The Effects of Hip-Hop, Rap Music on Young Women in Academia

Literature Review


Hip hop culture is said to have great influence over Americans, especially youth (Kitwana, 2004). Hip hop ushered the almost invisible American youth into the American cultural arena. This literature review is directed to understanding how hip-hop culture has shaped the youth culture through its different facets and tries to understand if young women have participated in it. The studies directed towards understanding the hip hop culture are by Rose (1991; 1994), Kitwana (2002), Dyson (2004), Boyd (2004), Decker (1993) and Watkins (2004; 2005). The review of the literature tries to ascertain that the hip hop created a youth subculture that had its own norms and beliefs. They were embedded in the culture’s racial and class distinction which formed the ethos of the youth culture. The review further dwells on the nature of female depiction and participation in rap music and the hip-hop culture to demonstrate the effect the aspects of racialism, violence, sexuality, and subordination of women had on women and if it increased or declined their participation in the culture and musical genre. This is done by utilizing the works of Rose (1994; 2000; 2005), Perry (2004), Collins (1991), Emerson (2002), etc. The other aspect which required close attention if commercialization of hip-hop and its effect on youth. This aspect is done using the studies by Blair (2004), Emerson (2002), Rose (1994, 2004), etc. I thus, divide the literature review into three parts:

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  1. Youth Subculture
  2. Women in Hip-hop
  3. Commercialization of Hip-hop

Youth Subculture

Understanding Youth Subculture

Youth subculture theory has been historically concerned with youth identity and belonging. There are many studies on youth subculture and the identity-building through constructing a model of expression, style, and meaning:

Identity is constructed from the nexus of social relations and meanings surrounding us, and from this, we learn to make sense of ourselves including our relation to the dominant culture.” (Brake, 1985, p. 3)

The root of the study of subcultures is found in the ‘Chicago School’ of the early and mid 20th century (Gelder & Thornton, 1997; Blackman, 2005). The Chicago School studied urban youth who were considered deviant from the society in order to understand their behavior and the meaning of their lives. It is important to understand the stress on the word deviant as this provides a distinct position to subcultures (Beck, 1999). Thus, earlier studies on youth subculture have defined youth as a social problem, thus emphasizing attention on the deviant actions of young people. But a study by McCulloch, Stewart, and Lovegreen (2006) deviates from the earlier approaches and shows that youths’ affiliation to a subculture is largely an expression of class identity, and subcultures are an output of cultural construct, biological and social grouping. Following McCulloch et al. (2006), I conclude that youth subcultures are group identities formed through social and cultural construction.

Bakari Kitwana defines the hip-hop generation as “those young African Americans born between 1965 and 1984 who came of age in the eighties and nineties and…share a specific set of values and attitudes” (Kitwana, 2002, p. 4) directly hinting that the hip-hop generation comprises of youth who are blacks and neglects non-blacks to be part of the culture. Kitwana mentions six sociopolitical forces that have shaped the hip-hop generation, namely visibility of black youth in popular culture, globalization, and the persistent nature of segregation, public policy surrounding the criminal justice system, media representations of black youth, and the general quality of life within the hip-hop community. Kitwana further segregates this generation in order to differentiate from civil rights and black power generation as materialism, an inequality between the sexes, the recognition of nontraditional family arrangements, racial consciousness, media representations of black culture, and an ability to effectively cross class lines. Rap formed the visible expression of African American culture in the society (Boyd, 2004).

Taylor and Taylor (2004) believe that hi-hop/rap listeners believe that there exists a “real” feel to the music which attracts them to the musical genre. Before hip-hop/rap gained commercial success, the songs talked about the community or the lives of the rappers. But as the songs became violent with anti-institutional sentiments infused in them, they gained commercial success. The authors point out that the reputation of hip-hop/rap lies in its being “real” which influences the youth who have learned to dislike the institution. The subcultures that the music created were not constricted solely to listening to the music, but also to adopting style and fashion, music and the entertainment industry.

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Identity formation in Hip-Hop/Rap Culture

Construction of identity and the forceful ratification of that identity is one of the primary sources of artistic creation of hip-hop/rap music since the time of its inception. Sociocultural studies on music show that musical forms have a strong relationship with practices and social structure (Middleton, 1990; Toynbee, 2000). Here the stress is between the link between the musical genre and community and social practice. The idea reflected here is that musical genres have a social constitution that is reflected through the musical genre and can encompass huge areas of geographical and social space. Toynbee (2000) argues that some musical genres like rap, are used to express a sense of community along with other relationships. The music makers draw from their communal experiences in the urban life. As Rose states: “‘Talk of subways, crews, and posses, urban noise, economic stagnation, static and crossed signals leap out of hip hop lyrics, sounds and themes'” (Rose, 1994, p. 114). The musical genre which is largely dominated by African-Americans produces this music more as an expression of their communal experiences, reality of greater poverty and exposure to violence. Even though the music is produced mostly by blacks, the consumption goes beyond any social class. As Toynbee (2000) argues that the relationship between a musical identity and social process is a political one, and the relationship is as strong as a community is. This line of argument shows that there exists a strong connection between music and identity formation and the identity thus created is very strong in nature. There has been a presentation of the marginalized and demonized Black community of America who was first portrayed as “relatively happy-go-lucky” in the early days while the depiction changed to violent form of ‘gangsta’ image of the 1980s which has established the identity of hip-hop/rap culture:

“Generally speaking, rap music serves as an expressive artistic outlet for a marginalized and demonized urban social bloc that speaks with heavily black and Latino, predominantly masculine accents within a staunchly white and patriarchal social order.” (Holmes Smith, 1997, p. 345)

Thus, we understand from the above discussion that hip-hop/rap music’s identity formation is predominantly based on lines of race, color, class, and gender. Given the importance of the identity building in the hip-hop culture of race, gender, and class, it is important to understand how these specifically framed the women who got exposed to the culture.

