Dollar signs, cars, dice, and Black women in sexually suggestive positions. The cover art for Meek Mill’s latest project features an artistic expression of stereotypical hip-hop culture — also probably a relatively accurate representation of Meek Mill’s reality. Art is subjective, and it’s meant to drive thought and discussion. Naturally, as people observed the artwork on Meek Mill’s latest album Expensive Pain, there were … many thoughts.
Do Black women ever get tired of seeing themselves portrayed this way in hip-hop? Despite this long-standing practice of objectification, as rapper 2 Chainz‘ fourth studio album proclaimed ‘Pretty Girls Love Trap Music.’ Why?
Does the fact that this art was created by a Black woman, Nina Chanel Abney, change anything? Have Black women internalized this objectification, and are female rappers like Lil’ Kim, Megan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B examples of that? These recurring questions resurfaced yet again, bringing forth the polarizing responses. Even when asking myself these questions, I find my own thoughts to be at odds with themselves.
While women, especially Black women, are often found to be hypersexualized and reduced to images that satisfy the male gaze all throughout pop culture, there is a specific brand of objectification that lives within hip-hop. Beyond your run-of-the-mill sexualization, there is an added layer of degradation that can be identified in commonly used words like “bitch” and “hoe” that set hip-hop apart.
So when I looked at the colorful and captivating artwork that Abney created for Meek Mill’s latest album, I found myself in front of a common struggle I have with hip-hop culture. The stories, the art, the expression are all beautiful, yet they reduce Black women to their most base level of humanity — as sex objects. And despite this, time and time again, Black women have thrived at taking some control of our narrative and expressing ourselves as full humans rather than things.
Perhaps this was Abney’s intent — to spark this internal dialogue and show us the dichotomy of the Black female hip-hop creator and consumer. In an interview with ICA Boston, Abney says about her art, “I probably would call my work colorfully seductive. … maybe a deceptively simple investigation of contemporary cultural issues.”
So what is the issue? In hip-hop, the narrative of Black women has often been co-opted by men. We are not saying who we are, we’re being told who we are. We consume and promote this content, but when we speak out against it or encourage it to examine itself, we’re told we’re too sensitive. Or the rebuttal against our arguments is that our points are invalid because Black female artists objectify themselves. But does this argument stand?
Can Black women on one hand stand in solidarity with artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Lil’ Kim, and so many other women who have made careers displaying their overt sexuality while criticizing Meek Mill for similar artistic expression?
The question itself does not start within hip-hop culture but is deeply seeded within the historical fetisization of the Black body, which has systemicatally been brutalized, ogled at and dehumanized. This stems from racist colonial myths and misperceptions of African people. Unfortunately, hip-hop music does not live outside of this destructive legacy, and from the looks of it, continues to breed these destructive patterns.