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Good Girls and Bad Bitches: Hip-Hop’s New Conflicting Wave of Misogyny

On Dr. Dre’s hit “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” featured on his 1992 album The Chronic, Snoop Dogg sang the infamous line, “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.”[1] Rap/hip-hop lyrics like this often incite critics to accuse the genre of misogyny due to the sexually explicit depiction of women as lesser beings, objects existing with the sole purpose of sexually satisfying men. Twenty-four years after the release of The Chronic, this type of misogyny is still present with a new wave of artists like The Weeknd, Childish Gambino and Future, but now a different type of misogyny has crept into the genre. In 2015, Toronto-based Drake ruled the rap/hip-hop charts with twistedly misogynistic tracks that attempt to pass as love songs. In his case, women can still be “hoes and tricks,” but are idealized as “good girls” and “bad bitches,” seemingly complementary yet conflicting terms that have had female listeners dancing to their own repression and the impossible expectations placed upon them.

   Drake’s “Good Girl”

In 2009 Drake rose to fame with “Best I Ever Had,” a song that idolizes a woman who’s prettiest in “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no makeup on.” Drake goes so far as to call her “a patient in my waiting room,” implying he has other women on hold, but he expresses his gratitude for her loyalty and patience in the lines, “You don’t even trip when friends say, you ain’t bringing Drake along / You know that I’m working, I’ll be there soon as I make it home.”[2] While Drake does not explicitly refer to this woman in such terms a woman who will stay home and tone down her appearance to wait for Drake to return to her is hip-hop’s perfect “good girl.” Drake disguises his method of oppression by praising the woman’s natural beauty and commitment; he feigns appreciation for who the woman really is. What he’s really doing is telling a woman to stop expressing herself through her appearance and shut herself off to the world so she can only be his. This is clearly the case in Drake’s hit “Hotline Bling”; in short, when a woman doesn’t meet the good girl standard, Drake’s lyrics turn into bitter rants.

   On “Hotline Bling,” which became one of 2015’s hottest songs almost as soon as it was released, Drake broodingly sings about a girl who used to call him but has since moved on. He shames her for exploring her newfound freedom, singing,

Ever since I left the city you

Got a reputation for yourself now.

Everybody knows and I feel left out.

Girl you got me down, you got me stressed out,

Cause ever since I left the city, you

Started wearing less and goin’ out more,

Glasses of champagne out on the dance floor

Hangin’ with some girls I’ve never seen before.[3]

Drake oozes with insecurity as he fails to understand who this woman has become. He shames her for going out drinking and wearing what she wants, claiming that she has a “reputation,” but he clearly no longer knows her or her circle of friends. He doesn’t want her to be able to express herself with her appearance or experience other people, as that means she’s moved on from playing his waiting game.

   Later he tells the woman that she’s “going places where you don’t belong,” and “runnin’ out of pages in your passport.”[4] Where exactly does a woman not belong? The two lines conflict, as she seems to be doing fine traveling the world. There doesn’t seem to be a place where she doesn’t belong, but Drake denies this since all he’s wanted is for her to stay put and wait on him. Drake’s cool-toned singing can’t mask his lyrical hissy-fit, as it picks up in the next verse:

You don’t need no one else

You don’t need nobody else, no

Why you never alone

Why you always touching road

Used to always stay at home, be a good girl

You was in the zone, yeah

You should just be yourself

Right now, you’re someone else[5]

He says he wants her to be independent, yet he wants her to wait around, completely dependent on him. In saying she doesn’t need anyone else, Drake isn’t looking out for this woman or trying to build up her confidence; he simply wants to possess her. His fear of her venturing into the world and spending time with other people marks a desire to exert possession of a woman who cannot be owned. To Drake, a good girl can always be held down, and she will wait in her place forever. He’s losing his grip on the good girls and realizing his desire proving itself to be an impossibility.

