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Megan Thee Stallion and the politics of profanity in hip-hop

Women artists like Megan Thee Stallion have exposed rap’s double standards on sex, says hip-hop-loving anthropologist Nikki Lane.


When it comes to flaunting their sexuality and sensuality, hip-hop artists have fought for their right to be “as nasty as they wanna be” for decades.

2 Live Crew’s public legal fight against censorship of their album “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” was a historic moment for the genre in terms of establishing artists’ right to self-expression. But progress hasn’t been felt equally by all hip-hop artists. Women and members of the LGBTQ+ community have all faced backlash — from observers outside the industry and gatekeepers inside it — as they’ve looked to express themselves sexually.

That pushback has always fascinated me. It has always felt like hypocrisy to me that a genre purported to be so radical and subversive would mirror the patriarchal politics of conservatism in this way, so I sat down with an expert who could tell me how this dynamic came to be.

Nikki Lane, who has a doctorate in anthropology, is a hip-hop-loving artist and professor at Duke University who specializes in linguistics and gender studies. At Duke, she pioneered a course called “Hot Girl Meg,” which uses rapper Megan Thee Stallion as a launching point for discussions on hip-hop, race, gender and sexuality.

She’s also the author of “The Black Queer Work of Ratchet: Race, Gender, Sexuality, and the (Anti)Politics of Respectability.”

And that was the essence of our convo: how race, gender, sex and hip-hop intersect. Trust me — you don’t want to miss this.

Lane and I discussed the importance of hip-hop icons like Tupac Shakur, Missy Elliott and Trina; the politics behind the term “ratchet”; how LGBTQ+ artists are flipping the game on its head; and hip-hop’s double standards regarding women and nonbinary people discussing sex and love.

“I think the politics of respectability in Black popular life has often meant that only those Black people willing to adhere to a certain kind of middle-class decorum are elevated,” Lane told me.

She continued:

For me, the politics of respectability bottles people’s sensibilities or their ways of being in ways that packages them up to be consumed by a white middle-class world that wouldn’t like them anyway, that doesn’t really care for them anyway. So it’s kind of like, why are we doing this? If no matter how many Black presidents we have, we’re still going to have to deal with Black men and women and queer folk being shot dead in the street. If violence is still going to occur, if we’re still going to be discriminated against, if we’re still going to experience oppression, why on earth would I pretend to be something I’m not?

Check out the interview below!

This post is part of MSNBC’s “Hip-Hop Is Universal” series, which celebrates the genre’s 50th anniversary and examines its future.