It must be understood that when hip-hop originated in the 1970s people responded only to the new form of music (Sims, 1993, p. E3), but today it has assumed the form of culture. Youths adhering to this culture superficially can be described by performers wearing “droopy pants, hats to the back, lace less sneakers, hoods, and loud radios” (Krohn & Suazo, 1995, p. 139). So as Rose (1994) pointed out, hip-hop is a youth culture that comprises graffiti, breaks dance, and rap music. Rap music was said to be one of the cultural elements in a larger social movement called hip-hop (Garofalo, 1990). Hip-hop became the fundamental matrix of today’s youth for self expression. Krohn & Suazo (1995) points out that the identity creation of rap music and hip-hop culture is through the words which emphasize race, class,and gender and the identity of the youth culture developed in the youth through the frustration of race, color, gender, socio-economic background, and society at large, found expression through hip-hop and thus, brought them together thus forming the subculture. According to Rose rap music is:

…the central cultural vehicle for open social reflection on poverty, fear of adulthood, the desire for absent fathers, frustrations about black male sexism, female sexual desires, daily rituals of life as an unemployed teen hustler, safe sex, raw anger, violence, and childhood memories. It is also the home of innovative uses of style and language, hilariously funny carnivalesque and chitlin-circuit-inspired dramatic skits, and ribald storytelling. In short, it is black America’s most dynamic contemporary popular cultural intellectual and spiritual vessel.” (Rose, 1994, p. 18)

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Boyd argues that rap music is used to present “mutually illuminating yet divergent categories of race, class, and gender in African American society.” (Boyd, 2004, p. 326) According to Boyd, through the propagation of rap music and hip hop, there was an initiative to spread the discourse of cultural politics (2004). Boyd identifies the first level of identity formation through hip-hop and rap is through blackness based on race. He further shows that socio-economic background and class also formed the second level of identity formation in the hip-hop culture where Boyd argues that the class status makes an individual “Black” (2005, p. 326). Thus, he states: “ Along the same lines, the all-white group Young Black Teenagers claim that Blackness is a “states of mind” – undoubtedly a ghetto mindset.” (Boyd, 2004, p. 326) Thus, using the ‘ghetto’ and the ‘hood’ metaphor rappers have created an identity for all who associate with the hip-hop culture.

Race has gained predominance in hip-hop/rap music and in its present form is dominated by Black performers as well as Black lyrics (Taylor & Taylor, 2004; Taylor & Taylor, 2007; Ibrahim, 2003; Boyd, 2004). Hence, a working definition of racism is important to develop at the beginning of the analysis since the definition will frame the research in relation to identity formation within hip-hop/rap music.

Racism is defined as a “system of advantage based on race” which is a pervasive aspect of U.S. socialization. It is virtually impossible to live in U.S. contemporary society not to be exposed to some aspects of the personal, cultural, and/or institutional manifestations of racism in our society (Tatum, 1992, p. 3).

Ibrahim (2003) believes that hip-hop creates a social identity among black youths through the clothes they wear, the language they speak, and the things that they do. The process of identity creation here is embedded in the racially constructed acts that these people do. Cutler describes hip-hop as a youth subculture involving “consumption of rap music, baggy clothes and participation in activities like break dancing, writing graffiti and rapping” (1999, p. 428). They created a culture that represented black ‘hood’ who resided in eh urban ghetto, usually belonging to a an economically subordinated class (Kelley, 2004; Dyson, 2004).

The culture has been propagated through rap music which demeans women and promotes drugs and violence as a means to achieve empowerment (Osumare, 2001). Krohna and Suauzo (1995) believe that the negative implications of the lyrics of rap music have become equally popular as the music itself. They believe that subcultural norm that has been propagated is to attack racism through use of more racial slurs in the music, lack of power through supremacy and poverty through sale of racist material.

Potter believes that all subcultures attempt to bridge the gap between cultural identities or “intensifies old antagonism” (1995, p. 131). He shows that the hip-hop subculture offers both a critique and an alternative ideological ground of the dominant view, by first taking the unsaid assumptions “evident” and then using these assumptions to portray a “counter-myth” (p. 132). He implies that the hip-hop culture and rap music take race seriously. He believes that hip-hop essentially re-creates and establishes a black racial identity. According to Potter, hip-hop takes a political form that has tried to establish black nationalism as a part of cultural formation constructed through depiction of urban black underclass. The hip-hop culture as Potter describes is characterized by its negativity or anti-desire. The idea of black nationalism as propagated through hip-hop culture and rap music has been supported by Decker (1993) who believes they do not only spread the discourse of black nationalism but awaited the coming of a black nation. He believes that the hip-hop culture has adopted this discursive nationalism to rebel against the institutional structure of American racialism.

