“There’s no b’ness like ho b’ness”: Considering the hip-hop ‘ho’
Franklin, A. (2011) “There’s no b’ness like ho b’ness”: Considering the hip-hop ‘ho’. In: 1st Global Conference: Urban Popcultures, Prague, Czech Republic, 8th-10th March, 2011.
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Fashion has long been used to differentiate between prostitutes and ‘respectable’ members of society. Whether through state enforced sumptuary laws or less formally imposed but equally codified visual markers, the identity category of ‘prostitute’ has been constructed in such a way as to annul all others, defining the bearer of the title according to their illegality, sexuality and perceived immorality. Nowadays, however, from the mainstreaming of the thong – a garment devised to censor the bodies of ‘exotic’ dancers – to the street walker chic of wet-look leggings, few areas of Western popular culture today remain impervious to the power of the aesthetics of the sex industry. Nowhere is this influence more acutely apparent than in the products of contemporary hip-hop culture, wherein the hegemonic hyper-sexualised caricature of woman as ‘ho’ belies the early emancipatory messages of female artists such as Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte et al. The ‘ho’ as the dominant representation of womanhood discussed by male hip-hop artists presents a paradoxical image that is both threatening and desirable to the male ego; hoes are needed in order to effect a pimp identity and display the pimp’s business and sexual prowess, but the inherently avaricious nature of the ‘ho’ threatens the pimp’s financial and social status if not perpetually kept in check – invariably with casual, unchallenged misogyny and often with overt threats of physical violence. This paper will discuss the ‘ho’s’ complex signification, both within hip-hop and as an increasingly normalised representation of femininity in contemporary mass-culture.