David Lister: Jay-Z might be rethinking his degrading lyrics, but why do women in hip-hop stay silent?

The Week in Arts


The hip-hop star Jay-Z has apparently vowed to stop using the word "bitch" in his lyrics now that his wife and fellow superstar Beyoncé has given birth to a daughter, Blue Ivy. He was reported to have made his pledge this week in a poem, one verse of which reads: "Before I got in the game, made a change and got rich / I didn't think about using the word bitch / I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it / Now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it / No man will degrade her and call her names."

Well, good. It may not be up to the mark of this week's T S Eliot Prize for Poetry, but it gets the point across well enough. Some of the world's best-known rappers – and none is better known than Jay-Z – have had bitch (or its even less pleasant cousin "ho") as a sine qua non of lyrical composition for some time. And if Jay-Z is now setting the trend in eschewing that particularly lyrical device, then most of us would applaud him. It is an "if", since Jay-Z's representatives now say he is not necessarily dropping the word "bitch" from his lyrics, and even the poem may not be by his own hand.

The world of hip-hop is a mysterious one. But I certainly hope that Jay-Z will drop the word from all future songs. It would be a great boon to music and better relations between the sexes. I find it odd, though, that Jay-Z would have to wait until the birth of a daughter before the blinding realisation that misogyny isn't very nice. Why, I wonder, did he not experience this Damascene conversion on his marriage to Beyoncé? Was it OK to "degrade" her? And why did she never have a word with him about it?

Why do the women in the hip-hop world not challenge this form of degradation more? Hip-hop artist Queen Latifah did try to in one song, which had her insulted by a group of men. "I punched him dead in his eye and said 'Who you calling a bitch?'," was her response in the song. Actions can speak louder than rhetoric sometimes, though that musical riposte clearly wasn't enough to stop Jay-Z in his tracks, or change many other male hip-hop minds.

The real force for change, as Jay-Z may have realised, is among the hip-hop stars' nearest and dearest. He cannot stomach the idea of the word being used in relation to his daughter, even if strangely the same thought never occurred to him as regards his wife.

Beyoncé must be breathing a sigh of relief that her little girl might grow up in a musical era in which she and her generation do not have to suffer such lyrics. But she should have made more of an effort over the breakfast table to get such epithets dropped long ago. Still, we're getting there. We can only hope that more of the hip-hop musicians who rely on such language in their lyrics also have daughters, gaze upon them and suddenly see the light. Family life has unexpected bonuses.

Not just credit-card companies at fault

As someone who has campaigned for quite some time now against booking fees for theatres, concerts and cinemas, I certainly welcome the Government's decision to crack down on credit card companies that impose such charges at the last minute.

But it's not enough. Easy as it is to blame those credit-card companies, theatres, concert halls and cinemas must also take some responsibility for the annoyance (and expense) they cause to everyone who books tickets. The blame for booking fees, handling charges and all the other ridiculous names that are really pure greed cannot just be laid at the door of those wicked credit-card companies. The arts, too, need a government crackdown on ticket-selling practices.

National Gallery plays into the hands and pockets of the touts

What's it like to try to get in to see the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery? Independent reader Paul Davies shared his experience with me. He and his girlfriend queued for four hours from 7.15 in the morning, only to be told just as he reached the front of the queue that there were no more day tickets left. He was then offered two tickets by a tout (at £40 each!) who claimed he had "over-bought" in purchasing four that morning.

Mr Davies was able to see the show, but he wonders, as do I: a) what happened to the National Gallery's much-publicised claim that tickets bought off touts would not be valid (there were no checks on this at all, he says, and no one patrolling to stop any touting); and b) why on earth the National Gallery is selling four per person. Surely, two per person would be sufficient. Four simply plays into the hands, and pockets, of the touts. The National Gallery management is losing friends fast.



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