Recently, Jay-Z, the man who created an anthem which shamelessly glorified pimp culture, "Big Pimpin", acknowledged his own conflicted feelings about that song to the Wall Street Journal. "It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh," said the rapper. Yeah, listening to it come on in a club and see the entire crowd go wild and singing along has been really harsh too Jay.
Full disclosure, I'm a Jay-Z fan and I have been since his first album Reasonable Doubt. Yet as a survivor of the commercial sex industry and as an advocate for exploited and trafficked girls it's hard to not feel some shame for liking an artist who has contributed his fair share of misogynistic lyrics and who has helped equate the concept of pimping with masculinity and 'swagga.'
I'm not alone with these conflicted feelings about Jay-Z or hip-hop in general. For those of us who grew up listening to Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, Eric B, and Rakim Mc Lyte and Queen Latifah and who felt that rap told our stories and captured our hearts in a way that nothing else did, hip-hop has been part of the soundtrack of our generation. Yet for those of us, particularly women, who have been impacted by gender-based violence, who've experienced the venom behind the words 'bitch' and 'ho' and who are disgusted by the objectification and sexualization of women and girls in this medium, loving hip-hop presents an uncomfortable contradiction.
For me, the conflicted feelings run deep. For the last 13 years, I've worked with and fought for girls and young women who've experienced violence and oppression at the hands of pimps and johns. And I know first-hand what its like to dance on the stage of a stripclub, be leered over by strange men, and break my 'daddy' off some bread. In short, I've been one of the girls that are alternately scorned and objectified in the lyrics of many rap songs.
Read Rachel Lloyd's full article here.
Rachel Lloyd is the founder of GEMS.
Rachel Lloyd's piece raises a number of important points and questions, most without easy answers. Creating a world without sex trafficking or any form of slavery will take more than laws, arrests, prosecutions, and victim services. It will take evaluating the root causes and the ways that we are complicit, as individuals and as societies, in a world that tolerates and even promotes slavery. As Lloyd notes, that includes examining the "glorification of pimp culture" in music, art, and film.
Lloyd goes on to write, "I don't know how much Jay-Z understands the realities of pimps and the harm that's done to girls and young women every day in this country by pimps and traffickers. I don't know how much he feels that he's played some role in the acceptance and glorification of pimping within our culture and how committed he is to perhaps trying to take responsibility for that. But his acknowledgment that he feels a level of shame about this song is a start towards having a balanced conversation about hip-hop's role in this issue."
Obviously this is a two-way street, and as music consumers we bear some responsibility for supporting songs that glamorize pimps and that objectify women and girls. Still, like Lloyd I would argue that if established artists and musicians began the learning about the realities of trafficking and start self-reflecting on their roles and actions, both positive and negative, we will have a strong first step.