Rap represents, as Dyson argues, a class distinction among the middle and lower black communities in America (Dyson, 2004). The symbol of identification of the hip hop youth culture became the “ghetto”, thus, representing their socio-economic and racial background (Dyson, 2004).

Evidently hip-hop propagates a black identity that aims for black nationism. The identity formation in the subculture is through discursive racialism and a fight against it which is done through intensified racism. But this race is just a part of the subculture’s identity formation as it also emphasizes black masculinity. Cheney (2005) argues Black Nationalism had its base in anti-Whiteness and defying white male domination. He also states that Black nationalism was rooted in masculinity discourse which actually led to the feeling of empowerment. And according to him this discourse was not constricted to men but also to women associated with the culture.

Perry argues that “Hip hop is a masculine music” (2004, p. 118). She argues that masculinity in hip-hop asserts black male subjectivity at the cost of subjugating female bodies and expressing the complexity in black male identity. She identifies the reason for subjectivity of black masculinity lies in their social class, racialism, ghetto and prison trauma. She describes the black male patriarch as existing a weakly in a world dominated by the strong white male patriarchy.

The literature of hip hop youth subculture has been dominated by the masculinity of the culture and masculine genre of rap music. But there remains a gap in the understanding to the extent to which women have participated in the youth culture given that there was a late entry of the female artists in the genre and female artists still remain underrepresented.

Gangsta Rap

Rap music and hip-hop culture are linked to violence which forms the larger social discourse of black trying to create their spacial identity (Rose, 1994). The origin of the violence is rooted in the institutional discrimination against black middle-class working americans is shown in the music. These raps also vehemently try to depict blacks as a problem to social safety and order through their preaching of violence. Rose argues that this creates an antagonistic relationship between black youths. Rose asserts that hip-hop culture and rap music establishes the dominance of white man and shows the “white middle-class objection to urban black youths who do not aspire to (but are haunted by) white middle-class standards” (Rose, 1994, p. 126).Rose argues that the violence in rap music has the discursive force to make the whole black community be viewed with an eye of suspicion among the whites and they think that it is just an adolescent construct. She supports her argument through “The imminent death of rap music is a dominant myth that deliberately mis-constructs black rage as juvenile rebellion and at the same time retains the necessary specter of black violence, justifying the social repression of black music and black youth.” (Rose, 1994, p. 139) I believe that this repression of the culture by the white is even more resented by the youths who try to depict even more violence and anarchy through their music.


Hip-hop culture is said to be a key social medium that allows black youth, particularly in the United States, to construct their gender (Kitwana, 2002; Watkins S. C., Hip-Hop Matters: Politics, Popular Culture and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement, 2005). They show that sexism, homophobia and violence are increasingly assuming their place as the main discourse through the medium. From cultural perspective, hip-hop is a complex culture comprising of icons and symbols, driven by rap music, youth culture production, and reflection of the social realities in the lives of blacks in the United States (Kitwana, 2002; Keyes, 2004). Hip-hop culture constantly produces cultural narratives of gender and sex, which are resisted or reproduced. Thus understanding the gender and discourse in hip-hop culture through rap music is important to enumerate its effect on young women. This discussion shows that hip-hop culture has a huge effect on its listeners through their gender discourse of masculinity. This aspect, I believe will greatly affect the listeners of the music, especially young women listeners.

Women in Hip-Hop

From the above discussion, it is clear that hip-hop culture has a subtle potential for political practice (Kitwana, 2002; 2004). Some cultural analysts have studied hip-hop culture and rap music has provided political analysis of race, sex, economy, community, and violence against black men and women. There is a popular belief that hip hop culture has a radical and liberating potential that should be tapped by the feminist movement, the younger feminists especially of those who are black (Morgan, 1999; Pough, 2004). Thus, there has evolved the term called “hip hop feminist” coined by Morgan (1999) and Pough (2003).

Though presently there are many female rappers who have gained popularity there exists a few undeniable facts regarding the high of culture. First men dominate the hip hop scene both in the artistic end as well at the corporate scene. Second, a masculine discursive strand can be clearly identified from rap music and hip hop culture. Third, even though traditionally both men and women have participated in the culture, the representation of women was more oppressive for women. This section identifies the place of hip hop music on women and how women have identified with hip-hop youth culture and its discourses.

Black Nationalism and Women

Black Nationalism is based on a set of beliefs and is extensively hierarchical (Cheney, 2005). Cheney argues that black nationalists have constantly drawn the boundaries of imagined nations in terms of sexual politics which emphasized the rule of male domination and subjugation of “feminine” (2005, p. 281). So he believes that black identity encircles around political agenda but also in masculinity. Chaney argues that the masculinity of Black Nationalism is based on the mandates of sexual politics which hail heteronormativity. Thus, he states that the subordination in the nationalism is not only of women but also of the “effeminate” men:

To prove their manhood, heterosexual black male nationalists strictly patrolled the borders of their masculine domain, a fact manifest in the heteronormativity. This was displayed by 19th-century theorists like Henry Highland Garnet, who demanded both freedom and franchise in terms of patriarchal privilege, and was confirmed by the explicit homophobia exhibited in the mid-20th century by Black Power advocates who deemed homosexuality “counterrevolutionary.” (Cheney, 2005, p. 281).

