Sisters Rap the Blues: Examining the Perceived Impact of Rap Music on Black Women College Students

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 By B. Afeni McNeely Cobham

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 Abstract: The following qualitative study uses the conceptual canon of Hip Hop Feminism to explore Black Women College students perception of their academic experiences at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) based on the influence of mainstream rap music. The findings highlight the importance of participants resisting stereotypes through self-imposed boundaries; creating emotional distance; code-switching, and participating in Hip Hop on own terms. The implications of this inquiry for college administrators could impact the successful matriculation of Black women as institutions foster a healthy campus climate specific to social spaces, embed culturally relevant and engaging pedagogy, and develop policies and procedures that seek to reduce or eradicate gendered racial microaggressions.


3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 Over the last four decades, research on the experiences of Black college students enrolled in predominately White Institutions (PWIs) have shed light on campus environments riddled with gendered racial microaggressions. Lewis, Mendenhall, Harwood & Huntt (2013) describe such environments as “subtle and everyday verbal, behavioral, and environmental expressions of oppression based on the intersection of one’s race and gender” (p. 54). For Black women college students the toll may intensify, due in part, to images in mainstream rap music that promote stereotypical and archaic notions of womanhood through performances of hyper-femininity, which depict Black women as subordinate, dense, and intensely dedicated to using sexuality to secure the attention of men (Pough, 2004; Rojas, 2009; Rose, 2008). For the purpose of this study mainstream rap music is defined in two ways: a high profile subgenre of Hip Hop culture; the overarching artistic movement, and pervasively sexist, homophobic, heteronormative, violent music.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The respondents discuss a complex and delicate balance between academic pursuits and the perceptions they have about mainstream rap music fostering campus encounters that over exaggerate stereotypes related to race and gender (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000); depict Black women as incompetent or as less intelligent (Williamson, 1999); and create isolation or cultural miscues among White college peers (Banks, 2009). In spite of this, respondents revealed that they often retreat to elements of mainstream rap music as a means to unapologetically affirm their identity to Black culture.

Purpose of the Study

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 2 The purpose of this study was to examine how Black women college students attending a predominately White university perceive the impact of mainstream rap music on their academic experiences. Framing the discussion through the conceptual canon of Hip Hop Feminism allows the practice, epistemologies, and narrative styles of the respondents to be understood and discussed from worldviews that intersect various social identities.


6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 4 Over the last twenty years scholars have provided a generous amount of research that addresses the impact of Hip Hop on the identity development and self-esteem of Black adolescent girls (Peterson et al., 2007; Stephens & Few, 2007); adolescent’s acceptance of dating violence when exposed to rap music content (Johnson et al., 1995); and the role of popular culture in Black adolescent girl’s perceptions on body image and attitudes toward relationships, and their sense of empowerment (Lindsey, 2013; Sharpley-Whiting, 2007). Other topics on Hip Hop and adolescents address the use of Hip Hop in therapeutic practices (Elligan, 2004; Hadley & Yancy, 2012); and the expansion of access in secondary schools with a curriculum that situates Hip Hop as a tool for innovative teaching (Hill & Petchauer, 2013; Seidel, 2011). While these works and others are helpful in providing context about the experiences of Black women vis-à-vis Hip Hop culture, access to research that addresses the impact of Hip Hop culture on the experiences of Black women college students is minuscule. This position is reaffirmed in Henry, West & Jackson’s (2010) literature review of Hip Hop’s influence on the identity development of Black female college students. The authors assert that ‘although many critics have discussed the negative influences of Hip Hop on Black adult women, few quantitative … and qualitative research studies … explicitly address or validate this perspective.’ Out of the three studies that the authors identified none ‘focused on Black college women specifically’ (p. 243). Moreover, a review of scholarship on Hip Hop culture in post-secondary environments produced indirect discussions on the topic of Black women college students. For example, Scott and Rosenberg (2006) examined the relevancy of Hip Hop culture as a non-academic factor in Black students’ retention at a traditionally White university. More broadly, Petchauer (2012) studied how Hip Hop culture functions as an entrenched philosophy in students’ college experience and environment, and Hall & Martin (2013) examined the use of Hip Hop pedagogy to engage Black college students in the curriculum. Cundiff (2013) explored college student’s perceptions and response to women when exposed to rap music with misogynistic lyrics, and Haynes (2011) offered a critique of the counter-narratives Black women college students use to cope and resist stereotypical images; which can be difficult in a society that reinforces and projects stereotypes of Black women through popular culture. In this study, readers are introduced to Black women college students situated at the nexus of feminist epistemology, Black identity, and Hip Hop culture.

