“Why the whole G*d damn house was dressed in hot pink?” – Erick Sermon
Just a few months ago I noted that Doja Cat’s debut album did not include the remix of her hit single “Juicy” featuring Tyga. It feels like Doja and her imprint Kemosabe (a subsidiary of RCA Records) answered that complaint overnight with the release of “Hot Pink” but in truth this latest release was over a year in the making since her major label debut was March of 2018. In the intervening time everyone’s favorite meme rapper got embroiled in a bit of controversy for her use of homophobic language on social media. Listen to this album’s second single “Bottom Bitch” (because technically “Juicy” was the first) and then come back for my thoughts on this issue.
Although titling the album “Hot Pink” gave me a convenient excuse to open the review with an EPMD quote, it also unintentionally points out that Doja Cat’s use of the words “f*gg*t” and “gay” are hardly the beginning or end of hip-hop’s troubled relationship with anyone who isn’t strictly heterosexual. “Jane 3” paints a picture of a woman presenting as a man being outed against her will by someone they thought was a friend AND THEN RAPED. “Took off that mustache, grabbed that ass and I f*cked her”. There’s no other interpretation to be had and I’m not going to reach for one to defend it. Rap music is full of explicit examples though and EPMD are hardly unique for their era nor today’s era. Men are expected to be hard (as Hell) and sexual conquerors. Women are expected to either be as sexually forward as men or be purposefully titillating to please the male ego — a la Doja Cat.
If the era of POTUS 44 saw an embrace of those who are gender non-conforming or have different sexual preferences other than hetero, the era of POTUS 45 has quickly worked to reverse equal treatment under the law in general and in society in particular. You might say I’m paranoid and crazy, and since I take an antidepressant you might even be right, but it’s not like Brandon Teena’s death didn’t happen back when I was in high school. As much as I hate to say it the homophobia within hip-hop is only a mirror being held up to the bigotry and gay bashing in our society as a whole. You might think things would’ve improved in the last quarter century, and in some small ways they have, but in many larger ways forces beyond my control seek to undo that progress.
Intentionally or not Doja Cat inserted herself into this debate by admitting her use of homophobic slurs and then immediately saying “It doesn’t mean I hate gay people”. Perhaps it’s wrong to expect any kind of profound wisdom from a woman who wore a bovine body suit, shook her ta-tas and bragged “B*tch I’m a cow” in a music video just to go viral. The truth is though that whether it’s Erick Sermon & Parrish Smith a generation ago or Doja Cat today I must stand up for freedom of speech even if I don’t agree with the sentiments being expressed. The use of hateful language is dangerous, particularly from people as powerful as a President, because it can incite people to commit hateful acts. Regardless a word is not itself a bullet nor is a sentence a loaded gun, and if art is to be meaningful in society it can’t be pacifying and placid. Every generation has artists that push the envelope and make panicked parents treat their teen’s musical choices like cocaine.
This is probably one of the few benefits I have from getting older. I’ve seen moral panic before. I’ve seen “cancel culture” applied to everyone from 2 Live Crew to Ice Cube. In fact long before it was called the Streisand effect I noticed how attempts to censor information (or in this case rap albums) backfired and made people want it MORE. Put a “must be 18” sticker on a N.W.A album and suddenly every teenager wants it. I don’t think it worked back in Tipper Gore’s time and I don’t think it works today, and I don’t think that “canceling” Doja Cat for her poor use of social media is helpful either. If you choose not to buy her records or listen to her music, that’s voting with your money and your time, which can often be the only ballot you get to cast (especially under 18) on that which offends you. Frankly I can think of a much better reason to protest her music — boredom.
“Hot Pink” doesn’t show an evolution of Doja Cat artistically or musically. The production from the likes of Tyson Trax, Yeti Beats and even the famed Saleem Remi is as slick as her debut, but also just as saccharine as her debut. A meme rapper’s gotta have a good meme, and given that her second album’s biggest song is a remix of a single from her first album, this s**t doesn’t have one. This is the hip-hop equivalent of flavored seltzer water. Her tweets might be offensive but her songs aren’t. She can’t push the envelope on frank female sexuality because Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj kicked down those doors a long time ago. She talks about “Cyber Sex” like she just invented it when people were doing that s**t long before webcams existed. I’ve got no reason to be mad at Doja Cat because I’d have to care to be mad. In my world she simply exists and her tweets are like her music – brief flashes of words that are quickly forgotten.