   This is echoed in his 2011 Take Care interlude, “Good Ones Go,” as Drake repeats “The good ones go if you wait too long,” and raps “Don’t you go getting married, don’t you go get engaged / I know you’re getting older, don’t have no time to waste / I shouldn’t be much longer but you shouldn’t have to wait / Can’t lose you, can’t help it, I’m so sorry, I’m so selfish.”[6] Drake might acknowledge that these women won’t be who he wants, but still refuses to lose the good girls without further degrading what he can’t have. In The Game’s “Good Girls Go Bad,” Drake raps he’s With some girls that say they models but umm, I don’t believe ’em / Who’s still getting tested? / Where’s all the women that still remember who they slept with? / Where’s all the girls too busy studying to make the guest list?” [7]

   The slut-shaming continues, as Drake brags about his own sexual conquests, but concurrently believes that women who embrace their beauty and sexuality are dirty and fake. He holds women accountable for their number of sexual partners in this song and others like “Practice,” where he sings “You telling me it’s only been a couple other people that you’ve been with / I’mma trust you I’mma give you the benefit of the doubt, and I’mma love you.”[8] Yet he also raps about how he feels free to sleep with as many women as possible, as almost every song shames or praises a different woman he’s conquered.

   As of February 2015, hip-hop blog DJ Booth tallied up Drake’s use of approximately 129 different women as song subjects .[9] All are either praised for being his good girl in songs like “Best I Ever Had” and “Make Me Proud,” or bashed for not fitting the standard as seen in “Hotline Bling” and “Marvin’s Room.” Only good girls who stay in and study while saving themselves for him can be worthy of Drake’s love, yet he spends his time with women he resents because he knows the good girls he wants don’t actually exist. Instead of accepting his unrealistic standard and moving past it, he tries with different girls over and over again like a hip-hop Groundhog Day. Drake sees himself as a prince and his good girl glass slipper is tested on almost every woman possible. In the end he won’t find his Cinderella. No woman in her right mind will spend her days cooped up quietly while waiting for a prince. The glass slipper has already shattered.

   Although Drake continues to dominate the charts, his sexism and good girl obsession have been poorly received in recent criticisms. Tahirah Hairston of Fusion writes that Drake “tricked her” with his catchy songs before she realized how sexist and demeaning he could be in “Hotline Bling,” “Good Girls Go Bad,” and numerous others.[10] Noisey writer, Kat George, identifies the “good girl” as

Something guys like Drake use to belittle women when they feel emasculated by their sexuality or rejected. It’s a one dimensional concept, as curated as Beyoncé herself, that’s designed by men to project upon threatening, otherwise unruly, multidimensional women. The notion of “good,” in Drake’s lexicon, asks for a muted sexuality, and an adherence to anachronistic ideas of feminine propriety that we’re still struggling to overcome.[11]

NPR also recognized Drake as having a “Good Girl Problem,” in that he uses the term in an attempt to stifle women so that he can maintain control over them. The article explains the sexist rationalization, “if too many women ‘go wild,’ it could be a sign that society as a whole has come unmoored.”[12] Drake fears that with the increased number of women who refuse the “good girl” standard of waiting at his beck and call, he’s losing his control as a male. He’s right, but it’s time for men like him to embrace the change instead of shaming women. Identifying and critiquing sexism in this way won’t necessarily hinder its proliferation, as seen by the rise of sexually explicit and objectifying rap/hip-hop songs despite countless academic and journalistic critiques. However, by pointing out the harmfulness of the Drakiarchy, critics can help listeners to stop confusing sexism with sentiment.

