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As women suffer to the beat

Many rap hits have blatantly misogynistic lyrics. Yet both sexes keep dancing to them.

January 20, 2006|Rashod D. Ollison | Baltimore Sun

If you tuned into pop or urban radio during 2005, if you went out to any hip nightspot last year, then surely you heard Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and the Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)." You probably downloaded them onto your iPod, or perhaps you bought the CDs from which the singles were culled.

But did you really listen to those songs?

Both are up for Grammy awards in February. Superstar rapper-producer West garnered eight nods for his double-platinum sophomore album, "Late Registration," which features "Gold Digger." The song held the No. 1 spot on Billboard's pop chart for 10 straight weeks.

For the Ying Yang Twins, the rowdy Atlanta-based duo behind such down-and-dirty stripper favorites as "Whistle While You Twurk" and "Salt Shaker," this is a breakthrough moment: a first Grammy nomination. "Wait," which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop singles chart, is up for best rap performance by a duo or a group.

Although West's cut and the Ying Yang Twins' tune were among the catchiest, best-produced hits of last year, they were also unabashedly misogynistic. While "Gold Digger" paints women as heartless and money-hungry, "Wait" depicts them as straight-up pornographic objects. The videos for the songs -- writhing, scantily clad chicks in "Wait" and nasty, flashily clothed women in "Gold Digger" -- illustrate the sexist attitude of the lyrics.

Check the first verse of West's smash, as sung by Jamie Foxx in his best Ray Charles voice: "She take my money/When I'm in need/Yeah, she's a triflin' friend indeed/Oh, she's a gold digga way over town/That digs on me."

No verse of the Ying Yang Twins' hit, including the "clean" version, can be reprinted in a family newspaper. The safest line is in the chorus where the two repeatedly describe their, uh, sexual prowess: "BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM."

What does it say about pop culture in 2005 when these two women-bashing tracks can become platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated smashes?

"Pop culture has always been a barometer of people's lives," says Carly Milne, a Los Angeles-based pop-culture expert and the sex and relationship correspondent for Maxim Online. " 'Gold Digger' has always struck me as tongue-in-cheek about girls we all know or some have dated. I think it was more about the musicianship of that song that made it so popular. This is a far cry from the gangsta-rap misogyny we're used to."

Misogyny in hip-hop is nothing new. Although "Gold Digger" and "Wait" aren't as in-your-face as some of the early women-bashing rhymes by Snoop Dogg and Too Short, the fact remains: Women are still being degraded. Even the ever-creative, free-spirited rapper-producer Missy Elliott plays up oversexed, money-hungry stereotypes in her music.

"The industry is so oversaturated with these types of songs," says Nicole Marzan, an industry insider and publicist for the Hyacinth Group, a New York-based public relations firm. "Women's lib -- we've taken off our bras already and burned them. Women can wear the pants now in relationships, and they can like these songs without getting so offended."

Full disclosure: No matter the club I went to last year, an upscale joint or a hole in the wall, women in the place flocked to the floor whenever "Gold Digger" or "Wait" boomed through the speakers.

"How do you expect the media or anybody else to get upset about these songs when the women don't?" asks Reed Baker, a New York-based hip-hop record producer and chief executive of Sophist Productions. "Women -- the women I know -- concentrate on the hooks and the beats, anyway. There's a general unawareness of the lyrics."

There's no denying the pull and immediacy of "Gold Digger" and "Wait." The former boasts a strutting groove, a chugging beat that automatically gets your head nodding. The latter is minimally produced: just finger snaps, a four-note bass thud sequence and lewd rhymes whispered over it all. The questionable lyrical content doesn't hit you at first.

"In the past, songs like these would have received considerable media exposure and public vilification," says Thomas Ingrassia, owner and operator of TIngrassia Entertainment, a Massachusetts-based artist management firm. "It seems that we as a society have become immune to the words being sung by popular entertainers. The fragile nature of our social fabric today has created an environment in which people -- young people especially -- may have a complete disconnect with issues of degradation and devaluing women in particular."

Female sexual liberation, as depicted in pop music, seems to mean that women boldly embody the fantasies of men. That's certainly true in hip-hop with the rise of such over-the-top sex mamas as Lil' Kim and Trina.

"Hip-hop is all about talking about concepts and content that aren't comfortable," producer Baker says. "It challenges us to contemplate tough issues. The Britney Spears song isn't going to do that. 'Gold Digger' is a deep-song concept, more so than 'Wait.' It challenges some girls to think about situations they put themselves in. It challenges them to think about what they're going after in relationships."

Perhaps. But it's still disappointing to see black male artists perpetuate stereotypes long associated with black women.

Rashod D. Ollison is a music critic at the Baltimore Sun, a Tribune company.

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