Four of the last five songs on this list have been hip-hop songs that at worst can be called misogynist, at best can be called somewhat unfriendly to women. Does this mean I’m a misogynist? I’d like to think not. Even though I grew up in a fairly old-country, masculine environment, I also grew up with a grandmother who was an entrepreneur before I knew what an entrepreneur was. My youngest aunt became (and still is) an accountant. Most of the houses on the block where I grew up were woman-fronted. My first boss was a woman. I’ve had at least four female bosses in my career. I don’t think any more or less of them because they’re women (there might be one or two I think less of for other reasons, but that’s neither here nor there.) And while I’ve certainly participated in behavior in the past that could be considered misogynist (cat calling, etc.) that was more a reaction to my environment than it actually was a hatred or internal belittling of women. Also, most of those incidents happened twenty or more years ago, in my teenage years and early twenties. So, my answer to my own question is no, I’m not a misogynist. Misogyny sucks, the same way racism and homophobia and transphobia and xenophobia suck. Doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally enjoy music that has lyrics that can be read by others as misogynist (or homophobic…maybe not racist.) You can enjoy art without agreeing with the message.
(for what it’s worth, Jay-Z has apologized publicly for “Big Pimpin’”’s lyrics.)
(jumps off soapbox)
Even though the lyrical content of both these songs leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, there’s no denying that they’re both bangin’. And they bump in different ways. My love for Tha Dogg Pound’s song (which can be found on the soundtrack to the Duane Martin/Tupac Shakur film Above The Rim) is almost totally based on the syrupy smooth background. G-funk really legitimized R&B in hip-hop circles. I mean, think of how many East Coast rap albums from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s straight diss R&B. And even when New York emcees incorporated soul music into their hip-hop flow, the results were either syrupy ballads or frantic new jack swing cuts. Dr. Dre and the rest of the Death Row crew and DJ Quik (an unsung hero of hip-hop that we’ll talk about in later entries) brought actual soul musicality and that easygoing funk vibe into hip-hop, and they somehow managed to make the dichotomy of the music (lush, smooth) and lyrics (abrasive, violent, vulgar) work. “Big Pimpin’”’s musical bed is so soulful you almost forget what the lyrics are. That might not necessarily be a bad thing.
One other thing the West Coast contingent did is adjust their voices to the smoother sound of the music. Think of Snoop on a record like “Deep Cover”, where he actually sounds menacing. Less than two years later, Snoop’s flow was akin to that of, say, Barry White (who, let’s not forget, was a former gang banger.) If you didn’t speak English, you’d think “Big Pimpin’” was a love song. And I guess it is if you look at it sideways. The folks from BET loved that song-the instrumental of “Big Pimpin’” served as the musical bed for one of their video shows (might’ve been Video Soul, not sure) for years.
Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” is musically more experimental. Timbaland (who I’ve often thought is wildly overrated as a producer) created one of his best beats here. He incorporated a snake-charmer flair into his signature off-kilter drum patterns. I actually think there was a lawsuit involving an interpolation of an Egyptian belly-dancing record that Tim used…checks internet…yep, that’s correct. They actually got sued twice. The first case was dismissed and the second appears to still be active. Anyhoo, the beat smokes. The chorus is undeniable, and I’m pretty sure this marked the first time I heard Bun B or Pimp C on record. The song is overall a melting pot-New York MC recruits Southern rap legends for a song that incorporates Middle Eastern-style instrumentation. It was a stylistic curveball that actually wound up being Jay-Z’s highest-charting single at the time.
Anyway, love ‘em for the music and while you don’t necessarily need to hate the lyrics, at least take them with a plus-sized grain of salt.