Conceptual Framework

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 3 The conceptual framework that guides this study is Joan Morgan’s (1999) seminal work on the shifting ideologies and practices of feminism vis-à-vis the Hip Hop generation. In contrast to second-wave feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Hip Hop feminist are not inclined to create bold structures of separatism between the sexes to disconnect from the most pervasively sexist, demeaning, and stereotypical symbols of rap music. Instead Hip Hop feminist choose to step into the discourse and engage in what Pough (2003) describes as public pedagogy, where the landscape for knowledge production and sharing situates rap music as a forum for analysis, critique, and response. Furthermore, Black women from the Hip Hop generation contend with a duality that engenders soul searching beyond the scope of women as oppressed and men as oppressors. Evidence of this juxtaposition is the thin line between objectification of the female body and the sexual agency of women that exercise the right to participate on their terms (Rose, 2008). Are these women complicit and misguided or are they engaging in public spaces of hypersexualization from a platform of empowerment? Taken further, who has the right to demarcate the definition of these roles? And why are such critiques unapologetically harsh when it comes to Black women? Morgan (1999) posits these types of questions as feminist discourse that evaluates platforms hypocritical of authentic gender equality and unwillingly fails to ask difficult questions that intersect the gray areas of Black women’s culture, identity, and sociopolitical environments. ‘This gray area,’ writes Ofori-Atta (2011), ‘includes the contradictions of loving an art that is reluctant to include you; loving men who, at times, refuse to portray you in your totality; and rejecting sexual objectification while actively and proudly embracing your sexuality…’ (p.2). This study illustrates the coping strategies of Black women college students drawn to a culture that affirms and celebrates their social identities, but falls short of eradicating or diminishing stereotypical characterizations of Black womanhood.

Methodological Approach

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 The narratives of Black women beseech scholars who examine their experiences to become ‘anthropologists that excavate the stated ideas and events to see what is not shown’ (Moody, 1997, p. 32). For that reason, a narrative inquiry was used as a methodological approach to acquire a deeper understanding how Black women college students make meaning of their academic experiences. To interpret the impact of microaggressive social structures, a number of scholars have used qualitative methods to extract the experiences of marginalized groups. Strauss and Corbin (1990) contend that qualitative methods can be used to discover and understand the underlying significance of experiences. In studying the perceived impact of mainstream rap music, narrative served as a mode of inquiry to ‘highlight not only their experiential knowledge, but also capture the linguistic style and elements present within Black women’s speech’ (Robinson, Esquibel, and Rich, 2013, p. 60). Therefore, the epistemology of respondents exists at the heart of data interpretation in tandem with the perspective and voice of the researcher. This acknowledgment is a major factor in exploring how the author’s involvement in the study influences and informs the research.

Procedure and Research Design

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 4 An informal questionnaire was distributed to all students enrolled in a Hip Hop course taught during the spring 2014 semester. The cohort included male and female students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The students were asked three questions, two of the questions dealt with perceptions of women of color who participate in Hip Hop. The third question asked students to discuss how the perceptions they listed might impact the experiences of women of color on college campuses. The students returned the questionnaire to the professor so that responses could be used to guide a class discussion on Women and Hip Hop. After the class discussion the professor asked all of the Black women students enrolled in the course to participate in a study that specifically addressed the impact of mainstream rap music on Black women college students. The interviews took place over a two-day period, lasting approximately one hour. Interviews are effective for developing broad conclusions about students’ experiences and exploring the meaning students attach to these experiences (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). The students’ responses were audiotaped and extensive notes were taken to document body language, facial expressions, and visible emotions. Moreover, ‘narrative inquiry does not privilege one method of gathering data’ (Trahar, 2009); therefore participant’s responses to written assignments were also instrumental in capturing the nuanced ways they perceived the impact of mainstream rap music. The author used pseudonyms to maintain students’ anonymity.

