Monday, January 31, 2011

Are Black Women Ok with Misogynistic Lyrics?


As a thespian, one thing I especially appreciate about the film industry is its rating system. Movies rated R, NC-17, and of course X, are not available to the general public (or not supposed to be.) This is why the Toy Story trilogy is available to a different audience than the Girls Gone Wild saga. This isn't censorship; this is simply ensuring that the appropriate parties receive age-appropriate entertainment.

Music, however doesn't have a similarly successful system. There are "parental advisory" stickers, but those don't do anything for the relatively ubiquitous presence of adult themes represented in popular music on radio, television and other mass media markets. (While I realize that all genres of music have a raunchy side, I'm most concerned about the urban music because it harms marginalized groups that are already suffering crippling blows.) I know the lyrics to songs I don't even want to know the lyrics to. For example, if you want to avoid hearing No Hands, that means no Top 40 radio for you and no walking down Benning Road or any MLK Avenue in America. You can say that No Hands was meant for an adult audience, which justifies its bass line in 21+ venues, but not its presence on the radio.

This conversation is one I've been having for years but almost always with Black Americans. Until last night. I was talking to a Salvadorian-American friend of mine, a studious, keen, and pretty undergraduate studying history and she hesitantly asked me (out of the blue), "How do you feel about female rappers?" I admitted my unstoppable love for Nicki Minaj. She continued... slowly at first, and then gathering speed,
"In my study of the history of women, particularly Black American women... I've seen how they've been portrayed since slavery as promiscuous women of a lesser value... and I just don't understand how they... you... could be comfortable with Black women calling themselves "bitches" and "hoes." It seems like so many of you have worked so hard to be something better than that, and yes... men are misogynistic, but for women to say it about themselves? And be ok with it? Calling themselves the baddest bitch, talking about p***y on sideburns... it's baffling to me. Outside of reggaeton, the Latin community would never allow our music to get so virulently anti-women. The women, we would stop it. Why don't you say something? Are you ok with it?"

I was for a moment... speechless. I've heard those exact sentiments from Spelmanites, Oprah, and my Black peers, but to hear another minority speak so passionately in favor of Black women standing up for themselves was... a whole new experience for me. We could get into the nitty gritty about whether Latin music is better or worse than "Black" music, about how she too is a part of the problem every time she dances to Get Low, but that would be tangential to the main point. She seemed genuinely concerned about what she saw as Black women's betrayal of themselves.

I did take the time to share with her the few things I know:
  • artists often have little control over the content of their music
  • Black women have continuously protests against misogynistic lyrics and made several strides (famous case in point: Spelman's Take Back the Music Campaign)
  • lots of great men and women who portray us in a better light (Common, Will Smith, Janelle Monae, even Nicki has her moments)
But I don't think this answer is sufficient. So let me hear from you:

1. Was Chris Rock right when he said, "If the beat is right, she will dance all night?" Are we perpetuating offensive music by dancing to it, listening to it, and often times in the case of Nicki, Kim, Foxy, Trina, et al, writing it?
2. What's the solution? Should there be a stricter rating system and limited availability of this music to certain markets? Or should people force it off the air by making it commercially unsuccessful?

I don't welcome your responses; I desperately ask for them. Let's discuss.

8 comments:

  1. Artists not having control of the content of their music is complete bull. That's the very opposite of art. The very opposite! These are business men and women, and they're doing what brings in the dollars: money to grind and sex to.

    The solution? Put the CDs in a back room like the pornos that inspire their lyrics.

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  2. @Deandre: I have to say that I agree with you re artists and control of their music. Probably a better way to state it would be, they have little control over the commercial viability of their music and marketing execs willingness' to invest in positive music. But you're absolutely right!

    I considered the brown paper bag for it, a la alcohol at a liquor store. lol

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  3. I think I've heard OF the song 'No Hands', I think. But I wouldn't be able to tell you how it goes. Thas because I don't listen to the stuff. Perhaps it's a simple, not-so-simple answer, but I think sentiments like, "I like ignorant music" are the reasons why music has turned sour. That is my opinion of course.

    But this isn't recent, either. Hip Hop has defaced women for awhile now. Since I've started expanding my musical tastes, I've learned that all the gripes I've ever heard about Hip Hop are mostly justified. A lot of die hard Hip Hop heads are going to object, and thas fine. It's not my problem anymore.

    No radio. No clubs. Yet I still listen to and enjoy music everyday and I'm always out partyin to the music that I like. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. Before you go into rhetoric about how that may eliminate social activities or Top 40 listening or whatever, why don't you actually give it a chance first.

    I will say, tho, every now and then I like to turn on MTV Jams. That station got ass and titties for days :) Just press the mute button.

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  4. Whether the music is commercially acceptable or not, I don't think the problem will be solved until we address why these attitudes about Black women exist in the first place. These clearly aren't benign sentiments- repetition means these attitudes about Black women exist in some space. Until those spaces are addressed, the rest is moot. And no, I don't think the music created these attitudes. It is not a chicken and egg conundrum- the attitudes/situations existed and then made it onto the records.

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  5. This is what Mos Def had to say. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BEg38-bWY8

    We are music right? If we don't change then how will music change? But then, how can SOME people change if what they listen to doesn't change. This topic usually makes me feel like some people are pretty stuck.

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  6. I wrote about this almost 2 years ago! I had the same sentiment. Women buy more music then men. Execs continue to force artists to make degrading music because it continues to sell. Now, some of these rappers out here, who swear they go hard, need to stand up if they don't agree with this, but women can't continue to accept this mistreatment

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  7. The issue is much bigger than are BW okay with being called a bitch or 'embracing' the term bitch. The issue is WHY. The answer is simple:1) We are not always taught to love ourself, 2) We do not define ourself, and 3)Many women don't have fatherly love yet they need it in order to grow. So, of course, BW, as a means to transition into womanhood, will follow the definition of a women given to them. They have been seeking this all their life!!!! It is necessary to have an open dialogue about becoming a woman with an older woman.(even if it is not your mother)

    The solution: Seek knowledge of self. How does one do that? LISTEN. The answer is not in a book or your role model, it is in you. If you are still not sure, ask for help. As women, it is our duty to support one another. Help each other. Correct a woman (respectfully, not critically)if you must. The worst thing that can happen is she rejects help. At least offer it, though, maybe it will provoke thought. If a woman doesn't see the God in herself, we must remind her of the power within her womb. Women are the bearers of life. No world without YOU, WOMBMAN.

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  8. I was just talking about this, this morning, with some dude who said "I have to respect Method Man's opinion on natural hair". Why do I have to tolerate disrespect as a sign of solidarity with black men who disrespect me and my sisters?

    It's a cultural ill in black America that needs to stop. Let's bring an end to The Colonized Mind & its erroneous thinking.

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