Thus, Cheney (2005) believes that rap music and hip-hop culture had their base in male dominance, subjugated women, and was homophobic. Cheney states that the discourse of masculinity was established not only among black men but also among women in the 1980s. He explains that rap was a musical form that “sometimes radical, [is] always subversive thinking and/or activism that characterizes the politics of dominated and exploited peoples” (2005, p. 285). So it parallel sings against covert racism in the American society and class struggle of the black men as well as subjugates the womenfolk. Thus, it can be stated that not all rap music is social commentaries as believed by Boyd (2004), Dyson (2004), and Potter (1995).

Given the presence of gender bias in rap music, what was the role of women in the hip-hop culture? According to Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, & Stephens (2005) women rappers (though few in number) maintained a “dually oppositional stance” (p. 255). Similar idea has been presented by Rose (1994, 2001). They, on one hand, were critique of the sexism of rap sung by Black men and on the other, expressed their solidarity with male rappers to critique the American society’s racism, classism and raced sexism (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, & Stephens, 2005).

Rose (2001) exemplifies the lyrics of Queen Latifah as capable of inculcating the close feeling of nationalism and patriarchy. She believes that black women rappers have reshaped the Black Nationalism and given it a new meaning (2001).

Representing Women in Rap Music

The representation and depiction of women in hip hop culture and rap music are constructed through and are firmly grounded in dominant ideologies surrounding womanhood in American society. Patricia Hill Collins (1991) describes these discursive ideologies as images that control are rooted in the desire to maintain hegemonic power and justify and legitimize the omnipresent marginalization of women, especially Black women. Media and popular culture become the common vehicle for the dissemination of the discursive construction of Black womanhood. Music videos have objectified exploited depiction of women, irrespective of their color, race, and ethnicity (Aufderheide, 1986; Dines & Humez, 995; Frith, Goodwin, & Grossberg, 1993; Hurley, 1994; Kaplan, 1987; Stockbridge, 1987; Vincent R. C., 1989; Vincent, Davis, & Boruszkowski, 1987). Collins (2001) discussed a few stereotypical pictures namely the hyper-sexualized, the asexual “mammy,” the woman with emasculate characters, and the young, unwed mothers. Perry (2004) argues that the black female identity building through the hip-hop music has constructed the ideas of female body objectification :

It seemed to happen suddenly. Every time one turned on BET (Black Entertainment television) or MTV, one encountered a disturbing music video: Black men rapped surrounded by dozens of black and Latina women dresses in bathing suits, or scantily clad in some other fashion. Video after video proved the same, each one more objectifying than the former.” (Perry, 2004, p. 175)

This depiction, as portrayed and argued by Perry (2004), is a clear commoditization of women where the music videos depict women as property quite similar to luxury cars. They are presented as seductive creatures devoid of any other emotion other than expressing their voyeuristic desire. This depiction of women in male rappers’ videos clearly shows the element of pornography associated with hip-hop today (Perry, 2004). Perry believes that the messages that are sent through these videos are clear and that is how to be sexy and catch the attention and seduce the wealthy male (2004). These videos create a body image among young which is impossible for white women to achieve and for black women to cling to their sense of the perfect beauty (Perry, 2004). This argument of Perry has been supported by Stephens and Few (2007) who studied the effect of the images of women created through depiction of women in rap videos. They identified eight sexual images through which women are depicted in the videos: the Diva, Gold Digger, Freak, Dyke, Gangster Bitch, Sister Savior, Earth Mother, and Baby Mama. They believe that these sexual images both inform and develop the belief of the black female sense of physical identity and attractiveness among young girls, and their concept of interpersonal relationship decision making. The study shows that the depiction of women in rap videos and the body image depicted creates a sense of racial and gendered consciousness among young women. According to this study, the researchers believe that the hip-hop culture and rap videos are tools to infuse imagery of the ideal women through their video to the adolescents and thus, frame their understanding of physical attractiveness and sexual relationship. This study is helpful for my research as this shows a direct effect of the rap music videos on young women, and the kind of effect it has. Thus, I conclude that the rap music videos have a huge effect on the perception of the young woman’s body image and her understanding of the interpersonal relationship.

Emerson (2002 ) studied the representation of black womanhood in hip-hop culture and rap music videos. He identifies that Black women have tried to break this stereotype and discursive force through their performances. Rose (1994; 2001)has studies the images and lyrics of female rappers and has argued that rap music and hip-hop culture instead of being completely oppressive to women, has the potential to enable black women to assert their social, economic, and sexual independence. She argues that:

Salt-N-Pepa are carving out a female-dominated space in which Black women’s sexuality is openly expressed. Black women rappers sports hip hop clothing and jewelry as well as distinctively Black hairstyles. They affirm a Black, female, working-class cultural aesthetic that is rarely depicted in American popular culture. Black women rappers resist patterns of sexual objectification and cultural invisibility, and they also resist academic reification and mainstream, hegemonic, white feminist discourse.” (Rose, 2001, p. 126)

Rose’s work was based on systematic content analysis of music videos. Robert’s (1991; 1994) is based on textual analysis and the limitation of the study lies in its focus on few groups which reduces generality of the research. Roberts (1991; 1994) tried to demonstrate that black female rappers tried to express feminist sensibility through their music videos. She showed that black female rappers like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and others presented an assertive rhetoric, aggressive sexuality, and stance of defiance which exemplified their firm feminist conscience.

