Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper in the video for the “Worst Guys”
Women in hip hop videos, since the late 90’s have more or less served a purpose as symbol if success and power and ultimately the identity of a rapper. But that might be changing.
In the last two years certain famous to semi famous rappers have made videos void of the presence of the video vixen. Artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Chance the Rapper, and even the Weeknd and Drake, and more, have had a lack of the half naked, twerking women their videos. There has been a method in hip-hop transferable to videos since late 90’s. After an artist has put out an initial single, the following, the “girl song” i.e. the relationship song, love song, apology, or even the woman-done-me-wrong song, where in the video, the vixen is employed to represent the savior, the scarlet or the mistreated woman. A recent example is Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fck with You” or G-Eazy’s “Let’s Get Lost” Or Tyler the Creator’s “You’re too Fing Young”. It’s ploy to show that rappers have two sides; but it promotes that men should only show vulnerability when the situation permits it i.e. women. Other than that, women serve as a badge of honor—and at the same time power source that shield for the rappers vulnerabilities.
But in the last few years, hip-hop has seen the emergence of the sentimental, non-gangster, non-threatening and even nerdy rapper—as the new man. Magazines such as GQ have well documented this new kind of rapper. Rappers like Kid Cudi, Wale, and Drake (GQ’s fav) have been the poster children for this new way of being manly. Before this, albums such as Andre 3000’s Love Below and Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreak had started to etch out a way for rappers to express themselves in traditionally “un hip hop” and non-masculine ways—unless of course the subject matter required it. Now, after the 3000’s and the Cudi’s, we see rappers emulating or expanding on the new but limited freedom on what is to be a man—a black man really. And this is partially due to the fact that rappers may need less validation by having scantly clad, half naked women always at their side.
Emcee’s who fall under the banner of “sensitive male” like Earl Sweatshirt for instance, who had less women in their videos for music dealing with all aspects of their life—including women. In 2013, Earl released a video for the song “Hive” which is basically a shit talking song like any other rapper would have (could this be a resurgence of the boom bap talking shit single that ruled the 90’s?) had a video with no scantly clad women. Even though the first line of the song is:
“I promise [Gil Scott] Heron I put my fist up/after I get my dick sucked/ quick buck/maybe a gold chain”. Instead, along with friends, rappers Vince Staples and Casey Veggies, Earl’s video deals the horrifying restlessness of suburbia and being on the breaking point of doing something violent. It’s a dark video, where Earl has ghouls in street ware for friends, who ride bikes and parole the area where Vince and Casey rap from a parked car. Talk about tense black kids with nothing to do. Might be a problem, no? Another example is Childish Gambino’s video for “The Worst Guys”, which is a song about checking for sex from women you just met, and yet the video is him and his friends at the beach–or his infamous video for his declaration of love “3005”, where Gambino is in a Ferris wheel with a bear. Or even the Weeknd’s latest series of videos in promotion for Beauty behind the Madness. Even though the songs talk about unrequited love, falling for a doped up vixens, and boasting how much money he has, the videos themselves portray no use of scantly clad, twerkers at the behest of rappers power and image, and for the male gaze. What happens, is there is literally and figurative space to see these rappers as human beings—black men—and not one dimensional, sexist, misogynistic, boys.
In a time where the Black Lives Matter movement exists, and continues to push for equal treatments of blacks, Rap, especially rap videos, vacant of the vixen, can be a site to explore issues dealing with black men and the environments they inhabit. Plus there’s less sexist, patriarchal serving images of women. Everybody wins!