Reebok dropped rapper Rick Ross as a spokesperson last week following major backlash over lyrics in his song "U.O.E.N.O." that appear to encourage rape. The rapper issued a half-hearted apology via Twitter for his lyrics "Put molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it. I took her home and enjoyed it, she ain't even know it," claiming that he in no ways condones rape. (Since then, Ross has released an official apology.) Not surprisingly, many felt it was too little, too late, and the clear promotion of using a date rape drug to have sex with an unconscious woman is not only inappropriate, but reprehensible.
Misogyny, rape, and violence against women are topics that are often explored in music, particularly in the rap and hip-hop genres. Recent attention surrounding the "rape culture" that exists in American society, however, brings lyrics such as these under a scrutiny that most musicians were not confronted with in the past. While any suggestion of misogyny can have a negative impact on listeners, and women as a whole, we need to figure out where we draw the line between entertainment and the clear promotion of rape and violence against women.
Of course, the idea of misogyny as a form of entertainment is a sad one. Misogyny is unfortunately a way of life in the U.S. that, fortunately, many people— women especially — are working to combat. Nonetheless, it is easy to create a double standard when putting male rapper's lyrics under scrutiny; not only have plenty of "female empowering" songs suggested the idea of using men as sexual play things, but film is rampant with scenes of misogyny and violence. Specifically targeting music, and rap, may be unfair.
Rape in film is excused because it is seen as acting, and it may be a necessary component to the story. Yet people often forget that rappers are also actors and performers when they take to the stage. Their rap personas, perhaps, are more closely linked to themselves as celebrities and individuals in the eyes of fans, however, and thus are held more accountable.
For example, over 2,000 Harvard students signed a petition to disinvite rapper Tyga to headline the annual Yardfest on campus, which took place this past weekend. With songs such as "Bitches Ain't Sh-t," Bitch Betta Have My Money" and "Ready to F-ck," Tyga was considered a poor, and offensive, choice by petitioners. Though Tyga's performance was moved to a later time in order to accommodate more students at dinner who did not approve of Tyga's lyrics, he still performed as planned.
Upon reviewing Tyga's lyrics, the ones nearest to condoning rape are found in "B-tch Betta Have My Money," when he raps "Shut the f-ck up and jump on this d-ck." Certainly misogynistic and at least verbally violent, it's hard to say whether on not the song encourages rape. In defense of the rapper, critic Tom Breihan of Stereogum claims, "As far as misogyny goes, Tyga is not the remotest bit out of the rap mainstream. Young rappers like Kendrick Lamar who treat women as actual human beings in their lyrics are the exception rather than the rule, and even those guys throw around the word 'bitch' like it's their job … To chase him off campus is to stand against popular rap music as it exists in 2013."
So it may be the case of the chicken and the egg — did our society make rap this way, or did rap create the rape culture? The latter seems a bit extreme, although specific songs very clearly promote it. The elimination of misogyny and violence, including rape, from music would certainly be a good thing; listeners are impressionable and are also likely to take the mention of something to mean the encouragement of it — and if it's coming from their favorite rapper, that can undoubtedly be harmful as far as the way they view violence against women. But monitoring rap lyrics, no matter their content, can soon turn into an infringement of freedom of speech.
Therefore, the best way to combat the endorsement of rape culture is music is to start with the lyrics, such as those in "U.O.E.N.O.," that explicitly promote it. Companies, radio stations, and distributors must come together to create a policy on what they will not be willing to play, and what will be considered unacceptable from a spokesperson.
If a well-outlined policy is in place that clearly states what is inappropriate (as in, any lyrics that obviously portray violence against women as a positive thing), it will not only help to discourage harmful lyrics, but it will also allow musicians to have a clear understanding of what is obviously harmful, no matter if the lyrics were written with a seemingly harmless intent. We can't monitor everything that is said and done, and we shouldn't. But endorsing rape should never be tolerated.