Lupe Fiasco’s new single “Bitch Bad” has been getting a lot of attention for its frank discussion of misogyny in the hip-hop industry, focusing on the use of the word bitch in rap songs. Some of the controversy stems from the music video, which criticizes the industry as a whole through images of blackface and minstrel shows. Others, in particular Brad Soderberg of Spin, feel the conversation about the word bitch is dated and irrelevant. Soderberg accuses Lupe Fiasco of “mansplaining” and calls the song a reflection of the rapper’s “cynicism.” While the song is not perfect, it opens the door for discussion of an issue that most hip-hop artists shy away from.
Is “Bitch Bad” Effective?
“Bitch Bad” examines the effect of songs that use the word bitch through the differing perspectives of two young people, one boy and one girl. The boy sees his strong and confident mother singing along to a rap song declaring herself a “bad bitch.” As a result, he associates the word with strong and empowered women. The girl, on the other hand, attempts to live up to the ideal hip-hop “video girl,” a hypersexualized “bad bitch.” She bases her self-worth on her ability to assume this persona in order to attract male attention. The two eventually meet and conflict ensues based on their different definitions of the term “bad bitch.”
I have touched on the dangerous effects of gendered language before, and I am happy that Lupe Fiasco decided to talk about it. That said, the song is not without flaws. In the chorus, the rapper proclaims, “Bitch bad/Woman good/Lady better.” To say that “lady” is a better term than “woman” brings to mind comments such as “A lady doesn’t yell” or “A lady always looks her best.” I feel as though I’ve grown up listening to an endless list of things a lady should or shouldn’t do, and that being a lady is something I should aspire to be despite its being nearly impossible. There is so much behind the word, and I think it is a little out of place in a song that aims to break down oppressive language.
I also like that Lupe Fiasco chose to represent different perspectives on the word bitch in the song, but I would have liked to hear the empowered female voice. It is interesting to hear about a young boy who associates the word bitch with his strong, independent mother; however, it doesn’t really discuss why some women choose to reclaim the word as something empowering. Defense of the use of the word sometimes takes the form of “Well, if women call themselves bitches, it should be okay for everyone to use the word!” Female artists like Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, and Lil’ Kim have all used the word proudly, so there is plenty of material out there to draw from. Perhaps giving the boy’s mother a stronger presence would help round out the conversation a bit.
Setting the Stage
Although Lupe Fiasco’s song has some issues, I am still glad it exists. Many male rappers have refused to even partake in a discussion about referring to women as bitches in their music. The word has long been controversial in hip-hop and the coverage Lupe Fiasco has been receiving calls to mind the rumor that Jay-Z was going to stop using the word bitch after his daughter was born. He was quick to debunk that myth, even in the face of support from fans. The song doesn’t provide a clean solution to the problem. Lupe Fiasco admits in the song that it is a complex and complicated issue, one that cannot be easily resolved. Still, this is a pretty good start.