In recent weeks corrections officer turned rapper Rick Ross has faced a nonstop backlash over his lyrics on the song “U.O.E.N.O,” which appear to gleefully glorify the joys of date rape. Then fellow rapper Tyga, who had defended Ross publicly, got a taste of it too, facing a firestorm as he prepares to perform this weekend at Harvard’s spring concert, Yardfest 2013. More than 2,000 students and Harvard employees signed an online petition protesting Tyga’s appearance, citing overt sexual content in his songs as well as his negative view toward women.
The renewed focus on hip-hop’s war with women has led some to suggest that first lady Michelle Obama, as one of the most popular and respected women on the planet, might consider stepping up to the mike and taking these misguided young men to task.
“I think she could call them out, for sure,” says La Tisha Banks, an 18-year-old senior at Inglewood High School in Inglewood, California. “I mean, she could say to them that they are disrespecting their sisters and daughters, and they’d be embarrassed. It’s not like she’s someone like Barbara Bush or someone who you know could care less about these guys, and so they wouldn’t want to hear a thing she was saying. They might listen to Ms. Obama.”
In the ’90s, hip-hop was well known for lyrics and videos that showcased women as sex objects, often calling them “bitches” and “hos.” Protests by women’s groups and churches were commonplace, but failed to make a dent in the sales of rap and gangsta rap, which continued to rake in millions for the likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre and labels like Death Row Records. Today, with the exception of such names as Lil Wayne, few rappers dominate the charts, which means fewer songs with anti-female verbiage have the chance to shake pop culture with the same impact.
But Ross’s single verse hit a universal nerve last month. He sang: “Put Molly all in her champagne/She ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that, enjoyed that/She ain’t even know it.” “Molly” is slang for a synthetic drug that can cause paranoia, paralysis, and kidney and respiratory failure.
Ross’s apology, in which he pointed out that he never used the word “rape,” has done little to appease women’s groups or the more than 150 rape victims who demanded that Reebok cut its endorsement deal with the rapper. (It was reported Thursday that the company had.)
“That apology sounded about as real as a $3 bill,” said Constance Moore, 33, of Baltimore. “I think he’s sorry because it became an issue with him at the forefront. That’s what he’s sorry about it. He doesn’t care about women, because if he did, he wouldn’t have said it. I’d love Michelle Obama to take him on and all those knuckleheads who think it’s OK to belittle and dog out women.”
Sophia A. Nelson, the author of Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama, agrees that the first lady should speak out about the recent rape-rap controversy, but also stresses that it has to be in the right social context.
“Our first lady has been so vocal in her support for women across the board over the years,” says Nelson. “It wouldn’t be difficult or surprising if she somehow mentioned in a speech to a group the need for more responsibility in music. Let’s be clear: most of these rappers are speaking about black women, which is something we all understand, and so does the first lady. Still, she wouldn’t have to address any rapper in particular, just the general issue as a whole.”
But that may very well be the lingering conundrum and legacy of Michelle Obama. There are many general issues facing women, black women, young girls in the inner city, and young women of every color from every corner of the world that this first lady may be uniquely qualified to weigh in on—but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can or she should.
Just this past Wednesday, the first lady appeared at Harper High School in Chicago, a school profoundly impacted by violence. In the last year 29 current and former students of the school have been shot, and eight have died. The first lady met with a small group of students at the low-income school to discuss their personal experiences and the impact of such violence. Later that day she met with Chicago business leaders in an effort to encourage to them to increase employment opportunities for out-of-work youth across the city. Clearly Obama has decided on her own what she deems to be the most pressing issues she wants to focus on and speak out about. Gun violence, unemployment, and childhood obesity top her list.
Those close to her say the first lady feels she’s at her best when she can concentrate on two to three significant causes at a time and strongly resists straying from that rule.
“What’s hurting Michelle now is young babies being killed every day,” says a close friend. “That’s on her mind constantly. Not that violence towards women isn’t on her mind, but the gun issue, and children dying, is first and foremost on her heart. It’s such a big problem in her hometown, and she’s hearing those stories everyday. I doubt Rick Ross is even on her radar.”
Whether or not the first lady weighs in, she’s right to stay focused on her current to-do list. The stronger message, in any case, would be sent if the public stopped supporting the habit of these foolish young men who are seemingly unconcerned with the danger their lyrics convey. Such a message should start at Harvard tomorrow. Our first lady already has enough on her plate.