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SNL, Lil Wayne and Future bring us the woke rap we want to see

Refinery29 logoRefinery29 2018-11-13 Alejandra Salazar
a group of people wearing costumes: Refinery29 © Photo: Courtesy of NBC. Refinery29

It was at about the mid-point of “Permission” — a new parody hip-hop music video from this weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live — the camera cuts to Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd in the middle of the club, posing with a pair of bedazzled, oversized Time’s Up pins.

The visual gag came a few bars after the song’s twist. Thompson and Redd, playing an over-exaggerated hip-hop duo called “The Booty Kings” (complete with giant matching gold chains reading “BOOTY,” a little crown atop the diamond-studded “B”, of course), set the stage with a funny, if typical verse about hitting up the club and admiring, well, bums. The lyrics (“Bottoms up / I’m ain’t talking about the drink”) are punctuated with typically tight shots of dancing women, their faces cropped out and bodies on full display.

And then, it takes a turn: the music drops when Redd’s character approaches a woman, only for her to turn him down. But while the exchange begins in an all-too-familiar way, the big laugh comes with Redd and Thompson tell her, “Cool, have a good night,” and then turn to walk away.

“So wait — you’re just going to respect our wishes?” the woman asks.

Turns out, yeah — to quote Thompson’s character, “Times have changed.” The song restarts, the chorus exuberant as The Booty Kings throw out lines like, “We would love to touch your booty / but we will respect your choice,” and “We’re gonna treat that booty right / cause we’re allies in this b**ch.” Future and Lil Wayne make guest appearances, too, rapping about their appreciation for the booty and their respect for a woman’s boundaries in equal measure. Cut to: those Time’s Up pins.

(Warning: Explicit language)

As with all successful parodies, “Permission” is so funny because it toes the line of being too real. To even the most casual listener or observer, it’s no secret that the music industry has a sexism problem — one that’s on even greater display in rap and hip-hop, where posturing is often a vital part of an artist’s branding. And the thing is, as misogynistic, possessive, and objectifying as it is, that behaviour is still really lucrative. The profits are satisfying enough that the industry just continues to support some extremely toxic people, reproducing this mentality for its next generation.

We’re not saying “Permission” just magically changed this problem overnight. But what’s great about the video, besides pointing out the obvious, is how it commits to the details. One shot shows Thompson’s character holding out a clipboard, asking a woman to check off “yes” or “no” to denote her consent. Another shot shows Thompson and Redd’s characters sidling up to the bar after two women leave their drinks unattended, and the rappers cover the glasses with coasters to make sure they’re not tampered with. Lil Wayne’s verse champions open communication and safe sex, while Future throws bills into a collection bin for a women’s fund.

We all know that there’s still so much to do to make hip-hop an inclusive and fun space for everyone — but time’s up, and we’re glad some of its own called it out from within.

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