When you hear the word “bitch” in a hip hop song it either makes you cringe or you are so used to hearing it your desensitized to the term. Either way if you are a fan of the genre you will more than likely keep listening. The once-negative term is used so heavily in hip-hop music that its original definition “female dog and malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman,” (Merriam-Webster) doesn’t apply.
Rapper Slick Rick is coined as one of the first rappers to use “bitch” in his verse on Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s 1985 classic “La Di Da Di.” Rick is describing an angry mother who is fighting her daughter over his affection.
“Looked Sally in the face and decked her in the eye/ Punched her in the belly and stepped on her feet/ Slammed the child on the hard concrete/ The bitch was strong, the kids was gone,” Slick Rick raps.
Prior to the release of “La Di Da Di,” Duke Bootee used the term in his verse on Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “New York, New York” in 1983. Bootee used it to describe a mans wife who left him, took his kids, and threw his clothes in the street because he lost his job.
“He says he ain’t gonna pay no child support/Because the bitch left him without a second thought,” Bootee raps.
As time progressed so did the frequent usage of the term in other popular rap songs. In Ice-T’s “Six N The Mornin” he rapped about beating up a “bitch” who had the audacity to talk back to him. On NWA’s “Bitch Iz a Bitch,” they described a “bitch” as a woman who is conniving, manipulative, bashes men, wearing scandalous clothing, stuck-up, and using men for money. According to Ice Cube, it doesn’t “apply to all women but all women have a little bitch in ‘em.” Later, Dr. Dre described them as “hoes and tricks” in his song “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”
Women weren’t branding themselves as bitches quite yet because of the negative stigma that came along with the term which would end a few years later.
British feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, explains The Male Gaze theory in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema as women being viewed as objects specifically for the pleasure of a heterosexual male audience. Which is perceived in three parts: how men view women, how women view themselves, and how women view other women. (Mulvey, 1973)
Brooklyn native Lil’ Kim approached the industry as a member of The Notorious B.I.G.’s group Junior M.A.F.I.A. in 1995 with their only album Conspiracy. Her verses on “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money” painted vivid imagery that resulted in her becoming a subject of the male gaze.
Kim lived up to her debut album title Hard Core from the album cover of her in lingerie to her brazen lyrics. She was the bad girl who wasn’t afraid to say anything no matter how raunchy or jaw dropping. Lil’ Kim was able to connect with women who wanted to say the same things but were afraid. There were some who felt like her presence was playing into the objectification of women. (Britton, 2000)
Hard Core showcased her ability to rap about the same topics as her male counterparts: money, power, respect, sex and designer threads. She explained exactly why she reigns supreme on her song “Queen B@#$H,” where she pushed the envelope by using “bitch” 13 times throughout the song.
“Lyrically I dust ‘em off like Pledge/Hit hard like sledge-hammers/Bitch with that platinum grammar/I am a diamond cluster hustler/ Queen bitch, supreme bitch/Kill a n**** for my n**** by any means bitch/ Murder scene bitch/ Clean bitch, disease free bitch.” Kim raps.
Lil’ Kim took N.W.A.’s definition of “bitch” from negative to positive by adding “Queen” in front of the slur. She owned up to it throughout the album by wearing scandalous clothing and using men for their money. Even though Kim had her own money, she made it a requirement for men to pay whether it was buying lavish gifts or paying bills.
“I tend to like Lil’ Kim she was at the forefront of the generation of emcees explicitly proclaiming her sexual prowess. In many ways, she inherits this female braggadocio from her blueswomen foremothers. Her delivery, decidedly hip hop, strikes a chord within a 90s hip hop moment in which detailing sexual prowess prevails. I would also situate her within the “I’m the baddest” aesthetic that has pervaded hip hop culture since its origins,” Dr. Julius Bailey continues. “Her delivery offers some fuel for an argument of an empowered and (dis)respectable sexuality (disrespectability politics, term coined by cultural critic, Brittney Cooper), but I also know that in many ways much of Kim’s persona and lyrical arsenal was invented my male artists, most notably Biggie. What does it mean for her voice to inhabit his? Would it be different if we knew Kim relayed what she wanted to say and then Biggie or another male artist just crafted the verse to have the lyrical dexterity that made her hip hop storytelling more viable?”
Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core movement opened doors for other females to walk through fearless in scantily clad clothing and raunchy lyrics.
Watch Dr. Nancy Dawson as she discusses perceptions of black women, stereotypes, and artist accountability.
“Da Baddest Bitch”
Miami native, Trina made her debut on Trick Daddy’s 1998 hit “Nann N***a” where she describes how he won’t find another like her. On this track Trina is describing Dr. Dre’s definition of a “bitch” in his song “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”
“You don’t know nann ho uh-uh/Don’ been the places I been/Who can spend the grands that I spend/Fuck bout 5 or 6 best friends,” Trina raps.
Similar to Lil’ Kim, Trina’s increased popularity from her feature verse gave her a platform to begin her own career. In 2000, she released her lead single and title of her debut album “Da Baddest Bitch” where she unapologetically details how she lives up to the nickname.
