In the spring of 2000, Jay Z released his hit single "Big Pimpin'", the song which would become an anthem for professional and aspiring pimps everywhere. But a decade after he penned the poster song for the glamorization of pimp culture, Jay Z has expressed serious regret at exactly what his song might be promoting. Will Jay Z reverse the effects of "Big Pimpin"" by donating the proceeds from the song to an organization that helps children who have been enslaved by pimps? In a interview with the Wall Street Journal, Jay Z reflected on the lyrics he has written throughout his illustrious music career. He said,
Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not "Big Pimpin." That's the exception. It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.
Like many mature artists reflecting on their early success, Jay Z has a point. They lyrics of "Big Pimpin'" are both harsh and animalistic in their treatment of women, especially women in prostitution. The song is perhaps the epitome of the glamorization of pimps, the eroticization of a man who owns and completely controls a woman, and the normalization of pimping and abusive prostitution as integral not only to hip-hop culture, but mainstream American culture as well. For instance, here's how the song opens, referring to a pimp's relationship to the women he sells and controls,
You know I thug 'em, fuck 'em, love 'em, leave 'em / Cause I don't fuckin' need 'em / Take 'em out the hood / Keep 'em looking good / But I don't fuckin' feed em
Objectification? Check. Disrespect? Check. Abuse and neglect? Check. And that's just the first few lines. In the decade since Jay Z first sang these words, the U.S. Department of Justice has determined the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and advocates have estimated at least 100,000 children a year are trafficked into prostitution by pimps.
As Rachel Lloyd, Executive Director of anti-trafficking non-profit GEMS, points out in her response to the interview, Jay Z is an incredibly talented artist and producer with a tremendous amount of power in the music world. Lloyd cops to being a fan conflicted between her enjoyment of the music and her knowledge that the lyrics celebrate the same abuses and degradation many of the young girls she serves have suffered at the hands of their pimps. She points out the powerful cultural shift which could happen if artists like Jay Z would acknowledge that their lyrical contributions, while insightful and powerful social commentary at times, may also have perpetuated ideas that hurt young girls and boys.
Jay Z has the chance to bring hip-hop back to its roots of celebrating freedom and stand against pimping and exploitation by donating the proceeds from his pimp anthem to one or more organizations serving women and children who have been abused, exploited, raped, sold, and trafficked by pimps. Jay Z, if you really look back on that song with regret and find reading it "harsh", then donate the profits you made from it to fight criminal pimps who sell and exploit children. And celebrate hip hop for the freedom it can inspire, not the abuse and modern-day slavery.