A writer grows up and stops dancing to misogyny in the fourth round of our "Now and Then" series.
I was 11 when Snoop Dogg’s first album, Doggystyle, came out. That was gangsta rap’s heyday, when MTV still played music videos by people like Snoop, Dr. Dre, Warren G, and the Dogg Pound Gangstaz, much to the dismay of my mother. At that time my mom was a principal at a middle school serving mostly low-income minorities in Tucson, Arizona. For her, gangs and the violence they wrought were an everyday reality, not entertainment. When I asked her if she’d buy me Doggystyle in a Wherehouse music store one afternoon, it was as if I’d asked her to buy me crack or a switchblade. “Absolutely not!” she gasped. That day, I had to make do with Digable Planets.
It turned out that Digable Planets were actually pretty great, and I listened to “Rebirth of Slick” on repeat until my Discman broke. Nevertheless, my illicit love for the foulmouthed Doggfather remained, and years later, when I stopped relying on my parents for all my money, I bought Doggystyle.
If you’re a rap fan, you know Doggystyle is a great record. And even if you’re not a rap fan, if you grew up in the ‘90s, chances are you nodded your head at least once to a Doggystyle hit: “Gin and Juice,” “Murder Was the Case,” “Doggy Dogg World,” “Tha Shiznit,” “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”—practically every song sounded engineered to be played loudly in a teenager’s first car, with Wendy’s wrappers crunching underneath tapping feet. My favorite, however, was “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).”
Ever ridden in your gross older brother’s car? Ever been to a beer-drenched frat party? Ever played lacrosse? If you’ve ever done any of those things, or their approximations, it’s very likely you’ve encountered “Ain’t No Fun.” The 12th track on Doggystyle, “Ain’t No Fun” stands out as the most misogynistic song on the record; quite the feat for an album that also contains “Gz Up, Hoes Down.” The song begins with Nate Dogg singing, “When I met you last night baby/ Before you opened up your gap/ I had respect for you lady/ But now I take it all back.” And things only get worse from there.
Like teenagers shouting at a movie screen, “Ain’t No Fun” is collaborative derision, with several members of “The Dogg Pound” chiming in to share their distaste for “bitches.” Kurupt raps that he doesn’t give a fuck about women because they always want his money. Snoop advises everyone to not trust hoes, who have a tendency to “get scandalous” and “pull voodoo.” Warren G says all women need to give him oral sex immediately. The chorus anchoring each verse is simple: “It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.” Translation: “I don’t like having sex with women unless all my friends get to have sex with them, too.”
Putting it all to paper nowadays makes it sound pretty revolting. I was less shocked when I was dancing to “Ain’t No Fun” in college, bourbon staining my shirt and much of the floor around me. Back then, shouting along to misogynistic, homophobic, violent rap lyrics was as normal as trying to drink three beers in 30 seconds. That is to say, normal for my college experience, but certainly not smart or thoughtful.
When I moved to Los Angeles late last year, several years after graduating college, I started listening to a band named Odd Future, led by a charismatic teenager who called himself Tyler, the Creator. A few months later Tyler and his group would be household names, but when I found them they were little more than a small cadre of L.A. kids trying to make it big in hip hop—probably not too unlike Snoop Dogg and his friends two decades ago. I liked Odd Future’s dirty beats and interesting rhyme patterns, and I liked the DIY ethic they seemed to bring to their music. But then I paid attention to the lyrics.
On one Odd Future song, the lyrics describe Taylor Swift getting kidnapped and held hostage. On another, Tyler says he won’t wear a mask to attack a woman because “I want the ho to know it’s me.” On another, Earl Sweatshirt, probably the most talented rapper in Odd Future, says he’d like to feed acid to a woman before taping her mouth shut and putting her in the trunk of his car. The rape fantasies abound and all women are “bitches,” some of them were even deserving of death.
I tried my best to listen to Odd Future anyway. I tried to enjoy the music behind the lyrics and the complex, indirect rhyme schemes. I tried to appreciate the group’s energy. I tried to cheer on their abhorrence of music industry convention. But eventually all my thoughts came back to the fact that, to really listen to Odd Future, I’d have to listen to lots of songs about raping and murdering women. Did I want to be almost 30 and listening to a kid scream “Bitch, suck dick!” on a song of the same name? I thought of my mom. I decided Odd Future wasn’t for me.
Why was I so into “Ain’t No Fun” but now can’t tolerate Odd Future’s woman-hating? I’ve stopped turning off my brain when I listen to music. One of the greatest things about music is that it doesn’t really ask you to think. People call it the universal language because so much of it is about how it makes you feel. When I was younger, it was easy to separate my physical impulses from my mind—Snoop sounded fun and made me feel fun, so I screamed Snoop. Nowadays I know women who have been raped. I know women who have been beaten up by men. I know women who have suffered true humiliation at the hands of guys who thought they were nothing but bitches. In New York, I once saw a guy shove a woman into traffic during an argument. Violence and misogyny are no longer musical devices to me; they’re real problems that make the world a truly worse place.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when it was easy to enjoy a Snoop song about treating women like garbage, but I can’t. As much as I’m glad there was a time when I found joy in stupidity, I’m twice as happy that I now know you shouldn’t lose respect for a woman because she has sex with you, as Nate Dogg would have had me believe. I sold my copy of Doggystyle to Amoeba Records years ago. I’ve still got that Digable Planets album, though.