[Disclaimer: The following is a lyrical discussion and analysis that looks at gender roles, gender attitudes and diction choice within hip-hop in general and Aesop Rock‘s song “Daylight” in particular. If you are uncomfortable or in any way close-minded to an honest dialogue about any of these issues, please do not read any further. The full text of the lyrics to the song are at the bottom, and a link to the song is here, should you want to examine and listen for yourself.]
I sent out a quote yesterday and was surprised to see a Twitter follower I had conversed with many times on a variety of subjects unfollow me as a result. As I had blocked out the profanity in the lyric, I was curious as to what prompted the disconnect. Her response when I asked what happened was:
“I didn’t want to read misogynistic rap quotes on my Twitter, like I don’t get those messages everywhere else. :P”
A pretty harsh thing for me to hear, especially given that I try to take a good deal of care in acknowledging that my audience comes from all backgrounds and walks of life and I like to be, unless consciously trying to be otherwise, non-offensive to the widest cross-section possible. I think what I should start with first, when about to engage in a discussion of this extent, is a simple definition… let’s look at the accusation of the quote:
Misogyny: hatred, dislike or mistrust of women
Misogynist: a man who hates women
At this point, you must be wondering what kind of filthy, horrendous, patriarchal and utterly degrading line I must have sent out. Surely something along the lines of the song that I love to hate, “superman dat ho” or the massively inappropriate and inescapable club track “Lollipop.” These are songs that show some serious hatred and lack of respect for women. The quote:
“Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman, you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.” – Aesop Rock
And it got me to thinking… what about this quote is misogynistic? For starters, the quote isn’t about a woman or women at all. The lyric is based on the popular metaphor, “Life’s a bitch.” Now, the argument can certainly be made (and I would agree) that this popular metaphor is misogynistic. It’s a colloquialism used to equate the negative parts of life with a derogatory term for women derived from the noun for a female dog. This is, of course, if you choose to take the word literally. Some would argue that the movement to slang of the term (see “bitchin'” as a good thing) softens that blow, but for the purpose of this analysis, we’ll assume the harsher meaning is implied.
So to start we have a misogynistic metaphor for life as the basis of the lyric. It’s a negative and pessimistic metaphor, but one could argue that in the context it is most often used, it looks more spitefully towards life than towards women. Of course, going back to the “harsher meaning is implied” baseline, the implication would be that the phrase is hateful to both life and women equally.
However, in the quoted lyric, the misogynistic (i.e. hateful) message of the metaphor is flipped. Aesop in this line is not saying life is a bitch, he’s saying the exact opposite: that “life is a beautiful woman.” In the song, his anger is reserved for those that don’t treat life with the respect it deserves, and therefore by extension of the lyric, the respect he feels women deserve. He mentions “the result’s a lowlife counting on one hand what he’s accomplished,” and his greatest disdain comes at the end when he’s asked by someone who hasn’t seized their life if he has seen their “little lost passions” and he responds, “yeah, but only when I peddle past ’em.” In these lyrics, Aesop is hateful not to women, but to those who disrespect their life enough to call it a misogynist term.
Of course, we have to look at the full quote as my reader saw it, and it does end with “she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.” I’ll point out here that in my quotation, I did and continue to block out the majority of that word as I recognize it as one that can be felt and interpreted in a pejorative context. Were I to have no sensitivity to the use of the word, I would have written it out. While it is simply street slang for “vagina,” it does have a derogatory connotation that was clearly recognized in the censoring. The intent of the use of the term becomes the question, and for that it is a case of context.
Were the lyrics to be referencing a woman or sex, the word would most certainly be misogynistic in value. However, the word here is tied to the earlier metaphor and in this case used to denote the joys and pleasures of life to someone who is complaining of their failure to achieve and experience them. At this point, it becomes a question of an individual’s personal feelings towards the word, but also more importantly their feelings towards the context and how they interpret the author’s use. The thought that gnaws at my brain is whether this person read and understood the quote as Aesop Rock meant it, or if simply seeing that word was enough to cloud the meaning of the rest of the quote for her.
It also brings to mind the question of Twitterability. When limited to 140 characters, is it smarter to stray away from something that takes too much explanation? Keep in mind, in order to respond to the accusation of misogyny I had to step far outside 140 so I didn’t come off as disrespectful of her concern and opinion. “All due respect, but I think you’re wrong,” isn’t the path to a clear and open communiqué. The quote, especially when coupled with the chorus of “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day/put the pieces back together my way,” has always left me feeling hopeful, respectful and fervently energetic towards life.
Would the quote have made more sense and been therefore less offensive had the entire stanza gone out?
“Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman,
you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y –
Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests,
or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess.”
With the next two lines, the before ambiguous intent of the original quote becomes more clear. By addressing the person who is calling life a bitch as an “asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess,” the entire context of the p-word is altered. Not only is life a beautiful woman, but in the second portion life gets upgraded to princess. Revered as such (again – life, not women – must remember we’re talking metaphor here), that the asshole would set such a crass, base and lustful goal devoid of any real commitment is in the end disrespectful only to himself because it is the foundation of his personal failure. The lack of commitment is furthered by the “sweet talk” nature employed, rather than a serious and respectful approach. While the metaphor is life as female, if one were to want to examine them in the context of relationships, my analysis would be that Aesop Rock here is promoting a respectful and thoughtful approach rather than the commonly held hip-hop view of women as objects.
