Hip hop is known for its misogyny but it’s not just the rappers who are the slime balls – their managers, friends and publicists are also creeps.
Growing up I always wanted to be in the limelight – to revel in the adoration of strangers and touch lives in a way not everyone gets the privilege to.
The interweb has helped me do that; to become not just a woman, but a feminist and a writer. Without it I might have never found my purpose in life (writing), grown as a woman (discovered feminism) or had my daughter (that’s another story for another day). For those reasons, I’ll eternally be grateful for this unbelievable invention that often feels so much bigger than us.
Here I started working as a writer and met like-minded ‘radical’ young women of colour with whom over the years I’d grow and learn about everything from patriarchy to intersectional feminism and trans awareness. As feminism became a part of my life and identity I began to realise just how the odds seemed to be stacked against me – in everyday life and professionally too.
A pretty young woman walking around their sets and houses, intoxicated and asking questions was irresistible to them.
As a young blogger, I interacted with whom I wanted, but as I started freelancing for publications that became harder and harder to control. I had to be around cishet (straight) men for the majority of my time – ranging from their early 20s to mid-40s, most stewing in their own misogyny and high off their own ego.
A pretty young woman walking around their sets and houses, intoxicated and asking questions was irresistible to them. I was close enough to understand the ‘lifestyle’ and be ‘cool’ about whatever filth their minds could conjure for me but distant enough to shake off if they wanted. Contrary to popular belief, the rappers weren’t the slime balls –it was their managers, friends and publicists who were the creeps.
My first time on a music video set, on assignment for the hip-hop site, I met a really famous artist’s manager and he was cool enough… ‘til he pulled me aside around 2am, offered me his coat and told me that he’d been watching me and could tell I needed a strong man who could take care of me. And he was that guy.
I was taken aback and stared and tried to figure out which signs I’d missed.
First, I guess him calling me ‘Angel’ after I changed my WhatsApp DP could have been a sign, or maybe him ploughing me with alcohol the entire night, or maybe, just maybe, the constant compliments on my outfit. He proceeded to tell me how he had a child and he was ‘sorta kinda’ with the child’s mother but it wouldn’t interfere with anything.
‘I could take care of you. You’re brilliant. You need someone who knows what to do with that,’ he told me before he walked off back to see how shooting was going.
You definitely didn’t want to be that girl – the newbie who fell for the game
That night at home I mulled over his proposition. He wasn’t particularly attractive and I’d found him quite boring. But when I started working in the entertainment industry a part of me knew that this day would come. This was before the glorification and acceptance of ‘blessers’. I was conflicted because even though I didn’t want to be with him, nor was I completely comfortable with the idea of using my pussy to climb up the ladder, I knew the game was rigged from the beginning and this felt like a test.
I needed to talk to someone about it, someone who understood not just my job and lifestyle but my politics, but at that moment I realised there was no such person. I knew no women in the hip-hop/writing world who could tell me how to navigate this situation. I wondered if turning him down would not only be a lost opportunity but a soured business relationship. I slowly grew bitter over the fact that this was my problem in the first place.
My male co-workers weren’t somewhere wondering if they needed to give the dick up to get ahead and secure exclusives for their future writing endeavours.
So why was I?
I spoke to my boss about it and his advice stayed with me – Don’t have sex with anyone you don’t want to at all, especially not in the entertainment industry because word gets around and you definitely didn’t want to be that girl – the newbie who fell for the game and ended up losing everyone’s respect because you made rookie moves and weren’t smarter than the men who never really respected you in the first place.
I turned down that manager’s proposition but not before noting that this was the real world and one day I might just have to take the L (Loss) – (Eventually I did, but we’ll get to that later).
I also realised if I was to continue doing my job, which I enjoyed immensely, I would have to suck it up, for the most part tuck my feminism in, and keep shit moving.
