“I'm in love with broken girls, girls, girls / Girls, girls, girls, hey girl / Really I'm broke myself, and I think she might help” —Saba, “BROKEN GIRLS”
What do we talk about when we talk about fucking? And I do mean fucking, because the aggression and pursuit count more than the act of sex itself when we talk about fucking in hip-hop songs, if only because music so often views fucking as a vehicle. Fucking is escapist, which is grand on its own, but fucking, too, has an insidious quality when we consider the misappropriation of power between who is and is not getting fucked.
There are moments in rap where to be fucked is to be used, to be transformed into the fixing component and leeched under the guise of lust for something greater. More often than not, women are the transitive subjects and are quietly tasked with the healing and fixing duty. It’s an incongruent and dangerous relationship—it stands to be emotionally killer.
What I mean to say is, there are plenty of instances where, lyrically, fucking is made laborious for women. In the music, women are vices and they are saviors. Saba admits as much, and he’s not too proud of himself, on “BROKEN GIRLS.” Women are viewed as substances before they are understood to be human. The same way Lil Peep sings of drugs ultimately draining him and taking his life as he attempts to escape his emotions, he sings of women (“Red Drop Shawty,” “Cobain,” “Gucci Mane,” “Sex with My Ex,” “IDGAF,” etc.). Peep blurred the lines between drugs and women so much so that the side effects of one sound like his desires for the other. Juice WRLD, too, blends women and drugs into symbiotic couplets (“Finally know the difference between love and drugs”).
In the early aughts, Atmosphere did much of the same on “Good Times,” rapping “This next one goes out to all the depressed women in the house / Whether you're taking the Prozac, the Xanax, or the Paxil” into “Got a thing for them women that don't love themselves.” For those keeping score at home, these bars are nothing if not the foundation for Saba’s “BROKEN GIRLS.” They exist as the cornerstone of what damaged women mean to damaged men, and the incongruence these relationships can take on.
Of course, these relationships spawn from emo’s toxic relationship with women, which has been covered at length but is not simply a symptom of the emo genre. What this fundamentally reveals is that young men do not appreciate women as human beings. Regardless of whether we are seeing women as solutions, prizes, or something else, all of these reframings objectify women. Relegating this solely to emo and pop punk does us little good by way of growing as a society. Even the wisest in hip-hop fall into this trap, if only because media so disadvantages women and always represent them as things and not persons. By breaking down the way we write about women and drugs in the same breath, we stand to undo that pattern of thought.
At the very least, this avenue for growth is what Saba aims for on CARE FOR ME’s “BROKEN GIRLS.” Here, his tactics for self-care are lowly, but his self-awareness can be applauded. In terms of songs falling under this umbrella, “BROKEN GIRLS” is by far the best, because it knows what it is, and exists to critique a broken system. Saba pursues “broken” women because he himself is enrapt in struggle. As Saba points out, this pursuit is in an effort to better himself, not to grow a healthy and sustainable relationship. “Fetishizing all your problems,” Saba spits before admitting to some of his own. Even the process of naming on the track privileges Saba, who can give his emotional strife a voice while the enigmatic women exist only as a sum of being hurt. The dynamism of the song is purposefully one-sided.
“BROKEN GIRLS” is an honest portrayal of the way men fail to see women as women, of the way men tend to see women as stepping stones (“This whole time, been obsessed, being sad / She was my, quick escape, made me forget / Hear her speak, see her weep, made me feel big”). And, of course, it is an honest depiction of how women are seen as substances: dangerous, enthralling, exciting, escapist. None of this is humanizing.
Somewhere between Saba’s bars about collecting wounded women like Pokémon and the admission of how toxic these relationships truly are, we start to see patterns similar to the way Lil Peep blended women, drugs, and mental healthcare on Hellboy’s “Cobain:” “I just fell in love with a bad bitch / Told me that she love me too, baby, I'm not havin' it / Sniffin' cocaine, 'cause I didn't have no Actavis.” Peep used drugs and women in place of medication. It’s exceptionally on the nose, but concerning nonetheless. Moments later, the opening of “Gucci Mane” sees Peep stacking his fading life, women, and drugs up in the same hook. All of his vices are working in unison and, at least in the music, appear interchangeable.
On the recently released Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, Lil Peep takes these relationships a step further, tackling fucking as deadly in the same way as his drugs of choice. Single “Sex with My Ex” features images of fucking as if the couple is on their deathbed. It’s the same urgency that informs addicts looking for their next fix. On “IDGAF,” Peep admits his addictions are going to kill him and he doesn’t care. He wants to get fucked until his heart stops, too, and he doesn’t care. Death is a moot point in his music, an understood and under-the-rug addendum. Using drugs and women is not the fine print to the Lil Peep contract, it is simply the contract. Really, there’s no fine print with Peep— which is gruesome, to say the least.
While Peep croons about losing his life in a whirl of coke and sex, we have to take a step back and realize he is the subject of “BROKEN GIRLS.” Everything Lil Peep stood for is what Saba aims to critique in his song. The platitudes here are obvious: no one should be addicted to drugs and no one should view women as much of the same. Yet, there’s a romantic quality to Lil Peep’s music that makes these likenings sound natural and, at certain points, soothing and cathartic. So we can bend the truth a little more, to read: no woman should exist as a vehicle for catharsis, but they do. The next logical step, is to ask why.
For one, music about wholeness as an already present absolute is not sexy. We tune into music to experience something; there must be motion. Lil Peep’s music is grand because he was always in flux, but beneath it all, we’d like to believe he could get better. Many of his older listeners had gotten better, why not him?
Secondly, and this is the larger point, there are simply no models to teach young men like Peep or a worse-off-Saba that women are people. Popular films, music, and television often use women as accessories for a man’s story. Our music reflects our environments and what we consume is what we, on some level, produce. In the case of Lil Peep et al. we consume women and drugs. We produce that consumption. The woman’s voice gets lost, and the woman’s role devolves.
This is a dastardly cycle like no other, but like all cyclical things we can step outside of the circuit and be better. The solution does not come from devaluing and cutting off Lil Peep’s music. We have to have our negative model to mold our positive one, after all. The solution comes by way of songs like Saba’s “BROKEN GIRLS,” and by assuming some level of responsibility as a listener. If you can identify that Lil Peep’s music is striking for concerning reasons, you have the impetus to press play on a woman and do what Peep’s music doesn’t: give agency to her voice and humanity.
There is no binary right and wrong to the way we view women and drugs in hip-hop, so much as we must take everything in concert. “Cobain” and “BROKEN GIRLS” are two elements of a story women have been telling for years: the story of their being used. To erase these songs would be disingenuous to all involved parties. The solution, ultimately, is to continuously make space and seek out the complete story. For every “IDGAF” there is a “Drew Barrymore” by SZA, a truth about what it means to be used, and what that does to the psyche of a woman.
We can let these stories told by Saba and Peep exist, so long as we remember they are incomplete. If we want better, we must seek out better. And trust me, better exists in droves from Kali Uchis to CupcakKe, to SZA, Syd, Ella Mai, Melii, and more. In making these connections between music and a larger social truth, we get one step closer to having that truth be the default and not the thing to be unearthed.