Rap music has always been a culture renowned for its hypermasculinity, mostly consisting of gang violence, drugs, and objectifying women. Historically, famous rappers are stereotyped as acting in a “violent” and “aggressive” manner, which is typically emphasized with tattoos, grills, and carrying weapons. For greater understanding, a stereotype is an oversimplified, yet amplified, symbol for a group of individuals, which transforms into a means for dominant groups to hold authority or power over the subservient counter group.
Lil Wayne – Vanity Fair
However, within the past decade, the “rapper” stereotype has evolved to form a new generation, where social awareness and acceptance of more diverse identities, are encouraged. This new generation has increasingly shown a resistance to the hypermasculine gender normality, which previously served as the standard.
Young Thug – Complex
Given the history of conforming to acts of misogyny and objectifying women, or at least rapping as if he had, Young Thug, is now known to advocate for gender equality. Within the world of hip-hop, his album cover for Jeffrey sparked controversy because it challenged the industry’s enforced stereotypes and contradicted his past vulgar language and inappropriate behavior. The release of Jeffrey, or more specifically the album cover photo where he is pictured wearing a dress, was monumental because it was unconventional for both the culture and his own brand.
Young Thug – Jeffrey Complex
Before this most recent decade, there had been a consistent disproportionate representation of hypermasculine rappers. The term disproportionate representation indicates an over or under-representation of identity, in contrast to the entire population of that specific identity. However, Young Thug assisted in the recent adjustment of this dynamic by spreading awareness for gender fluidity, particularly when discussing his choice of wardrobe and expressiveness. There are numerous public statements made by him, which justify his belief in gender consists of no boundaries.
Lil Uzi Vert – The Fader
This concept of unbounded gender has since also been adopted by various reputable rappers like Tyler The Creator, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kid Cudi. They have appropriated the use of “physical appearance and attire to further challenge the established heteronormative” (Blanchon, 2020) into the hip-hop culture. After decades of the industry controlling how rappers should dress, this refrain is widening the potential representation of rappers to come. Further, it is evident that the clothing worn by modern-day rappers reinforces the common expression of androgynous gender.
Pharrell Williams – GQ
Artist and producer Pharrell Williams is also esteemed for his enactment of transcending gender norms in the hip-hop community. Similar to Young Thug, both Williams’ appearance and clothing reject the notion of only pertaining to the male gender. Additionally, he has been persistently vocal about his opinion on masculinity and its perception in the media. More specifically, he depicts the term as evolving to surpass its traditional characteristics, which often coincide with heterosexual cis-gender men. It is through this surpassing that various representations are allowed for.
Tyler, The Creator – Rolling Stones
There are currently more rappers who endure success because they strayed away from gender normality and embraced their own uniqueness. Nonetheless, Pharrell Williams’ insight exerts a similar perspective to that of “power can come from unabashedly expressing the identity that makes [rappers] feel most comfortable” (Lobdell, 2022). This reiterates the greater importance of a rapper’s originality in comparison to their virility, or lack thereof. Not only does the reinforcement of hypermasculinity constrain rapper’s from their full potential, but it lacks excitement, as audiences have seen it done repeatedly since the beginning of rap music.
Kid Cudi – The Guardian
As aforementioned, rappers are historically known to be ruthless or rather ridiculed for showing any emotion besides anger. Their vulnerability has been deprecated in order to maintain a robust persona, and uphold mythical norms of the male gender. Mythical norms of the male gender can most often be characterized as “strong,” “brave,” and “heroic,” whereas behaviors like crying act in contradiction and supposedly assert weakness.
Pharrell Williams – GQ
On the contrary, there has been a recent increase in rappers expressing their emotions by utilizing rap music “as a tool to resist the social issues and to highlight the perspectives of those who are oppressed, consequently opposing dominant ideologies” (Lobdell, 2022). In lyrics, stage presence, and social media personas, a greater amount of rappers are choosing to expose their own vulnerability than have in the past. Through the incorporation of personal hardships, discriminations, and tragedies into their music, we see fewer men playing into a facade and more men exuding authenticity.
Frank Ocean – VICE
There are numerous hip-hop artists from the past decade who have succeeded with the inclusion of personalization and sensitivity in their lyrics. Namely, rappers like Juice Wrld, Xxxtentacion, and Trippie Redd have all played a major role in the establishment of genuine rapping. Additionally, an artist who is particularly renowned for the emotional investment he puts in his music goes by the stage name Frank Ocean. By listening to any one of his songs, one can notice the apparent vulnerability he exerts in his music. His career has led him to face difficult ideologies, like “having to live up to an ideal of masculinity that, besides being a patriarchal socio-construction, conflicts with the everyday-life emotions of men” (Dhaenens & De Ridder, 2014). This indicates an opposition between such an ideal of masculinity and men dealing with their own emotions. It depicts manliness as unemotional and when given the option, a man must choose his masculinity over his feelings.
Frank Ocean – Genius
Rap music is not defined by the clothes rappers wear, the words they say, or the emotions they feel. More specifically, a rapper’s identity does not depict how good they are at rapping or any skill set for that matter. Holding individuals in the hip-hop culture to a standard of masculinity, as done in the past, only denies audiences the potential range that rap music can reach. Rap music can’t create, let alone maintain, an identity on its own, but rather the diverse identities produce and uphold successful rapping.
Blanchon, J. (2020). “Representations of Black Queer Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Music: A Close Analysis of Tyler The Creator and Frank Ocean.” Honors Theses. https://scarab.bates.edu/honorstheses/326
Dhaenens, F. & De Ridder, S. (2014). “Resistant Masculinities in Alternative R&B? Understanding Frank Ocean and The Weekend’s Representations of Gender.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(3), 283-299. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549414526730
Lobdell, E. (2022, March 21) “I Got Two Versions: Frank Ocean, Lil Nas X, and the Rhetoric of Progressive Masculinity in Rap Music”. Theses and Dissertations.https://doi.org/10.30707/etd2022.20220705065052168975.999985