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12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 2 The criteria for participants were as follows: (1) self-identify as a Black woman, (2) actively engaged in Hip Hop culture in some form, and (3) an acute interest in the depiction and treatment of women in rap music. The participants were three Black women college students ranging in age from 19 to25 years old. Two of the students were sophomores, and one student was a junior. All participants self-identified as heterosexual women. The academic majors of respondents include the fields of Biology and Anthropology (dual major); Social Work and Child Welfare (dual major); and Education.

The Researcher

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 2 During my formative years, Hip Hop culture influenced my thinking about local and national politics, the Black community, religion, contentious race relations, and the state of Hip Hop as it evolved and subsequently collided with mainstream access. As a college student, I carried Hip Hop with me into the culturally rigid structure of the classroom and often used the canon to contest academic practices and standards that failed to represent me. As a scholar-practitioner, I use Hip Hop culture as a backdrop to talk with students about homophobia, hypermasculinization, and the glamorization of ‘ghetto’ living in rap music. I challenge them to look beyond dope beats and strategically placed corporate brands to spark critical thought and dialogue about how their buying power fuels the commodification of Black culture and other marginalized groups (Patton, 2009). The course format is aligned with how we experience Hip Hop culture, a direct style of speaking in which unfiltered thoughts are often communicated through code-switching between urban linguistics (slang) and Standard English. As a group, we engage in gut-wrenching debate and oftentimes had to agree to disagree when consensus over a polarizing issue could not be reached. In fact, on many occasions the power dynamic between professor and student shift to demonstrate my willingness to learn from my students. I come to this research knowing two of the respondents very well. Both students had me as a professor for Introduction to Africana Studies and a Hip Hop course. One of the respondents engaged with me as a volunteer for the Hip Hop conference I developed as an extension of the course. Her enrollment in the course, however, was her first encounter with me as a professor. These dynamics shaped my discussion with participants of this study, allowing me uncensored access to participant’s thoughts because I held their trust as an ally to Hip Hop culture. I also used the classroom as a transformative space for transparency by demonstrating the impact of Hip Hop culture in my personal life and how it shaped my scholarly paradigm.

Data Analysis

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 1 According to Kvale (1996) “analysis [of data] permeates an entire interview” (p. 205), therefore, analytic memos (Rossman and Rallis, 2003) were written throughout the study. In addition, participant’s written assignments in the course were used to provide a nuanced approach to data (Schensul, Schensul, and LeCompte, 1999). After completing a transcription summary of data triangulation (Janesick, 2000), preliminary categories were written on index cards with headings related to variables of gendered racial microaggressions (Lewis et al., 2013). Second, preliminary categories were collapsed, and quotes from each participant were re-coded and categorized into identified themes (Bogdan and Biklen, 2006) about gender and racial microaggressions, experiences on campus, and perceptions about mainstream rap music. The next phase involved comparison of participant’s response. In this stage, themes were linked or eliminated until a pattern of relevancy emerged. In addition, observation of respondent’s posture, visible emotions, and side or off-topic conversations not recorded but noted in analytical memos provided further context to the interview (Rapley, 2007). In the final phase, data relationships were reexamined through inductive analysis and moved into four categories that represent the findings of this study.


