Can’t Knock the Hustle: Cardi B Edition

On social media and live discussions, I see the ways that the commentary on Cardi B’s rise to fame is clouded in sexism. It’s one thing if you don’t like her music, it’s another thing if you just hate her for who she is. If you hate the sound of her NY, Latin-accent over trap beats, cool. If you just think her whole shit is wack, cool.

But, don’t let her nontraditional path as a stripper-turned-social media magnate-turned-reality star-turned-rapper trip you up. She used what she got to get what she wants in the post-record label music industry. I even saw her pitted against Lauryn Hill and even SZA, as a ridiculously contrarian argument against her “undeserved” prominence. They, to some, represent “respectable” ways that women artists can get on. Sure, they never hit the pole or did reality TV (hell, for Lauryn, that would have meant The Real World or Road Rules), but they pushed through lots of behind-the-scenes turmoil to carve out their careers.

While I’ve changed, I get what some of those people mean, sort of. I was once someone that you could call a “purist” and that shit was cool for about a month. Yes, it helped identify me among men as the “rare” woman who knew about “real” hip-hop. It was super limiting. Not just as a writer, but as an individual living in Atlanta since the latter half of 1999. The A had emerged as not only hip-hop’s epicenter, but a place where even famous and established artists made themselves accessible to fans and media.

If you were a regular in the clubs, or simply lived in Atlanta long enough, ultimately you would have a close encounter with a rap star, or know somebody, that knows somebody, that knows somebody who went to middle school with one of your favorite artists.  The degrees of separation were quickly made small from social media. My personal social and professional experiences changed everything. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I didn’t write about hip-hop culture. I was content to keep about four hip-hop albums in steady rotation. It wasn’t until I came to Atlanta and the allure of the culture was not only irresistible, but connected to legitimate professional opportunity. My brother gave me the Aquemini album as a going away present. Little did he know that was the start of something much bigger.

Old habits die hard. It even took me a long time to become an actual Jay Z fan. Like, Black Album late. I rejected the whole drug dealer turned rapper narrative. In my once limited view, the rappers I listened to like The Roots, still my favorite band to this day, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, and The Pharcyde maybe smoked a little weed, but they’d never advocate selling it. Prior to his very public relationship with Beyoncé, I thought Jay Z hated women. I’d even laughed about rumors that he was “the gay rapper,” a label for hip-hop’s disdain of the possibility that a prominent member of the culture could have same sex attraction; long before LGBTQ became an undeniable force, long before acceptance of queer artists like Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator and Syd.

By my first visit home to Pittsburgh after moving to Atlanta, one of my best friends laughed at how much I’d grown to love Trick Daddy’s “Shut Up.” And in no way was I immune to back-bending reflexes caused by Cash Money takin’ over for the 99 and 2000 as I happily “Backed that Azz Up” with Juvenile.

I couldn’t help but open up and embrace change. And even after all my logic and my theory, I added muthafucka so you ignant niggas hear me. I’m aware of my own contradictions. I’m still very critical of hip-hop culture. I definitely think there are too many toxic elements that foster violence, racism, sexism and flat out anti-intellectualism, but I won’t discredit artists just because they didn’t follow what some outmoded thinking, so-called purists deem as an ideal career trajectory.  People are quick to dismiss Cardi B despite her unprecedented accomplishments and attribute all her lyrics to  ghostwriters without proof. Nothing makes you sound like a tired old curmudgeon more quickly than finger wagging at what younger artists and hip-hop fans are doing. So if you don’t fuck with Cardi B, cool, but don’t get mad ‘cause she made it the best way possible.

Thank you, Ida Harris, for sharing yet another example of a difficult truth

I wasn’t ready for what I read this morning. The Root.com writer Ida Harris did everything right. When her date became physical without her permission, she gave non-verbal cues, when that didn’t work she said explicitly said “no,” when that didn’t work, she physically fled. None of that kept her safe. Discussions of consent are too often reduced to a woman’s ability to say no. That if she experiences unwanted sexual attention or touching, that it’s her fault.  This means by default that a man is entitled to her body. Even if and when she says no, it means that there is still another chance.  And if he doesn’t take no for an answer, well, it’s her fault for putting herself in that situation.

I had a family friend who said no to a man’s advances in a crowded bar where her boyfriend worked. She wasn’t “coy” or ambiguous about her no.  She clearly wasn’t interested. She walked away. She was shot dead in the street. Saying no does not keep you safe. There is never a guarantee that a man will honor your resistance. There is no cultural expectation for them to do so.

