White Men X Rap Music x Black Masculinity

Black men have a very particular history in this country. In popular imagination they are violent, hypersexualized monsters.

Think Birth of a Nation, Minstrel shows, lynching as a political tool.

In rap music, arguably since The Chronic, the main type of rap artist who shines is the thug who gets money, “ho’s” and clothes. In fact, this is the predominant Black male figure in mainstream rap music and elements of this kind of masculinity can be seen in underground regional and underground national music as well (underground meaning music that doesn’t get radio play but has a substantial and growing fan base.)

How am I connecting Black men in being violent in rap music to White mens masculinity?

David Ikard does it for me.

Ikard talks about Black masculinity using Walter Mosely’s books Always Outnumbered Always Outgunned in the essay “Like a Butterfly in a Hurricane: Reconceptualizing Black Gendered Resistance in Walter Mosely’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned Walkin’ the Dog” which is in the book Breaking the Silence.

In the following quote, Ikard is analyzing how a character, Munford Brazille, in Mosley’s book Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,? has just gotten out of jail.? Brazille is trying to make sense of why he kept getting out of jail after continually committing? crimes. Ikard writes,

“I got in trouble again, and again they got me off. I kept on getting in trouble, and they kept getting me off. Didn’t wake up ’till I got to be nearly old as aI am now. Then I realized they kept getting me off because they [white me] needed a Munford Brazille. They need us.” Illuminating the link between black crime and white manhood Munford calls attention to how he was used, directly and indirectly by his white “benefactor” to secure the notion of white mens moral and masculine superiority over Black men.

Next Ikard connects Black men’s violence to White men’s masculinity when he writes,

By playing the role of? “bad nigger”- reckless killing other Black men- he unintentionally? reifies the man/boy, civilized/primitive binaries used to sustain white male superiority and to emasculate Black men.

Note: to reify something is to make it seem like its natural when it really isn’t.

For instance, Black men are NOT naturally violent (no one is) but if you look at media representations of them throughout history, you may be led to think that.

You ever wonder why it hurt Black men to be called “boy” by White men?

Because historically the assumption about Black people during slavery is that they were incompetent children who couldn’t take care of themselves so they needed to be enslaved and looked after. #absurd.

Language makes power visible.

Ikard explains the history of what it meant to White men’s masculinity for Black men to be called boy and for white men to be called “master”, “boss” and “mister.” Ikard writes,

Socially these binaries were visible (particularly during the Jim Crow era) in the ways that white men would refer to black men as “boys” and “children” while demanding by force and law that Black men refer to them with deferential titles such as “mister,” “master” and “boss”…reinforced the paternalistic notions that white men were the moral and physical guardians of Black people. Without White guardianship, the thinking went, blacks would perish in “civilized” society.

How does this relate to rap music?

I wonder to what extent is the thugged out cat allowed to be the MAIN cat in mainstream rap music because it reaffirms White men’s humanity and masculinity.

Ikard quotes Munford saying, he basically kept getting out of jail because “Then I realized they kept getting me off they need a Munford Brazille. They need me to prove they human.”

Are the Munford Brazille’s in the rap game proof of White men’s humanity?

Why or why not?

Did I completly lose ya’ll?

Let me know.

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  1. arieswym says

    You lost me a little bit but that’s probably because it’s 2 in the morning and the coffee’s wearing off. Is Munford Brazille the character in Moseley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned who’s always getting out of jail?

    I can see the connection between Black men’s violence to White men’s masculinity in the scene in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man where the narrator has to take part in the boxing match with other students before he can give his valedictory speech to the important white men of his town and receive his scholarship to college. The white men watch while the smart black men are reduced to only violence against each other. They aren’t seen as smart, future leaders, only as brutal thugs.

    Is that not part of the appeal of football today?

  2. says


    So I cleared the Munford issue up.

    Yes. That is who David is tambout.


    See. This is why I blog. Ellison quotes as support in comments. #iwin.

  3. says

    I’m a bit lost, but only in the sense of I’d like to know who YOU think the Munford Brazille’s of the rap game are.

    Because right now I’m not really seeing the analogy.

  4. Renina says

    So do I need to talk about a particular rapper? How about 50’s brand of masculinity?

    Like should I say, “take 50 for instance……” or take “Jay for instance”…

  5. says

    I see the point in this, and I think you are narrowing in on it. The one thing I would add is that this tendency toward the hypermasculinized ultraviolent “Pimp” was begun in the 60s-70s films that had their own musical language and world to accoimpany them (Shaft!). In some ways in my thinking rap and hip hop have always tried to use this appetite among white priveleged men of power as a sort of delivery vehicle for a deeper message. As long as the first few verses have to do with money and pussy they are satisfied and many times over the more subverted revolutionary message is deeper in the song intentionally. Of course its a double edged sword because it amplifies the perception of Black men as whatever the hegemony wants to say, and yet within it is a kernel of potential conscious music and possible knowledge.

  6. Renina says

    I feel like this post is kinda undercooked because of conversation that you and I had this summer about
    how low income and middle class White teen boys, are crazy violent, concentration of high murders in locations w/ high meth usage….etc…its like those kids are invisible because they challenge the Black thug/child White man/master relationship.