15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Self-Imposed Boundaries
Overarching criticism about the current state of mainstream rap music centers on the abundance of misogynistic and sexist content. At the heart of this criticism are assertions that women who choose to be a part of the rap industry as artists or fans are complicit supporters of the rhetoric and behaviors that reinforce the degradation of women. In 2006, film director Byron Hurt tackled this debate when speaking to a group of Black women about the use of the term ‘Bitch’ in mainstream rap music. The position of the women interviewed was that such language and descriptions could not be directly linked to them, therefore, they did not take personal offense. However, the decision to detach from far-reaching stereotypes may not be a matter of personal choice; particularly for Black women. Within the context of mainstream rap music, Black women are subjected to the preconceived idea that their attention and bodies are readily available and accessible to men when desired. Hence, the ability to circumvent or cope with gendered racial microaggressions may also entail conscious behavioral boundaries. This point is illustrated by participants’ disclosure into how they actively contest stereotype representations of Black women.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Z: The lyrics provide a portrayal of Black women that is narrow and over sexualized. Rap music doesn’t show how diverse Black women are which is why I try to involve myself in campus activities that might be outside of Black cultural groups and events. My interests are broad and I hope others see that.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 2 The need for a depiction of Black womanhood that contests notions of a stereotypical or monolithic existence is supported by another respondent’s perspective.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Q: The portrayal of Black women… on stage and videos [may cause some to assume that] Black college women…will do the same thing… [therefore] I often dress in long skirts and a shirt that fully covers my top.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 1 A review of Q’s thought process in a written assignment on the topic of equal access in Hip Hop revealed that her decision to not dress in ways she deemed provocative is symptomatic of existing in a culture dominated by patriarchal standards. In her examination of why some women rap artist are provided access to the industry and others are not, Q asserts that the reason Nicki Minaj rose in popularity so quickly is that ‘[Minaj] shows off her body… and dresses crazy to get ahead in the Hip Hop game.’ Q provided a comparative critique of Minaj’s early career to demonstrate how the artist moved away from being a skilled emcee touted for her talent to an ‘entertainer… playing up the typical image of rap music to get further [in her career] and …have an equal platform as men.’ For Q, a desire for equal access or career advancement required Minaj to be uninhibited with her style of dress and adopt the persona of being a boss chick or bad bitch, which more often than not implies a woman’s desire to achieve success with skills that support rather than dismantle patriarchy. In remixing the politics of respectability within the framework of mainstream rap music, some Black women have resisted stereotypes by embracing terms and behaviors that may be considered as negative or demeaning as a mantra of empowerment. However, what may be deemed as a source of empowerment for some Black women also co-exists as a consequence for others. As Q pointed out during the interview:

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 …even if we cover up our bodies it doesn’t matter, people will continue to feel the way that they do, which is why I cannot internalize that nonsense…[because] I know I am a good woman

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 To that end, Black women have never been exempt from misrepresentations that lay at their feet insurmountable standards of being a good woman. Rojas (2009) points to the ‘distinction between “good” and “bad” Black women [as a strategic invention] to justify the different sexual roles that they were forced to perform…’ (p. 35). Thus, failure to depict the diversity of Black womanhood in mainstream rap music compels Q and Z to engage in self-imposed boundaries related to style of dress and campus involvement. Additionally, the following sections illustrate how shifts in behavior or self-imposed boundaries carried out by all respondents reveal salient points about the impact of internalizing messages and the perceived obligation to alter misguided perceptions about Black womanhood.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Emotional Distance

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 2 Part of the Hip Hop feminist epistemology is for Black women to detach themselves from the brunt of injurious assaults and address misguided characterizations from what Morgan (1999) describes as an emotional distance, which allows [Black women] to ‘recognize that the attack, [laden with vitriol language] isn’t personal but part of the illness’ (p. 76). Therefore, the perception of complicit behavior may, in fact, be rebellious acts of resistance put into practice through an emotional disconnect from multiple entities of popular culture (i.e., movies, video games, reality TV, and sports) that spread the illness of sexism and misogyny. An example of this is an encounter with a Black male student during a class discussion. ‘What these girls want,’ the student exclaimed, ‘is dudes with money, nice cars and a gangsta lean.’ Initially, the student’s position received support and agreement from some of his male peers, but eventually there was pushback from some of his classmates when he admonished women for dancing to offensive rap songs, arguing that a woman’s decision to gyrate in a sexually alluring matter exempts her from receiving respect from men. The male student’s comments demonstrate why heteronormative, hypersexual fantasies about women are alarming, and projected images of Black womanhood are disingenuous. Even more compelling was that most of the women in the class, including the participants of the study, did not challenge the male student. Some of them offered a nervous laugh while others showed visible discontent but did not express their thoughts verbally. Perhaps Morgan (1999) is on to something when she proclaims that Black women cannot afford to expend energy, interest or discussions on sexism when other issues that assail Black women exist. This point is supported by participants’ insights into how representations of Black women in mainstream rap music have an effect on their interaction with male peers on campus:

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 T: I think … rap music gives these dudes a narrow and hypocritical notion that Black college women should not be treated with respect if they are on campus being good girls by day, but at night are acting crazy or wild out at a party. Yet, this rule does not apply to men…

