Last week, Kendrick Lamar had the whole world calling each other a bitch.
You may know young Kendrick from his good kid m.A.A.d. city album, which was executive produced by Dr. Dre and is apparently so wondrous a body of work that it was magically certified as a classic even before it was released. If you’re active on Twitter then you certainly know Kendrick as the rapper responsible for the phrase “ya bish” littering your timeline. Ya bish, of course, is a thinly-veiled off-spring of “you bitch.” Kendrick has openly confirmed that by bish he means bitch via his own Twitter account. Yet he’s been given a pass on what amounts to encouraging the popular use of the word bitch.
Kendrick didn’t invent ya bish as a slang term, but his song “Money Tress” sparked the phrase’s recent social-media life. The catchy track features Kendrick and guest rapper Jay Rock ending most of their lines with “ya bish.” Soon Twitter timelines were swarmed with “ya bish,” used either as a hashtag, a way to accentuate a statement, or to directly insult someone. A search for the term finds some honorable examples like one Robert Redmond from Tulsa, Oklahoma tweeting, “group of old ladies tryna cross the street lookin at me like i need to walk them over but im just like ‘bish dont kill my vibe’.”
Enlightened Kendrick must be exceptionally proud of the way his plucky follower dealt with those fearsome old gals. A tweet from Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J saying “You bish” has been retweeted 2,549 times. That’s a lot of wanton bish-baiting.
The widespread use of ya bish is distasteful in part because it’s not a particularly cryptic piece of slang. The Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon once told me that most of the seemingly unintelligible slang he and Ghostface used in their rhymes was deliberately obtuse because it originated in a criminal world where they didn’t want the police to understand what they were talking about. Ya bish is not like that. It’s meaning, intention and use are exactly the same as saying “you bitch.” Kendrick has just found a way to validate a lot of peoples’ misogynistic urges, whether fleeting or deep set. Despite the obvious origin of ya bish, it’s being bandied about with a knowing abandon. But would the same people happily spewing out “ya bish” so readily call someone their “zaggin” just because, you know, it’s rap slang? And it’s hard to believe a guy in Oklahoma using “bish” on Twitter is doing it to reclaim the word for women the world over. Unfortunately, you suspect someone at Urban Outfitters HQ has already jumped on the trend and decided to supplement their “Strictly for my ninjas” tees with a ya bish line.
The way Kendrick himself has escaped any sort of questioning or criticism over instigating the bish trend smacks of the horrid immunity that is bestowed upon any rapper who’s presented as being vaguely conscious of a few social issues. In Kendrick’s case, Interscope’s millions have helped push him as the kid from the war-zone of Compton who writes intelligent and nuanced songs like a modern day Bob Dylan (Pharrell’s comparison). He even has a crew called Black Hippy. So just like Common gets a pass for his homophonic slurs and stance against mixed-race relationships because he now dresses like a locavore who works at the Park Slope Food Coop, so too is all forgiven with Kendrick and his role in the grand desensitization of the word bitch.
Or maybe Kendrick is savvier than all of us and is simply invoking a mantra from one of his Compton fore-fathers, Ice Cube, who once explained, “A bitch is a bitch is a bitch is a bitch/ Then I got rich.”