Women Rappers

Popular music is the folk music that speaks the language, philosophies, and yearnings of the masses (Rose, 2001). Hip-hop culture’s epicenter is rap music which presents feminism and womanism at the street or ground level (Chappell, 2001). Thus, hip-hop culture and rap music provide a stand for the Black women in the street level to present feminist and womanist ideas which circulate generally within the culture (King, 1999).

E. Francis White, Black feminist author, argues that “good woman/bad woman dichotomy” is operational for black women as a means to respond to the historical subjugation of black female bodies through the discourse of slavery, colonialism, Western science, and religion (White, 2001, p. 36). Katrina Bell McDonald has presented an excellent historical review in Embracing Sisterhood (2007) of the significance of black woman as a tool for resistance. She argues that black women used the stage and their performances of “good women” as a means to change the stereotypes of black women in order to gain respectability in both black and white gaze (McDonald, 2007, pp. 48-52). Stereotypes of black women were usually justified by smearing the character of black females as being promiscuous and depicting the black woman’s body being available to both white and black males. Collins thus states “According to the cult of true womanhood, ‘true’ women possessed four cardinal virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity” (Collins, 2000, p. 71). These were essentially Victorian ideals of womanhood associated with the white middle-class, which became the benchmarks of black woman’s behavior.

Given this stereotype and immoral depiction of black women through rap music videos, it became necessary for black women to try to mimic white femininity to gain patriarchal protection. They tried to establish black women’s clubs in the middle class and concepts such as ‘ghetto princesses for lower socioeconomic background people. Thus, there was an increasing need to establish a discourse that contests the stereotypes presented in rap music videos. Black women have constantly tried to achieve this through their performances in rap music.

Shanara R. Reid-Brinkley argues that women rappers tried to produce a counter discourse to contest the popular discourse spread by the popular rap music and hip hop culture (Reid-Brinkley, 2008). She argues that black women in trying to contest the popular discourse of women in rap music are actually reconfirming the discourse which is dependent on “politics of respectability” (Reid-Brinkley, 2008, p. 255). She further states that this creates a dialectical difference between black women dependent on their socio-economic class. Thus, she states:

As stereotypes circulate and are disseminated beyond the confines of the black community, the dialectical representation of “good” vs. “bad” black women by black women is productive in providing a rhetorical strategy to combat the circulation of negative images. However, as we celebrate this strategy of resistance, we must simultaneously be suspicious of the subject positions that this discourse makes available to black women. If black women may choose only between the subjectivity of the “black queen” or the whore, they will find themselves trapped in an identity that depends upon the negation of other black women.” (Reid-Brinkley, 2008, p. 256)

She implies that black women in trying to accept white feminist norms are actually getting trapped in creating an identity that actually makes other black women the ‘bad woman’. From this argument I can deduce that the over-emphasis of the ‘good’ black women in songs of female rappers are actually creating a trap for the other black women who are otherwise, thus making them ‘bad’.

Rose (2001) believes that women rappers’ lyrics present dominant notions of sexuality, heterosexual courtship, and the aesthetic construction of the body. She further asserts that music videos and performances create a public space for women, and express a sexual freedom, independence and in some cases explicit domination of men (2001). Most importantly to spread the discourse of womanism, black female rappers have started to “form a dialogue with working-class Black women and men, offering young Black women small but potent culturally reflexive public space.” (2001, p. 238) Rose argues that this form of female rap is distinctively oppositional in nature to normal hip-hop and rap discourse. The reason is shown through a discussion of the portrayal of women in the musical genre. Rose states that like all other popular music, rap depicts women as two categories: the good and the bad woman. The former, according to the discourse, is very rare while the latter is an “unpaid prostitute” who manipulates men to get money and is promiscuous. Rose (2001) identifies a profound fear among young male rappers for females and sexual politics which is similar to the fear (of manipulation, loss of control, and betrayal) that is shown by female rappers in the hand of males. Further Rose asserts that black women rapper’s open proclamation of public display of their body and sexual freedom has challenged the male ideals of female sexuality and pleasure. Further, the objectification of the female body through music videos has been openly contested by female rappers (Rose, 2001).

Rose (2001) states that the Black female rappers have successfully attracted a huge male fan following and have been able to encourage a dialogue between young men and women to challenge a few of the sexist ideologies of the male rappers. She states that the male dominated hip-hop culture provides very little public space to propagate their ideas, especially because of women’s open challenge of the male rap discourse.

