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Fancy Pants with Lady Parts: The Boss Lady as a Rising Trope in Hip Hop

Let me preface my humble observations by saying that I am not here to address misogyny in hip hop as a whole. I’ll save my ideas about that for the college class I plan on teaching in which I will also discuss interior rhymes, the significance of which artists choose to rap about Old English vs. Cristal, and give lectures like: “Holla Atcha Boi: Gender-Bending in Rap Music.” Don’t you wish your kids were getting that kind of $100K education? I do intend to examine some recurring themes in hip hop from the male point of view that I’ve been noticing on the radio in between car dancing and lip-synching. Another note: I am but an amateur observer, a mere fan. Please to proceed.

The Cinderella story is one of the most pervasive in Western mythology. The desperate working girl is noticed by a Prince who gives her fancy shoes, after which some snotty bitch is forced to let her shop on Rodeo Drive. Happy Endings all around, and I’ll let you make of that what you will. This storyline shows up in hip hop, as it does everywhere. Whether in the form of a video vixen, a basketball WAG, or a plain old groupie, we have heard volumes about the women who implicitly or explicitly sell themselves for material goods and proximity to men in power. The story tends to split into two major narratives: those who boast of their ability to shower women with diamonds and shopping sprees in exchange for total sexual access (natch), and those who warn us of the predatory succubae who bewitch powerful men on music video sets, but will take a handie if it’s offered.

Take Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity” in which he sees a woman on the street in very tight jeans and, like Faust’s schwarze pudel, offers her the world in exchange for her soul. Or in his words: “You’ve got such a sensational ass/ let me get you Jimmy Choo and Mark Jacob bags.” A true American love story, non? Then, taking a page torn from the Renee Angelil handbook, Twista breathlessly and seductively intones, “Let me be your manager.”

(Side note: Kanye West produced this track back in 2004, and lived the fairytale later. Has there ever been such a video vixen success story as The Spectacular Rise of Former Stripper turned Video Vixen turned Kanye West Girlfriend turned Louis Vuitton Model Amber Rose? I mean, Karrine Steffans, AKA “Superhead” is STILL CALLED SUPERHEAD, which is not a mantle one mentions to one’s in-laws on a weekend in Nantucket1. Nearly immediately after she started dating Kanye, Amber Rose became [a tellingly silent but oft-photographed] overnight celebrity. This level of “legitimate” fame might not have been matched by anyone else in her unofficial tribe. Why has she broken out of the pack so much? Is she a brilliant PR strategist who knew the right person to link herself to? Could it be that Yeezy’s level of pathological narcissism gave him the need to prove to himself that he could, God-like, create Something out of Nothing? If I don’t mention Love dear readers, you can just blame my hard, cynical little heart. But I digress.)

If you know the various names of the more infamous Video Vixens, it might be because of The Game’s “Wouldn’t Get Far”, again produced by and featuring Kanye West. (I’m starting to think he might have a complex, and I’m not even going to get into “Gold Digger”.) The Game’s eloquent point is that “You wouldn’t get far if you kept your legs closed”. Now, don’t get me wrong – the song has a great beat, and I bump it on a fairly regular basis, but this is a troubling song. The Game/Yeezy acknowledge and apparently understand the grim realities of the job (“I knew she wouldn’t get far, ‘cause five hundred dollars/ Can’t get you that far, how you get that far?/ All these new video b*$%^s trying to be Melyssa Ford2/ But they don’t know Melyssa Ford drive a Honda Accord”) and then proceed to mock and denigrate the women for being acquisitive. But it’s ok, because The Game ends on a positive note: “Don’t get mad, I’m only being real with you”. Which makes it OK, right? Right?

But recently I’ve been hearing a different tale. I first noticed this with Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent”. He says “There’s something about/ Kinda woman who don’t even need my help/ She said she got it, she got it, no doubt/ There’s something about her/ ‘Cause she work like a boss, play like a boss/ Car and a crib, she ‘bout to pay them both off/ and her bills are paid on time.” This is definitely a 180 – where Twista mainly focuses on his paramour’s apple bottom jeans, Ne-Yo is getting all sweaty over his lady’s balanced check book. Although to be fair, the video somewhat undermines the message. If you’d care to watch with me:

#1: What the hell kind of office is this? What does the employee handbook say about dress code? Cocky fedoras for men and cheap revealing satin for women? #2: How many female executives do you know who hold meetings with male subordinates with their legs crossed up on a desk whilst wearing a mini skirt? #3: I’m pretty sure that the end is against any kind of sexual harassment policy one can dream up.

Last week I head Drake’s “Fancy” (featuring T.I. and Swizz Beatz), where he gives a “…shout out to the homeowners/ The girls that got diplomas”. Now, it’s possible that I’m a little biased towards Drake, because honestly, he’s fine. But I find it particularly smart the way the rap builds from the physical: “Nails done, hair done, everything did”, to the mental: “Intelligent too, ooh you’re my sweetheart/ I’ve always liked my women book and street smart”, to the monetary: “Now here you are with your girls having drinks at the bar/ I say I’m buying, you decline, I think that’s kind of bizarre/ Independent with the demeanor of an R&B singer/ Naked ring finger/ M3 Beamer”. It takes the girl from being merely beautiful, to beautiful and with a mind worthy of respect, and finally to the level of equal, ie: rich enough to act like a star in one’s own right rather than seeking orbit in another’s. The rap culminates with Drake addressing her as “Cinderella”, essentially flipping the narrative on its head. Cinderella can get out of her own damn ashes and enact her own salvation. If you’ll allow me a little armchair psychology, its not very surprising Rihanna (apparently) crushed his little heart.

Can anyone else see the glimmer of light? Any signs that bossy ladies will start getting more of the visibility they deserve on our national storytelling platforms? I know that in any art form, one writes as a reflection of what they see, and as a disciple of Walter Pater, I am not an artistic moralist. However, if only one picture is being painted, then it’s the only picture young girls have to copy. And if it gets girls seeing themselves as sexy executives, I don’t even care if the vision is cloaked in cheap satin.

1 Although she was on the NY Times Bestseller’s List for her books detailing her conquests during her life as a Video Vixen and is currently Hustler’s “Resident Sex and Intimacy Consultant.”

2 Melissa Ford also has a degree in Forensic Psychology from NYU. Alma Mater!