In its earliest days, Hip-Hop was a genre completely different from the art form we see today. The style, composition, image and even public perception all had an identity unique from the trends happening in the music right now. While these changes have been met with harsh criticism from a number of Hip-Hop fundamentalists, many people have also begun to look critically at the music and how it is a reflection of the society we now live in. Even though we could sit here for days discussing the nuances of today’s sound, one subject in particular stands out--the evolution of gender norms in Hip-Hop.
For the most part, Hip-Hop has stayed true to its overly-aggressive, hyper-masculine standard, but there has been a recent shift in both the sound of Hip-Hop and the artists presenting it. Artists are now becoming more comfortable with investigating their emotional depths, a process that had previously been limited to women. Male artists are also become more expressive of their own personal styles, whether the looks incorporate more feminine clothing and appearances.
Drake is one of the first examples that comes to mind when emotional intelligence and expression are brought up. Known for his sensitivity, Drake has normalized singing and melancholy subject matter in all of his major recordings. He can be heavily credited with bridging the gap between Hip-Hop and R&B, and is unapologetic about it. Many of his songs are gender neutral and can be taken from both the male and female perspective. In the 90’s an artist like him would probably have been eaten alive, but his current success speaks to a more open-minded attitude that people have toward rappers. Perhaps it’s a greater testament to the deconstruction of dated social beliefs that only women are allowed to have emotions and be able to speak on them. As men continue to lose the unwarranted stigma that feelings belong to females only, we’ll undoubtedly see more artists embracing this route. In the long term, this can have a very positive mental effect on men, as they will be able to express their thoughts and emotions more openly, instead of bottling them up until a catastrophe happens. Relationships between men and women may also grow stronger, as men may now have the courage to have discussions about things they may be feeling that they were once afraid to mention.
Young Thug may be the most intriguing artist in this conversation, because he seems like such a walking contradiction. He comes from one of the harshest hoods in South Atlanta, where any sign of softness is equated with weakness. Despite this, Thug has continuously said some rather controversial things, which include calling his friends “bae” and openly professing his love for them. He even took things a step further, deciding on several occasions to wear women’s dresses. His decisions have caused many people to question his sexuality, but he maintains that he’s heterosexual and even has a fiancee. His most recent album, Jeffery features him wearing what appears to be a kimono, further alluding to his preference towards women’s clothing. Thug is an interesting case study because regardless of how questionable his actions may be, he still retains the willingness and ability to physically harm anyone who questions his sexuality. From his perspective, it appears that men have the freedom to say or dress however they like, as only their personal identifications of themselves are what truly matter. His decisions also help form the basis of a greater discussion, wherein we truly question the basis of who decided what clothes are necessarily acceptable for men or women to wear or say. Why is it so strange for men to wear a dress, yet women are treated normally for wearing boyfriend jeans or male button ups? Why is it generally accepted for women to openly express their affection to their friends, but men are required to stay quiet? Thug is subtly pushing the status quo in regards to what we find acceptable in the rap community, which can be very healthy for long term progression.
We still have a long way to go with Hip-Hop in terms of progress, but these artists are doing their part to push the culture forward and make a change. Although their choices are met with mixed reactions and harsh criticism, it’s undeniable that their decisions have influenced the lives of millions of people. Where we go next is still unwritten, but at least that conversation has been started.