From N.W.A.’s “A Bitch Iz A Bitch” to Too $hort’s “Invasion of the Flat Booty Bitches” to Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and too many other songs to name, rappers use of “bitch” has almost made it an acceptable synonym for woman. But who was the first MC to call a woman a bitch on wax? The answer will probably surprise you.
“Slick Rick was the first one to say ‘bitch’ on record,” reports hip-hop archivist “Old Skool Tape Master” Ran-Dee. “He said it in the 1985 song ‘La-Di-Da-Di’.”
Those familiar with “La-Di-Da-Di”-Rick’s beat-box driven, tag team effort with Doug E. Fresh–are probably going, “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?” A possible reason is, when compared to the hyper-sexual, ultra-violent imagery offered from more usual misogyny suspects like Ice-T, N.W.A. and Too $hort, the way Rick used the word in “La-Di-Da-Di” is relatively tame. He calls an older woman a bitch after she beats up her daughter (whom she perceives as competition for Rick’s affections) just before she offers him sex.
Rick’s use of “bitch” did raise some eyebrows-along with that hilarious “wrinkled pussy” reference-but nobody got worked up because the word fit the context of the song, which in itself wasn’t misogynistic. It was also easily accepted because contrary to popular belief, use of “bitch” in rap even goes back to its pre-recorded days. The legendary GrandMaster Caz remembers using the word “since ’77 in a story about a girl who wouldn’t give me any play.”
Rap is the voice of the street, and for it’s essence to remain intact it must always speak in the tongue of its griots-whether they’re talking about partying, politics or pimping “bitches.” The problem lies in the fact that today the word is just used too much! It’s gotten to the point where calling a woman a bitch-literally, a female dog who will turn her ass up for anything ready to ride it–is losing it’s shock value. It’s become common to hear the word on TV, quite plausibly an effect of people being numbed to it by rap.
So what happened between the early days of rap and today to facilitate the increased degradation of women in rap lyrics? The most popular theory contends that in the early eighties, President Ronald Reagan allowed crack cocaine to be introduced to the streets of LA, as a means to fund to the Contra guerillas in Nicaragua. Crack quickly became a nationwide epidemic, accompanied by a rise in gang activity, prostitution, gun-use, and a general disintegration of urban communities. This new nightmare needed a soundtrack, and in the mid-eighties “gangster” or “reality” rap was born.
In the heyday of this genre (the late eighties to early nineties) artists like the aforementioned Too $hort, Ice-T and N.W.A. came to the forefront, although Schoolly D is credited with giving birth to the form with his 1985 classic “Gangster Boogie.” Artist of this genre related first person accounts of the brutality happening in the streets, often peppering their lyrics with vulgar language and details of violence against women.
A contemporary version of this style is the highest grossing of all rap sub-genres-the “g-rap” or “mack” style made popular by the likes of (former N.W.A. producer) Dr. Dre, Biggie, Snoop and Jay-Z.
Of course, disrespect of women isn’t rampant in all rap. There have always been equally as many acts that aren’t blatantly misogynist, like Public Enemy, BDP, De La, Tribe, Talib, Mos Def, etc. (though the word “bitch” isn’t foreign to some of these artists either; witness the use of the word in Public Enemy’s “Sophisticated Bitch”. And there have always been women who’ve attempted to counter some of these images like MC Trouble, Sweet, T, Lauryn Hill, Jean Grae and Queen Latifah, who In “U.N.I.T.Y.” urged women to “let ’em know. You’re not a bitch or a ho”
Still, the most popular rap music depicts stories of living a “thug life” and/or degrading women. Why?
A clue lies in the traditional roles of women in American culture. From colonialists’ at will rapes of black and native women, to women’s suffrage, to Hooters and “Girls Gone Wild,” to shows like the Sopranos portraying women as strippers, whores or just plain dumbasses (like the women on Joe Millionaire), to the most requested videos often portraying women as voiceless, gyrating, money-motivated sluts, society at large has normalized the idea that a woman is at best, a second-class citizen. At worst, simply something to be fucked. Thus, hearing women being called bitches seems just as acceptable as hearing another one of LL Cool J’s sappy love raps.
What’s the solution? The first step is seeing it as a problem, because it is. Results from a 1997 study found that repeatedly showing study participants sexually explicit rap videos lead the subjects to have more negative perceptions of Black women. Similarly, a 1995 study of the perceptions of Black teens on dating violence showed that female participants exposed to rap music have a much greater acceptance of dating violence than those not exposed to rap music.
A second step could be demanding that record companies stop promoting rap with heavily misogynist lyrics, although they won’t listen cause they love making that green. More directly, the hip-hop massive could call out high profile rappers like Ja Rule, Jay-Z, members of Cash Money, etc. and demand that they stop calling women bitches–but I guess they would have to learn to stop calling themselves “niggas” and “dogs” first.
There may be an obscure recording that first used the word “bitch” but all research supports “La-Di-Da-Di”.