Is Hip-Hop's Masculinity Being Challenged, By White Girls?
Pop culture critic Touré wondered if the Hip-Hop throne will one day be claimed by a White female rapper. Did he make a valid point?
The New York Times published a piece on December 23 from cultural critic Touré which proposes Hip-Hop's masculine core may be shifting by way of an influx of upstart female rappers. The author asserts that a growing, savvy group of up-and-coming artists are challenging Hip-Hop's male-centered presentation simply by being quirky, excluding commonality with their male counterparts and exhibiting a new type of cool.
The catch: all of them are White.
Touré opens his piece with the notion that Hip-Hop is mostly about Black masculinity. The provocative statement achieves its goal of raising eyebrows but it simultaneously opens up some holes in his theory. No sensible person would allege that Hip-Hop isn't male-dominated, as much of music has flourished under a long known patriarchal bent. Yet Touré, who carefully covers his tracks by mentioning that Black female and White male rappers have had their successes, fails to elaborate with anything concrete.
The piece instead becomes a love letter to the prototypical White female who happens to rhyme, gushing over a trio of rap artists that have not made any significant impact beyond social media spheres and a few features articles. It is unfair to say Australian MC and Los Angeles-based Iggy Azalea and Bay Area rhyme slingers Kreayshawn and K. Flay aren't interesting. But after a thorough listening, none of these women have the star power to unseat Nicki Minaj from her throne nor do they possess the stuff to create new trends in Rap.
A big gaffe in Touré's piece is his statement that part of why White female rappers have yet to impact the mainstream is because they lack “Black masculine power”—saying that this is a construct borne of exposure to street living, the “Black male cool” as he further calls it. It is a foolish notion to promote because as it has been proven time and again; not every Black male rapper had tough upbringings and quite a few of these MCs are college educated.
The story simply chooses to ignore the truth that timing, image, management and an ability to generate buzz in varying mediums are just as important as rap ability in these times where blog hits determine a rapper's worth as much as sales. Odd Future's (and Drake before them) well-documented rise to notoriety happened by way of social media savvy and a flood of critically lauded releases via various top Rap blogs. Neither Tyler's nor Drake's respective paths to fame were the byproducts of being reared in inner city environs.
Another eye-catching moment in the article that derails any merit the piece could possibly have; “As soon as White women start rhyming, no matter what they say, it's seen as cute and comical, like a cat walking on its hind legs,” writes Touré. Apparently he's never heard any music from Canadian rapper Eternia or Michigan's Invincible; nothing these women spit could ever be considered cutesy, as they rhyme with gumption often trumping some of their male peers.
Touré's curious focus on these women seemingly has an insidious agenda to inject these artists into mainstream conversation or to appear knowledgeable about the next big thing. These women are not household names, although the piece alleges they could be. He lavishes Iggy Azalea, calling her hodgepodge of southern rap trends “Hot” and mentioning her alignment with Black culture although she's just been living in America for five years.
Turning his focus on Kreayshawn, he captures the irony of her label-shunning “Gucci Gucci” but fails to state how she challenges this looming Black masculinity that Hip Hop is mired in. Much of the words regarding the Bay Area product meander to fluff, adding no weight to the article in any way. Kreayshawn's Odd Future and Lil B affiliations aside, she hasn't followed up with a song anywhere near the popularity of "Gucci Gucci," although she has appeared on tracks with southern fixtures 2 Chainz and Juicy J this year.
The infatuation with White women rappers continues as he profiles Stanford graduate K.Flay. As the eldest of the three, the 26-year-old's art is flagged as a counter to the so-called normal trends of Hip-Hop with the author remarking that she doesn't pander to the traditional tenets of Hip-Hop by way of her dress and sound. He fumbles greatly by saying she represents a generation of rap neophytes who rhyme but don't see a need to pay homage to the culture, although her music is nothing but Hip-Hop at the root.
Touré dangerously touts an idea that deepens the already wide chasm between male and female rappers and their fans. His claim that Hip-Hop is inherently Black and masculine ostracizes entire groups of people who just want good music and are not at all worried about Hip-Hop's supposed White female gentrification. Simply put, fans should enjoy the music for whatever qualities they feel attached to, not because White female rappers are somehow challenging Rap's entire Black male
construct—a point Touré never proves.
D.L. Chandler is a DC-area writer, editor. D.L. has covered a wide range of topics from politics, pop culture and music for over 14 years. Follow him on Twitter at: @dlchandler123.