Background to the Study of Self-Sexual-Objectification in Nigerian Hip-Hop

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The issue the thesis brought forth concerns the use of words (better lexemes) by some Nigerian female hip-hop artistes to self-objectify female sexuality in their song lyrics.

Self-objectification occurs when individuals treat themselves as objects to be viewed and evaluated based upon appearance. Self-objectification might be a consequence of a set of values that implicitly considers body appearance as an essential element for personal success, self-worth, and social acceptance (Rollero & De Piccoli, 2017). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) in their objectification theory posit that women are often looked at as objects by society, with a sexual focus being placed on their bodies rather than on their abilities. The common objectification experiences socialize women to internalize an observer perspective upon their body. This process is called self-objectification and occurs when women think about and treat themselves as objects to be regarded and evaluated based upon appearance (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997; McKinley, 2011).

In present Nigeria society, language plays an important role in our day to day communication even to the level of discussing sexual themes in music by most hip-hop musicians and the listeners borrowing such different words heard from the songs of the said artistes despite various Nigerian socio-cultural beliefs on sexual topics or themes.

Nigeria hip-hop artistes’ choice of words greatly influences the language of the society and the social behaviour of the Nigerian youths. This is due to the fact that most of these artistes are promoters of social trends among youths. When one listens to music especially hip-hop music, or watches it on television (music videos), or glances through entertainment magazines, one is always confronted with images of female artistes in provocative show-off dresses which may influence one consciously or unconsciously. This is because music is such a big part of people’s everyday ways of life and in some ways influences how people perceive themselves and their world (Shonekan, 2013). It is interesting to know and see how female artistes use words or lexemes to objectify their sexuality and portray women in their music lyrics. Traditionally, hip-hop music which has its roots in western societies has become synonymous with dominant themes, songs and videos which objectify women’s sexuality. The growing popularity of hip-hop music among Nigerian female youths and the current increase in the number of successful Nigerian female hip-hop music artistes is trendy.

Precisely, traditional genre of Nigerian music did not suggest an elaborate and direct objectification of women’s sexuality. According to Foucault (1990), sexuality is described as human experience that is expressed in their desire, sexual self-awareness and sexual agency. Sexuality defines overall expression of who we are as human beings. Sexuality is a part of everyday life. It defines the very essence of one’s humanity including one’s self-image, and ones definition of being female or male, physical looks and reproductive capacity. Sexuality therefore is a fundamental aspect of human existence (Ikpe 2004, p. 2).

In Nigeria, issues of sex and sexuality are believed to be something that is unmentionable due to cultural and religious standards. Ikpe (2004) (as cited in Ojoawo 2016, p. 106) argues that the desire to remain morally upright has made researches into sexuality in Nigeria a difficult terrain to thread except when it concerns health related issues. Discourse on sexual themes in the then Nigerian socio-cultural settings is considered to be completely out of place and not to be discussed openly. Salawu (2011) posits that the Nigerian society forbids expression of sex-related issues openly unlike in the western countries. This influences some Nigerian musicians back then in the choice of words while composing their song lyrics. For example, Christy Essien and Onyeka Onwenu, the two famous female Nigerian music legends’, kinds of music are always at the forefront of issues affecting women and children, like child abuse, female genital mutilation, social and women issues, family planning and promotion of peace but not on female sexuality and sexual objectification like the present Nigerian female hip-hop artistes. Onyeka and Christy also perceive female sexual objectification as what is not supposed to be displayed openly. Their song lyrics address issues that affect our society and character minding among youths till date. It is believed for example that Onyeka Onwenu has used her songs to promote peace, unity and love in the society. She also ensures that her songs create awareness against subordination of women especially in Nigeria society. Similarly, Christy is known to emphasize on character building among people of the Nigerian society.

The genre ‘Hip-Hop’ has been controversial ever since its emergence into the cultural mainstream in the late 20th century (Sonny, 2015). It is an art form and an industry that fattens the bank accounts of artistes with multi-billion Naira by highlighting how various hip-hop artistes violate structural norms working both within the industry and on more underground level as well. The explicit content of hip-hop song lyrics in the global and local levels extols violence, drug and alcohol use, detailing sexual exploits and gang adventures in the society. According to Robinson (2011), the roots of hip-hop music could be dated back into the history of the blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll. In the beginning, hip-hop music was the artistic expression of the young Black and Latino inner city experience. Robinson (2011) discloses that hip-hop music was created out of the culture of poverty and hopelessness. Over a short period of time, the sub-culture that evolved from the genre of music has become an industry, and a major influence on mainstream culture in the United States (Robinson, 2011, p. 8), so also in Nigeria and Africa as a whole due to the popularity of the genre in Nigerian society and especially among the youths (my emphasis).

