Lupe Fiasco's new track (and video), "Bitch Bad," attempts to examine the complications of the word "bitch," specifically in hip-hop. The lyrics tell the tale of two kids — one a little boy and one a little girl — who interpret and internalize the word in different ways.
Fiasco's track begins with a little boy listening to a song while riding in the car with his mom; she's singing along, "Niggas, I'm a bad bitch/and I'm that bitch/something that's far above average." The kid associates this with strength and fierceness.
In a conversation on Rap Fix Live, Fiasco explained:
I just wanted to have a conversation. It was more to just put it out in the world and see what happens […]
I think it's something that's very subtle - the idea of it, the 'bad bitch' - it's very subtle but it definitely has some destructive elements to it," Lupe said. "It has some troubling elements to it. Especially when you look at who it's being marketed towards. That's why we put the children in the video.
Earlier this month, Kanye West tweeted that he'd written the song "Perfect Bitch" about Kim Kardashian. Kanye's track is not online, so we can't be sure of the lyrics, but obviously he means that in a good way, and Kim considers it a compliment. Lupe Fiasco, however, questions what women — especially young girls — learn from hearing the word bitch. The lyrics:
Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve
On the internet watchin' videos listenin' to songs by themselves
It doesn't really matter if they have parental clearance
They understand the internet better than their parents
Now being the internet, the content's probably uncensored
They're young, so they're malleable and probably unmentored
A complicated combination, maybe with no relevance
Until that intelligence meets their favorite singer's preference
"Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches
That's all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches, bad bitches"
Now let's say that they less concerned with him
And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims
Ah, the plot thickens
High heels, long hair, fat booty, slim
Reality check, I'm not trippin'
They don't see a paid actress, just what makes a bad bitch
Hip-hop has long been an arena in which bragging about how "bad" you are is good. And the word "bitch" has been claimed (or reclaimed) by many feminists; Bitch Magazine's mission explains the feminist use of the word thusly:
When it's being used as an insult, "bitch" is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don't shy away from expressing them, and who don't sit by and smile uncomfortably if they're bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we'll take that as a compliment.
In theory, "bad bitch" and "perfect bitch" could be (should be?) passionately positive declarations. But in hip-hop, when used by a man, quite often "bitch" is derogatorily interchangeable with the word "woman." When Lil' Kim crowns herself "Queen Bitch," when Norma Jean Bell, Trina and Nicki Minaj proclaim themselves to be "the baddest bitch," it's different than a man spitting that "bitches ain't shit" or hollering "bitch better have my money." Missy Elliot's "She's A Bitch" is a self-congratulatory anthem. (Rock is a different animal with varying results, from Meredith Brooks belting "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover" to Rolling Stones' "Bitch" to Godsmack's "Crying Like A Bitch" to David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" to Elton Johns "The Bitch Is Back" and Jet's "Cold Hard Bitch." Prince's "Irresistible Bitch" lies somewhere between rant and rave.) Context is everything, and the word's definition has gone beyond its original meaning — female dog — to include complaining and critiquing. But when you consider that one of the definitions of "bitch" is "something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant" — ie, "life's a bitch" — you have to keep in mind that the way we use the word now is in the context of a patriarchy, where women have had to complain, critique and claw their way into equality.
MIT "computer science rock star" Clare Bayley wrote a short history of the word bitch, and explains:
Bitch is one of the most complicated insults in the English language. A bitch typically means a lewd, malicious, irritating woman (the comparison being to a dog in heat), but some women self-identify as bitches to indicate they are strong, assertive and independent. A son of a bitch is generally a despicable or otherwise hateful man, but can also mean a dear friend who has done something impressive or clever. If something is bitchin' it is deemed to be particularly cool or in-style, but if a person is bitching they are complaining or whining. To be someone's bitch is to be his or her servant or slave, to sit in the bitch seat is to sit in the under-sized seat in the middle of a car, to bitch slap is to strike with an open palm. Bitch might have originally meant a female dog, but now it can indicate anything from slapstick humor to scathing insult.
After Jay-Z's daughter was born, it was reported that he would stop using the word "bitch," a claim folks loved the idea of, but one he quickly denied. "Bitch" remains a hip-hop favorite, with both men and women heavily relying on it as shorthand to convey a certain danger, whether it be good or bad. (It's telling that Fiasco's video features black people putting on blackface, accusing the rap game itself of being a minstrel show.) While his attempt to show some different viewpoints on "bitch" is admirable, it's actually very narrow in scope… and misses the mark in tackling just how complicated the word is.
Still, it's a really interesting conversation to have, and Fiasco deserves credit for trying. As he tells MTV: "Even if we don't come to a definition about it, even if we don't come to an agreement about it ... it's definitely something that I think we should talk about because it's so prevalent in our culture right now."
Lupe Fiasco Sparks 'Bitch' Conversation After Video Premiere [MTV News]
Related: Bitch, A History [Clare Bayley]