Hip-hop has something for everyone. That’s the beauty of the genre — but in some instances, it reflects ugly realities. Future’s I Never Liked You and Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss are two 2022 rap albums that lean on misogynistic tropes, in their marketing and lyrical content, to great success. Future fully leaned into being the “toxic king” on his project, amplifying the late, controversial relationship expert Kevin Samuels and lacing the album with glimpses of chauvinist tyranny. Similarly, Her Loss was defined by Drake’s hypermasculine posturing, volleying jabs at Megan the Stallion, and offering coded bars that plenty of fans believe were aimed at rising Bronx rapper Ice Spice. Critics of Future and Drake call for them to evolve beyond their sound past sexism, but their fanbases revel in it.
This dynamic is nothing new. From early on, rap music has reflected misogyny in a way that’s also depicted in every other popular medium. In their book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, feminist scholar bell hooks wrote that “media teaches young black males that the patriarchal man is a predator, that only the strong and the violent survive.” And women have long been a target of that predation, with lyrics dehumanizing them as mere sexual conquests and slurs so rife that they can feel as sonically inherent as snares and kicks. Social media fandom gives us exposure to the ways in which men uphold violence against women. In the Nineties, listeners recognized rap’s toxicity, but they could enjoy songs like “B*tches Ain’t Shit” without being otherwise inundated by men who actually felt that way. That’s not the case in 2022 when timelines are full of men celebrating Future’s misogyny while offering unsolicited opinions on gender and amplifying the misogynistic rhetoric of so-called “manosphere” bloggers like Andrew Tate and Kevin Samuels.
In February, Future linked with controversial internet personality Kevin Samuels to promote his album I Never Liked You. Samuels, who died in May of hypertension, achieved viral fame by posting degrading videos such as “Modern Women Are Average at Best” and “Women Love When Men Cheat.” He rated women’s worthiness for marriage based on their finances, job status, and patriarchal body standards, often demeaning them as “low value.” So naturally, he played the Future’s therapist in his album’s promotional video. In September, Buzzfeed published a piece about people brainwashed by alpha male bloggers. It’s worth wondering who they listen to.
Drake and 21 Savage’s album Her Loss was marred by Drake’s callous reference to Megan Thee Stallion’s brush with gun violence by rapping, “this b*tch lie about getting shots, but she still a stallion” on “Circo Loco.” Many fans brushed the line off, while others argued that Drake would have never rapped a line trivializing the gun violence that had taken Takeoff’s life the same week. Some suggested that the “Stallion” line wasn’t actually about Megan, but even if that wasn’t Drake’s intent, he must have known it was too close for comfort. He also knew that these lines would trend and, in Megan’s case, further traumatize her. That night, Megan responded by tweeting, “since when tf is it cool to joke [about] women getting shot !” she wrote. “You n—s especially RAP N—S ARE LAME!” She presciently added, “And when the mf facts come out remember y’all hoe ass favorite rappers that stood behind a N— that SHOT A FEMALE,” referring to Tory Lanez being found guilty of three charges related to her shooting.
DJ Akademiks, a diehard Drake fan, tweeted to Megan that “we not canceling Drake no matter what,” and later laughed on his show with 21 Savage about the Atlanta rapper “gassing” Drake to write some of the album’s incendiary lines. I can acknowledge Drake’s talent, but it’s also hard for me to hear women’s stories about how patriarchy assails them, empathize with women like Megan Thee Stallion, and then cheer on artists who feel intent on tearing them down for cheap headlines.
Ditto for Future. The gifted Atlanta artist won fame with turn-up anthems and muddy introspection. Still, over the years, his public dalliances and domineering lyrics took to the fore of his persona, and social media was so enamored with them that they nicknamed him the “Toxic King.” If he was releasing albums in the Nineties, he might have never realized how much his fans enjoyed that particular aspect of his music, but nowadays, he’s become the online poster boy for the worst kind of men. Esteemed writer Craig Jenkins is correct in saying, “Future records are playgrounds for the unrestrained straight male id. He says shit a lot of guys wish they could.” But then, you wonder who actually wants to tell a woman, “she a hoe and a slut and a metaphor,” as he rhymes on “Groupies.” The “Toxic King” persona is so outlandish that it’s easy to laugh off, but at the root, it hints at gender stereotypes that have recently risen in prominence thanks to incels and so-called “dating experts” like Tate and Samuels.
I Never Liked You is actually a versatile project that fulfills his promise to GQ in April that “I wanted to showcase my skills as far as melodies and topics and being vulnerable.” But nonetheless, fans sought out the toxicity, and they got it on tracks like “For A Nut” featuring Gunna and Young Thug. The song centers on a crass hook: “I can boss a bitch up for a nut.” Women are used to being called slurs and even reduced to slang like “box,” but in this song, he manages to reduce them to a male orgasm.
A number of Drake and Future’s detractors call for them to mature their content, but evolving beyond misogyny isn’t about age, it’s about denying the popular conception of masculinity. They wouldn’t retread the “Alpha male” formula if it weren’t continuously lucrative, exemplifying the profitability of misogyny. In a 2018 interview on the Breakfast Club, Vic Mensa spoke about reading bell hooks chronicle the way “Black men had to find their own new ways of feeling masculine or being a man because they weren’t able to be the breadwinner,” mentioning that they would “start playing jazz music, and also [be] very aggressive and violent.” That aggression only intensifies with power. While Future and Drake are rich enough to conceivably treat women the way they rap and still attract more, many of their misogynistic fans who clamor for “toxicity” aren’t and get their fill through them. The fandom of misogyny makes it hard not to ponder the Venn diagram between men who enjoy “toxic” music and those sustaining a toxic status quo in real life.
Violent masculinity is a worldwide scourge. Boys who are radicalized to hate women or treat them like mere objects of the male ego get their cues from somewhere, and popular culture gives them too much fodder. The intellectual framework is no abstract hypothetical. We can too often scour social media, look down the timelines of men sharing abject comments about women, and observe their music tastes to draw links. These dynamics aren’t any single artist’s fault. But it is why it’s no fun listening to Drake and Future underselling their considerable talent to pander to misogynists.