Positive K ft. MC Lyte “I’m Not Havin’ It”
De La Soul “Bitties In The BK Lounge”
Apache ft. Nikki D “Who Freaked Who?”
Viktor Vaughn ft. Apani “Let Me Watch”
It is a rare occurrence when a “battle-of-the-sexes” back and forth dialogue is acted out in a rap song. I wish it happened more frequently. In spite of the anti-rap fervor that such songs have the potential to generate they are oftentimes quite engrossing. Surface skimming listeners who vigilantly and strategically denounce any rap song that leans in the direction of misogyny may balk at some of the lyrics contained in today’s selection. The fact remains that three of the songs features female emcees who are widely praised for their skills, and all of today’s selections contain moments in which male bragodocio is effectively foiled.
This is not to suggest that the existence of these songs somehow cancels out the genre’s sexism. Or that all of these rhyming exchanges are models of equitable exchange. Or that the intrinsic entertainment value of these selections invalidates attempts to scrutinize the function and position of the female voice and perspective. On the contrary, these songs have the potential to spark constructive debates about these issues. Even within this small sample the male-female repartee is approached in several different ways with decidedly different outcomes and implications. All I’m saying is that these tracks are a welcome relief from the endless parade of songs that unilaterally bash women, or even the songs that feature a counter-argument ventriloquized by a man (think Slick Rick “Mona Lisa”).
MC Lyte rebuffs Positive K‘s playalistic advances so calmly that “I’m Not Havin’ It” could almost be confused for an emcee battle between the two. I stress “almost” because the song is quite revealing for a contest of wits that reenacts the kind of humorously belligerent exchange one might see in Brooklyn at any given moment. The normally self-possessed MC Lyte sneaks shows brief signs of insecurities developed during past failed relationships. Positive K’s pimp profile appears little more than a psychological defense mechanism against society’s marginalization of the broke and bummy. There’s no clear winner here, except for the listener, as Lyte and Positive are two of the most charismatic rappers in history.
Apache‘s probably unintentional self-effacement on the much bawdier and even more combative “Who Freaked Who” is somehow less compelling. The song is still a gem, if only for the train-wreck scenario of witnessing a highly mediocre, infamously chauvinistic rapper put up the fight of his life against the wittier Nikki D. The banter here approaches comedic genius, and Nikki is noticeably more comfortable in this mode than her “Daddy’s Little Girl” routine. I’ll leave you the listener to decide exactly who freaked who, but it’s not looking good for the genius behind “Gangsta Bitch.”
The first half of “Bitties In the BK Lounge” is typically sardonic De La commentary on the pettiness of celebrity worship (a female cashier changes her attitude from surly to sunny when Trugoy removes his hat and reveals his trademark dreads) but the ensuing war of words in the second half is downright hilarious. After a complete beat flip, we have Posdnous as a Burger King cashier forced to spar with a sassy customer unimpressed by his lowly station. If the entire song is taken as male versus female verbal scrimmage, Maseo’s outro ad-libs secure the last word for the fellas, but this is more than likely a draw.
“Let Me Watch” is probably the most sophisticated — and perverse — of today’s offerings. In cinematic fashion, the listener is granted omniscient access to exchanges between MF Doom‘s alter ego and his lust interest voiced by Apani, as well as their interior monologues. The mounting conflict of interest culminates in a cleverly inconclusive and slightly disturbing ending. The wannabe Lothario gets dissed for sure, but if the narrative’s punchline is a stand-in for an all-encompassing self-deprecating boast (plausible given Doom’s penchant for such multiple entendre). Those seeking a satisfying resolution to rap’s gender wars will remain unfulfilled for now, but at least they have some great tunes to bump in the meantime.