   The Baddest Bitch

While the critical reception of terms like “good girl” point out rap’s veiled sexism, the term “bad bitch,” which is used in countless popular rap songs by artists like Nicki Minaj, Drake, Tyga, and Rae Sremmurd, is still praised and used within critical discourse. These artists use the term to describe a woman who doesn’t care about being objectified and is willing to do almost anything sexually, but the term has since vaguely seeped into casual vernacular to praise women. Kat George, who criticized Drake’s use of “good girl” in Noisey, failed to recognize “bad bitch” as equally sexist, calling Rihanna “The Bad Bitch We Need” for being grotesquely violent towards another woman in the “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video.[13] Although the video itself can be interpreted as an attack on conventional beauty values, ultimately Rihanna is seen attacking another woman. By using violence to pit women against each other, Rihanna becomes a “bad bitch.” This continues to propagate the belief that women have to fight each other to be dominant instead of lifting each other up. This falls perfectly in line with what men like Drake want. If women put each other down in an attempt to meet unrealistic standards, the men who fuel that sexism gain control even if it seems they’re uninvolved.

   In another article Kat George declared that the word “bitch” needed to be retired after Nicki Minaj called Miley Cyrus a bitch onstage at the 2015 MTV Music Video Awards. She writes,

We can talk about “reclaiming” and “empowering” when it comes to language as much as we like, but the basic truth is that when we take the word “bitch” and aggressively hurl it from woman to woman, we’re not re-appropriating anything. We’re just perpetuating a boring, malicious, deeply arcane attitude towards women that’s borne through decades of ceaseless repetition both in reality and in song.[14]

This conflicts with her claim that when Minaj raps about being “the baddest bitch” or a “boss bitch”:

—in these instances she’s actually subverting language by repurposing it to mean something different, and in both cases, asserting personal autonomy. It might look like I’m playing at semantics here, but I’m not. As a slur, “bitch” is a word glorified by men as a way to lyrically label disruptive women, the women who don’t conform to their every whim, and Mean Girls is right: the more women persist in using the term to hurt one another, the more it makes it OK for men to use it to hurt us too.[15]

George is right that the word “bitch” has ugly roots that tear women down, but the word can’t be fully empowering just because women turn it on themselves as a compliment. Being a “bad bitch” still makes a woman, at the end of the day, a bitch. It’s as if she’s the best of the worst. She can be as rare and fierce as she wants, but she’s lesser than the man who coined the phrase to dehumanize women and make them property in the first place.

   This confusion carries through in rap/hip-hop as Nicki Minaj and Drake’s lyrics seem to praise the good girl and the bad bitch at the same time, yet clearly separate them as opposites. If a good girl is chaste, willing to stay home and wait around on the man that thinks he owns her, a bad bitch goes out, has no worries, and is willing to do whatever a man wants. In “Make Me Proud” Drake repeats “I’m so proud of you” when talking about how the girl he’s with doesn’t have sex with other men (except him) and studies “like you went to Yale but you probably went to Howard.”[16] She’s his perfect good girl, but switches to being a bad bitch when he raps “That’s why you’re bad as f*** and you…” handing the song over to Minaj, who raps, “…B-b-b-bet I am / All of them bitches I’m badder than.” Minaj’s verse describes her wealth, independence, and sexual ability. She references her makeup, nail polish, and fragrance lines, which were things Drake seemed to resent in other songs that shame women for “dolling up.” Minaj suddenly switches tones from aggressive rapping to sweet singing, and her attitude seems to change as well in the lines, “But baby, if you ask me to take a break / I’ll give it all away, don’t care what the people say / I’ll be a million, billion, trillion miles away.”[17] Minaj goes from flouting herself as a bad bitch to assuming the role of the good girl who would give up her fortune and independence to be with a man. This song takes two impossible yet opposite standards, the bad bitch and good girl, and tries to morph them into one, emulating a type of madonna/whore complex. Drake may be trying to convert the bad bitch into the good girl, but he still won’t accept a woman for who she is unless it’s what he wants her to be.