“See I’m unemployed with no boss ho/While y’all sucking d**k for free I’m broke off ho/See it pays to be the boss ho/Sh*t that how you floss hoes/X-rated elevated, buck naked/And I’d probably fuck your daddy/If your mammie wasn’t playa hatin’/ Cause I’m da Baddest bitch,” Trina raps.
“As such, in common vernacular, the use of the possessive pronoun MY generally simmers the word to endearment. Similar to the word nigger, it generally allows for a commonality, a certain (though poor choice) endearment,” Dr. Julius Bailey continues. Women have typically, without much controversy, adopted the use of the term in that way. ‘Me and my bitch about to go to the club’ spoken out the mouth of a woman typically doesn’t sting or even mean the same as if I was to say ‘Me and my bitch about to go to the club’. Same word, different actor and voice, may allow for the receiver and listener to allow room for a sort of cultural altering though, in my opinion, it still bespeaks a sort of misogyny and poor language choice. I typically, in my classes, refer to women’s use, especially like Trina’s Baddest Bitch or Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj use of “Queen Bitch” as an example of Misogynistic Ventriloquism.”
Nicki Minaj emerged on Lil’ Wayne’s label Young Money in 2009 and has since been the driving force for female rappers. Her lethal lyrical ability and animated personality give audiences a jaw dropping experience.
“Been around the world, I still can’t find/Another girl that could steal my shine/I’ve had my highs, I’ve had my lows/But you can’t tell me I’m not the Baddest bitch,” Minaj raps.
Although Minaj isn’t the first female rapper to say the term her frequent usage increased its popularity. In 2014 she further pushed boundaries in her single “Anaconda” for her album The Pinkprint. Minaj put a twist on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Grammy award winning hip hop classic “Baby Got Back” by incorporating the sample in her song. Sir Mix-A-Lot rapped about his favorite part of the woman’s physique and how his “anaconda” didn’t want a woman without a lovely derriere.
“I like big butts and I can not lie/You other brothers can’t deny/That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist/ And a round thing in your face/ You get sprung,” Sir Mix-A-Lot Raps.
On “Anaconda” Minaj reverses the control of the sexual situation back to women who have bodacious bodies.
“And he telling me its real, that he love my sex appeal/Say he don’t like ‘em boney, he want something he can grab/So I pulled up in the Jag, and I hit him with the jab like/Dun-d-d-dun-dun,” Minaj raps.
The music video for “Anaconda” supported the explicit lyrics with lots of curvy women dancing or twerking in various scenes. According to Time, “Anaconda” broke Vevo’s record by having 19.6 million views in 24 hours. (Waxman, 2014)
Listen to Rapper SomeSay interview about his music, upcoming projects and the usage of ‘bitch’ in Hip Hop music.
“Who You Calling a Bitch?”
In 1993, Queen Latifah fought “bitch” with her Grammy Award winning single “U.N.I.T.Y” where she spoke up about the consistent disrespect of women. She addressed street harassment, domestic violence, and misogyny in hip hop music. Opening the jazzy song with probably one of the most important question in hip-hop culture: “Who you calling a bitch?” Latifah demanded gender equality and for men to treat women with respect.
“Now everybody knows there’s exceptions to this rule/Now don’t be getting mad, when we playing, it’s cool/But don’t you be calling me out my name/I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame,” Latifah raps.
“It’s still degrading as a young girl my father always taught me to never let a man demean me, and now in 2016 women we have allowed men to think its okay.” Rapper Cece Chanel continues. “No matter how you paint it’s still going to be the same word.”
Chicago rapper, producer, and entrepreneur Lupe Fiasco explored the use of “bitch” (“bad bitch”) and its effects on children in his 2012 hit “Bitch Bad.” He rapped about the relation to images children compare to “bad bitch.” Fiasco mentions a boy who watches his mother call herself a “bad bitch” and how he aligns the term with his mother. Then referenced how young girls watching their favorite rappers video as they refer their ideal woman as a “bad bitch,” effects how they perceive themselves in adulthood.
“Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart/But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play a part/But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way/But she think she a bitch; what a double entendre!” Fiasco Raps.
Applied sociologist and filmmaker Dr. Aaron Celious, argued in his essay How “Bitch” Became a Good Thing – or at Least Not That Bad that “bitch” is interpreted as empowerment because of who is saying it and how they are using it in reference to themselves.
Celebrity model, personality, mother and author Amber Rose defines “bad bitch” as “a self-respecting, strong female who has everything together. This consists of body, mind, finances, and swagger; a woman who gets her way by any means necessary.”
“The Hip hop culture has made the word “bitch” just as comfortable as calling someone by their name especially when used among women,” said student Sharlisa Holloway. “Men use the word bitch as a form of ownership as in ‘that’s my bitch’ as if the woman belongs to him.”
“Bitch” alone has a negative stigma but when both male and female rappers add words such as “Queen,” “Bad,” “Baddest,” and “Boss” in front the word takes a new definition. The term becomes empowering for women when female rappers with an established fan base use it to describe their success, sexuality, and femininity. However, it depends solely on the listener and their beliefs.
Listen to “The Transformation of ‘Bitch’ in Hip Hop” playlist containing music referenced within the article excluding Nicki Minaj’s “Baddest Bitch” from her Sucka Free mixtape.
Check out the Timeline of Female Rappers here.