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Ms. Magazine
Sunday, May 6th, 2007
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Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women

by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting

The Lust Generation

A review by Patricia Hill Collins

Readers unfamiliar with the graphic sexuality that permeates commercial hip-hop should get ready for a shocking read. Through provocatively titled chapters such as "Sex, Power, and Punanny" and "Strip Tails: Booty Clappin', P-poppin', Shake Dancing," Sharpley-Whiting provides a sobering analysis of women's participation in the hypersexualized black-American, urban-youth culture known as hip-hop.

Commercial hiphop, argues the author, relies on a "pimpplaya-bitch-ho" nexus that depicts young black men and women as selfish, sexualized, materialistic hustlers. These images encourage youth who listen to rap music, watch hip-hop music videos and chase the latest hip-hop fashions to think of themselves in these terms.

The most pernicious effect may be on black girls. In hip-hop's "masculine" version of black femininity, selling sex is central to a perverse sort of self-definition, and male-female relations pivot not on gender warfare but on sex as sport. Black women are expected to hustle men, give command performances as hos, "play" men for money, favors and pimp power, and live by the adage "it's my body and I'll do what I want with it." In the fantasy world of hip-hop's quasi-pornographic music videos, sex is simultaneously a way for black women to garner power and a way for men to devalue them.

Black American feminists have consistently pointed out how these sexual stereotypes foster troublesome gender relations among blacks and mask inequalities of race, class and gender. Sharpley-Whiting makes scant mention of black feminism, describing hip-hop's misogyny without explaining it. Her book illustrates the tendency of some young black feminists to claim hip-hop culture as the authentically black creation of their generation while rejecting a Western feminism that they see as irrelevant because it is too white. Surprisingly, they ignore the history of black American feminism, which has long challenged the social inequalities that underpin hip-hop's success.

This book delivers a riveting portrayal of hip-hop, from the thumping rap music that serves as a soundtrack for America's strip clubs to the predatory groupies who relentlessly pursue rap stars. But it misses a good opportunity to show young black women that criticizing hip-hop stereotypes can be an important part of black feminist analysis as well as a contribution to the broader struggle for social justice. Those who read this book with this challenge in mind should be well positioned to dispute hip-hop's troubling gender politics.

Patricia Hill Collins is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and author of From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism (Temple University Press, 2006).

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