Unfortunately, a simple breakdown of that stanza and the reasons why I don’t feel it should be taken as misogynistic may only scratch the surface of this reader’s reaction. It is a direct interpretation of the words and the way I analyze their meaning within the song, grammatically and metaphorically, as ones that do not promote hatred of women. While this is literal and I believe to be analytically correct, it does not take into account the entirety of my education and therefore the possible reason this quote might have been viewed negatively by my reader. In the larger picture of Feminist theory, it could be the very personification of Life as female, thereby ascribing gender, that my reader read as misogyny.
Within a language construct framed by patriarchy where gender is indoctrinated in the way we learn to speak, delving to the deeper reading of the basic articles can be beyond the thought of some. But it’s there, this grammatical gender divide, every day, from the things we teach children to the way we address our possessions. Take for example Mother Nature and Father Time. Or simply the way someone talks about a car saying, “She’s a beauty.” A car is an object and yet is often referred to as a female object.
I’m not bringing this up to get into a drawn out explanation of how the very influential nature of gender within the English language helps further shape and extend ideas of patriarchy (which it does.) I bring it up merely to demonstrate that even if the quote is taken as a positive description of life and the respect that it deserves in the form of a “beautiful woman” and “princess” as opposed to being viewed as “bitch,” another perspective found in Feminist theory would view it as, at the least questionable, and on the other end despicable, that life needed to be tagged with the gender to begin with.
Finally, I’m left to wonder whether, knowing all of this, and recognizing that I had thought it out to such an extent, this particular person would have still unfollowed me. Would the recognition of the censorship and perspective that I take all of these theories into account brought deeper thought about what those 140 characters contained? Who knows. But I’m glad it got me thinking this evening. I hope it did the same for you. And maybe, just maybe, upon depth and analysis added to the quote, I might even convince my lost reader to follow me once more.
One thing did sting… the passing off of Aesop’s lyrics as rap. Of course, while Aesop Rock is certainly of the rap and hip-hop genres, I think most people would agree that his lyrics have more in common with poetry than what you expect to hear on a rap album. Here are the lyrics to “Daylight.”
“Put one up for shackle-me-not clean logic procreation.
I did not invent the wheel I was the crooked spoke adjacent,
While the triple sixers lassos keep angels roped in the basement,
I walk the block with a halo on a stick poking your patience.
Y’all catch a 30 second flash visual
Dirty cooperative med platoon bloom head-trip split ridiculous
Fathom the splicing of first generation fuck up with trickle down anti-hero smack. Kraken.
I pace me game for zero hour completion cretin, splash.
Duke of early retirement picket dream,
American nightmare hogging the screen.
I’ll hold the door open so you can stumble in if you’d stop following me ’round the jungle gym.
Now it’s honor; and I spell it with the ‘H’ I stole from ‘heritage’
Merit crutched on the wretched refuse of my teaming resonance.
Tempest tossed bread with a bleeding conscience
See, the creed accents responsive but my spores divorced the wattage.
And I’m sleeping now (Wow!)
Yeah the settlers laugh…
you won’t be laughing when your covered wagons crash,
you won’t be laughing when the buzzards drag your brother’s flag to rags,
you won’t be laughing when your front lawn’s spangled with epitaphs,
you won’t be laughing.
And I’ll hang my boots to rest when I’m impressed ,
so I triple knot ’em and forgot ’em,
His origami dream is beautiful but man those wings will never leave the ground,
without a feather and a lottery ticket, now settle down.
All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day, put the pieces back together my way.
Slacker bound intimate tabloid headline with a pulse shimmy ‘cross the centerfold,
Enter dead time engulfed; divvy crumbs for the better souls,
When 7 deadly stains adhere the blame to crystal conscience,
the result’s a lowlife counting on one hand what he’s accomplished.
Link me to activism chain, activate street sweep,
Plug deteriorating Zen up in pen dragon
I hock spores coursed by the morbid spreading of madmen (Alley Gospel)
Sinking your Lincoln log cabin and Charlie Chaplin waddle
I could –
Zig, Zag, and Zig ’em again before the badge gleam sparked in my brick wall windows,
Another thick installment of one night in Gotham without the wretched
‘Houston we have a problem,’
Attached to the festive batch of city goblins
Who split holiday freaks on a box cut cinema high road bellow;
head gripped watch red bricks turn yellow.
Sorta similar to most backbones at camp Icarus
where all fiddler crabs congregate and get pampered for bickering.
Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman,
you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.
Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests,
or maybe you’re just the asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess.
Kiss the speaker wire,
Peter pacifism peggin’ threshold
Stomach full of halo kibbles,
Wingspan cast black upon vigils,
Here to duck hunt ticker tape vision and pick apart the pixels.
I got a friend of polar nature, and it’s all peace
You and I seek similar stars but can’t sit at the same feast
This cat is asking if I seen his little lost passions,
I told him ‘yeah, but only when I peddled past ’em.’