Bakari Kitwana in his book The Hip-Hop Generation puts forth a question: “‘what do we mean by politicizing the hip-hop generation?’ Is our goal to run hip-hop generations for office, to turn out voters for Democrats and Republicans, to form a third party, or to provide our generation with a concrete political education?” (Kitwana, 2002, p. 206) The women rappers, argues, People, have considered taking the second option, wherein they intend to save the whole race of black women who have been detrimentally represented in rap music (Peoples, 2008). Thus, female rappers tend to analyze and critique the social, political, and economic structures that govern their lives and which leads to the production of some of the misogynist lyrics which dominate mainstream rap music. The definition that Rose has provided in Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America evidently brings out this aspect of the ‘feminist’ aspect of the female rappers:

I would say that feminists believed that there was sexism in society, wanted to change and worked toward that change. Either wrote, spoke, or behaved in a way that was pro-woman, in that she supported situations (organizations) that were trying to better the lives of women. A feminist feels that women are more disadvantaged than men in many situations and would want to stop that kind of inequality. (Rose, 1994, p. 176)

Once Rose successfully establishes a definition of feminism, she further writes: “once feminism was understood as a mode of analysis rather than a label for a group of women associated with a particular social movement, MC Lyte [a pioneering and popular female rapper of the 1980s and early ‘90s] was much more comfortable discussing the importance of black women’s independence…” (Rose, 1994, p. 176) The present socio-political agenda of the lack female rappers seems to be fixed to disseminate a critical analysis of the dominant rap music from a feminist perspective. This has been termed by Pough as a “public pedagogy” by bringing together hip-hop and feminism (Pough, 2003). She argues that: “ [r]ap is the contemporary art form that gives voice to a part of the population that would not have a voice otherwise…I think rap has political potential—potential that should be honed by the feminist movement in general and by third-wave hip-hop feminists in particular” (Pough, 2003, p. 237). According to Pough, the main aim of the feminist hip-hop is to disseminate this message of feminism through hip-hop and in the end “give young women the tools necessary to critique the messages they are getting” (Pough, 2003, p. 241). Thus, I argue that feminist hip-hop tries to disseminate the critique of mainstream rap music which portrays vulgar female stereotypes and shows women detrimentally. Feminist rap tries to change that portrayal and thus affect young women positively.

In previous studies on hip-hop feminism (Keyes, 1993; Rose, 1994) female rappers tried to respond to the male domination of the culture, misogyny, and cultural practices of hip-hop rather than to conceal these practices. But clearly, these responses are in the form of dialogues rather than complete opposition to male rappers: “as part of a dialogic process with male rappers (and others), rather than in complete opposition to them…” (Rose, 1994, p. 147).

But studies showed that there was a change in this stunt of the female artist’s post twentieth century. Perry believes that female rappers of the 1980s and early 1990s did not objectify themselves as ‘sexual objects’ exemplifying MC Lyte and her work. But, Perry observes that after the advent of the 20th century there was an increased attention by female rappers to express “sexuality, sexual objectification, and beautification constituted fundamental parts of the marketing of the female MC, thus collapsing distinctions between the video “hoe” and the female artist.” (Perry, 2004, p. 156). Thus, it must be concluded from this, that female rappers have taken to the objectification of their bodies, as was done by their male counterparts to go mainstream. Thus, it clearly indicates the sexism and objectification of women in the hip-hop culture and rap music.

Hip-hop culture is fraught with male masculine discourses and ‘badman’ construct of the black male. Female rappers initially adopted this style of being the ‘badman’ and the trickster in order to gain mainstream acceptance as an artist (Perry, 2004). Thus, the female rappers adopted the masculine gendered role by being the ‘badmen’ in hip-hop culture, and used language of “violence, power, and subversive tricksterism” to bring out their artistic competency (Perry, 2004, p. 156). This outbreak of the female rappers and acceptance of violence has four effects: (a) this represents how violence in the music of female rappers aids in the imaginary nation building of the black community through hip-hop, (b) the acceptance of violence by female rappers provides a choice to women of violence over victimization, (c) ‘badman’ characterization of female actually makes her use betrayal as a tool to get back to the oppressive and promiscuous male, and (d) the violent imagery and role depicted through their music shows a rebel against the traditional construct of the role of the black women as the caretaker and the pillar for the black community, which is shattered through their use of insanity and instability. This indicates that the female rappers intended to break the stereotypical depiction of women in music videos as sex objects and making a space for themselves in the world of black nation building.

Rose argues that black female rappers are responsible for carving the space for black womanhood and their sexual expression but they also adhere to the popular hip-hop culture wherein a distinct cultural style is developed even by their male counterparts is adhered to (Rose, 1994). She thus states:

By and large, black women rappers are carving out a female-dominated space in which black women’s sexuality is openly expressed. Black women rappers sport distinctively black hairstyles and hip hop clothing and jewelry that ground them in a contemporary working class black youth aesthetic.” (Rose, 1994, p. 170)

This adhering to the hip-hop cultural aesthetics represents the black working class women’s participation in the youth culture and marking their presence in the American popular culture from where they have been kept invisible by the dominant white forces (Rose, 1994). Rose further believes that rap music and especially female rappers have established an identity among young women regarding their sexuality, race, culture, class, and nation. Rap creates a political and cultural struggle among youth especially black youth.