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Q: …I have seen him (male student in class) out at parties doing the [raunchiest] dances and then come to campus in a nice shirt and tie. Why didn’t he mention his own behavior at parties? The next time I see him out at a party I’m going to remind him about what he said.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 By pointing out the double standard in how women are labeled or portrayed for the same behavior; in this case provocative dance moves, T and Q dismiss the notion that critique of behavior linked to the worthiness of respect should only be assigned to women. In their reflection of the class discussion the two respondents were not disturbed by the comments because the credibility of the source, in their opinion, was inauthentic and immature. Thus, their decision to not engage in the class discussion was a matter of picking the right battle. According to Morgan (1999) that is the charge of emotional distance, to recognize mainstream rap music as the place where most men, Black men in particular retreat to unpack their pain, perceived inadequacies, and fragile self-confidence. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Black women to engage with men from a ‘distance that’s safe’ (p. 76). While such strategies are laudable and serve as a buffer to dealing with gendered racial microaggressions, I was drawn to Q’s moment of vulnerability as she discussed an unfortunate outcome of engaging in emotional distance as a means to circumvent judgment:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Q: My mother always taught me that things are going to be different for me as a Black woman, I’m okay with that [but]it sucks that I can’t be myself.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 1 The decreased volume in Q’s voice and her eyes shifting downward is indicative of the angst many Black girls and women are forced to contend with; longing to exist on campus, at work, and in the world — unapologetically rooted in our own skin, identities, and ways of knowing and doing.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Code-Switching

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 1 The art of code-switching, fluid movement between variations of language within the same conversation is a time-honored tradition in marginalized communities. Those who engage in code-switching do so for two reasons; as a form of linguistic confrontation to contest negative assumptions about intelligence, and to maintain cultural connections to their affiliated community. In fact, to understand the syntax of code-switching one must have an acute understanding of the people a part of the community. Cobham and Parker (2007) point to previous studies that revealed White students’ hesitation to interact with students of other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Nearly a decade later, the persistence of racial and cultural silos does not afford opportunities for genuine intercultural engagement and communication. Consequently, for some White college students’ information about Black culture and contact with Black people is solely rooted in their access to mainstream rap music. This has troubling implications for developing cultural competence because the messages received from mainstream rap music are often stereotypical and require cultural knowledge and understanding of Black life, the language of Hip Hop culture, and lyrical context. Moreover, in environments that value superficial interaction, sound bite communication (i.e. social media) and cultural voyeurism, opportunities to understand and experience Black culture outside of rap music may elude some White students. As a consequence, polarizing campus microaggressions such as cultural assumptions, racially insensitive theme parties, detached misperceptions about the academic aptitude of Black students, and bias incidents related to language and behavior continue to serve as climate challenges at predominately White institutions. For Black women college students these challenges may take a toll and exacerbate assumptions about their presence in the academy. The participants discussed situations in which they believed the influence of mainstream rap music was a factor in perceived gendered racial microaggressions:

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Q: … hardly anyone talks to me [in class] unless I talk to them first… I seem to have more problems in talking to the white men [because] … I know what I’m talking about (in terms of the subject) and I don’t engage in slang or street talk — they seem to be uncomfortable… I’m thinking maybe Hip Hop is influencing others in thinking that every Black woman is going to be loud or in your face, and when I don’t act that way maybe they are disappointed in some way.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 T: Me personally, I was in class with majority white people and nobody wanted to be my partner. We [Black women] can be perceived or treated as dumb. That’s why I always speak proper when I’m around them (white people) and then kick it the way I want to when I’m not around them. I feel sometimes – due to rap music, even in a college situation Black women are looked at negatively.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 After viewing a documentary that examined White people’s appropriation of Hip Hop culture (Clift et al., 2010) students were assigned a one paragraph response to ascertain immediate insights. T was drawn to the way in which those featured in the film seemed detached from the Hip Hop experience. She writes:

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 1 it was like a novelty to them…they had no clue what they were rapping to or dancing to, but I guess in their mind that was Hip Hop…at times I felt offended when that group put gold teeth in their mouth and [wore] gold chains. They put those things on like a costume…I am not a costume; Black culture is not a costume.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Similarly, Q made the following observation:

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 It’s a shame when people use poor humor and caricatures of rap music when they don’t understand something. That’s my major problem with commercial rap, it invites this type of stuff.’