There were still people in comments sections who asked why she was out at that time. It is never a woman’s fault for going out, spending time with friends, or on a date that by all indications appears safe.  After immeasurable accounts of stories like this, too many people still blame women. Among the many truths and ultimately disturbing information Ms. Harris shares is this:

“We must also ask why we continue to court a tradition where boys will be boys and men will be men, no matter their indiscretions; while women are held to a five-star standard of awareness, action and responsibility. We are centuries invested in men’s entitlement and audacity, and their retarded understanding and disrespect for women’s bodily rights. We live in a society where patriarchy is well-established and chronically practiced.”

Think about the way we talk about sexuality. Men are taught to “score,” have “game” with the ultimate goal of “getting some pussy.” Her body parts are labeled as if they exist outside of her. She has to play defense. And if she loses, it’s her problem. A woman’s failure to scream and flee, even at her own peril, does not excuse what happens to her.

There are no new rules to consent. No has always meant no. The only difference now is that people are listening to our stories and violators are facing real consequences. We have to place the onus of ending sexual and violent assault squarely on the people who perpetrate these crimes.

Read Ida Harris’ essay here.

 

The only Kwanza(a) I acknowledge is Hall

Atlanta seal

I’m know I’m gonna catch hell for this. First of all, if you celebrate Kwanzaa, I’m not judging you. The Nzugo Saba are real and valuable. For me, it simply it never felt natural. Sure, I’ll go to a Kwanzaa social engagement, but I have no desire to purchase a kinara and do the whole lighting biz.

My reasons are many. Like most American holidays, Kwanzaa is rooted in myth. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

The Kwanza I actually do celebrate is Atlanta District 2 Councilman, Kwanza Hall. He never gave me a politician vibe, as he seems totally at ease at events throughout the city. I chatted with him as I sipped a beer at a 2015 A3C Festival gathering to promote use of the streetcar. I rooted for him when he first announced his later unsuccessful bid for mayor. I was also pleased when he introduced and later helped pass legislation to reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana under one ounce – the closest Atlanta has come to decriminalization. Most recently, I was happy to see his wife Natalie sworn in as Fulton County Commission, District 4.  All these things make me feel hopeful, but this is not a political endorsement.

If anything, it is a way to honor a Facebook status I posted last spring where I said, “Cheer for the guys you know.” It’s a way to acknowledge that the people closest to us are most worthy of our support and attention. In an attempt to look for some grand, shining leader, you miss the leader next door, or even the one in the mirror. As the expression goes, “heroes don’t always wear capes” and they most certainly don’t lead violent sexual assaults or remain silently complicit in the murder of others.

This is the legacy of Ron Everett, better known as Dr. Maulana Karenga. In 1965, Karenga founded a group called Us, a black nationalist group, who engaged in confrontation with the Black Panther Party. In 1969, at a UCLA Black Student Union meeting, after reports that BPP members spoke negatively of Karenga, tensions rose between the two groups, ending in a hail of gunfire, killing Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.

Lesser known, is Karenga’s torture of two women, Deborah Jones and Gail Davis, former members of his own group. There are multiple accounts of sexual assault and violent terror including soldering irons placed in the mouths of the women and one having her big toe squeezed in a vice grip. In 1971, Karenga spent four years in prison for the assaults. The myths created for him led me and many others to believe he was imprisoned only as part of an FBI takedown of black nationalist groups. We know now that the truth is just as ugly and has greater implications for the holiday and its leader as more people become aware.

Karenga’s long legacy of leadership (he is still the Chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach) also reveals another sad truth. Too many black leaders’ conflicts, both violent and verbal, have devolved into a pissing contest to have one man emerge as the HNIC. In the search of a political messiah, the abuse of women was never a barrier to leadership, respect, money or historical honor. Women are treated at best as sacrificial lambs and at worst, collateral damage on a convoluted premise of black liberation. Black solidarity cannot come at the expense of women and if a movement excludes or devalues women, it is simply white patriarchy in blackface.

I also resent the notion that questioning the history of black leaders is somehow a rejection of black nationalism itself, an acceptance of white oppression, or the idea that anything other than monolithic, emphatic yesses are just “divisive” reasons why “we can’t have anything.”

The principles of Kwanzaa are worth celebrating daily and annually, but who among us is truly lacking, especially in Atlanta? The thriving black-owned businesses, black-led media, black cultural institutions, HBCUs and more are indicative of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we can uphold these principles and more while rejecting a “leader” with a history of violence and misogyny.  I know several people who celebrate, Kwanzaa, though most of my friends, family and colleagues don’t, which I don’t think is likely to change as more people learn about the founder’s past.