Commercialization of Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop as Popular Culture

The term popular culture came from the word popularis (Latin for “belonging to the people”) or “popular”, which Richard Williams described as “something that is well-liked by many people” (Williams, 1985, p. 237). He describes culture as something that encompasses “‘high’ and “low”; “high” is the elite art, and “low” is popular art and entertainment (for the masses)” (1985, p.92). Stuart Hall describes popular culture to be “a displacement and a hegemonic shift in the definition of culture – a movement from high culture to American mainstream popular culture and its mass-cultural, image-mediated, technological form.” (Hall, 2005, p. 286) Hall states that black popular culture is embedded in racial, social, class, and gender distinction (Hall, 2005) which shows the antagonistic, racial, and gendered discourse of hip-hop. In this section, I discuss how hip hop culture assumed the form of popular culture.

Hip hop culture and rap music were not considered to be a part of the popular culture initially due to its racial and cultural sensibilities but in the late twentieth century both rap and hip hop became a defining part of the American pop (Watkins, 2005). Watkins (2005) observes that pop music earlier was considered by the very characteristics of the music characterized by “sweet melodies, stylistic conservatism, and amicable lyrics” but in the post-Soundscan era the whole definition of pop music underwent a change and untraditional genre such as rap was included in it (Watkins, 2005, p. 39).

With the inclusion of rap in the pop culture, there was an evolution of the rap which was the main music encompassing hip-hop underwent a change too. Watkins observes that gangsta rap evolved stylistically throughout the decade and became the uncensored voice of the young black men who lived in the ghettos (Watkins, 2005). But gangsta rap was also considered to be “meticulous prose, a shrewd, market-driven performance that craftily exploited America’s fear of poor, ghetto youths.” (Watkins, 2005, p. 45). Watkins believes that the gangsta rappers took advantage of this fear to follow their goal:

Following their ambitions and commercial instincts, gangsta rappers created their own world and, in the process, emerged as an unlikely group of music makers who turned the blighted conditions of ghetto poverty into an oasis of adolescent fantasy and popular entertainment.” (Watkins, 2005, p. 46).

Thus, Watkins tries to imply that the anti-institutional sentiments and violence portrayed in rap are actually a means to attract the adolescent mind in order to popularize the musical genre. So rap became popular through popularizing the ghetto poverty and crime with which they enticed young minds (Watkins, 2005). Thus, essentially hip-hop was moving away from its essence and historical roots as it became closer to the traditional concept of popular culture (Hall, 2005). Hall (2005) tries to show that due to excessive desire to disseminate the culture through technology, the culture itself was getting contaminated with the American ideal of a popular culture and losing its essence. In the following section, I will discuss how hip-hop as a popular culture has embraced capitalism and has commercialized its preaching.

Hip-Hop Capitalism

Hip culture and rap music have become a business (Lusane, 2004). Many believe that rap has been sef-consciously been used to fulfill the “American Dream” (Negus, 2004). The industry for rap music is huge as the cost of production is low and turnover high, with the consumer group of 15-24 years of age spending around $100 million spent on tapes only (Lusane, 2004). Rap music originated as a youth culture namely hip-hop encompassing music. It was a vehicle to protest against the dominant white subjugation of the black relating to racial and socio-economic deprivation. Rap was also found to be masculine in nature, to a great extent derogatory towards women. But recently, as argued by M. Elizabeth Blair, the music has become capitalistic and has been commercialized (Blair, 2004). Using Marxian hegemony theory, Blair points out that rap became popular and then was commercialized by the mass media. She argues that the hip-hop subculture is totally removed from its original context and the ideologies are commercialized for capitalist gain. Blair believes this will bring the demise of the subculture (Blair, 2004). Such a view dominates the academia that objects to the commoditization of rap music.

Such Marxist views, like that of Blair (2004) do criticize the commercialization of rap music, but the fact remains untenable, that rap as a commodity can be marketed to both white and black youth (Swedenburg, 2004). The main point which made rap such hugely successful salable commodity is its oppositional nature: “The marketing revolution is that no other popular musical genre is so overtly oppositional. What is remarkable is how well political rap sells” (Swedenburg, 2004, p. 584). Thus, rap is an extremely marketable commodity.

Rap has been commercialized through the “electronic dissemination of hip hop” or mass media in order to present the worldview of the rappers. Watkins argues that it is intervention of the mass media that has aided in the popularization of hip-hop culture and rap music and spreading its message globally:

“…it [Hip-hop] has established the conditions for mobilizing a youth culture that is rapidly becoming global in scope as it connects youth from disparate conditions and places. For example, it would be impossible to make reference to the “hip hop nation” without the broadcasting capabilities of the media technology…The communications media enable new forms of access to and association among communities that transcend geographical boundaries. The growth of and spread of hip hop culture are an illustrative example.” (Watkins, 2004, p. 568).

Thus, the dominant argument of the Marxist view of the domineering and exploitative view of the capitalist media is not completely true. Though there are many hard core rappers who still do not believe in the electronic media and try to keep their music constricted to eh traditional form of dissemination (Watkins, 2004).

As has been argued by Lusane (2004), “For many rappers, Hip Hop nationalism promises both riches and national integrity.” (Lusane, 2004, p. 353)He believes that commercialization of rap has allowed the entry of many black entrepreneurs and has opened up many markets ranging from clothing, accessories and movies all based on hip hop (Lusane, 2004). But the exploitation of the music for commercial benefit causes serious effect on the consumers. Like, Lusane argues that the suggestive lyrics of some rappers make alcohol a desirable commodity at an age when kids are not supposed to drink (Lusane, 2004).

