Gender Violence

From Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes collection, lesson plan 3 of 5

(60 minutes + assignments)

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Social Studies, Language Arts, Ethnic Studies, U.S. History, Media Studies, Cultural Studies, Art/Music, Current Events

Purpose of the lesson: Hip-hop is notorious for images that commodify women as sex objects. Even a casual survey of a channel like BET will show video after video with scantily clad, sexualized women. At the same time, male power and aggression in hip-hop often comes from feminizing opponents, and therefore homophobia is very present in imagery and in lyrics. This lesson analyzes rap music lyrics and their impact on the listener.

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

For this activity, show Film Module 2, “Gender Violence” (6:18).

  1. The chorus of a rap song is often (and accurately) referred to in slang as “the hook.” Group the students into pairs and have each pair write down “hooks” that they know from current or past rap songs. Have them share with the class the hooks they came up with, then have a class discussion using the following guide questions:

    • How did you remember the hook? What makes a hook easy to remember?
    • What is the overall message of the hook? If people are singing along with it, what are they saying?
    • Do you think people think about what the lyrics mean when they sing along with them?
  2. Present the students with the lyrics of two songs, one that is very misogynistic and one that is very feminist:

    • “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” by Dr. Dre (from The Chronic, 1992) Link to lyrics is available at The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive.
    • “U.N.I.T.Y.,” by Queen Latifah (from Black Reign, 1993) Link to lyrics is available at The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive.
  3. Give the students some background information: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was wildly popular, considered by many to be a hip-hop classic and often referred to as the album responsible for ushering in the era of gangsta rap. Queen Latifah has been one of the few and most prominent women in hip-hop, and “U.N.I.T.Y.,” one of her biggest songs, could be considered a direct response to the misogyny of Dr. Dre’s hit song.

  4. Analyze the Dr. Dre track using the following guide questions:

    • What is the hook? Is it catchy? What is the message of the hook?
    • In the first verse, Dr. Dre refers to his former partner, Eazy E, as a woman. What is his point?
    • In the second verse, Snoop Dogg describes an episode that ends in him exacting violence against a woman. What is his justification for that act of violence?
    • Jewell, a female rapper, raps the last verse. How does she position herself toward other women and toward men?
    • How does this song relate to Michael Eric Dyson’s analysis in the film that men bond with each other by using sex and their domination of women “at the expense of their heterosexual alliances with women”?
  5. Introduce the analysis by Saul Williams, poet and actor, from an interview from the online magazine Prefix:

    “Beats are extremely, extremely powerful. When the beat drops, you nod your head. Like yes. The affirmative. Dr. Dre puts out The Chronic. All of a sudden the beats are so hypnotic and the lyrics are like ‘bitches ain’t shit,’ and we start making excuses. ‘Oh, I just like the beat. I just like to dance to this. I really don’t care about what he’s saying.’ And so over time we built up a tolerance for bullshit lyrics.”

    • Do you agree or disagree? How does the force of the music deliver the lyrics more powerfully?
    • In the film, rapper Jadakiss argues that these kinds of lyrics are “what people want to hear” and that even women are some of the main people dancing and singing along. Do you agree? Why?
  6. Analyze the Queen Latifah song using the following guide questions:

    • What is the hook? Is it catchy? What is the message of the hook?
    • In the first verse, whom is Queen Latifah addressing? What is her message to them?
    • In the second verse she calls out men who domestically abuse their partners. What is her message to them? Have students read Issue Brief: Gender Violence and Homophobia. If Queen Latifah were to include some statistics or factual information to back up what she is saying to men who abuse their partners, what would she say?
    • In the last verse, Queen Latifah speaks directly to women. What is her message to them?
    • This song was very popular when it came out. Would a song like this be equally appealing and commercially viable now? Why or why not?
  7. Assignment: Compare and contrast essay

    Have students write an essay comparing the lyrics and messages of the Dr. Dre and Queen Latifah songs or two songs of their choice that represent perspectives on women similar to the Dr. Dre and Queen Latifah songs. They should include specific lines as examples and present an opinion on how the songs impact listeners and consumers.

    A Reminder to Teachers and Educators: This activity involves having the students examine the lyrics to a song that could be deemed offensive or inappropriate for classroom use. It is included for the following reasons:

    (1) The lyrics are a rich document in which each verse really captures all of the forms of hatred against women commonly found in rap lyrics, including a verse demonstrating the complicity of a female rapper (Jewell)!

    (2) Saul Williams argues that that particular track was “the most hypnotic beat on the record [The Chronic album].”

    (3) Queen Latifah’s song clearly is a direct response. If, however, you would like to use an alternative song, consider “Pimp Juice” by Nelly (which is referenced in the film).

There is no extension activity with this lesson plan.

  • Film module:
    Hip-Hop: Gender Violence
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