Record companies have been using sex to sell hip-hop since its inception. Gender roles were limited to hardened men and sexy, sexual women. But those archetypes are beginning to change. Our cast discuss the old school versus the new school of gender norms in hip-hop. As part of Complex’s Get Money initiative, the eight-part series Rules to This Sh*t covers the trials and tribulations of embarking on a rap career, with words of wisdom from Common, N.O.R.E., Too Short, the late Nipsey Hussle, and more.
With the finale episode of Rules to This Sh*t, the topic of gender roles in the genre gets a deep dive from both men and women impacted by strict archetypes they were expected to fit into. Whether it’s the tough guy image, or the overtly sexualized look expected of female rappers, artists have had their image and narratives controlled by record companies since the inception of the genre.
“People don’t take us serious, it’s like you gotta look up to society’s standards or whatever,” explained Chicago rapper Dreezy, who spoke about the expectations placed upon women who rap. “You gotta have a fat ass, or you gotta have fake titties… It’s not even about the music.”
But it’s not just women who have been long expected to fit a certain rap archetype, as N.O.R.E. explained.
“They literally used to tell me don’t smile,” he said. “I’m a happy guy, that’s just who I am. I just enjoy life. So imagine being introduced to a game that can change my life, but they’re telling me, ‘You gotta be hardcore,’ because of my name, my reputation, or what I did. And that’s real shit. You had to look a certain way, you had to dress a certain way.” When he reflected on the first year of his career, at which time his team was heavily controlling his image, N.O.R.E. said it was “uncomfortable.”
There’s also the risk of going against your pre-established image as an artist, Mila J shared. “I personally have like twenty personalities, therefore I always try to show different ones,” she said. “One day I’ll be in a huge sweatsuit, and the next I’ll be in a dress that’s super tight. But once you come out in one way in general, the public will pigeonhole you and try to say, ‘No, you should only be sexy all the time.’” Despite the pressure, she stressed that artists should “express themselves.”
Watch the finale episode of Rules to This Sh*t above.