It took an elaborate satire for two of hip-hop's biggest acts to address the elephant in the room of rap.
Saturday night on SNL, musical guest Lil Wayne performed two songs from his recently released LP The Carter V. He brought out pop singer Halsey for backing vocals on "Can't Be Broken," and producer Swizz Beatz to perform their song "Uproar" for his second segment. But the real highlight was Wayne's collaborative appearance, along with the rapper Future, in a skit on sexual consent.
In "Booty Kings," SNL players Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson starred as The Booty Kings, two flamboyant rappers — "the kings of that booty music" — who rock oversize Time's Up lapel pendants next to their glaring, gold Booty Kings chains. The skit flips mainstream rap's penchant for misogynistic content that objectifies women by featuring the duo, along with Uncle Butt (Pete Davidson), as rappers who prioritize consent first. Far from "conscious emcees," they're hilariously hellbent on navigating the learning curve.
In the mock music video, The Booty Kings' oversexed appeals to women in the club come with awkward shows of respect for the objects of their desire: "I'm on a mission for that a**, but first I need permission," as the refrain goes. "Lights, camera, action / Video vixen / Hendrix steal yo' girl / But only with her permission," Future raps in a surprise appearance that parodies the popular, but played-out, conceit of rappers endlessly bragging about stealing their adversaries' girls.
The irony, of course, is that the comedic skit is likely the closest any major rap stars have come to engaging in a conversation about consent in the year of #MeToo. An SNL spoof is about as progressive as it gets in 2018.
While major players across the spectrum of film, television, journalism and comedy have been put on time out for such alleged abuses, hip-hop and the music industry at large have gone mostly unchecked. Despite a campaign to #MuteRKelly, the R&B singer has yet to face any real consequences for the litany of sexual abuse and coercion allegations made against him, which he continues to deny. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons stepped away from the spotlight, and many of his businesses, after a long list of women alleged being victims of rape and of having abusive encounters with him over the years.
Meanwhile the careers of contemporary artists, including XXXTentacion, who faced felony domestic assault charges for beating his pregnant former girlfriend before he was murdered earlier this year, and Tekashi 6ix9ine, recently sentenced to four years probation for a 2015 sexual misconduct charge with a minor, have continued to thrive on the Billboard charts.
As for the music itself, the creative challenge hip-hop has yet to face is how to respect the growing culture of consent when so much misogyny is baked into commercial rap's cake. For his sake, Lil Wayne, who's been known for his lascivious lyrics over the years, attempts to clean up his act in the Booty Kings skit when he raps: "Respect is the game / And booty is the scrimmage / And I play good defense if that booty get offended."
It's not the most delicately-worded dance, but one long overdue.