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Q and T’s decision to code-switch or maintain a communication pattern of Standard English with White peers is a preemptive action based on how they observe or experience White people’s investment in Black culture through mainstream rap music. Taken further, the perceived obligation to speak ‘proper’ or not use slang is indicative of Q and T protecting communities they feel connected to, contesting assumptions about their presence in the academy, and preserving aspects of Hip Hop culture that prompt artistic reverence.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Hip Hop on their own terms

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Hip Hop feminism emerged in the literary works of Black women who assert ‘loyal but vocal, highly principled opposition to Black male uber-masculinity’ (Chang, 2005, p. 445). In this space, Black women can address contradictions of empowerment without subjecting female artists to criticism that links worthiness of respect to inflexible standards of sexual immorality. Likewise, Black women can articulate without guilt why they are drawn to polarizing language and practices in mainstream rap music, and how their multifaceted interests and identities are discovered and celebrated within the framework of Hip Hop culture (McNeely Cobham, 2015). This is important in understanding Black women’s unwillingness to disconnect entirely from rap music:

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Z: …The people here (on campus)… judge me; they don’t seem to know the difference between a Black woman being assertive [versus] aggressive. That’s why I am drawn to some aspects of mainstream rap music and Hip Hop culture; I am given permission to tell the whole truth about being a Black woman.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Q: Although I have decreased the amount of … rap music I listen to, I enjoy participating in Hip Hop in other ways, like slam poetry, watching documentaries, listening to female artists like Janelle Monae, Rapsody and Jean Grae, and taking the time to be a part of formal and informal settings where Hip Hop is discussed. I mean its [Hip Hop] a part of who I am as a person, as a Black woman. I don’t want to be totally disconnected from the culture that I will always be associated with in one way or another (shrugs shoulder). I’m down for life as they say (laughs), but I am more than what you see in Hip Hop videos…

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 T: I am Hip Hop, I got that from you (referring to author). I keep my Sirius radio on the ‘old school [Hip Hop] station because I refuse to be [turned] away from the music simply because a few artists and executives have hijacked it. Every now and then I’ll get up with Minaj… but I listen to Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Yo Yo … all that old school…

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 The participants of this study have unabashedly made clear that their affinity for rap music and Hip Hop culture is not a blind allegiance. For these students, the decision to participate is centered at the duality of self-love and self-preservation. This position is aligned with a Hip Hop feminist epistemology that ‘allows us to continue loving ourselves and the brothers who hurts us without letting race loyalty buy us early tombstones’ (Morgan, 1999, p. 36). Morgan’s point about self-preservation is made clear by T’s final thoughts on why she will not abandon Hip Hop nor be victimized by gendered racial microaggressions:

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 1 T: …I mean I should be able to drop it like [it’s] hot and when I stand upright still have my dignity intact, because that’s what we do as a people, we get knocked to the ground and get back up. We go down to the ground, spin and pop back up (does the B-boy/B-girl pose with her hands). Getting low has never been the issue, the issue is how low will some of these artists stoop to perform modern-day buffoonery.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 While mainstream rap music can be a source of psychological and emotional pain for some Black women, other forms of rap music and the culture of Hip Hop broadly offers a sense of cultural affirmation and freedom to simply be. Moreover, the culture of Hip Hop in academia holds the potential to cultivate meaningful interracial camaraderie, articulate the multifaceted experiences of Black women, and create an opportunity for students to develop skill in areas of critical thinking, written critique and healthy debate; tools beneficial toward academic success.