The term hip-hop then refers to more than just a musical genre. Selke (2017) stated that hip-hop music incorporates a whole culture, including dance forms, graffiti art and fashion. The music is characterized by a performer speaking rhythmically, or rapping, over a backing tracks that often but not always consists of loops or samples of other music woven together. Selke (2017) further mentioned that hip-hop music is not all about narratives of thug life, but that hip-hop as a musical genre and as the dominant pop music includes a wide range of styles and philosophies. Some give accounts of violent and aggressive gang life, some sing the praises of partying at the club, and some eulogize more positive messages to youth about pride, love and life philosophy (Selke, 2017). Hip-hop music has its uniqueness which attracts listeners compare to other genre of music like Rock, Jazz, Punk, Rhythms & Blues, Techno to name but a few. For instance, Levondoom (2016) posits that hip-hop is based on rhythmic sounds of speech compared to Rock which is another genre of music that revolves around guitar’s rhythms. African-American sees hip-hop as a distinct music because it was the usual medium to air their outcries in the United States due to its obvious rap nature. Hence, many political and social concerns were raised through hip-hop chants, rhymes, verses, and word plays. Amazingly, they were very effective in raising public consciousness. Hip-hop music is considered distinct, because it incorporates many musical styles into its genre (Levondoom, 2016).

The genre hip-hop has a major influence on youth across the globe in terms of refining and/or disrupting their traditional culture because of its potent ability to obtain its rebellious nature. Elements of this genre are also infused into contemporary African hip-hop music and it is important to note that the success of hip-hop in Nigeria is traced back to the remarkable influence of American hip-hop (Msia, 2015). Hip-hop music is powerful and it is one of the mediums of social change in our society; it unites, connects and shares cultures unlike other genres of music.

In contemporary Nigeria music especially hip-hop music lyrics the thesis is addressing, sexual objectifications are focus of the lyrics of both male and female artistes. Therefore, self-sexual-objectification by the selected female hip-hop artistes and the effects on the conception of womanhood among female listeners call for attention. Everyone now discusses or uses different slangs to objectify female sexuality openly due to imitations of what they listen to and the influence of the western world. On one hand, this spread of sexual themes to objectify women’s sexuality among these female hip-hop artistes is also as a result of the collaboration between them and their western counterparts. On the other hand, the sexual objectification themes are used in order to be modern and fit into the 21st Century trend. This has really influence the Nigerian culture specifically the youths who listen to the songs to the extent of them setting up their own culture that is different from the traditional culture. The themes of sexual objectification in Nigerian hip-hop music enjoys much popularity among these youth, also the music industry, producers and marketers demanded the use of sexual objectification lexemes in order for the artistes to remain relevant in the industry.

Objectification of women and their sexuality is being taught in the society through gender stereotypes. Gender is normally used to describe the social condition of being female or male in the society. According to McKay (2013, p. 57), Sinnott and Shifren (2001) identify two processes by which gender roles develop, these include cognitive and learning processes. The cognitive approach asserts that gender stereotypes develop because a child’s perception of identification precedes role appropriate behaviour. The learning approach states that the individual comes to understand and to accept behaviors that lead to survival and success in society (Sinnott & Shifren, 2001, p. 468). This learning approach could be seen as what inspires self-objectification of female sexuality by the selected Nigerian female hip-hop artistes. Their songs are composed in order to succeed and survive in the music industry.

Therefore, in order to add to the existing literature, the main idea of this thesis is to study the words (lexemes) the selected Nigerian female hip-hop artistes use to self-objectify female sexuality in their song lyrics. Nigerian hip-hop genre of music will be analyzed in this work. The reason for this choice of genre is because it is the most popular genre of music listened to by majority of Nigerian youths. Moreover, this genre is filled with portrayal of women’s sexuality and objectification in both music lyrics and videos which is connected to gender representation.

Gender representation is seen in different genres of music in Nigeria and beyond, but the way hip-hop artistes represent and portray women’s sexuality is on the higher side (Hooks, 1992; Morgan, 1999; Jhally, 2007) in Aubrey & Frisby (2012). Gender studies imply that gender concerns both femininity and masculinity, but gender studies in media especially music is mostly concern with feminine perspective, and how women sexuality are portrayed. Of course, music is an important area in everyone’s life because it is powerful and shows what are acceptable in our society. Carter & Steiner (2004) affirm that media represents what are socially acceptable.

Self-objectification of women’s sexuality by Nigerian female hip-hop artistes is no longer new in the music industry because female sexual objectification is seen by the existing male hip-hop artistes as a demand from the music industry. This focuses mostly on the negative aspects of women’s sexuality portrayal by male hip-hop artistes in Nigeria and beyond.

Apparently at odds with this critique is that, there is an increase in highly visible and successful female artistes in recent years (Dowd, 2007). According to (Aubrey & Frisby, 2011), the male artistes still out numbered the female artistes and till date the numbers are still not at equal level. But female music artistes like Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Sheyi Shay, Niyola and so on, have become known and successful in the music industry today. Recent literatures suggest that the sexualization of women has not diminished (Conrad, Dixon, & Zhang, 2009), but that much of the sexual objectification of women is being done by female artistes objectifying their own bodies. This does not feature again only in music videos but as well as the choice of lexemes in composing the song lyrics. Nigerian hip-hop artistes no longer lay emphasis on their lyrical skills or talent, but rather on their ability to be marketed and sold. It has become a social commodity readily available for consumption.

Cite this paper

Background to the Study of Self-Sexual-Objectification in Nigerian Hip-Hop. (2022, Jan 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/background-to-the-study-of-self-sexual-objectification-in-nigerian-hip-hop/

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