“Sex sells” in the rap and hip-hop industries

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Sex is ingrained in all aspects of pop culture, and hip-hop is no exception. With hip-hop and R&B being the most streamed genre in the U.S., it is nearly impossible to avoid songs discussing the topic.

Whether it’s songs like “WAP” by Cardi B or “Slob on My Knob” by Three 6 Mafia, sex is unavoidable in hip-hop. Hip-hop holds the distinction for the most mentions of degrading sex among all other music genres.

Music reflects both popular trends and personal experience, so it is no surprise that rap talks about sex. However, the topic of sex receives more criticism when depicted in rap compared to other genres.

“WAP” received backlash from conservatives for its lyrics even though songs about sex permeate the entire music industry. Despite the scrutiny, “WAP” is also praised as a piece supporting female empowerment and regarded as an anthem of sexual freedom and embracing one’s sexual desires.

For students like sophomore Zoie Oliver, rappers talking about their sex lives is “liberating.”

“I think it is cool that people are comfortable talking about their sex life and expressing themselves,” she said. “I think there is a problem when it degrades people, though.”

Some argue that sex in rap is problematic due to misogyny in a male-dominated genre.

Rap lingo often uses terms like “hoes” or “b——” to refer to women. For example, rapper Tyler, The Creator received backlash for his earlier songs like “Tron Cat.”  The song’s lyrics were offensive enough for the U.K. to ban him temporarily. Another example includes Rick Ross facing backlash for a line in the song “U.O.E.N.O.

In sophomore Xavier Lewis’s eyes, sexual lyrics are a consequence of popular trends.

“Sex is brought up very casually in rap, and you can hear about it in any given song by mainstream artists,” he said. “The artists create what the people want to hear, so they cannot complain about something they had a hand in creating.”

“Sex sells” is a common argument for why sex is so prevalent in music. An analysis of all the Top 10 songs on Billboard charts in 2009 showed that 92% of the songs contained lyrics that allude to sex.

Cardi B made a video in response to producer Jermaine Dupri’s statement where she acknowledges that female rappers who don’t talk about sex don’t end up receiving support or listeners.

When talking about sex, rappers often refer to it as a sort of goal. Having sex and as much sex as possible is good and holds similar value to having a lot of money.

From sophomore Quan Pickett’s perspective, discussing sex in rap is a matter of confidence.

“The way I see it, it’s done as a way to establish a sort of confidence and personality through their own experiences,” he said.

Whether it’s out of necessity to sell or due to the industry’s status quo, rap has a complicated relationship with the topic of sex and whether it is empowering or degrading.