Gender Portrayal in Mainstream Hip-Hop and Its Impact on Societal Behavior

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

There are many forms of entertainment for individuals to choose from, with music being one of the most popular – approximately 124 million Americans listen to online radio every month (Stutz, 2014). People use music to help regulate emotions and there is typically a song for every mood, while each artist is trying to convey something different with their music to attract listeners. Unfortunately, some of the most popular artists use suggestive lyrics that are often portrayed to an audience who may not completely comprehend the undertones of certain lyrical messages. Songs such as Ciara’s “Like a Boy” (2007), in which she expresses her contempt for being female and that life as a “boy” would be much easier – “Wish we could switch up the roles, and I could be that; tell you I love you but when you call, I never get back,” – depict an attitude towards dating culture in which men have the upper hand and women are supposed to be subservient. Other songs such as “Crack” (2 Chainz, 2012) perpetuate rape culture with lyrics including “I take ya girl and kidnap her, beat her to my mattress,” in which he suggests kidnapping another man’s girlfriend or wife and presumably forces her to have sex with him. Since these messages are widely broadcasted among radios everywhere, how do they affect the individuals listening? Are these words pushing people to act a certain way, or more specifically, conform to their gender role?  This paper will examine the arguments that hip-hop music makes a contribution to the perception of one’s gender roles and how he/she is supposed to perform such a role.


            While there are rap and hip-hop artists of both genders, the industry is mainly male and the marketing strategies of each gender differs widely, from musical promotions to lyrical content. Male musicians tend to play on their masculinity – their ability to “get” women, the degrading lyrics involving instructing women to perform sexual acts, the objectification of women, etc. PBS explores the idea of this one-dimensional portrayal of the advertising ability of female’s bodies to promote rap culture (2007). The objectification of women and hyper-sexualized lyrics is nothing new and can be found in nearly every recorded song. Where do female artists fit in with this industry? Nicki Minaj is a currently prominent female emcee with a large fan base and she seems to embrace her sexuality through songs like “Anaconda” (2014), in which she displays sexually charged descriptions of her anatomy in a way that a male artist would, though she uses this model in an empowering way. Even though her rise to fame was very similar to other artists who are male, Minaj received much more criticism from the beginning (Rashad, 2014). Her Young Money music label counterparts, Drake and Lil Wayne, feature an extensive amount of songs that are degrading toward women, yet they receive much less criticism. In Drake’s case, he creates songs that are seemingly harmless. One of his recent hits, “Hotline Bling” (2015), depicts a lonely Drake who is worried that his past lover has moved on and slyly tries to propose that the mystery woman has places “she does and doesn’t belong,”, implicating she should be at home and worried about what he is doing (Hairston, 2015). When his hotline stopped blinging, he inferred that she had moved on – “Ever since I left the city, you started wearing less and going out more,” – instead of waiting for him. Through this song, Drake illustrates that after a relationship, a man is supposed to be able to recover quickly and proceed to woo other females while the woman is supposed to wait and call on the man. Research done by Adams and Fuller suggest that these themes of misogyny have been able to stand the test of time even though language has changed (2006). The internalization of such degradation and stereotypes leads to pressure to conform to certain gender roles in order to prevent ostracism. This is evident with lyrics such as “Y’all are some goddamn girls, why do y’all act this way? Why do y’all act like [little] sissies,” in which rap artist Eminem was trying to “diss” an enemy by portraying him as being unworthy of manhood due to his undesirable actions and insulting him by calling him a “girl” (“Girls”, 2001). This misogyny is unlikely to end anytime soon. Although there are more women who are gravitating towards the microphone, the major record labels are turning women down if they do not comply with the label’s wishes. In an interview with underground artist Jean Grae for MSNBC, Grae clarifies that the reason she chose not to sign with a major record label is so her creativity will not be limited by her gender (2013). The interview also highlights a need for more women in this genre of music.


            Misogynistic lyrics provide fuel for a culture that is dominated by masculinity while disrespecting and shaming femininity, as shown through the arguments and evidence collected for this paper. There is still a long way to go in the area of female degradation in hip-hop and rap culture, which is evident in contemporary examples (Drake, Juicy J, Trey Songz, Lil Wayne, etc), a few of which have been mentioned in this paper. Empowering songs such as Salt–N-Pepa’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” (1995), mentioned by Oware, emplore the idea of women evolving and being aware of harmful stereotypes (2009). It is important to examine all aspects of these lyrics, from both male and female perspectives, and understand how it affects both respective genders’ way of thinking and performance and conformance of gender roles. These stereotypes are so deeply engrained into individual’s minds, it is a difficult issue to bring to light.



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