99 Problems? This should be one: Jay-Z’s commitment to the “b word” sends the message that degrading women is just a part of rap

Image Source: Rolling Stone Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Words Hurt | Post 1

By Becky Owens Bullard

By now, you’ve likely heard the rumor that surrounded power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé and their baby, Blue Ivy, that the proud new papa would no longer employ the “b word” in his music. The rumor caused quite a stir of bloggers and journalists commending the rapper for dropping the degrading expletive frequently used in rap lyrics. For those of us who work on women’s rights yet also appreciate Jay-Z’s ingenious and catchy lyricism (degrading language excluded), it was like non-offensive music to our ears.

Not only did the rumor garner respect, it also provided a glimmer of hope. If one of the most well respected rappers in an industry that commonly encourages degradation, violence and even enslavement of women openly rejects offensive language towards women and girls – imagine the possibilities! Rap artists might decrease the use of all-too-common lyrics that equate females to dogs or property, subsequently encouraging young people (as well as older people) to stop using language meant to degrade women and to be more respectful to their mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, etc.

Amazing, right? But sadly, women’s rights advocates didn’t have too much time to get excited about the endless possibilities of Jay-Z becoming a leader to combat female degradation in rap music. Just days after reports that the rapper wrote a poem for his daughter stating “I didn’t think hard about using the word b**ch” and “[n]o man will degrade her, or call her names”, Jay-Z flatly denied the rumors of his changed ways and the legitimacy of the poem.

As a fan of Jay-Z’s music and a women’s rights advocate, the news is disappointing to say the least. Is it too much to expect that the birth of Jay-Z’s daughter would compel him to acknowledge the harm that the “b word” can cause?

There isn’t a woman on the planet who hasn’t been called the “b word” in one form or another and though it is used to convey varying degrees of insult, at its core it is meant to degrade women by equating them to a female dog or property. In every day life, the word is used by both men and women to cut women down, labeling them as rude/aggressive or signaling that they don’t conform to discriminatory gender roles and are more assertive or outspoken than others would like. Commonly in rap music, women are called the word as a form of humiliation and ownership, implying that women should be subservient to men. Even when the word is applied to men (because I know you are thinking, “hey, men are called the ‘b word’ too!”), it is used to equate the male with weakness or submissiveness associated by sexists with being female.

The word is degrading and can be very hurtful, but it is used all the time.  Not only is the word frequently used in rap music, it is commonplace to hear it in TV shows, movies, other musical genres and every day speech. Kids use it, men use it and even women use it, often in an effort to reclaim the word by giving it a positive meaning of being empowered (the Meredith Brooks’ song, “B**ch,” comes to mind). With this over-use of the “b word”, it may not seem so harmful to hear it in lyrics, on TV or even to call someone you know the word as a joke.

Then why argue that the “b word” truly is a word that hurts? Why ask that rappers like Jay-Z (who used the “b word” in an estimated 109 out of 217 of his songs) stop using it in their lyrics to say things like, “[i]f you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you son. I’ve got 99 problems but a b**ch ain’t one.”?  Because like every word whose fundamental purpose is to insult or degrade, even when adopted in every day language, it ultimately teaches inequality and disrespect.

So, maybe it was too good to be true that a rapper as influential as Jay-Z would make a stand against degradation towards women in music. Still, with the artist’s recent self-reflection in his book “Decoded” and his daughter’s birth, I can’t help but hold out hope that if his wife Beyoncé asserts that girls “run the world” in her music, maybe Jay-Z will step up and stop calling them degrading names in his.



Words hurt – right? This one of the fundamental golden rules our parents, teachers and other adults made sure we understood growing up.  So why is it that we tend to completely ignore this rule in a number of forums – socially, professionally and in our entertainment – by excusing words or phrases that are hurtful and degrading as “playful” or “not a big deal”?  This blog series explores words, phrases or jokes that, despite their negative effects, have a common place in our daily lives.

1 Comment

Filed under Pop Culture, Violence Against Women, Words Hurt Series

One response to “99 Problems? This should be one: Jay-Z’s commitment to the “b word” sends the message that degrading women is just a part of rap

  1. Pingback: Sexualisation of Women in Twenty First Century Popular Music | The Gab

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