When Wale (short for Olubowale, pronounced /ˈwɑːleɪ/) first came out with “Chillin'” featuring Lady Gaga in Fall ’09, I was confused. His indie rapper vibe and decent flow didn’t match the song’s sub-par lyrics, nor did it mesh well with Lady Gaga’s bubblegum hook, or look.
Since “Chillin’,” Wale has been laying out the bubblegum in all flavors, but his newest release, “Diary” featuring ex-Floetry songstress, Marsha Ambrosius, turned me into a fan. Here is why I not only enjoy this song, but also think it stays true to Hip Hop’s original and evolving elements while complimenting my feminist/womanist ideologies…
‘Diary’ by Wale, featuring Marsha Ambrosius
The music video and the video girl. The storyline goes a little somethin’ like this—boy sees girl; boy talks to girl (and gives her tickets to his show); boy gets rejected by girl; girl has reasons for dissin’ boy, but in the end, boy gets girl, and we viewers are left with fuzzy feelings inside. Let’s be real— the storyline is clichéd, but one of the things that is interesting about this video, is who gets to play the ‘girl.’
In most music videos, if the love interest is played by a Black woman, she is oftentimes played by someone who embodies European beauty—think light skin (if not white skin), weave or curly hair, maybe light eyes. If she’s Black, she’s probably mixed. (In December 2006, Kanye West told Essence magazine, “If it wasn’t for race mixing there’d be no video girls”). In most music videos, if there are darker skinned girls featured, they probably play sidekicks to the lighter skinned love interest (yes, pop culture is this deep). In this video, however, the opposite is true. Instead of following the rap-music-video-formula, Wale confronts colorism—a disease that plagues most communities of color; particularly Black communities—by challenging European standards of beauty. Initially, it looks like Wale is approaching the woman who fits into the stereotype of the ‘video girl’, but we soon realize that he is interested in the darker skinned beauty. Not only does he try to get her digits, but as we see throughout the video, he also allows himself to become vulnerable by considering the pages of her diary.
I also find it interesting that as we learn more about the grim experiences of Wale’s ‘video girl,’ she is styled with short, processed hair. However, when we cut to the final scene, ‘video girl’ appears to be much happier with a more Afro-inspired hairstyle. Think I’m projecting my own analysis onto Wale? Check out my other favorite Wale song called, ‘Shades.’ I think it displays his own race analysis.
The MC. The Rap. The lyrics and The R&B Singer. My music video/ video girl analysis is supported by the lyrics of the song.
In the beginning of the video, after ‘video girl’ dismisses his approach, Wale acknowledges he has been dissed by saying, “If I told you I wanted to talk to you/ You think I’m tryna’ holla at you/And maybe I am but /You wouldn’t hear me out anyways would you?” Though rejected by ‘video girl’ Wale strays away from psychoanalyzing her as an ‘angryBlackwoman’ and actually considers why she rejects him. He raps:
Raised by a momma who, who/ Hate her baby father so, so /She don’t have a problem with, with/Saying fu** a ni**a Quick, quick
(note: I will address the use of the ‘N’ word in Hip Hop in another post)
Wale uses this moment of rejection to explore the complex experiences of (some) Black women. He addresses why (some) Black women do not trust men by naming their experiences.
Wale does not simply write this song as a male’s interpretation of a Black woman’s perspective, or diary, but, instead, provides space for the woman’s perspective vis-à-vis Marsha Ambrosius’ chorus. She sings:
I wonder why I sit and cry/ Wish I could shead all these tears, /I’m down and out,/ I’ll keep it moving/ and tryna’ get out/I don’t know how to move on/Where I went wrong/I wish I could live with no fear/So down and out/I’ll keep it moving and tryna’ get out/ Somehow
Her lyrics capture the pain of some Black women while highlighting their continued resilience. Aside from adding a beautiful melodic hook to Wale’s, otherwise, choppy flow (contradiction intended), Marsha Ambrosius also adds a much needed female perspective and voice to this Hip Hop beat.
Overall, Wale’s commercial Hip Hop song is one that stays true to original and nuanced elements of Hip Hop such as the MC, the video girl, the DJ (or producer), the music video, and the R&B singer, while providing an analysis of the experiences of Black women, thus pleasing this Hip Hop feminist.