This article was originally published on TheVine on 5th September, 2012.
Earlier in the year a rumour was circulating around the interwebs that Jay Z had shunned the age-old method of addressing women in rap and hip hop—“bitch”—after the birth of his baby with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, had made him realise the error of his ways. Alas, the poem in which Hova allegedly “curse[s] those that give it [bitch]”, turned out to be a fake, but it did raise some pertinent issues about calling women “bitches” in the rap game.
More recently, Jay Z’s bestie Kanye West revealed he wrote his song “Perfect Bitch” about Kim Kardashian, who took it as a compliment, showing how one person’s misogynistic insult is another’s compliment.
Rapper Lupe Fiasco’s latest track and accompanying video ask is “Bitch Bad”, using children to show the different ways we internalise the term. Again, one person’s put down is another’s feminist manifesto, like Bitch magazine, Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and “Queen Bitch” by Lil’ Kim.
Perhaps in response to Fiasco’s request to start a dialogue on the “destructive” and “troubling elements” of bitch, Kanye has taken to Twitter to add to the discourse. He asks, perhaps in relation to “Perfect Bitch”, “is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing?” To those who tend to towards “yes”, he asks, “would we refer to our mothers as bitches?”
A similar question comes to mind as the one brought up when the Blue Ivy poem, “Glory”, was released: why did Jay Z only shun the word after the birth of his daughter, as opposed to when he wed one of the most desirable women in the world, Beyonce? Is she not good enough to warrant not being called a “bitch”? I guess in this case, baby trumps baby mama.
But supposing that because women are addressed as “bitches”, “tricks” and “hos” in rap music they must automatically be viewed as such (and, really, what is a bitch or a ho? Someone who speaks their mind? Someone who gets some action between the sheets? If so, sign me up!) IRL is to subscribe to the outdated “hypodermic needle” theory of media studies. Certainly, though, popular culture does infiltrate other aspects of daily life so it’s important that Fiasco and West are contributing to the unpacking of this word that’s so inherent in rap and hip hop.
This is hardly a new phenomenon, though. 2Pac “Wonder[ed] Why They Call[ed] U Bitch” on his 1994 album, All Eyez on Me, concluding that having unprotected sex, getting paid for it, looking and moving a certain way and abusing the welfare system are all reasons why someone might “call you bitch”.
Eighteen years on, “bitch” is still “so prevalent in our culture right now,” says Fiasco. Because, as mentioned above, “bitch” is most certainly a derogatory term for many in the hip hop industry, as evidenced in “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre and Too $hort’s pertinently titled “Call Her a Bitch”, but also in wider society to address a woman who doesn’t conform to femininity norms: mouth shut, “legs closed, eyes open,” from 2Pac’s abovementioned battle cry.
But, alternatively, as Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch”, Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and Kim’s reaction to “Perfect Bitch” will attest, it’s also a term of endearment.
In a rare moment of clarity, Kanye Tweets, “Perhaps the word BITCH and N*GGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how they are used and by whom.”
Indeed. So while friends and lovers might use the word in passing affection, those who want to stifle independent women or ones who’ve scorned them, it’s still very much a problematic term.