Implications for college administrators

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 3 Higgins (2009) defines Hip Hop as the “world’s leading counterculture, subculture and youth culture (p. 8). One can surmise that Higgins arrived at this definition because of Hip Hop’s impenetrable presence in American popular culture. For example, elements of Hip Hop serve as subtext for films, books and magazines, theater, and television shows; which include high-profile award shows (i.e., Oscars, Grammys, Tony, Billboard, MTV, etc.), and the media phenomenon known as ‘reality TV.’ There are burgeoning subgenres of rap music that have the capacity to reach rural communities (Country Rap); religious communities (Christian Rap); LGBTQIA communities (Queer Hip Hop); and suburban environments via the success of White rappers such as Eminem, Asher Roth, Macklemore, and Mac Miller, to name a few. Hip Hop also extends to massive mainstream audiences of all ages with the influx of R&B, Jazz, and Rock and Roll artists that collaborate with rap artists, or are open to a remix of their classic songs to solicit a younger fan base. These examples skim the surface on the myriad of ways Hip Hop has dominated discourse, attitudes, and behaviors. For college administrators, the practical implications of Hip Hop’s influence can be found among the majority of students who have or will participate in some form of rap music during their tenure at a college or university. At the center of the debate is whether or not rap music can be used to exempt people from behaviors that are polarizing at best, and promote covert acts of discrimination, marginalization, and intimidation. In response, administrators should establish a healthy campus climate specific to social spaces by developing interventions that will help students understand how certain behaviors within the context of Hip Hop culture have the potential to be insensitive and offensive to members of the campus community. In addition, while these types of discussions can be beneficial in the social spaces in which incidents occur, the opportunity to unpack the challenges of popular culture in a classroom setting is highly effective as well. A means of doing so is through pedagogical practices that are culturally relevant and engaging. The objective of culturally relevant pedagogy can be met by embedding elements of Hip Hop culture into the curriculum of various academic subjects. For example, a discussion about urban renewal in poverty-stricken communities pushes students to examine acts of environmental violence and racism that occur in geographical locations where social and political capital is non-existent. Finally, a historical timeline of controversial incidents on college and university campuses has revealed that non-academic and academic approaches to fostering culturally responsive and inclusive environments engenders administrators to think about procedural guidelines that seek to reduce or eradicate gendered racial microaggressions. Conversely, developing procedures before incidents occur advances the institutions’ commitment to standards of civility and demonstrates a willingness to provide timely response to situations that cause students psychological, emotional, and physical harm.


47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Since the inception of Hip Hop culture, Black women have been and continue to be important stakeholders. Their role and contributions, however, are often overlooked or placed on the fringes of critical analysis because entities in the forefront of documenting the trajectory of Hip Hop are pervasively male-dominated. As a consequence, there is a noticeable deficit in the number of women that exist in leadership roles, participate as high profile entertainers, and have the social and economic capital to influence how Black women are discussed and portrayed in Hip Hop. These factors and many others support an unrelenting trope of mainstream rap music that necessitates the subjugation of women to elevate braggadocio, sexist, and hyper-masculine roles.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 1 The purpose of this study was to examine how Black women college students perceive the impact of mainstream rap music on their academic experiences. Framing the discussion through the conceptual canon of Hip Hop feminism allowed the practice, epistemologies, and narrative styles of the respondents to be understood and discussed from perspectives that intersect race and gender. The findings highlight the importance of participants resisting stereotypes through self-imposed boundaries in an attempt to contest preconceived ideas about Black womanhood; creating emotional distance from the source harm, code-switching to demonstrate intelligence and protect affiliated communities; and participating in aspects of Hip Hop culture on their own terms as a counter narrative to mainstream rap music. These acts of resistance and empowerment are ‘the strategies of survival for a generation of women never meant to win, and who yet survive…’ (Crunk Feminist Collective, 2010).

Cited Sources

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(5th ed.) New York: Pearson

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Chang, J. (2005). Can’t stop, won’t stop: A history of the hip-hop generation. New York:

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Clift, R. A., Krahnke, S., Fifer, S. J., Lavoll, J., Leigh, E., Chuck, D., M1. (2010). Blacking up:
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53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Cobham, B. A. and Parker, T. L. (2007), Resituating race into the movement toward multiculturalism and social justice. New Directions for Student Services, 85–93.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Crunk Feminist Collective (2010). Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto
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79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 Robinson, J., Esquibel, E., & Rich, D. (2013). I’m still here: Black female undergraduates’ self definition narratives. World Journal of Education, 3(5), 57-71.

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84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 Scott, L. M. & Rosenberg, J. (2006). Hip-hop as a retention factor among Black students at a traditionally White university. The University of Alabama McNair Journal, 1, 185-200.

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 Seidel, S. (2011). Hip Hop genius: Remixing high school education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 Sharpley-Whiting, T. D. (2007). Pimps up, ho’s down: Hip hop’s hold on young Black women. New York: New York University Press.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000, Winter). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69, 60–73.

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 Stephens, D., & Few, A. (2007). The effects of images of African American women in hip hop on early adolescents’ attitudes toward physical attractiveness and interpersonal relationships. Sex Roles, 56(3-4), 251-264.

89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 Trahar, Sheila (2009). Beyond the Story Itself: Narrative Inquiry and Autoethnography in Intercultural Research in Higher Education [41 paragraphs]. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 30, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901308.

91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 Williamson, J. A. (1999). In defense of themselves: The Black student struggle for success and recognition at predominantly White colleges and universities.” Journal of Negro Education, 68(1), 92–105.

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