In the year of the Steubenville rape case, in a political era when Republican lawmakers have a confusing notion of what does or doesn’t constitute rape, and when the words “rape culture” have become part of the nation’s dialogue, the top university in the country has booked a performer with song titles that include “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” “Bitches Betta Have My Money,” and “Ready to Fuck.”
Talk about tone deaf.
Tyga, a 23-year-old rapper from Los Angeles, who is known for lyrics like “Need a bitch that can fuck, cook, clean, right / Turn a bitch out, make her lick twice,” was named as a headliner for the annual Yardfest concert at Harvard. Almost immediately, the protests kicked in. One student, Leah Reis-Dennis, started an online petition on Change.org to get him booted off the show. To date, 2,000 students have signed it.
Reis-Dennis said she pleaded with the organizers, the College Events Board, and the Harvard College Concert Commission, to remove Tyga as the headliner, writing in her petition that “a Yardfest without a headliner would be better than a Yardfest that amplifies misogyny and violence.” The school hasn’t removed Tyga from the lineup, but has pushed back his time slot until after dinner, according to a report in The Harvard Crimson, “so that students uncomfortable with the artist can still eat a meal and socialize with friends at Yardfest.”
In an editorial last week, Crimson staff wrote: “Certainly, there exists rap that makes use of problematic language with nuance and complexity, but none of this is to be found in Tyga’s songs: His content is unmitigatedly, overridingly misogynistic.” The paper called Tyga “a poor choice.”
A school spokesman told The Boston Globe that students on the board of the Yardfest Artist Selection Committee chose the rapper. It was also reported that the school picked him simply because, at $40,000, he was relatively cheap for a “name” act.
In fact, Tyga (meant to invoke “Tiger) is relatively banal, as far as offensive rappers go. His tried-and-true method of getting a record deal followed the route of his idols Eminem and Lil’ Wayne: he released mix tapes that grew his audience until he finally had record deals. His biggest hit, “Rack City,” has more than 24 million views on YouTube and reached No. 7 on the Billboard 100.
His newest record, Hotel California (a title that gets no points for originality), was released on Tuesday, and features a who’s who of rap and R&B stars, including Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, and Lil’ Wayne. The record was called out by hip-hop site Hiphopdx.com, which criticized his “tasteless rhymes,” and dissed it cold: “His sexual callousness wears off quickly, and what listeners are left with is a release better fit for a Ramada Inn than a Four Seasons. Hopefully the reservation is refundable.”
And, as they say, you can really tell a person by the company he keeps. One mix tape from 2010, “Fan of a Fan,” features bad-boy crooner and occasional girlfriend-beater, Chris Brown. The singer also appears on Hotel California.
Tyga’s lyrics are typical of tough-guy rappers: boasting about cars, women, money, and guns. In “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” he raps, “Shut the fuck up and jump on this dick / Nothing but a motherfucking skank / Fuck what you talking ’bout and fuck what you think.”
Music critic Tom Breihan of Stereogum said, “As far as misogyny goes, Tyga is not the remotest bit outside the rap mainstream. Young rappers like Kendrick Lamar who treat women as actual human beings in their lyrics are the exception rather than the rule, and even those guys throw around the word ‘bitch’ like it's their job. Tyga raps a lot about sex and strip clubs, and these are completely de rigueur for a popular young rapper. To chase him off campus is to take a stand against popular rap music as it exists in 2013.”
To his (dis)credit, though, he’s put his money where his mouth is—actually producing an adult movie and an entire porn website, Rack City: XXX, to go along with it.
He told the website AVN Business: “This movie really takes 'Rack City,' the song that I made, into the world of triple-X film. It's a real movie that people will enjoy, and I'm proud of it. I just felt like now was a time that I wanted to be involved in the sexual part of it—how far can I actually go without actually doing porn?"
As Blackberg TV pointed out, Tyga is not the first (nor will he likely be the last) “questionable” performer to perform at Yardfest. Kid Cudi, Wu-Tang Clan, and Wale have all headlined, “raising questions about the university’s now critical stance against misogyny in hip-hop music.” As an example, the lyrics in Kid Cudi’s song “I Poke Her Face” include ”I make her say, Oh, oh-oh-oh / Oh, oh-oh-oh / When I p-p-p-poker face / P-p-poke her face.”
And that’s part of the problem. It’s not that Tyga is exceptionally offensive. He’s just par for the course, spouting lyrics people have become so used to hearing, they don’t bat an eye, even as they repeat them and nod their heads to the catchy beat.
That’s what getting Reis-Dennis’s goat, that Tyga and his ilk are allowed to feed the fire of rape culture. She wrote in the petition: “Tyga’s invitation to perform at Yardfest provides an opportunity for a tangible, if short-term, response to rape culture. Activism surrounding Tyga’s performance at Harvard should not be divorced from activism around larger structural issues of race, gender, and homophobia.”
Perhaps the most eloquent reason for protesting Tyga, though, comes from one George Fu, who signed the petition. He wrote in the comments on Change.org: “Not only do I agree with this petition, but Tyga is also really bad. Like, seriously.”