'Respectful Rappers' Tumblr & How We Need to Talk About Feminism and Rap
There's a new "it" Tumblr in town, but it's not quite as cute as Feminist Ryan Gosling. It's called "Respectful Rappers," and it replaces misogynistic or homophobic rap lyrics with more polite versions and overlays the text over pictures of the rappers. A lyric for Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" becomes "Women are our mothers. They are also are daughters and sisters; they are the life-givers; they are everything."
The blog's creators, Columbia graduates Bob Vulfov and Eli Grober, said they're both fans of the genre and told Buzzfeed they created Respectful Rappers to try to address the "aggression and misogyny in rap music."
They're not wrong. Misogyny, homophobia and violence have long been issues that have plagued rap, and it's admirable that these men want to address it. But there's a few problems in their model: the one-sentence, meme format of the Tumblr doesn't foster a discussion about why these issues exist in hip hop and why that despite these issues, rap is still an artistically and culturally important genre. The need for that discussion becomes painfully obvious in one image on the blog of Hip Hop's Savior, Macklemore.
The lyrics for this image? See above. Out of all the rappers portrayed on the blog, it's the white kid from the suburbs that has his lyrics go unchanged. That alone says it all: as much as Respectful Rappers supports ending sexism and homophobia, it completely ignores classism and racism.
Members of oppressed groups will often oppress other similarly oppressed groups to feel powerful (hell, that's what this whole season of American Horror Story is about). That doesn't mean it's right, but it does mean that there's classism and racism have a big hand in the sexism and homophobia perpetuated in rap music. Not everyone has the privilege of taking a Sexuality and Gender class when their parents send them off to Evergreen State. And when you're a victim of racial profiling or police brutality, you probably don't want to say "Police brutality is very real, and we will not stand for it."
Racism comes even further into play when you try to apply to standards that rap music is held to to other genres and art forms. No one's going to stop teaching Hemingway because he was misogynistic and homophobic, and no one's going to make a Respectful Hair Metal Tumblr anytime soon. It should also pretty much go without saying that there's a wealth of rappers who don't perpetuate sexism and homophobia (yes, even before Macklemore), yet these characteristics are continually assigned to a growing and developing genre.
This doesn't mean that Respectful Rappers creators and Macklemore are terrible people (although I do reserve the right to think of Macklemore as a Grade A Douchenozzle). And it sure as hell doesn't mean that the issues they talk about aren't important. But it does mean that if you're going to discuss the sexism and homophobia that many rap songs perpetuate, you need to address the entire problem instead of blaming it on another group of oppressed people.
But hey, if you just want to make jokes for everyone's one obnoxious Facebook friend who's always posting that terrible "Disregard females, acquire currency," meme, go ahead. That's cool too.