Let’s be clear, I grew up loving hip-hop. My senior thesis at Brown University focused on the role of hip-hop in transformational learning for high school students. I donned the hip-hop attire (not very well), and dreamed of an alternate life as a girl tagger. But that was during the time when rap’s words, rhythms and imagery urged critical thinking and bravely deconstructed the asymmetrical arrangements of power that left behind poor Black and Brown communities. It was the era of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Tribe Called Quest, and MC Lyte.
Now, my love for those old days of hip-hop has long been toppled by a gangsta culture that glamorizes the exploitation and rape of women and girls. I can’t love hip-hop anymore when I hear lyrics that revel in the selling of girls’ bodies. And I can’t love hip-hop anymore when the pimp lifestyle is celebrated without any regard to what it really is—a modern form of sex slavery.
Last weekend, the Players Ball—a yearly celebration of players and the pimp lifestyle—honored P. Diddy with a Lifetime Achievement Award and Snoop Dogg for being the “Hardest Working Player”. According to Serious Pimp Founder Damian Kutzner’s quote in The Boom Box, Snoop Dogg invited “all of Hollywood's elite to party with Bishop Don Magic Juan on his birthday and celebrate the Serious Pimp swagger, attitude and lifestyle." Indeed, among the other awards handed out that night was for “pimp of the year.” Because of the mainstream publicity and the inclusion of well-known celebs like P.Diddy and Snoop, the Players Ball is not some grotesque or aberrant event, but a legitimatized celebration of men who sell girls’ bodies.
It’s a mistake to think that this is just a Black thing, a hip-hop thing, and not about the rest of America, since the people who buy girls look more like college grads and Wall Street executives than Snoop. The profile of men who buy girls is that they are middle-class, professional and married white men.
Hip-hop needs to take responsibility for glamorizing the pimp life, and admit to what pimps are really doing to very young and vulnerable girls.
Despite that, hip-hop needs to take responsibility for glamorizing the pimp life, and admit to what pimps are really doing to very young and vulnerable girls.
Like the pimp who kidnapped a ninth grader and sold her body to 12 different men a night, ignoring the girl’s constant pleas to go home to her family and go to school like any other 14-year old girl. Or the pimp who “inducted” a 15-year old girl into the life of prostitution by having his buddies gang rape her, again and again. And the pimp who tortured an 11-year old girl by breaking tables over her small body.
Don’t try to dismiss these stories as being about a few, bad pimps. These are typical stories of what girls owned by pimps endure. Stories told to the Rebecca Project, anti-trafficking organizations, runaway youth shelters, and child welfare workers by countless girls subject to commercial sexual exploitation. Sadly, there are even more stories of girls coerced, raped, and murdered by pimps that we will never know.
Maybe I believe that hip-hop can still redeem itself, that P. Diddy and Snoop (who are also fathers to young daughters) can recognize how pimping destroys our girls—especially poor Black and Brown girls—and denounce this form of 21st century slavery. But maybe that is just wishful thinking from someone who was once in love.
Malika Saada Saar is the founder and executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a national legal and policy organization that advocates for justice, dignity, and reform for vulnerable families.