’s verse, where he mentions giving his girl a Percocet for himself and for her “esteem.” The dissonance between Chance’s heartfelt verses and Future’s unsavory brag about putting a girl under the influence is undeniable.
But the buck stopped there.
Maybe the mention was too casual, but that’s also the problem. As a culture, hip-hop has become desensitized to these things to the point where they usually blow over in a matter of minutes. But there comes a point where women (and men) grow tired of constantly pointing out all of these subtle injustices because onlookers downplay them. The cycle informs itself.
Oftentimes, these supposedly taboo conversations begin on a high note, as I hope we can all agree that sexual violence is bad, but this is also where the discussion tends to hit a snag. Fortunately, there’s a solution to rap’s long-running acceptance of rape.
Enter BROCKHAMPTON. Or more specifically, Matt Champion. On Champion’s penultimate verse on Saturation II standout “JUNKY,” he provides a blueprint for what all women and rape survivors are looking for from their male allies: calling out and educating their fellow men.
“I hate these shady folk that want a ladylike / But don't treat lady right, but they be sayin' like "just the tip" / And, yeah, you mad 'cause she ain't fuck, mad 'cause she ain't suck / Beat your ass before you got time to say "why not?" / Here to catch ya slip up, wish you could just rewind / Time to not fuck up, thought you were just lucked up / Where the respect? Is your ass human? / I look you in your eyes, say "fuck you, are you fuckin' stupid?" / Respect my mother, 'spect my sister, 'spect these women, boy”
Not only does Champion’s verse nail down so many of the quintessential phrases that signal misogyny and rape culture, but instantly demonizes them by unraveling this language and demonstrating its problematic nature. Coded language like “why not?” and “just the tip” imply an entitlement to your partner’s body, and Matt Champion is clearly not having it. People listen to their favorite artists and, on some level, Matt is putting privilege to work.
Of course, Matt Champion is not the be-all-end-all of rape activism, but his words do help to put things into proper perspective. Beyond using privilege for good, the buzz around his verse re-emphasizes how critical it is for these powerful messages to come directly from the artist. We’re not responsible for one another, but it’s important to hold one another accountable.
After A$AP Ferg dropped the ball when he was presented with an opportunity to address the sexual assault allegations facing A$AB Mob cohort, Bari, he kicked it around until a follow-up interview weeks later.
If he was uncomfortable directly addressing Bari in the wake of an ongoing investigation, that is understandable, but Ferg didn’t need to directly address him in order to take a stand against that particular behavior. The entirety of the Mob had an opportunity to take a stand and make a statement, but at no time has the Harlem crew presented a unified position of denouncement.
Matt Champion doesn’t have a brand like JAY-Z or the audience size of Drake, which means his work is far from done, but, hopefully, his words will encourage others to follow his lead—a sentiment that has been expressed more than once this week.
At a minimum, it sure would be nice to stop having to write articles like these because, as Matt points out, “Where the respect? Is your ass human?”