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White people can’t rap: expectations and conventions in rap music

I was not one of those people who grew up immersed in music, especially not rap music. I was just exiting a nu metal phase that had lasted a good few years when the Marshall Mathers LP was released. I remember having to get my mother to go into the record store without me in order to buy the 18+ parental advisory album (Australia has always been fairly strict about these things). It was a point of pride with me that my mother was so much cooler than other mothers – I was the only one of my friends allowed to have the album at the time (no clean version for me, bitches!).

The_Marshall_Mathers_LPThat album blew my fucking mind. With the exception of the tracks ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Amityville’ (both tracks I’m afraid that I always skip and actually just didn’t bother copying into my iTunes library) that album is perfect. Hell, I even love the Ken Kaniff skit. What’s not to love about a blow job skit?! But more importantly, the album opened me up to exploring the rap genre. I started buying all kinds of rap, just to get to know what was out there – Run-D.M.C., Tupac, Dr. Dre, Outkast, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, DMX, Notorious B.I.G, and Nas – to name a few.

I really loved the genre (and still do), but I did start to notice certain themes reappearing over and over again that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Rap lyrics often discuss violence, sexism, homophobia, racism, and poverty – and they don’t always question it. These negative experiences are sometimes glorified and encouraged – especially sexism and homophobia. While enjoying the music, I started to feel uncomfortable singing along to some of the lyrics.

Meanwhile, some artists use the medium as a way to genuinely explore these issues and bring light to issues that often get overlooked or glossed over. But what about artists who did both – both challenged and conformed?

You fags think it’s all a game, ’til I walk a flock of flames

Homophobia in rap music

Sometimes it is almost understandable that Tippa Gore got up on her soapbox declaring the language and messages in modern music wasn’t appropriate for children – but then again, maybe not. Earlier this year, Eminem released his eighth studio album, Marshall Mathers 2, to a public outcry. ‘Why are you still so homophobic?’ the media shouted back at him. And his response? He isn’t homophobic, but this is part of his rapping persona, it is what he does.


Ok, so it is easy to still get pissed at a response like that, but on another level, I understand. Not to hold little Hermione Granger up as some kind of grand philosopher, but the girl had a point when talking about Voldemort – ‘Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.’ Eminem spoke to Rolling Stone arguing that he never really associated words like ‘faggot’ or the insult of saying someone is ‘gay’ with homosexuals. To him, they are words simply like ‘asshole’ or ‘punk’. I think the man has a point.

While I completely understand that using such words may be construed as encouraging homophobia, is that always the case? I don’t think so. Take the terms ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’, for instance. I absolutely identify with these terms, it is what I am. And now that I claim those terms for myself, they can’t hurt me when some ignoramous calls me a geek, trying to be hurtful. I’m like, ‘yeah, I am a geek, what’s your point?’

lolitaEven if you don’t think it is ok for Eminem to be throwing around homophobic and misogynistic language in his songs, I would certainly argue that you need to think twice before assuming that by doing so he is in some way encouraging that behavior in his listeners. I mean, come on, do you really think he wanted everyone to go out a kill their wives when he sung about murdering his own in ‘Kim’? Wise up! Take something literary then… Nabokov’s Lolita is a wonderful book, told from the perspective of a pedophile. Does everyone cry out in horror at Nabokov encouraging pedophilia?! Of course not! That was not the intention of the book.

Bad shit happens in this life and without talking about it, we will never get past it. It is important not to censor any opinions – you know, as long as they stay just that. Recently, Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty was suspended from the show after making homophobic comments in a GQ interview (which is highly amusing given all the other racist and misogynistic shit to leave his mouth prior to this incident). However, he was talking from him perspective. He made it very clear that it was his view. And he is entitled to his view, right? Just like I’m entitled to my view that he’s an ignorant asshole?

If we claim that assholes should be censored, who is the one that’s going to judge who is an asshole?

Put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand

Misogyny in rap music

It seems that misogyny goes hand in hand with homophobia in rap music. Referring to women as ‘bitch’ or ‘hoe’ is almost mandatory in any rap song. Even forward thinking rappers like Childish Gambino are guilty of it (for instance, the opening line of the catchy ‘Freaks and Geeks’ is ‘Gambino is a mastermind, fuck a bitch to pass the time’).

Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenoceros

But it isn’t just the male rappers that are guilty of denigrating my gender. Many female rappers take on masculine personas while they rap, such as Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, and Nicki Minaj. They hyper-sexualise themselves and focus on ‘making men want them’ (‘One Minute Man’, Missy Elliot). I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard a female rapper say something along the lines of ‘give it to me’, but it is far too often. Sometimes I wonder if women don’t know how to appropriate rap music while staying proud of their gender. Or maybe it is just that – they are fitting in just to prove a point? Perhaps they are saying they can be just as ‘masculine’ as the others. And maybe that approach is totally valid.

There are more and more female rappers out there (thankfully), with a growing number of white female rappers amongst them (such as Iggy Azalea and Touré). Maybe their growing number will help turn the tide on the female hate content prevalent in rap music, and maybe they can come up with some better ways to refer to women appropriate for rhymes.

I’m like my skin is just starting to work to my benefit now?

White rappers

In the song ‘White America’, Eminem discusses his difficulties in getting noticed at first, with Dre being the only one able to look past his skin colour. It always surprises me when some people are naïve enough to think that racism only goes one way – white people being racist against others, and that’s that. Well, guess what, it doesn’t just go one way, anyone has the capacity for racism, no matter what race they are or who they are enacting prejudices on. Hip Hop, rap, and R&B are all musical genres that came out of black culture. And as such, it has taken time for people of other races to be able to participate in these genres without being persecuted for stealing from another culture.

In Childish Gambino’s track ‘Backpackers’, he discusses his childhood where he was teased for not conforming to the cultural norms of the black community. He raps, ‘The only white rapper who’s allowed to say the N-word’ and ‘Chillin’ with my n-words, say that like a white kid’, to illustrate how he was teased for being too ‘white’. It’s sad to hear that even a black rapper has faced feeling alienated in a musical culture that expected him to behave in a certain way.


While I do think that Elvis was an unbelievable ass when it came to stealing from the black musical community, I don’t think that’s where we’re at any more. If you like a certain kind of music, it is only natural that you might attempt to write a song in that style. And what would be wrong with that? Rappers come in all shapes, sizes, and colours, and that is the way it should be.

The white man’s rap: pop culture references

One thing I have noticed in a lot of white rappers’ lyrical content is a propensity for making pop culture references. In Eminem’s most recent album, many people have claimed that he is out of touch given his references are so ‘old’. Why does this necessarily mean he’s out of touch? Can’t he just be nostalgic? I’m always thinking back on old stuff I liked, and to be honest, I’m always finding new things that are really old, but as the tag line for TV reruns goes ‘It’s new to you’. I don’t begrudge Eminem’s nostalgia, I bask in it.

Nerdcore and post-punk laptop rap

MC Lars supports Wheatus @ Fruit Hull UKWTF?! Yeah, ok, so what exactly am I talking about here? Those in the know will likely be saying ‘hell yeah’ and going to put their copy of Indie Rocket Science on. Nerdcore is any form of hip hop or rap that covers lyrical content that would be of interest to geeks and nerds. That’s right, raps about science fiction is the shit. If you want to hear any of this glorious genre, check out MC Lars, MC Chris, MC Frontalot, Optimus Rhyme, and Commodore 64, among others.

MC Lars is my personal favourite, calling what he does ‘post-punk laptop rap’. Not only has he sampled one of my favourite bands (Tegan and Sara) in a song about Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘Annabel Lee’, but he also raps the excellent ‘Male Feminist’. ‘Men can be feminist too, it’s true!’ Hopefully this new wave of nerdy white rappers can bring in a new era for rap music with respectful lyrics alongside awesomely catchy tunes and fast rhymes. Here’s hoping the future of rap music is a positive one.

About Megan Leigh

Writer and editor of Pop Verse. Co-host of Breaking the Glass Slipper. My special interests include publishing, creative writing, and geekery.

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