in which I fully dissect Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” song/video.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts bouncing around on this. let me start by saying that i completely understand the thought process that supports the entire message of this song/video. i do. had this been released five years ago, i would’ve been a staunch supporter because I was pretty much freebasing patriarchy. i understand that the acceptance of this message is a socialized thing that is bigger than the song/video, bigger than Lupe, bigger than hip-hop, and bigger than music in general. It’s symptomatic of a societal problem that’s been in place for centuries.
That being said, here’s my (mostly) full critique, itemized to keep my thoughts straight.
- Immediately, the song establishes a hierarchy among women. The first words Lupe utters in the song are “bitch bad. woman good. lady better.” In this way, it lays out a clear, simple message: LADY > WOMAN > BITCH. What do each of these words mean, though? What classifies someone into any of these categories? WHO classifies them? In this case, Lupe himself is the one who sorts them out. Also, the all-inclusive term “woman” is not good enough. She has to be a LADY. Bitch is immediately dismissed. “Bitch”, in my opinion, is loaded and personal. Every woman has the right to decide their stance on this word, how and if they choose to use it, and how and if they wish to reclaim it. To have Lupe immediately take what might be a part of a woman’s personal identity and trash it is disrespectful and not his place. Furthermore, his assertion that “woman” hangs in the neutral space between “bad” bitch and “better” lady is completely disrespectful due to its nature of once again trying to define a woman’s identity for her.
- The first verse infers blame on the mother. The little boy is apparently in a single-parent household and his mother is singing along to a song on the radio and asserts that she is a bad bitch. The little boy is watching and enjoying the music with her and begins creating a schema of “bad bitches are women like my mother”. This strips away the tons of other images and concepts that the boy is bombarded with on a daily basis as well as the possibility of conversation with his mother about any of what he takes in. In short, everything he knows about bad bitches has been learned through his mother.
- The second verse infers blame on the little girls. The girls are watching internet videos alone and see a rapper and a video actress playing their respective roles in whatever video. Without parental guidance, they internalize this other “bad bitch” concept and create their own schema of “bad bitches dress sexy (according to what men want) and are desired”. They start to mimic it. Again, other images and concepts that they face are left out and there’s no possibility of anyone speaking to these girls about what they’re seeing OR of them critically thinking about what they’re seeing and doing. They simply internalize and that’s it.
- The third verse creates a highly unlikely scenario that places blame on the little girl who grew up and the video girl.The rapper is really only blamed in the video (via his crying while removing blackface makeup) and not in the song. The little girl and the little boy grow up and meet. The little girl, having internalized the images of the “bad bitch” (apparently ONLY from those videos) is dressing “provocatively” in shorts, a tank, heels, etc. It is stated that she’s smart DESPITE these things, even though dress and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. The boy who has grown up to think that bad bitches fit his mental archetype of his mother, is repulsed. She doesn’t dress or act like his mother and she isn’t desirable. This message isn’t the full story. True, women are rejected by men for their dress due to stereotypes (i.e., you can’t make a hoe a housewife and if she dresses like a hoe…), but it’s not due to what they think a bad bitch is. The “bad bitch” stereotype tends to play itself out in young men as the objectification of women and a demand/desire that they be sexy, sultry, cater to their sexual fantasies and desires. The rejection of this image only comes when it’s not about sex and it becomes about “wifing” her.
- Internalized issues about patriarchy are ignored and all the blame is misplaced. Really, the issues Lupe are talking about stem from oppressive patriarchy and white supremacy. The oversexualization of women that goes hand in hand with slutshaming is a direct result of a patriarchal society that wishes to define women in order for them to be what men want. The hypersexualization of Black women in general comes from white supremacist ideology that’s been internalized since chattel slavery. The blame, in this case, falls on the video girl, the single mother, and rap music, even though the issues Lupe is describing would exist without any of those factors. The only nod to issues of white supremacy comes with the rapper and video actress putting on blackface (which is not fully unpacked in the song or the video) and the white man counting money outside the theater that the video is set in (who is NEVER acknowledged in the song).
- The phrase “I’m killing these bitches” is repeated. I’d like to give Lupe the benefit of the doubt here and say that what he is inferring is the “death” of the “bad bitch” stereotype that he believes is detrimental. However, it also alludes to violence against women, either physically or in their assertion and creation of their own identity.
Overall, the issue becomes one of reinforcing patriarchy by making it a man’s place to “protect” a woman by defining her. The surface message is that Lupe is trying to elevate his Black sisters by teaching them to be beyond reproach and more than a regurgitation of what they’ve seen. However, what it really does is place significant blame on women for ever internalizing these images while ignoring patriarchal issues like the men who support the internalization of being hypersexual by women while simultaneously shaming it.
Lupe had a great opportunity to be profound and completely missed the exit from jump.