And that’s exactly what I did a few months later when I found myself on the receiving end of all kinds of insults from five or so screaming men I had considered friends. Until I’d written a brutally honest review about a body of work they’d produced.
As fun as misogyny could be made to sound on the songs I reviewed and shared, it was also a very real thing that fucked me as much as it fucked the bitches they berated.
As I sat on the hood of the car parked behind me, eyes locked on the one closest to me as he screamed ‘You ain’t shit and your opinion ain’t shit! What the fuck do you know about hip hop anyway? Fuck you and fuck that review!’ close enough for me to see every speck of spittle fly out of his mouth in anger, egged on by another behind him who was nodding intently, I was once again reminded that no matter how hard I worked and all the accolades I got, I might never quite gain the respect of my professional peers based on my gender alone.
Worse, they knew they could get away with. Their dismissal of my input – ‘Kana women always want to come in and take over’ – and their unprofessionalism when I was around were constant reminders that, as fun as misogyny could be made to sound on the songs I reviewed and shared, it was also a very real thing that fucked me as much as it fucked the bitches they berated and bragged about on songs and behind the scenes. I realised that I was one of them – the bitches.
The only person who hadn’t made me feel like my gender mattered, ever, and in fact constantly assured me that he was not just a feminist ally but a friend, was my boss. I’d grown really close to after he gave me advice on how to navigate the situation with the aforementioned manager.
He was charming, handsome and consistent in his treatment of me – always respectful, nurturing and professional, for the most part. I began to consider him a mentor and as these things go our lives slowly intertwined till eventually he asked me to be his girlfriend and we began a long-distance relationship.
This was not a calculated move for my career, nothing changed after we began to date, nor was it about me gaining anything beyond a romantic partner. I genuinely liked him and as he’d proven himself trustworthy and loyal, we began our relationship while I was towards the end of my second trimester with someone else’s child in another country, having never met.
It didn’t seem anything more than slightly strange at the time, and I was convinced it would be the beginning of a beautiful love story. And to be honest it truly might have been had I been with an entirely different man.
Throughout my pregnancy, he became my rock, my one support system. He checked on me daily, reassured me when I felt ugly and insecure and of course, we fell in love.
A few months into the relationship we had a minor misunderstanding, one of many to come, and after he demanded I apologise, and I refused, he didn’t speak to me for days. I was confused, shocked and lonely. It was a huge warning sign, but I thought it was behaviour that could be corrected. He loved me, he said, and so I stayed.
That behaviour never changed. At once, I had to relive the dual rejection of my present and past relationship, which had been abusive and which I’d told him about. But I still stood for it, and I guess that was enough for it to not stop on his end. The second sign came when he told me he’d met someone and fallen in love with her, via Twitter, and that he in fact had been having various sexual partners during the duration of our relationship. I was sick.
His excuse was ‘Well you knew I wanted an open relationship!’ and I did, but we’d discussed it literally once, and I’d told him we’d cross that bridge when we got there. He’d crossed the bridge without me, sold the boat and moved into another house.
But still, I did not leave. I had a new born baby and more anxiety than I knew what to do with. The revelation that he’d been cheating on me made me walk around with a lump in my throat but I could stomach it – now was not the time to be single.
As much as I knew that I was suffering, and I was plagued by crippling anxiety and insecurity just being with him, I was terrified of the alternative. I was being abused by a man I thought was unlike the others, and our relationship had become emotional warfare. I was lucky enough to know that it was happening but that knowledge did not make experiencing the abuse any easier. When I spoke to his other partner it was clear that we experienced two very different versions of the same man and so for a while I wondered if it was me – whether I made him treat me that way, and he would tell me that it was. I was too stubborn, too this, too that – It was me.
And still, I did not leave.
Everything came to ahead when the night before our six-month anniversary we were having a conversation about the future and he told me, were we to settle down together, he’d want to have children with his other partner and I’d have to be okay with that. I finally decided to end our fuckery. It was too damn much.
