Hip-hop has an issue with misogyny – but we can’t call it out without recognising the same issue across all music genres and society at large.
That’s according to Irish hip-hop artist Denise Chaila, who has been outspoken about the issue since bursting onto the scene with her debut EP ‘Duel Citizenship’ in 2019.
She was speaking after Guardian columnist Hasfa Lodi wrote that she now ‘cringes’ at the thought of her daughter listening to “the misogynist hip hop I once loved”.
She wrote that since becoming a mother, she now believes that she was “naive and desensitised” to the misogyny in her favourite music as a teenager, “oblivious to how it can demean women”.
Chaila said she doesn’t disagree with the column – but would have a slightly more nuanced perspective as a hip-hop artist.
“I think that it's beyond time that we were able to reckon with the harm that allowing people to use certain slurs and certain constructions of womanhood has done to us,” she said.
“By the same token, I will say that there is a danger in picking and choosing particular people and particular songs to magnify without understanding who they are in their entirety.”
She noted that hip-hop is far from unique when it comes to misogyny in music.
“What we don't want to do is allow an equal or feminist perspective to become a new sort of secular religious perspective,” she said.
“To my mind, and when I was reading her article what first came to mind was, you know, ‘Under my Thumb’ by The Rolling Stones or ‘Delilah’ by Tom Jones, ‘Don't Leave Me Now’ by Pink Floyd and ‘Run for Your Life’ by John Lennon.
“I think that there have always been these moments and these issues with like excruciatingly violent imagery weaponized towards women within music point blank.
“I think limiting ourselves to genre does us a disservice because, like she says in her article with her quote from [author] bell hooks, we can't blame one art and a predominantly black one at that, for the sexism that plagues every layer of society and every layer of music.”
Chaila said she has always believed that music is, “less about the individual creating a problem and more about the genre creating a mirror which reflects our society back towards us”.
“But hip-hop, yes, is and always has been a particularly dangerous site of harm for a lot of women in and out of it,” she said.
“Not just women, a lot of marginalised identities across many different spectrums of sexuality and gender, and all of this different ability to people.”
Chaila said she would never ‘advocate for censorship’ of misogynistic views.
“I feel that what we need to do is accept that, if we would like to see change, then targeting individuals as the site and the locus of our critique is not helpful,” she said.
“Imagine this, you know, whether we're talking about P Diddy and the scandal that's in the tabloids right now, or if we're talking about Eminem and the things that he wrote or we're talking about Lil Wayne or if we're talking about Drake; if we're talking about all of this casual misogyny, then let's talk about all of this casual misogyny, you know?
“Not just the people who it's popular to single out. You know, the road of misogyny in music is a motorway that has been paved a long time ago and there are a lot of people with cars driving down that road.
“If we want to disrupt that particular journey and that trajectory, then we must become civil engineers, you know, we can't just keep stopping people and having searches in people’s trunks.
“We need to start addressing the fact that there needs to be other roads.”
Chaila said one of the things that has changed in hip-hop in recent years is that “women are finally able to be respected and have careers very separately distinct from their male counterparts”.
She said that has “done a lot to reveal the layers of misogyny that exist at the heart of hip hop”.