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Date Rape Anthem: A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Infamous Date Rape

Relevant Lyrics:

I won’t cry over spilled milk If you won’t let me take you to the Hilt I don’t wanna bone you that much That I would go for the unforbidden touch I’m not the type that would go for that I’ll have to fetch a brand new cat Baby, baby, baby I don’t wanna be rude I know because of your bloody attitude I know why you act that way It usually happens on the 28th day I respect that crazily When you’re done with the pads can you come check me This ain’t a joint to disrespect you Because one head ain’t better than two Check it out

Why It’s Rapey: Critics have disagreed as to whether this track, off 1991’s The Low End Theory, furthers misogyny or simply comments on it. How do we deal with a song that, on the one hand, discourages date rape, but on the other, assumes that the woman only doesn’t want to have sex because she’s bleeding out of her vagina?

Professor Geoffrey Sirc, in his defense of teaching rap in writing classes, quotes the work of a student named Taika. Taika attributes this disconnect to a “code of the street, that if applied to rap music will explain many of the misunderstood lyrics.” Taika writes:

I evaluated the ‘Infamous Date Rape’ using the code. I looked for a message inside the message and came out with something much stronger that what is on the surface. That is what we as a nation of people need to learn how to do when it come to rap because if you judge rap without the code you are missing a valuable message and sometimes even a warning that is in rap music.

And so, you have the “wrong time of the month” joke layered on top of the warning: “I don’t wanna bone you that much / That I would go for the unforbidden touch.” But A Tribe Called Quest’s ambivalence toward the issue extends beyond period jokes. The song details two “date rape” experiences. First, Q Tip leads with a verse declaring “Listen to the rhyme, it’s a black date fact / Percentile rate of date rape is fat,” and suggests how men can do their part to prevent it: “If the vibe ain’t right, huh, ya leavin.” The next verse is less promising: Phife details an enthusiastically consensual sexual encounter which ends with a false reporter: “girly girl cried rape, yo, I didn’t really need it.”

On the one hand, the song suggests that men can, and should, take responsibility for preventing rape. On the other, it furthers the idea that women only object to rape “when the meow is completed.” I think we might be in need of a third, female perspective here—-as Q Tip says, “This ain’t a joint to disrespect you / Because one head ain’t better than two.”