   A woman can’t stay inside studying while also being a successful independent global icon. The song seems to praise and empower a woman , yet it describes someone who, quite simply, cannot exist. When this message is echoed by a woman (Minaj), the ability for listeners to suspend their disbelief in the good girl and bad bitch becomes much harder, as Minaj seems to validate Drake’s unrealistic desires. In the end it needs to be recognized that a song is just a song, and these impossible standards simply cannot be taken seriously. Eventually when enough people stop believing in the good girl/bad bitch complex, these tropes have the potential to fade away.

   The terms “good girl” and “bad bitch” are both used by rappers and hip-hop artists to compliment women, yet the tropes are contradictory and unrealistic. Women cannot stay home waiting for their man as good girls and simultaneously go out and embrace themselves as “bad bitches.” They cannot stay “good” and chaste while being “cool” or “bad” enough to be accepting of their objectification. Knowing this and drawing attention to it won’t stop artists like Drake or Nicki Minaj from releasing songs about good girls and bad bitches, but understanding that these women aren’t real people can stop listeners from wanting a sexist fantasy to become their reality.

 


[1]“Bitches Ain’t Shit, ” Dr. Dre. The Chronic. ©1992 by Priority Records.
[2]“Best I Ever Had,” Drake. Thank Me Later. © 2010 by Universal Music LLC.
[3]“Hotline Bling,” Drake. © 2015 by Cash Money Records Inc.
[4]“Hotline Bling.”
[5]“Hotline Bling.”
[6]“Good Ones Go,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.
[7]“Good Girls Go Bad,” The Game. The R.E.D. Album. © 2011 by DCG Records.
[8]“Practice,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.
[9]S, Nathan. “Every Girl Drake’s Ever Mentioned in a Song Ever.” DJBooth RSS. February 1, 2015. Accessed November 24, 2015.
[10]Hairston, Tahirah. “Sorry, but Drake’s Obsession with ‘good’ Girls Is Sexist.” Fusion. October 23, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
[11]George, Kat. “Who Is Pop Music’s “Good Girl” and How the Hell Do We Get Rid of Her?” Noisy. November 2, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
[12]Powers, Ann. “Drake And Pop Music’s Good Girl Problem.” NPR. September 18, 2013. Accessed November 23, 2015.
[13]George, Kat. “Rihanna Is the Bad Bitch We Need and Her Tarantino-Style Revenge Porn for “BBHMM” Proves It.” Noisy. July 3, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
[14]George, Kat. “We Need to Retire the Word ‘Bitch’” Noisy. September 10, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
[15]George, Kat. “We Need to Retire the Word ‘Bitch.’”
[16]“Make Me Proud,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.
[17]“Make Me Proud.”

 

References:
George, Kat. “Rihanna Is the Bad Bitch We Need and Her Tarantino-Style Revenge Porn for “BBHMM” Proves It.” Noisy. July 3, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
George, Kat. “We Need to Retire the Word “Bitch”” Noisy. September 10, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
George, Kat. “Who Is Pop Music’s “Good Girl” and How the Hell Do We Get Rid of Her?” Noisy. November 2, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
Hairston, Tahirah. “Sorry, but Drake’s Obsession with ‘good’ Girls Is Sexist.” Fusion. October 23, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2015.
Powers, Ann. “Drake And Pop Music’s Good Girl Problem.” NPR. September 18, 2013. Accessed November 23, 2015.
S, Nathan. “Every Girl Drake’s Ever Mentioned in a Song Ever.” DJBooth RSS. February 1, 2015. Accessed November 24, 2015.
“Best I Ever Had,” Drake. Thank Me Later. © 2010 by Universal Music LLC.
“Bitches Ain’t Shit, ” Dr. Dre. The Chronic. ©1992 by Priority Records.
“Good Girls Go Bad,” The Game. The R.E.D. Album. © 2011 by DCG Records.
“Good Ones Go,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.
“Hotline Bling,” Drake. © 2015 by Cash Money Records Inc.
“Make Me Proud,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.
“Practice,” Drake. Take Care. © 2011 by Cash Money Records Inc.