Black Music and Misogyny

The worst forms of dancing and music seem to be emerging from African communities.

A few studies over the last couple decades have quantified the much higher level of degrading sexual lyrics found in black music, as well as its increase over time.

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“Degrading and Non-Degrading Sex in Popular Music: A Content Analysis” (2008)

This study looked at 279 songs, and found that 103 had lyrics referring to sexual activity. They found that, of those 103 songs, references to degrading sex were more common than to non-degrading sex: 65% to 35%.

However, a different picture emerges when broken down by genre:

Country: non-degrading sex (44.5%), degrading sex (7.5%)
Pop: non-degrading sex (5.6%), degrading sex (3.0%)
Rap: non-degrading sex (13.9%), degrading sex (64.2%)
Rythm&Blues/Hip Hop: non-degrading sex (27.8%), degrading sex (22.4%)
Rock: non-degrading sex (8.3%), degrading sex (3.0%)

Most notable is how totally opposite rap and country are in this spectrum (by the way, rap and R&B are not over-represented because of having more songs included in the analysis – here is the breakdown: Country (n=61), Pop (n=35), R&B/Hip-Hop (n=55), Rap (n=62), or Rock (n=66)).

I made these charts which lay it out pretty starkly:

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“Sexualization in Lyrics of Popular Music from 1959 to 2009: Implications for Sexuality Educators” (2011)

This is an interesting study: they analyzed the top 100 songs of the final year of each decade for the last 6 decades for degrading vs non-degrading sexual content. They analyzed white and non-white artists separately.

White artists:

1959: 88.1% non-degrading; 11.9% degrading
1969: 93.8% non-degrading; 6.2% degrading
1979: 90.8% non-degrading; 9.2% degrading
1989: 95.2% non-degrading; 4.8% degrading
1999: 97.2% non-degrading; 2.8% degrading
2009: 92.0% non-degrading; 8.0% degrading

1959: 93.9% non-degrading; 6.1% degradingNon-white artists

1969: 93.9% non-degrading; 6.1% degrading
1979: 85.7% non-degrading; 14.3% degrading
1989: 86.5% non-degrading; 13.5% degrading
1999: 84.4% non-degrading; 15.6% degrading
2009: 54% non-degrading; 46% degrading

I put it graphical form (by % of songs with degrading sexual content):

As you can see, there has been an explosion in degrading sexual content in the non-white music scene. What is the cause of this? The rise in degrading music coincides with big labels taking over the industry – is this being driven by them giving audiences what they think they want, as some say? Or has ghetto culture overcome social norms that previously held it in check, and become acceptable?

The final word to the authors: “The current study identified distinct differences in sexual references made by White and non-White artists in this sample. Whereas White artists made significantly more references to kissing, hugging, and embracing, non-White artists made significantly more references to preparation to give/receive sexual activity, sexual response, penile-vaginal sex and oral sex.”

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“Songs as a Medium for Embedded Reproductive Messages” (2011)

The authors studied the songs from the top billboard charts of Country, Pop and R&B. They analyzed the songs for “reproductive messages” (ie. involving all aspects of mating – including commitment, mating, mate guarding, privisioning, etc).

Country had an average of 5.96 reproductive messages per song, Pop had an average of 8.69 per song, and R&B had 16.77.

“The four most frequent reproductive categories contained in the lyrics of Country songs were commitment, parenting, rejection, and fidelity assurance, in that order. For Pop songs the most frequent reproductive categories were sex appeal, reputation, short-term strategies, and fidelity assurance. For R&B songs, sex appeal, resources, sex act, and status constituted the most frequent themes. Whereas 46 out of the 58 parenting themes came from Country songs, only four appeared in R&B songs. In contrast, references to resources were featured 106 times in R&B songs, but appeared only six times in Country songs.”

I think we can assume rap would be like R&B, only more so.

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“Gangsta Misogyny: A content analysis of the portrayals of violence against women in rap music, 1987-1993” (2001)

This study just went through 13 bands and analyzed their lyrics, looking through 490 songs altogether that were produced between 1987 and 1993. They found 22% of the songs contained violence and misogynistic lyrics. However, the authors seemed to be counting only more extreme examples of those things, and not other degrading content.

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“Misogyny in Rap Music: A Content Analysis of Prevalence and Meanings” (2009)

They analyzed all rap albums from 1992 – 2000 that reached platinum status. They mention that this time period is a transition time in which it was moving towards a more commercialized and an industry driven by big label interests.

They found misogyny present in 22% of the songs. Since that time things have gotten even worse, as discussed above. They also mention: “Although women are presented as subordinate to men in a majority of rock and country songs as noted earlier, rap stands out for the intensity and graphic nature of its lyrical objectification, exploitation, and victimization of women… Rare are lyrics that describe women as independent, educated, professional, caring, and trustworthy. Although the majority of songs in the original sample did not contain misogynistic lyrics, even these songs failed to present women in a favorable light.”

