Many may think that “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill is primarily about sex, not being a “slut”, and the guys who lie to get it. At first listen, they may be right. However, the main theme becomes clear upon a deeper listen. What Ms. Hill is saying to men and women (she focuses on African Americans, though every young person can benefit from the message) is “treat yourself like you’re worthwhile.”
The first verse is written to the female audience. She begins by introducing a hypothetical man you slept with three weeks ago, who never called you back. Here the problem she’s voicing does revolve around sex but the larger theme remains the same. “Plus when you give it up so easy you ain’t even fooling him/ If you did it then, then you probably fuck again/Talking out your neck sayin you’re a Christian”. While I would never tell a woman she’s not entitled to sex if that’s truly all she’s looking for, the sad truth is that many women have sex before they’re ready as some sort of ineffective tool for “snagging” a man. These women don’t only want sex, but when they sleep with someone immediately, they are giving the opposite impression (hence “If you did it then, then you probably fuck again”).
Hill continues, and hints at another part of the problem: “Showing off your ass ’cause you’re thinking it’s a trend”. Again, as a responsible third wave feminist I can’t say that women aren’t allowed to wear what they want when they want lest they be raped, but I will suggest that if your breasts are out and only covered to avoid an indecent exposure charge, you’re probably just going to be seen as a walking pair of breasts. That’s just reality. So when these girls who, as Hill said earlier, “give it up so easy” and call themselves Christian dress in such a provocative way, she’s explaining that it’s likely to get them the kind of attention they will swear they don’t want. They’re a walking contradiction. So when she goes on to say “Don’t be a hard rock when you’re really a gem/Babygirl, respect is just a minimum” she’s talking about both requiring respect from men in her life and self-respect. And now she’s truly discussing the point of this piece.
The end of the verse is where Hill truly begins to let this piece evolve. “Niggas fucked up and you still defending them/Now Lauryn is only human/Don’t think I haven’t been through the same predicament/Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn./It’s silly when girls sell their soul because it’s in.” This is entirely about self respect, which is of course the larger theme. Telling girls to stop defending people who don’t deserve their defense, aligning herself with the listener, citing the Million Woman March as an example of strong black women, and being honest about what not being true to oneself really means. Most women have been in the same position at some point in their lives, but many women never grow out of it. The problem doesn’t lie so much in maturity or faith, the problem lies in a severe lack of self worth. And while women are more likely than men to experience these feelings, she has some advice for the men as well.
“The second verse is dedicated to the men” she begins, and from there she unleashes complaints about a certain sect of men. “More concerned with his rims and his Timbs than his women/Him and his men come in the club like hooligans/Don’t care who they offend popping yang like you got yen/Let’s not pretend, they wanna pack pistol by they waist men.” She’s disappointed in the things these men seem to value, and the way they act in public. They appear to care mostly about material goods instead of the value of the people around them. She points out the desire to carry guns, a practice which many men find “powerful.”
“Need to take care of their three and four kids men/They facing a court case when the child’s support late”. She believes the men are shirking their responsibilities; responsibilities they created by not being responsible and respectful in the first place. In the next two lines, “The sneaky silent men the punk domestic violence men/The quick to shoot the semen stop acting like boys and be men” she is mentioning the larger problem in male culture: the desire to be seen as “tough.” So here we see she is not admonishing just the actions, but the mindset that precludes these men from doing anything differently. She is not saying “stop carrying guns, caring only about possessions, ignoring your children, and hitting women”. What she is questioning is why the men feel that is the only way to be. For some reason, these men see that placing value on power and possessions instead of people is what makes them men.
The last lines before the chorus are the lines that wrap up not just the second verse, but the meaning for the entire song. Hill repeats “how you gonna win when you ain’t right within”. This is where the larger theme of this piece becomes obvious. From the men who only act in a way that they believe is macho, to the women who do things they are uncomfortable with on a basic level, the problem is all in people not having self-worth. The problem is a culture that promotes people being untrue to themselves. The solution is to place value in you and in others. As Hill said, “respect is just a minimum”.
Read 2 other essays on Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing) song:
by Raven Warren
– by Abby Conner. Abby is uber-cool individual, social work student, capable writer, and committed friend. Comment to connect with her online.