Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
I LOVE that my fifth grader is super into music. He’s slowly figuring out which genres and artists he loves after years of being subjected to his parents’ musical whims and fancies, everything from rock and roll to show tunes, hip hop, jam bands, folk, and “oldies.” He’s even heard his fair share of rap around the house, which makes his latest musical “discovery” even more upsetting: My son is a burgeoning Eminem fan, and now I am the one who has to explain to him why this musician he currently digs is actually the worst…
I understand the appeal of Eminem: his music and lyrics are incredibly catchy. The Detroit rapper is able to sound both highly commercial and dirrrrty all at once. But when you really stop and listen to his lyrics, then I think you’ll understand why I’m not so up on my son getting down to Eminem (and I’m not alone).
“Ain’t no one safe from, non-believers there ain’t none, even make the bitches I rape cum.” — The Medicine Man
“Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off and smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross.” — My Name Is
“I mean I really want you bad you c—t. Nick, you had your fun. I’ve come to kick it when you sacked that chump. Nick Cannon, you prick, I wish you luck with the fucking whore.” — On Mariah Carey from Bagipes From Baghdad
The violent imagery, the bragging about sexual exploits, the equating sex with rape (and even bragging about rape). Sure, there’s something to be said about artistic creativity and license, and possibly in his private life Marshall Mathers is one stand up dude. But those lyrics my son listened to and absorbed! Lyrics like the ones above normalize and excuse violent behavior, sexual assault, and the sexist treatment of women. We talk a lot about toxic masculinity, but here’s a prime example of where it is propagated.
So, what’s a mama to do?
We talk about it. A lot. Sure, it might be uncomfortable having to explain words like “whore” and “cum” to my 10.5-year-old, but I want him to truly understand why I’m saying Eminem is off limits. He needs to absorb *my* message: We do not promote or consume media that treats women like this. The real world is hard enough on women, we don’t need to chill and listen to misogynistic music to drive home that point.
“I know you’ve been listening to a lot of Eminem recently,” I open with, then follow up with an “Eminem really says some awful things about women in his music, kid.”
My son absorbs this for a bit, chewing it over in his head.
“But I really love the music and the beat,” he counters.
And I get it. I really do. Eminem has commercial success for a reason. So I dive deeper, asking him if he thinks it’s okay to promote being violent against women in lyrics. I ask him if it’s okay to demean and be sexist to women even in a song. It finally clicks.
“No. It’s not okay. Why would he be so mean in his songs like that?”
While that conversation may be over, talking about this isn’t.
That’s not to say that I’m a big wet blanket and forbid all rap or hip hop in our home. Instead, I show my son that you can be badass, that you can tell incredible stories, and you can be a big name in these genres without defaulting to violent, sexist or homophobic lyrics. So for those of you looking to expand your musical horizons, or steer your own kids toward musicians and lyricists that won’t leave you worrying, check out these rappers:
Chance The Rapper
While Chance may have had some more questionable lyrics in the past, he has acknowledged their problems and talks frequently about the topic of misogyny in rap. I think being able to show your kids an example of a talented artist who recognized his role in this problem and who does better is a win-win situation.
I wouldn’t be a good, Jewish mother if I didn’t play a lot of Beastie Boys. After, how many Jewish rappers can you name? These boys aren’t 100% immune either. Their earlier music wasn’t so kind all the time when it came to women, but like Chance the Rapper, they ultimately recognized and worked on their issues. In fact, in “Sure Shot” they explicitly apologize for their earlier rhymes:
“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
One excellent way to ensure less sexism in rap and hip hop is to play more female artists. Queen Latifah is one of my personal favorites (along with Missy Elliot). There’s no denying that she is truly the Queen of this kingdom. It’s even hotter when she pushes back against her industry’s internalized misogyny, like she does in the above U.N.I.T.Y.
This group can spit some pretty serious rhymes, without defaulting to debasing women or promoting violence. The messages in their songs and albums are always positive (if you can look past some of the stronger language) and ones that I love hearing play in my house.
A note: Yes, a lot of these artists swear. A lot. That may be problematic for some people, but honestly, I’m a-ok with my son hearing a few F-bombs in his music as long as the songs don’t glorify violence, rape, homophobia or sexism. Curse words aren’t going to influence him the same way as normalizing and promoting thoughts and behaviors that are utterly harmful and destructive.