Watts argues that the rap music, especially gangsta rap, is an “overdose of commercialized reality” which sells the street realities of the urban ghetto through mass media (Watts, 2004, p. 602). Watts believes that “consumerism is in the midst of symbolically reproducing the street code, commodifying it in the form of an easy-to-open package of hip” (2004, p. 602).

Perry argues that many rappers remain local while the highly commercialized ones go global and attain mainstream success (Perry, 2004). Perry states:

“Consumerism touches on the pleasure derived from the beautiful things, from the adornment of the self. Hip hop consumerism is in part about the use of luxury to express black style.” (Perry, 2004, p. 197)

Perry argues that the luxury commodities are shown as possession of the black youth which enhances their status, and not as a satire of the white privilege (2004). She believes that the over consumerist approach of the rappers actually degrades the poor blacks of the ghetto. The story of hip hop becoming ‘mainstream’ is thus wrought with mass consumption of hip hop and commercialization of rap music (Neal, 2004). The drama mod commercial success of hip hop is based on the increased public fear of violence and criminalist acts associated with the culture (Neal, 2004).

Rose argues that commercialization of hip hop culture and rap music has undermined the genre as an authentic African-American oral tradition (Rose, 2005). Rose argues that commoditization of hip-hop is not a new phenomenon as rap music has been commoditized earlier too (2005). She exemplifies her point through hip-hop’s struggle for public space and access to commoditized material. Apart from this, she states that hip-hop products like graffiti, rap music, have always been part of the commercial advertisements. Rose (2005) is against the popular cultural theory’s view that hip-hop was earlier not motivated by profit, but by pleasure. She argues that:

The problem was not that they were uniformly uninterested in profit, rather, many of the earliest practitioners were unaware that they could profit from their pleasure. Once the link was made, hip hop artists began marketing themselves wholeheartedly. Just as graffiti writers hitched a ride on the subways and used its power to distribute their tags, rappers ‘hijacked’ the market for their own purposes, riding the currents that are already out there, not just for wealth but for empowerment.” (Rose, 2005, p. 411)

I believe, like many (Neal 2004; Perry 2004; Watts 2004) that commercialization of hip hop was a success due to the oppositional forces attached to the culture. The antagonism found in rap music increased its appeal to youths who instantly admired the anti-institutional feelings that the rappers preached. Another reason for the increased attraction of the musical form is due to its commercialized sexuality expressed through the music videos which increased the mass appeal and increased its commercial value (at times at the cost of the real message of hip hop).


Judith Butler

In Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1997), Judith Butler argues that the very act of censorship itself may create more interest in the idea that is being discouraged. She believes that the discourse of the censorship actually propagates the idea and thus, makes it more popular than the others make. She believes that physical metaphor gives linguistic injury and suggests that somatic dimensions may be important to understand the pain imparted through linguistics (Butler, 1997). Butler believes that positive inclusion may lead to pleasure while pain may create negative emotional stress as a result of exclusion. Her argument is that “verbal” pain when concerned with racist speech is capable of inflicting instantaneous pain and thus causes an injury to parallel to a physical injury. She believes the effect is not as acute when a simile is used instead of the direct assault. Her argument is thus, “The listener is understood to occupy a social position or to have become synonymous with that position, and social positions themselves are understood to be situated in a static and hierarchical relation to another.” (Butler, 1997, p. 18) In this, thesis I use these ideas of pleasure and pain to demonstrate the effect of hip hop culture on young women.

Rose (1994) shares the views of Butler (1997) when she discusses the “pleasure principle” in hip-hop/rap music of White youth and shows that “young, White listeners [are] affected by dominant racial discourses regarding African Americans and cultural difference in the United States” (Rose, 1994, p. 5) I believe that the effect of hip-hop/rap music on white youth, as discussed by Rose (1994) largely has been affected by the dominant racial discourse that hip-hop/rap music has propagated and argue that racism has affected the development of hip-hop/rap in negative ways. Further, Rose believes that youths try to emulate the artists on the basis of the “cultural, social, and linguistic” (Rose, 1994, p. 19) images and ideas disseminated by and associated with them. Applying Rose’s concept of emulation and association to contemporary society, I propose that the pleasure associated with hip-hop may entice youth.

Gap in Literature

The literature review shows that there has extensive research in the area of hip-hop culture. Studies range from identity formation on the hip-hop culture through race, class, socio-economic background, sexuality, and gender. Being one of the most popular youth cultures in America, hip-hop has been shown as a potential driver for many consumerist activities. Further, there have been various researches concentrating on the rising feminist raps and rappers who have tried to set a dialogue between the male dominated cultures and challenge the misogyny in rap music. But in all these discussions about race, class, sexuality, gender and commercialization, very little concentration has been laid on the effect hip-hop/rap had exclusively on women. So discussion regarding the effect the culture had on young women who have followed rap music is missing in the literature. Further, there is almost no information regarding these women’s intent to participate or to avoid this genre and for what reasons. Though there are works on feminist rappers which do shows that the discontent among black women regarding their subordination in the rap music and hip-hop culture, women’s participation with their male counterparts in the black nation building process and their participation in creation of a separate female space for identity building is available in the literature but is limited.

So it is important to understand the effect hip-hop/rap music has on young women and what are their consequences.


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