I’m frustrated. Everything is backwards. It’s been rainy in southern California this year. Our president is a dumb man instead of a smart female. And Kendrick Lamar is being criticized for having done a feminist thing.
Hip hop news is of great concern to me and my feminism. I identified hip hop as one of the areas in my life in the most need of feminism, the idea that men and women should be treated equally, a long time ago. I had to because it hurt me to rap lyrics to songs that I love, songs that are a part of my history despite being terribly derogatory towards women. I am working to help open the floodgates and break that glass ceiling that has held so many women down from reaching “the top” within the hip hop branch of the music industry. This is one of my life goals and I’ve been focusing on this issue for years.
I recently watched the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and saw the scene where the woman on the split screen walks from the right side where she is dressed fancily, made-up, photoshopped to the left side where she is casual, natural, and real as Kendrick raps,
“I’m so fuckin sick and tired of the photoshop
Show me something natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks
Still I take you down right on your mama’s couch with Polo socks”
I’ve tried to play devil’s advocate to myself, to hear out the argument ricocheting around the internet that Kendrick is anti-feminist. I tried several times to acknowledge the arguments of the women who are criticizing “Humble”, but I just cannot understand, even with that last line referring to him having possibly aggressive, but not necessarily nonconsensual sex with said natural woman. Even with the scene of the natural woman in her underwear, stretch-marks and all, shaking along to the music in slow motion. For four seconds. How many times have we seen scantily clad women shaking their asses to rap in music videos? Or maybe the question is, how many hip hop music videos have been primarily scantily clad women shaking their asses?
What I believe Kendrick is becoming aware of is the inescapable societal pressure on women to look young, light, unstretched, unwrinkled, unblemished, pampered, thigh-gapped and thin…flawless. This pressure is what drives women to squeeze into pants that don’t fit, bleach their skin, and poison curly hair into being straight. If you are a woman who is not bothered by these practices, if they are a part of your culture and you have your reasons for doing them, that is fine by me. You do you. However, I have been struggling my whole life to dodge things like high heels and makeup. When we already have an oversized place in society for these things, why don’t we all make some room for women who don’t want to conform to American standards of beauty?
Kendrick Lamar, an articulate, enlightened young man from Compton who happens to be the leading rapper in the game, has done a feminist thing. Kendrick may not be a feminist. This would not surprise me, considering the gender politics of urban areas in southern California, such as Compton. When I lived in south central Los Angeles, I was perceived as a lesbian, perhaps because of my short hair and loose fitting clothing. SZA is the only female on Kendrick’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, and after having gone to music production school and being the only female in my class for an entire year, I can imagine the music and film production teams, as well as the label executives with whom Kendrick works, are mostly male. Given what I know about the patriarchal scope of the hip hop game and rapper Kendrick Lamar, it is a big deal that he’s acknowledging impossible female beauty standards and valuing realness in his music; a small, yet solid W for women in hip hop, in the Black community, and in general because the genre is so globalized and women still have to fight for so much. It is powerful for a rapper who explores themes of manhood in his music to have done a feminist thing because that rapper can relate messages to millions of men in need of awakening to the patriarchy. Kendrick threw us women a line.
So here is a question to my fellow women and especially, fellow feminists: Can we put a little bit of our feminist pride aside and grab the line? Can we display some positive reinforcement towards someone who we need on our side instead of taking these lyrics, this song, this rapper out of context? Let’s not scare him away. Instead of choosing to criticize him, let’s look at – oh, I don’t know – most other rappers in the game and deconstruct their lyricism as it relates to feminism. Let us give Kendrick the praise he is due before we raise the bar higher. Praise him for me, a minority woman in the rap game who is in need of allies like Kendrick.