Sexism in Rap Sparks Black Magazine to Say, 'Enough!'

Article excerpt

Essence, the black women's magazine, has a daring New Year's resolution: It's embarking on a 12-month campaign to challenge the prevalence of misogyny and sexism in hip-hop lyrics and videos.

Many rappers and MCs coolly objectify women with vulgar song lyrics and hard-hitting, raunchy images on MTV. It's common, for instance, to see videos in which hip-hop artists lounge poolside as a harem of women gyrate around them in bikinis. The video for Nelly's "Tip-Drill" goes so far as to portray scantily clad women as sexual appliances.

The publication's crusade, dubbed Take Back the Music, seeks to inspire public dialogue via magazine features that offer a range of perspectives on the entertainment industry from inside as well as outside observers. The January issue kicks off with comments from artists, critics, and activists.

Taking on a multibillion-dollar industry that accounts for more music sales than pop and rock - and exerts a cultural influence that extends far beyond the African-American community - is a monumental undertaking, even for a publication with a circulation of over 1.6 million. While few expect Essence to turn the tide, it's significant that the preeminent magazine for African-American women believes that the degree of sexism in rap is no longer tenable.

"This is certainly a women's issue, but it's a black women's issue first," says Michaela Angela Davis, Essence's executive fashion and beauty editor.

"It's fitting that [Essence] should be the ones to help folks talk about it, listen to each other and have them come up with action steps that make sense to them," she says. "We don't have picket signs, we're not telling people what to think, we're just asking them to think."

The Essence campaign is not without precedent. The magazine's staff was galvanized by a much publicized incident at Spelman College in Atlanta last year in which students at the black women's school protested the appearance of the rapper Nelly for a fundraiser on campus. As part of its campaign, Essence will host a "town meeting" at Spelman next month.

"It's a major project in terms of getting young people - white or black - to take these images seriously in a generic culture that exploits and objectifies women," says Beverly Guy-Sheftall, director of the Women's Research and Resource Center at Spelman, and co- author of "Gender Talk."

Last year marked three decades since hip-hop emerged on the streets of New York. Since then, it's established itself at the vanguard of pop culture. …