Perhaps more than any other music, hip hop celebrates the human form in all of its glorious guises. From Lil' Kim to Nicki Minaj, when it comes to The Body more is more and less ain’t best.
Lets get it out the way; yes, hip hop can be a misogynistic, little idiot. Yes, it can be known for its hyper-sexualisation of the female form. And yes, it’s not always known for its in-depth appreciation of feminism and all who sail in her. It can, yes, also be a bit gross. Nelly and your Tip Drill video, we’re looking at you.
But hip hop loves bodies, all of them. Big and small. It celebrates the guns, it adores the bums, it bigs up the chests and high fives the rest. When it comes to the body, hip hop is often exultant, celebratory, joyous, tender and a bit cheeky at times. It can also be downright outrageous but we don’t mind that if there’s a strong sense of humour served on the side.
Hip hop reflects society in the sense that as we’ve become less inhibited about sex and sexuality, so has rap music and its rap stars. Sometimes hip hop needs to have a little word with itself, but then so does society. Can it be held accountable for women injecting themselves with chicken fat and bleaching their skin? Surely film, print and advertising are all just as responsible. And J-Lo. She’s responsible too. Who didn’t want the Lopez booty when If I Had Your Love dropped? We can defo blame/thank the Affleck-ex effect for Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian’s ever-expanding posteriors. Wouldn’t we rather rejoice in a little wobble (minus the weird injections obvs) than idolise heroin chic and starve ourselves to a size 0?
While hip hop may have often used women in its videos as mere props, at least there was diversity. Hip hop loves women; rarely do you see a size 6 – let alone a size 0 – doing the dutty wine. I mean, what’s the point? Hip hop celebrates beauty and the female form in all its shapes, sizes and colours far more than the anodyne skinny girls of indie or the Playboy airheads of rock. Who else but Common would cast the girl next door for his ode to love video. One of Drake’s greatest lines? “Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin with no make-up/That’s when you look best” on Best I Ever Had. Though hip hop might emphasise our obsession with the idealisation of beauty (glossy, shiny, pert, weave just right, nails did) where else would you see a big, beautiful, brown woman as an object of desire? Ok, so Snoop made Ain’t No Fun – but he remedied it with Beautiful, right?
And how about the hip hop female? She was limited for years to either being a tomboy (MC Lyte, YoYo, Latifah, Da Brat) or overtly sexual (Lil Kim, Trina, Foxy Brown). But then Missy came along, and so did Lauryn Hill, and suddenly a new conversation began. Missy was just… Missy. Brilliantly dressed in quadruple denim, as the original rhinestone cowboy, or in an inflatable black bin bag; she was, and will always be, supa dupa fly. Lauryn was beautiful the way she was; natural locks, brown, proud. Things reverted to type for a few years after, but in recent years the way women in hip hop express themselves reflects hip hop itself; diverse, increasingly open-minded, ready for change. Angel Haze embraces androgyny and an open-ended sexuality, Azealia Banks is a mermaid, Brooke Candy looks her best with braids and her ‘Double D’s. We also love the bohemian Nitty Scott, Junglepussy’s feminist anthems and Leikeli47’s Chanel ski mask.
So yes, hip hop probably should hold its hands up for its teenage boy approach to celebrating the female form. But thank goodness for hip hop redefining the narrow margins of beauty; because beauty isn’t one colour, one size, one shape. It’s black, brown, white, skinny, thin, curvaceous and fat. Sometimes it has spots and it's hair is a mess.
Beauty, as we know, is in the eye of the beholder and when it’s hip hop casting its eye, at least there’s more than one reflection of perfection. We’ll leave the last word to Skateboard P and his recent ode, Dear Girl. “What makes you different is what makes you special.” Hip hop hooray!