Lupe Fiasco – Bitch Bad
Put off by the title? That’s the point. Watch this video, and then we’ll talk further.
This song, these lyrics, and this video are worth sharing all on their own. It speaks to women represented in the media, women in language, and a culture of change. We need to think about what we say, the minds absorbing our speech and our actions, and how we make change by naming. Yes, Lupe, yes.
In the greater realm of a music culture that refers to women as bitches, hoes, pussy, and other incredibly derogatory terms, the language is important to distinguish. I am immediately taken back to my reaction to Jay-Z’s “99 problems,” and the juxtaposition of language and commentary in broad issues. When speaking with a friend about this song, and my problem with the use of the word ‘bitch,’ he immediately emphasized that it was about something completely different, and at first I calmed and it made total sense. Let’s watch the video to remember together.
Now, I am sure many of you, like myself, participated in conversations with people about how he is not referring to women when he says “bitch,” and that he is referring to dogs. Important to this conversation, female dogs. Why is that important? Because bitch is, as Lupe puts it, a double-entendre. And that’s the whole damn focus, given that bitch-as-woman is our first reference point. Jay-Z’s video goes a long way in making clear what the song is about, and it’s an incredibly important issue to name, make heard, and fix. Using language that clearly would get people’s attention, the whole art of rap, Jay-Z really brought recognition to what others knew about but did not name. In Jay-Z’s own explanation of the song, he found it “funny” that people would immediately think of women and not think to the deeper issue of racism.
I get it. I really do. But right now, my argument is about women, and my fight is for women. “Bitch” language is derogatory, especially in that it is used here to leverage one fight against another. In a way, it is as though he is saying, ‘No, no, not that bitch (woman), but that bitch (dog).” In essence, he is even naming women-as-bitches twice, because you have to explain it to someone who may not listen closely enough to get it. Furthermore, the references he uses to describe women in the song only underline the issue:
“Once upon a time not too long ago, a nigger like myself had to strong-arm a hoe, This is not a hoe in the sense of having a pussy, but a pussy having no goddamn sense, try and push me.”
Let’s get academic on this for a second. Here it seems he is not referring to just those people with vaginas, but rather a man being referred to with derogatory-vagina language, to show he is weak. “Not a hoe in the sense of having a pussy:” like, oh yeah, those women who have sex for money are though of as just having vaginas, OR perhaps extrapolating that to anyone with a vagina is a hoe, OR just those women over there with vaginas that you might be thinking about, that’s not who I’m talking about but I know you’re thinking about them, they’re just an image I want you to conjure up because it will get your attention to my larger issue. Back to my argument about the ease with which we refer to women, and show women, in derogatory and less-than ways. It is all on a spectrum, and “bitch” definitely sits on that spectrum.
Both of these issues are problematic, but leveraging one against the other does not sit quite right with me. Because what happens? I quote Lupe here:
“He thinks she a bad bitch and she thinks she a bad bitch, he thinks this respectfully, she thinks of that sexually. She got the wrong idea, he don’t want to fuck her, he thinks she bad, at being a bitch, like his mother… Just like that you see the fruit of the confusion, he caught in a reality she caught in an illusion. Bad means good to her, she really nice and smart, but bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play a part. But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way, she thinks she a bitch, what a double entendre.”
Additionally, in this video, Lupe finds a way to make comments on racism, speaking to the horrible era of blackface. But the song, lyrics, and other video components speak to women as well, mostly including representations of black women in this video as well.
Bitch bad, woman good, lady better. Here, Lupe is considering how someone calling a person by the name “woman” is also derogatory, and “lady” is still better in the world of language of how we call certain people in our lives. Even the word woman is now called into question as to its tone and implication. Interesting to think about.
Bitch sits on a spectrum, and its linguistic use should be heavily considered.