To Bitch or not to Bitch: An Entomological Exploration and Explanation of the Exploitation of The Word in Today’s Rap World.
I love Mac Miller’s music. It’s one of those inexplicable things about me that’s an inherent part of my character that none of my friends or my boyfriend get, but they accept anyway because I’m just so gone on it. I loved his “hip-hop’s class clown” infectious classics from “Blue Slide Park” and “K.I.D.S,” and I love his more mature, slightly harsher and at times jaded and sinister take on barely-legal rap in his sophomore album (not mixtape,) “Watching Movies With The Sound Off.” It can’t be called “frat rap” anymore, and is long-departed from elementary backpack rap. He’s solidly entered the slightly hazy, reality-meets-drug-induced-fantasy, fast-spitting spooky corner of rap that younger artists like Lil’ B (Based God fame,) and the Odd Future conglomerate blew up and made—if not mainstream—popular. But while I’ve listened to “WMWTSO” in its entirety for a collective number of hours more than I’d like to publicly admit to, there’s something in it that frightens me more than Mac’s burgeoning terrifyingly agile wordplay; it’s the new prevalence of the word “bitch” in his music.
The word has stopped creeping into Miller’s lyrics; instead, now dominates. I first noticed it in his debut album “Blue Slide Park” on the track “Frick Park Market.” (It should be stated now, despite everything I am about to say, it remains my favorite song off the album.) The year was 2011. Miller was 18. Speaking over the intro, you hear Mac mumble, “Uh, let me get a turkey sandwich…uh, lettuce, tomato…” and then spit, “BITCH,” just like he’s ordering up a sandwich from the corner deli with a side of bitch-meat on it, please.
It hit me, and continues to hit me, like a punch to the gut, every time I hear it. It will never get easier. And it’s not like I’m one of those Pollyanna women who are easily offended by crude language. As a writer, some of my favorite words are of the four-letter variety for the weight they hold and the numerous and fluid ways they can be used. I can wax poetic for over 15 minutes on the different commutations and forms of “shit” and “fuck.” Anything that can be noun, verb, and adjective to me is thrilling. (In fact, as I write this, I’m wearing a shirt that says “Fuck Nice.” Read as you will.) But there’s something about the word “bitch” that grates me raw whenever I hear someone use it either aggressively or in a casually demeaning way without rhyme or reason. What it signaled to me, somewhere deep in my female brain, was the thought that even to Mac Miller, the rap world’s nice-guy ambassador, some people—some women—are just straight bitches, either by personal make or by nature’s mold. And a bitch gets no respect.
This is not, by any means, anything new in the rap and hip-hop world. If I say “rap” and “bitch,” you can probably instantly come up with more than a fair few examples right off the top of your pop-culture head. Dre’, Snoop’, and Daz’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Jay-Z’s “99 Problems (But A Bitch Ain’t 1).” Ludacris’s “Move, Bitch.” Eminem’s “Bitch Please II.” Tupac’s “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch.” Biggie’s “Me & My Bitch.” DMX’s “What These Bitches Want.” N.W.A’s self-explanatory “A Bitch Iz A Bitch.” Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” may be one of the few examples of an artist trying to reclaim and retrain the word, but even he somewhat misses the mark in a song that even his most ardent fan-critics were lax to laude. Mychal Denzel Smith writes in “The Atlantic” of Lupe’s own struggles with the word, “It would have been far better for Lupe to explore in depth some of his past lyrics about his own complicated relationship with the word “bitch.” …It would be more interesting and a greater challenge to himself and men like him to chart his own evolution from never saying the word “bitch,” to feeling there were instances it may apply, to now, where he feels it’s his duty to be “killing these bitches.”…It [would have] played more honestly.”
Then again, you can’t really mention Mac Miller and, say, DMX in the same breath. They’re two totally different creatures, linguistically and stylistically. They inhabit two different corners of the same jungle, but they don’t exactly hunt the same prey. Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick to a photographer mother and an architect father, the younger of their two sons, was raised Jewish in an affluent, mostly white neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Part of his appeal to the college and teen crowd has always been an easily-relatable goofy and cordial nature, a sort of genuinely open mentality that after listening to his interviews just makes you want to LIKE him. Not much about Mac is hard, other than his innate talent. He stutters when excitable. He still says “please” and “thank you.” In “Avian” off of “WMWTSO,” he raps, “I’m pissed off like a blind person looking for a restroom. Probably be dead soon, inhaling cigarette fumes. Sorry for that blind people comment—that was just rude. And I was raised better, say god bless you.”