This paper makes the argument mentioned above that the rise increase of misogynistic lyrics in rap music is related to big labels pushing it in that direction. However, their own research suggests a deep seated misogyny in the black community:

“Violence is one means of eliciting respect from others or punishing those who it (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003), but men are also admired for economically and sexually exploiting women. Four decades ago, Liebow’s (1967, 140-144) ethnographic study of a low-income, Black neighborhood described how important it was for men to be seen as ‘‘exploiters of women,’’ even if they did not always treat women in this way. Recent research indicates that exploitation and degradation of young women is still a feature of some inner-city communities today and continues to shape gender relations (Miller and White 2003). Anderson’s (1999) study of an African American community identified several dimensions of a distinctive neighborhood culture, what he calls the ‘‘code of the street.’’ For many young men in such neighborhoods, the street code places a high value on sexual conquest, promiscuity, and the manipulation of women

“Because of the implications sex has for their local social status and esteem, the young men are ready to be regaled with graphic tales of one another’s sexual exploits. . . . Status goes to the winner, and sex is prized as a testament not of love but of control over another human being. The goal of the sexual conquests is to make a fool of the young woman. . . . [The male] incurs sanctions [from his peers] for allowing a girl to ‘‘rule’’ him gains positive reinforcement for keeping her in line. . . . In many cases the more the young man seems to exploit the young woman, the higher is his regard within the peer group. (Anderson 1999, 150, 153, 154)”

Once again, it isn’t clear to me that the form that rap has taken now isn’t a more accurate reflection of the black male attitude than the music some perceive as being a more grassroots golden age of rap music.

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Given that the social pathologies in the black community are long standing, it is strange that there has been such a drastic rise in violent and degrading sexual imagery over the last couple decades. The huge black crime rate has not similarly grown uncontrollably, it has simply been continuously high. It is possible the ‘big label’ theory has something to it. It could also be that traditional mores that kept the worst aspects of ghetto culture from being promoted in the media have withered away, exposing what was always there (and, as we have seen, they were indeed already there). The global data (below), also suggests that the ‘big label’ cannot be the whole story.

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Global trends

It’s not just in North America that this issue exists, but in other parts of the black world as well.

In both the Caribbean and South Africa there has been a parallel emergence of these trends as well, represented in the styles known as Kwaito (South Africa), and Dancehall (Caribbean). From Negotiating a Common Transnational Space: Mapping Performance in Jamaican Dancehall and South African Kwaito (2009):

Kwaito, like Dancehall, has distinct styles of dancing, performance,
fashion, and language (mostly township slang and indigenous languages). Unlike the protest music of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, among others, Kwaito like the 1980s emergence of Dancehall music is thought to be apolitical, with often misogynist content focussed on girls, cars and partying, and sexually explicit dance moves.

On the concept of ‘slackness’ found in Dancehall, which gained popularity in the 80’s (from ‘Dis Slackness Ting’: A Dichotomizing Master Narrative in Jamaican Dancehall 2005):

Slackness often refers to the display of women’s sexuality whether through lyrics, dance moves and so on… And it is the sexuality of women, much moreso than that of men, which is both celebrated and devalued in the culture of the dancehall…
Lyrics began to reflect… a roundabout turn away “from the social concerns of the seventies” which fuelled the “”new” dancehall era with songs replete with sexual braggadocio, misogyny and violence… This view is recorded by Salewicz & Boot (2001, p. 172) who explain Dancehall as a distinct musical genre characterised by “the marriage of digital beats and slackness: that moment and music in which lyrics about guns, women’s body parts and men’s sexual prowess come together,” in songs…

Sonjah Stanley-Niaah says:

What we call ‘slackness’ was always a part of the music… It’s just that when dancehall became popular around the 1980s, those themes – slackness in particular – became more popular too, as dancehall moved from a more private space of consumption to a more public space.

Also of significance is the origin of the styles of ‘dancing’ known as grinding/daggering. These highly sexualized forms of dancing seem to have originated in the Caribbean. It seems likely the attitude implicit in these forms of dancing is very similar to that discussed here in connection to music. Now, there is no evidence that ‘grinding’ or ‘daggering’ were going on in in traditional Africa, however in Dancehall: from slave ship to ghetto we hear:

Ajayi explains that for the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Benin and Ghana, perceiving “the body that dances with spiritual and pious fervour in worshipping God” and that same body dancing “with sensual pleasure and delight on social and courtship occasions” evokes no contradiction.

Reggaeton is another Caribbean/Latin style of music that is highly sexualized and often misogynistic. While it is primarily a latino phenomenon, it was heavily influenced by Jamaican dancehall, as well as hip hop.

As mentioned before, these global trends suggest that the ‘big label’ theory, usually based on the American situation, cannot be a satisfactory explanation. These have been organically growing, grassroots music trends that emerged in several areas of the worldwide black community.

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African origins

I discussed some issues related to African sexual behaviour in relation to the AIDs crisis, and also whether the data supports claims about black sexual promiscuity.

There is obviously overlap with this issue, in that if there is any connection between sub-saharan culture and black music, it would presumably be tied to the putatively more exploitative / degrading / transactional orientation towards sexual relations. (I recall a newly arrived refugee, who had been a pastor in the Congo and Uganda, remarking to me on how much more men in [the white, North American city in which I live] evidently love their wives).

Unfortunately, not enough research exists on the level of misogyny in music in other parts of the world. There are clear trends of highly sexualized and misogynistic music and dancing styles in diaspora black communities, as well as South Africa, but elsewhere there is little data. I need to do further research on inter-sex relations in traditional African societies.

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Postscript

Rap has become especially popular among young white males, especially because of the perceived masculinity of rap music and blacks in general. As David Starkey, the British historian, said in reaction to the London riots: “The whites have become black.” This is an especially alarming trend in light of data of the nature discussed above.

Finally, here is ‘Get Low’ by Lil Jon. It reached the top ten of the Hot 100. Consider what that means.

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