So if you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Habari Gani, but as for me and my house, the only thing being lit will be my social media after this post.

Why Afropunk Atlanta was everything and yes, Solange killed it

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Yes, Solange killed it, but Afropunk is so much more than a show.

In front of the entrance and on both sides of the main stage, there are signs in bold black and white that read: “No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness.” Looks like a lot of rules for a celebration of freedom.

On the surface, this may not sound revolutionary until you consider how even the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. was long mired in the respectability politics of clean, heteronormative appearance and as recently as last spring, black girls at a charter school were punished simply for wearing their hair in braids.

See my full reflections on Afropunk Atlanta at Creative Loafing Atlanta here.

Note I took all photos except for the one of Solange.

 

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(Photo: Shannon Barbour, Green Stage)
Solange
(Solange @saintrecords, Instagram)

20171015_230449(Photo of V. Her hair was in my peripheral vision as I watched Solange perform “Don’t Touch My Hair” I loved her Afro and freckles and she allowd me to take her photo: Shannon Barbour)

 

Dear Dilla: Hip-hop will always love you

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I can hardly believe it has been eight years since hip-hop lost James “J.Dilla” Yancey. February 7 would have been his 40th birthday.

Since his untimely passing from a rare blood disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, and complications related to lupus, the posthumous tributes have been ongoing. They were never simply a trend, or a rallying cry to gather performers and fans.

It is literally impossible to pay homage to the late Golden Era to the mid 2000s hip-hop without honoring J.Dilla. I dare you to try. Not only did he largely construct the sounds of the A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Erykah Badu and Common, there are some pop songs – Janet Jackson’s “Got Til It’s Gone” and others, some of which he did not receive credit.

So while Dilla is gone from physical form, he will never be forgotten. To do so would be to forget who we are as MCs, writers, producers, DJs and individuals that keep powerful beats and rhymes in their everyday lives.

Photo: Dilla Day in the A, Friday November 22, 2013, with Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey

Welcome 2014!

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Last year was the year of the selfie and I got some really good ones.

But more important than the mobile phone enabled exercises in mental masturbation, were the real connections with people. I was very fortunate to meet many folks I’ve admired in music, film, makeup artistry and other creative media.

So go ahead and touch someone (or yourself) as we reflect on 2013.

The highlights:

I moderated an International Music Conference panel discussion on publicity.

I did makeup on a film set for the first time. More to come…

I met Young Guru.

I wished Talib Kweli happy birthday.

I met a really nice guy with whom I have A LOT in common.

I talked to CeeLo again in a brief, but meaningful conversation.

I got a quick interview with Erykah Badu.

I got a good sit-down interview with MC Lyte.

I met people living in other countries that are better at keeping in touch with me than people a few neighborhoods over in ATL.

I was blessed with a new career opportunity very late in the year.

Finally, I took a selfie with Questlove.   Yes, ?uestlove.  Quest-freaking-love, the drummer of the Legendary Roots Crew that I’ve jammed to before Fallon, before he was named Time magazine’s coolest person of the year and long before the global acknowledgment his group are hip-hop’s preeminent, improvisational, badasses.

That, as the kids say, was everything.

The Commemoration

50th Anniversary march

Most of my peers, both personally and professionally, were born at least a decade after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led August 28, 1963 March on Washington. While we are not total strangers to racial inequality, we have nothing in our collective experience even remotely close to life in the turbulent Civil Rights era.

Some of us witnessed the dangers of crime and violence in neighborhoods where the opportunities had gone away to suburbs or lands overseas but none of us knew a world where the mere act of assembly, especially with friends of a different color, could end your life or land you in jail.

Today, none of us even knows the difficulties of gathering. We do not know the challenges of organizing closed strategic meetings in undisclosed locations through word of mouth – phone lines were tapped and for some families a home phone was a luxury. Today, global communication is as close as a few words in a text or social media application away. We exact rapid change online. We even have change.org to expedite our processes. Social activism is literally in our hands.

To put it bluntly, we have it easy. If you are a person of color with post-secondary education, live and work relatively safely in or near a major American city among people of multiple racial and ethnic groups, chances are your general quality of life is significantly better than it would have been 50 years ago. Of course, job discrimination, unemployment and economic strife are still regular realities for many Americans, but the possibilities to escape through education, career or with help through public and private assistance are numerous. And regardless of where you stand in the political strata, a black identifying biracial president is incredible progress.

All we have to do now is commemorate the past. Remember, pay homage and learn. Talk to your children, young family members or other youth. Because we will never understand, we can only look back in reverence.

Read the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech here.

Read the full text of Obama’s August 28, 2013 Commemoration speech here.