Data is Booty-ful

Measuring misogyny in rap

2017-06-14

A sacred routine ritual of mine is a morning run through Central Park, made possible by a kickass Spotify soundtrack. But as I was jogging down the home stretch of the Reservoir this morning, feeling the groove of the playlist I was listening to, I paid some attention to the lyrics.

“Ass ass ass ass ass…”

For the rest of my run, my ears perked up to the words and lyrics beyond the quick tempos and heavy beats that I usually focus on. My blood was pumping for a very different reason as I zoned in on lyrics like “She a bad bitch, make it bounce bitch” and “How the hell you get all that ass in them pants?” I was appalled by the number of lyrics that referred to women in a derogatory and overly sexualized way, in these pop hits listened to by young girls and boys no less.

Misogyny and objectification in rap and hip-hop culture are nothing new. There are tons of articles such as Michelle Wallace’s New York Times piece from back in the ‘90s, and even a Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject matter. But I was morbidly curious as to how I had been listening to this workout playlist, aptly titled “Workout Twerkout” and never noticed the mentions of “asses”, “bitches”, and “booty” until now. [1] Was the frequency actually as high as I perceived or was this an availability heuristic, a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events due to how unusual or emotionally charge they may be?

I had no idea but I was determined to find out.

Data is booty-ful

RapCaviar is the most popular rap/hip-hop playlist on Spotify, curated by Spotify’s Head of Hip Hop programming, with almost 3 million followers globally. The playlist showcases the “best” and most popular current rap/hip-hop hits and as of June 14, 2017 has 51 songs. In figuring out if rap culture objectifies women as frequently as my morning run revelation had made out, I decided RapCaviar would be the “best” sample of songs to use in answering the following questions:

  1. How misogynistic are these hip-hop/rap songs?
  2. Is there a difference in the rate of misogyny between female and male artists’ hip-hop/rap songs?
  3. How does misogyny in rap/hip-hop compare to other genres?

In comparing hip-hop/rap to other genres, I used the Billboard Top 40, a weekly list of the 40 most popular songs being played on US radios as a robust, diverse sample for “other genres” including R&B, pop, and EDM.

To measure how misogynistic a song is, I took the rate at which artist(s) mentioned misogynistic keywords that reference women in a prejudiced way, whether referring to women in an objectifying, demeaning, or sexualized way, or violence against women. [2]

rap in misogyny graph 1
Word cloud of most common words that appears in RapCaviar

Most rap songs discuss women in a misogynistic way.

  • 94% of the songs were labelled as containing explicit content by Spotify.
  • 41 or 80% of the songs contained at least one misogynistic keyword, and in every one of those songs, women were referred to as “bitch” at least once.
  • In fact, the keyword “bitch” 227 times in the playlist, which is an average of 4.5 times per song.
  • The song with the most mentions of misogynistic keywords, which made up 7% of song words, was HUMBLE by Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna.

rap in misogyny graph 2

There are fewer female artists in rap & hip-hop, but they tend to be less demeaning towards women.

  • Only 7 or 14% of the songs featured female artists, and only 2 songs or a tiny 4% only featured female artists exclusively.
  • Female rappers only referred to other females using misogynistic keywords once, and that was in SZA’s Supermodel where she raps “got some new hobbies / even a new hoe too”.
  • But just because a female artists don’t rap about misogynistic material, the songs in which they collaborate with male artists still contains a high number of misogynistic keywords. In the 7 songs that female artists were soloists or collaborated on, there were 56 misogynistic keywords tagged or 8 keywords per song, which is higher than the 6 keywords per song average for the entire playlist including songs featuring only male rappers.

rap in misogyny graph 3

Rap music is more misogynistic than other genres of music.

  • From the Top 40, 10 songs or 25% of the Top 40 featured keywords, 50% of which were hip-hop rap songs.
  • The misogynistic hip-hop/rap songs featured 4 times more keywords per song than the misogynistic “other genre” songs at 9.8 keywords per song.
  • The keyword “bitch” was the most common keyword, making up 86% of all keywords flagged.
  • The songs in top 40 had 5% songs by or featuring female artists than in the RapCaviar playlist.

Data caveats

Having a larger sample size of data would lead to more reliable and accurate findings, but a few other caveats to note:

Although I chose RapCaviar to be a good sample of general rap culture as it represents the most popular rap music at the moment, it may just be this week’s playlist that is especially misogynistic (RapCaviar playlist is updated by Spotify regularly) or there may be a causation effect of misogynistic rap songs becoming more popular with audiences. Lastly, the misogynistic keywords that were measured are the most common terms used, and other misogynistic words and phrases that were less common, contextual, or implicitly eluded to i.e. “thotty”, “I hope you got a clean vagina”, “she swallowed the bottle”, are clearly derogatory towards women but not counted in the keywords. Therefore, the estimates of my analysis could be highly conservative.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, measuring keywords without context might mean that the keywords might not have been used in a misogynistic context. For example, I counted all instances of the keyword “butt” but perhaps they were talking about Nemo’s butt. Additionally, I have heard the argument that “bitch” and “hoe”, the most common keywords I measured, can be taken as an empowering compliment to women in rap culture i.e. “bad bitch”. I argue that whether used with good intentions or not, it normalizes the degrading use of “bitch” in lyrics like, “Hol’ up, lil’ bitch / be humble”, from Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE”, and sets the precedent that calling a woman a “bitch” can be appropriate. It’s not.

Lastly, the keywords measured predominantly reflect one aspect of misogyny, the sexual objectification of women. For a more comprehensive study, it would be important to look at other angles like keywords and phrases that measure violence against women e.g. “hit”, “smack”. Furthermore, songs that weren’t misogynistic could also slight other demographics besides women. For example, All Around the World” by Mura Masa ft. Desiigner didn’t mention women but did tell us to “get retarded”, a slight to people living with retardation.

Conclusion

Turns out, the answer is yes. Rap music is as misogynistic as my morning run listening to Workout Twerkout had made out. And as a woman who would never want to be spoken to as in these rap songs, I’ve made a conscious effort to switch over and support some more thoughtful, uplifting, and empowering rap tracks during my runs, amongst my current favourites is Swet Shop Boys.

[1] A whopping 23% of songs had explicit references to butts in the title of the “Workout Twerkout” playlist (as of June 14, 2017).