Colorism or Coincidence: Complexion and Black Women in Hip Hop

Curator's Note

In an industry where sex sells, one of the factors that influences how most female artists are promoted is that of their physical image.  Historically, with the Eurocentric standards of beauty that the entertainment industry abides by, artists with lighter complexions, Eurocentric facial features, and longer hair have received more promotion and attention, with few exceptions (i.e. Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott). As Davis (2017) noted, “common African features [such as a] wide nose, full lips, dark skin, and kinky hair] carry little esteem with mainstream American culture, that is unless those features are linked to sexuality, particularly the rear end.”

Despite rap being an artform that is dominated by artists of African descent, this beauty standard is still present.  In general, one of the key aspects of colorism is that people of lighter complexions often have more opportunities afforded to them. So it is worth questioning, despite women of all shades in hip hop, if there a correlation that the top female rappers today who have found crossover success tend to be light-skinned?

Among pop female artists, there have been those who have questioned if colorism is the reason why some of the most popular pop female artists are light-skinned (Jones, 2019). Yet among female rappers – despite hip hop being a major part of popular culture -- there is a pushback or avoidance of discussing this topic. This can be seen in the attached clip where two of the artists, Brittany B and Kash Doll, discuss attempts to push for more inclusion or opportunities for women with darker complexions over others. Despite this, the topic of colorism is framed as a reflection of insecurity or self-consciousness, rather than an argument or acknowledgement of the advantages given to women of lighter skin complexions.

Part of this reluctance to call out colorism could be related to the “skin color paradox.” Hochschild and Weaver (2007) describe this as a phenomenon connected to colorism where in the face of having to deal with possible discrimination due to race from society (or in this case an industry) at large, people choose to not be concerned with the influence of the “hierarchy of skin tone” that colorism reflects.  In other words, when having to choose battles between dealing with being both Black and female -- in an industry known for its misogyny -- some women either don’t or choose to not see colorism as something to address. 

Discussing colorism and its presence in hip hop, or the music industry overall, is not a reflection of low self-esteem on the part of any artist, nor is it about placing blame elsewhere. It is possible to have high self-esteem, a successful life, and still acknowledge that colorism is present. Denial and avoidance of this very real phenomenon does not serve anyone. 


Works Cited

Davis, C. (2017). From colorism to conjurings: Tracing the dust in Beyonce's Lemondade. Taboo.16(2),  7-28.

Hochschild, J.L. & Weaver, V. (2007 December).  The skin color paradox and the American racial order. Social Forces. 86(2),      643-670. 

Jones, E.E. (2019, July 13). Why do light-skinned women dominate the pop charts? The Guardian. Retrieved from

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