This week marks the release of Mac Miller’s new album, The Divine Feminine. The album is a set of 10 odes, some in soulful chorus, sung over synthetic harmonies and piercing snares. In the album, Miller presents love as the most basic, fundamental human sentiment.
Miller explores love as an emotion—romantic, intimate, and of the female form. Funky, sensual, and passionate, the album is a welcome departure from the aggressive stylings of his recent works. Yet, in spite of its title, the album has drawn criticism based on what some call its misogynistic, hypersexual tones.
Since its emergence, hip hop has been continually scrutinized for promoting misogyny, toxic masculinity, objectification, homophobia, and violence. A 2009 study by George Washington University claims that one in four rap songs includes misogynistic themes. One doesn’t need to look any further than Dr. Dre’s 1992 hit, “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” to recognize the issue. This begs the question: where does modern hip hop stand?
Recently, women have become increasingly visible within mainstream hip hop: Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Missy Elliot, and M.I.A. rank among the most popular and recognizable artists within the genre. Hip hop has been traditionally male-dominated, and these women’s standings are impressive displays of success after an uphill battle. As women take a greater role in the genre, its ideas and attitudes should shift accordingly.
Other artists continue to challenge the status quo in other ways. Young Thug, a mainstream braggadocio-rapper, owes part of his attention to his affinity for women’s clothing —for example, the cover of his most recent mixtape, Jeffery, features the artist wearing a frilly, blue dress and matching hat. It seems as though hip-hop has been taking great strides towards progressiveness.
However, it is also important to remember that there have always been feminist undercurrents in hip-hop—“Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac is one iconic example. Women have always been a major part of hip hop—The Lady of Rage worked right alongside hip-hop giant Snoop Dogg on his 1993 album, Doggystyle. And The Divine Feminine is far less provocative than songs like Khia’s “My Neck, My Back.” If hip-hop has always been like this, then can we say that we have actually made progress?
It should be fair to say that hip-hop has undergone some social development: an album like Frank Ocean’s Blond[e] would not likely fly in the '90s hip-hop scene. Progress is always good. However, hip hop still has a ways to go before it is fully inclusive—we can still do better.