I guess that’s what gets me about his pervasive use of the word. You EXPECT it coming from a DMX or an Ace Hood or a Weezy. You DON’T necessarily expect it coming from the soft-spoken dude next door whose long-time now ex-girlfriend writes for feminist fashion and lifestyle website “Anne of Carversville.” But that may be the difference between Malcolm McCormick and his stage persona of Mac Miller—one of them may not have any issues with using the word. The fundamental question is, which one is it, and how much influence does that aspect of his personality have?
Which brings us to the inherent chicken-or-egg question in all of this mess: If a rapper calls a woman a bitch in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, is she still a bitch? It’s one thing to say something because you believe it. It’s another thing entirely to mimic what you hear in your world just because it’s what’s expected of you. It’s the difference between existing in a culture that dictates misogyny and blindly going along with it, and effectively playing a deaf, blind mute, or actually having the balls and lyrical skills to re-define a hotly debated part of your genre. “Girl,” “lady,” and “queen” might be thrown around at times like in Mac’s earlier ballad, “My Lady” (from mixtape “The Jukebox”), but they’re words generally reserved for conscious hip-hop, classic rap, or R&B. There really isn’t any word for “woman” OTHER than “bitch” that’s generally accepted to describe a wide spectrum of women in modern rap’s lexicon without being seen as “soft.” Why is that?
If a bitch is commonly defined literally as a female dog, then in calling a human woman a bitch, you’re degrading her to a point where she can be possessed. You can own a dog. You cannot own a woman. Relegating women to baser animal status effectively denies her of her own thoughts, rights, goals, and individuality. It contains women into a small, tight box. And maybe that’s the point—in a primarily male-dominated world, the only place for a woman is as either an unruly animal who can’t be understood, or as a prized status symbol. Kim Kardashian, the inspiration of “Perfect Bitch,” blankly smiling at Kanye. At least Lil’ Kim made men feel uncomfortable with her raw sexuality, and Nicki Minaj can make them feel threatened in their own game. Therein lies the difference between a “perfect bitch” and a “bad bitch.” Though one has a positive connotation in front of it, and the other a negative, I’d smack you for calling me the former faster than the latter, because it still plays into the idea that a woman’s attitude and worth can be defined within a man’s scope using that ambiguous “bitch.”
NPR’s Ann Powers traces the beginnings of the word in rap music back to its predecessor in the age of blues, where the direct play between society’s understand connotation of the word—a hard, self-possessed woman—was directly at odds with the types of places it was used in: the saloons and public houses where prostitutes often plied their trade and sold their bodies for cash, rendering them forfeit of their own possession. “In the blues and the various forms of street and barroom music that immediately inspired them,” Powers writes, “the word consistently pops up as both an insult and an element in seduction. Jelly Roll Morton employed it; so did the blues queens Ma Rainey and Lucille Bogan. They did so to gain a foothold in the dangerous spaces where the music that might later become mainstream was made: the concert saloons and bawdy houses where women’s bodies were often commodities. Though musicians of both genders tapped its power, from the beginning, “bitch” was slung around as a way of asserting control in a world where a male perspective rules.” And over 80 years later, it’s still asserting that control in our music and culture.
Kurupt’s verse in Dre’ and Snoop’s classic bitch ballad “Bitches Ain’t Shit” explains their point of view on what made a bitch in the 1990s: “But I’m from the pound and we don’t love them hoes; how could you trust a hoe? ‘Cause a hoe’s a trick. We don’t love them tricks, ‘cause a trick’s a bitch.” In other words, a bitch is a woman who is sneaky, deceitful, and probably fucking your cousin while you’re incarcerated. Again in Snoop’s “Ain’t No Fun,” he raps on the same topic, professing women as property to be shared, saying, “I know the pussy’s mine; I’ma fuck a couple more times. And then I’m through with it, there’s nothing else to do with it. Pass it to the homie—now you hit it. ‘Cause she ain’t nothin’ but a bitch to me. And y’all know, that bitches ain’t shit to me.” It’s enough to make me wonder if there was any woman Kurupt ever met that he actually loved and respected, and what he called her then. Probably, still a bitch.
