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Lupe Fiasco’s release of “Bitch Bad” has sparked debate amongst hip-hop heads concerning the frequency of the word “bitch” in rap lyrics.

This debate is certainly not new, especially given the criticism that a lot of popular rap music often receives for being misogynistic and abusive towards women.

NEW MUSIC: Lupe Fiasco “Bitch Bad”

Although critics often use shortsighted judgments to distil all rap music into a single monolithic genre, it is hard to deny the proliferation of the word “bitch” in the rhymes of not just male rappers, but also in the lyrics of female emcees.

It would be redundant for me to site the amount of times the hottest hip-hop artists of the past and present have used “bitch” as a derogatory synonym for “woman” in general, or for men they consider effeminate.

At the very same time, we can listen to countless references of the word being used by rappers as either a referential term of endearment towards an attractive woman, or, to garner a sense of camaraderie amongst women themselves.

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Evidently, being a “bad bitch” is a good thing.

What Lupe was taking to task on “Bitch Bad,” was the destructive influence he believes some rap lyrics can have on constructing impressionable minds’ notions of womanhood and female sexuality. Young people and women themselves, he believes, are in danger of internalizing negativity about women through these lyrics. His gripe is that the word “bitch” is not malleable in its definition, but inherently damaging towards women.

But is the word’s meaning that simplistic?

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The reality is, there is a bit more nuance to the issue than Lupe leads on. As we all know, many of English’s most controversial words don’t necessarily have fixed definitions anymore, but change according to the context, culture and the speakers employing it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. As a female hip-hop fan, I am continually frustrated by the redundancy of the word “bitch” in the music I listen to, even by artists who market themselves as “conscious” or whatever. To me, it comes across as lyrically lazy and boring. What happened to compelling wordplay?

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So, although I understand the semantic complexities of “bitch,” I think it’s pretty wack that it has turned into an exclusive synonym for women these days.

But let me be clear. I want to stray away from ever using rap music as a scapegoat for all of the United States’ problems with sexism, homophobia and derogatory language. Fox News does enough of that already. If anything, the popularity of such language in common parlance and culture is more a reflection of how women are regarded in greater American society than singularly in hip-hop. Such a claim always pisses me off. It is completely ignorant and reductive.

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At the same time, for those of us who care about women’s equality, we must hold the artists, producers, labels, blogs, listeners — the whole machine — accountable for the lyrics in the music we consume and enjoy.

After all, if the word’s popularity is at all about flow, at least the words “bitches” and “women” both have two syllables!

~Marcel Salas

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