The violence of the hip-hop industry extends far beyond the artists themselves
As we spoke and had the usual back and forths that come after a break up he told me that what really attracted him to me and made him finally make a move was how apparent my vulnerability was when I was pregnant, with no real support structure.
I couldn’t believe it.
For half a year this man had merely been keeping me around to feed his ego and all of a sudden everything made sense – his treatment of me, his behaviour, his charm. He was a well put together abuser, but an abuser nonetheless, I’d seen that myself.
I recalled a point when he was on my Twitter timeline while we were still dating and he was professing to having been a former abuser and having seen the error in his ways and telling men to do the same. I, his girlfriend at the time, merely rolled my eyes and decided against subtweeting him because although I knew that wasn’t true, I couldn’t say that about the man I was with, especially on the internet.
I simply marvelled at the audacity.
The same way I marvelled at his audacity when a link to a piece he wrote about how OkMalumKoolKat needs to be held accountable for his actions rolled down my timeline recently. The very idea of him sitting down to type it made me physically ill for the entire day because as true as that is how dare HE? How dare he, as an abusive straight black man, wobble around on his high horse to tell another abusive straight black man that he needs to take accountability like he doesn’t have a harem of women whose lives he’s altered in his twenty-something-odd years on this earth?
I don’t know why I still think men like KoolKat can’t REALLY be predators because he’s so cool or my ex couldn’t be a predator because he was so charming.
The violence of the hip-hop industry extends far beyond the artists themselves, I’ve come to find – it includes the bloggers, the directors, the producers – the unassuming ones who aren’t yelling all kinds of ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ in your face. And to be honest I don’t know why I thought it would NOT go beyond the aforementioned bitches and hoes we vibe to, albeit begrudgingly, as women in hip hop.
I don’t know why I still think men like KoolKat can’t REALLY be predators because he’s so cool or my ex couldn’t be a predator because he was so charming. For some reason, I can’t quite place the badge on them and I know I should because when we don’t, they go around unchecked, free to hide behind facetious statements, lies and their image.
What I’m telling you about happened six months ago – A mere twenty-four weeks, and I know a whole network of women who’ve had abusive experiences with my ex dating back years. The misogyny in hip hop that I so badly tried to avoid (by avoiding rappers) touched me right at my core because I thought abuse had a face and a type and could be loved better. It can’t. And I don’t know why we try to instead of holding the men who do abuse women, in any way, accountable.
I find the hassle of trying to change the men I meet in this industry more than I can bear.
It’s difficult to separate the person from the politics and the art nowadays, I get that. Our faves are becoming all too human to us. As the line between the average and the extraordinary becomes blurred and they continue to show their shortcomings, we find ourselves conflicted – should we completely ostracize and shun the person, therefore no longer consuming their art, or try our best to separate the two so we feel like we’re doing something meaningful by disliking and criticising them while still feeding them and helping them live comfortable lives?
I’ll be honest, I don’t have the answers because it’s something I still struggle with myself, but I do feel like if we’re gonna feed the unsavoury characters who happen to be good at some skill or the other, we should know full and well who we’re dealing with.
The hip-hop industry is a long way from being a safe environment for women, and if I knew how we could make it better I’d be working hard to make it happen. But I currently find myself in a situation where I have to leave my politics at the door for my safety and sanity, because I find the hassle of trying to change the men I meet in this industry more than I can bear, because I have a job to do, and lastly, because it’s the smart thing to do.
And maybe I’m failing the culture and my fellow African feminists, maybe I’m a coward for it – maybe. But I’ve learned to pick my battles. This one feels beyond me – sexism feels beyond me, abuse feels beyond me – it’s a way of thinking so deeply ingrained that the voice of one woman doesn’t seem loud or strong enough to so much as cause a ripple. So here we are, with me telling you things and you reading and the world continuing to turn with only a minute difference being made. A minute difference, but a difference nonetheless, perhaps.