After breaking through in 2019 and collaborating with Beyonce in early 2020, Megan Thee Stallion has been riding an even bigger wave of popularity this summer due to the song she's featured in with superstar Cardi B. "WAP" shot to No. 1 on iTunes' songs chart, in spite of controversy over its sexually explicit lyrics. But the rapper is also involved in another recent controversy, which has raised important questions about Black women and violence.
In July, news broke that the artist had survived a violent incident during which she was shot in the feet. It wasn't until later that she shared photos of her injuries on Instagram and identified her alleged assailant. She went public in part to address jokes circulating online about her shooting — including by some fellow celebrities. "It's not funny," the rapper said in the post. "It was nothing for ya'll to start making up fake stories about. I didn't put my hands on nobody. I didn't deserve to get shot."
"She mentioned Black women feeling unprotected," says Clover Hope, author of the forthcoming book The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop. "She mentioned her fear of police during the incident, that there might be some repercussions against the Black people who were with her in the car. She mentioned people's tendencies to kind of, just, make violence funny online. There's a way in which she opened up the lane for conversation about these big issues by talking about her personal story."
Hope spoke with NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer for All Things Considered; hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
The American rapper Megan Thee Stallion is riding a huge wave of popularity due to a song she's featured in with superstar Cardi B. It's called "WAP." It's currently the No. 1 song on iTunes. And it's controversial because of its explicit subject matter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAP")
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Your honor, I'm a freak - handcuffs, leashes. Switch my wig, make him feel like he cheating. Put him on his knees, give him something to believe in. Never lost a fight...
PFEIFFER: But Megan Thee Stallion is involved in another recent controversy that's raised important questions about Black women and violence. In July, news broke that she had been shot in the feet. Then she shared photos of her injuries on Instagram and identified her alleged assailant. She went public in part to address jokes circulating online about her shooting, including by some fellow celebrities.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MEGAN THEE STALLION: And it's not funny. And there's nothing to joke about. It was nothing for y'all to start going and making up fake stories about. I didn't put my hands on nobody. I didn't deserve to get shot.
PFEIFFER: We wanted to talk about what this incident tells us about hip-hop and violence. So we're joined by writer Clover Hope, who's working on a book about the history of women rappers.
Clover, welcome to the program.
CLOVER HOPE: Thank you for having me.
PFEIFFER: When Megan Thee Stallion disclosed she was shot, she got some sympathy, but she also became an object of ridicule on the Internet, and some people called her a snitch and a liar. Would you tell us more about what she says in her Instagram video about that public reaction to her shooting?
HOPE: So, you know, Megan took to responding to the criticism and to the jokes. She mentioned, you know, Black women feeling unprotected. She mentioned her fear of police during the incident, that there might be some repercussion against the Black people who were with her in the car. She mentioned people's tendency to kind of just make violence funny online. So there is a way in which, you know, she opened up the lane for conversation about these big issues by talking about her personal experience. You know, it was clearly a position in which she was kind of - or felt like she was forced into because of the way that people were reacting.
PFEIFFER: You know, the Internet can be mean. We all know that. You just touched on that. But in other cases where female musicians have been victims of violence, the reaction has been more supportive. Why do you think so many people treated her shooting like a big joke?
HOPE: I think what happens is that people, sometimes subconsciously, make a decision about what type of person in society is valuable. And it's been clear over the past few years, over decades, centuries, that, you know, Black women are at the bottom of that totem pole. And I think the immediate reaction isn't protection; it's kind of this skepticism. You know, just it's clearly disheartening that, like, after Megan explain what happened and she told her story, that because of the way she expresses her sexuality so openly and appears to be in control, there's a tendency to kind of believe that she can't be hurt or that she's only a body to be acted upon. But it shows that, you know, even women like Megan, who may seemingly have, like, control of her image in the industry and seems to have this, like, powerful kind of presence, that doesn't mean that she can't be hurt.
PFEIFFER: Well, right. It's almost like there's a double-edged sword for her. I mean, part of the reason "WAP" is so popular and talked about is that she kind of embraces sex. She says, I'm in control. She's not going to let herself be objectified. She kind of, like, flaunts in a proud way. But it seems like that's hurt her because when things go wrong, people feel like, well, that's what you put out there, and there's less sympathy. What's happening there?
HOPE: It's so crazy, right? It's - you know, yes, it's this double-edged sword. It's this - I guess what can be described as kind of, like, multiple acts of violence that are happening where, you know, the first part is obviously the shooting itself, and then during that shooting, having to think about not just her personal well-being, but she felt compelled to think about the well-being of others, including a Black man. And then there's the kind of reaction around it initially, and she did not name Tory Lanez, the rapper, as her alleged shooter until weeks after the - what happened. Like, she touched on all of these kind of systems that lead to violence against Black women.
PFEIFFER: A Washington Post opinion writer wrote that, quote, "America would have been up in arms if Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande had been shot by a Black man. There was even a flood of outrage when Taylor Swift was interrupted by Kanye West during an award acceptance speech." That's the end of the quote. How much of the reaction to Megan Thee Stallion's shooting do you think is due to her being Black rather than being white?
HOPE: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a really valid point, and I think it just says something about the way that people instinctively prioritize whiteness and, you know, a white female pop star. I am certain it would be a different type of reaction. And, I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with race.
PFEIFFER: That's Clover Hope. She's a freelance writer and editor.
Clover, thanks for talking with us about this.
HOPE: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHILIP GLASS' "OPENING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.