But it’s not just the hard-core rappers of the ‘90s and ‘00s who struggled with the word, because here comes Mac’s seemingly schizophrenic take on the same word—in 2012’s“Lucky Ass Bitch” off “Macadelic,” the lucky-ass bitch in question is someone who “…got money, drugs and freedom; blunts what she’s cheefin’. She ain’t got no job, but fuck it, she don’t need one. Drive drunk, she swervin’, tryna fuck, she’s certain. Run around and stumble down, hit her head; she hurtin’. Drunk as fuck, sniffin’ pills, wildin’ out—tell the bitch to chill.” Despite the chorus’s hook of “goddamn, that’s a lucky-ass bitch,” it seems as though the young lady in question is everything but.
In this year’s newly-released title-track off “WMWTSO,” he uses “bitch” eight times in rapid succession in the duration of the three minute and 40-second song, in conflicting usages:
First, there’s the Viking-style request to “throw a couple bad bitches in my casket,” when he dies, implying that he’d like to be buried with some fly-looking ladies who have been ritualistically sacrificed to follow him into the underworld. Valid. I’m sure a lot of young dudes would like to go out like this. And as discussed earlier, a “bad bitch” is still better than a “perfect bitch.”
Next up, a “bitch looking like Farrah Fawcett.” In this context, a bitch is just a woman. Who happens to look like the ‘70s “Charlie’s Angels” star.
A minute later, he comments, “That girl beautiful; somebody introduce me. She ain’t your girl tonight—nah, that bitch a groupie.” And thusly, we go from a “beautiful girl” to a “bitch” through the act of sex in exchange for a brief interaction with fame. For someone who undoubtedly has a serious groupie problem (Miller’s female fan-base outweighs his male audience), it’s interesting to chart his thought-process from respect to disrespect in regards to the women he interacts with.
Even more mind-blowing is the difference used between the later lyrics “got your bitch here in just a tank-top,” a misogynistic take on how a woman can be another man’s property, and then within the next 10 lines, “My bitch’s gorgeous-looking; imported from short of Brooklyn,” which starts out in a positive take on the word, then mutates into another example of the popular bitches-as-meaningless-women-as-property trope, this particular bitch in question having been imported like a car or a piece of art or box of cigars. There’s a better way to demean the thought of a woman than by her relationship to you, and it was done in Common’s 1994 single “I Used To Love H.E.R,” an ode to slowly corrupting hip-hop that he personified as a woman who takes her own misguided fame-chasing spiral downhill, and does it all without once referring to her as a bitch. (Her friends, maybe, but never her. Hey. None of us are perfect.)
At the end of the day, though, the consensus remains the same—a bitch is a bitch. The word has more meanings and less power than anyone could ever imagine. Because it can be so fluid, it becomes what is probably the worst thing to accuse language of in rap—meaningless. A stand-in. Filler. A “lazy signifier” as Priya Elan put it in his article on the same issue that ran on “The Guardian”’s music blog—something that someone lacking talent and a rich vocabulary uses. And it just HURTS when you know an artist is so far above that. Do I believe that Kurupt and Snoop and the gang would ever willingly let go of “bitch?” No. But I don’t expect them to. That’s not their prerogative, nor is it their style. It’s hard to teach an old Dogg new tricks. However, do I think Miller could up his ante by dropping it in favor of other lyrical exploration, stretching his mastery of language and maturing even further on his next album? Absolutely.
Every time it is used by an artist not truly meaning it in all of its’ nasty, degrading weight, they condone the acceptability of the slur in their genre. It’s not a word that will magically make you “hard” and accepted by your contemporaries. It’s not politically-correct (admittedly, not something that the rap world has really ever striven for), nor is it enlightened. When it comes to an artist’s choice to make it part of their music, it all boils down to a single point—are you a conscious rapper, or not? Because, like (and I hate to admit that it was him who said this,) Kanye pointed out, if you ARE conscious and in control of some truly masterful rhyme-craft, why are you still falling back on using that bitch-crutch?
Define a woman as she appears to you; not as your world would define her for you.
Leave Note / Reblog
Bitch Mac Miller WMWTSO Music Word Language Review Rap Hip-Hop Malcolm McCormick Entimology Watching Movies With The Sound Off K.I.D.S Blue Slide Park Macadelic Watching Movies Lucky Ass Bitch Avian My Lady Essay Writing Conscious Rap Perfect Bitch Bad Bitch Feminism Frick Park Market The Jukebox I Used To Love H.E.R