Black Women… Beyonce’s Lemonade

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I just watched Lemonade, and before I can get into my first reactions to this musical film, I need to get one thing off my chest:

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Fuck Jay Z & fuck forgiveness.

Okay… now I can begin.

“Formation” marked a turn to Beyonce’s image and career. As she fearlessly proclaimed and reclaimed her Blackness, and stood up for the dignity of Black women and Black lives, she carved a new place for herself as an artist.

Two months later, she brings us Lemonade. A film. A musical. An album. An invitation into Beyonce’s most vulnerable self, and a love letter to Black women’s past, present and future, it’s both heartbreaking and beautiful. Visually, it’s breathtaking, lyrically it poetically justifies Beyonce as an artist who’s untouchable and constantly redefining herself. Lemonade transitions Beyonce from a sexy pop icon, to a deeply refined artist.

Before yesterday, we didn’t know what Lemonade was going to be. I don’t think any of us were prepared to have Jay Z’s infidelity confirmed and detailed in this visual album. Lemonade reveals the darker side to the Carter’s marriage. A marriage that has always been posed as sexy and powerful has been uncovered as deeply flawed, and, quite frankly, trope-ish . Even Beyonce, with all of her beauty and significance, hasn’t been able to escape the tradition of men stepping out on their wives over and over     again. Beyonce’s response to her pain is raw, complicated, and whether or not I approve of her “final warning,” it’s honest.

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But is this solely an album about Beyonce and Jay Z’s less than perfect marriage? It’s easy to get lost in the devastating details Beyonce lays out for us. Comparing  J to her daddy, recalling the various women she’s seen in her hallways, along with the sleepless nights waiting for him to come home or return her phone calls, we feel sad for Beyonce. Not because her vulnerabilities have exposed her weaknesses, but because they reveal something we’ve never truly seen from her: human pain.

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In the song, “Anger,”  we hear Malcolm X summing up the reality of Black women:

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the black woman.

While these powerful words most certainly can be directed to Jay Z’s treatment of Beyonce, it doesn’t stop there. Later in the album/film, we also see the Black mothers who have been disrespected by our judicial system. In “Resurrection,” women hold photos of Black men who have died. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Gwenn Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, are shown holding photographs of their murdered sons.  Their presence in the film is significant, because it brings to light the Black women who have often been forgotten and silenced in the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement: the Black mothers.

In the forefront of infidelity, shameless behavior and the systemic mistreatment of Black women, we see the other women. Not the women J’s been creeping with, and not only the women who’ve been mistreated, but the women standing next to, behind, and before Beyonce. Black women– in all of our pretty shades of brown and beige– stand, sit, dance together.They hold hands with each other. They look out for each other. They hold each other. These women are from our past, these women are from our now, these women are our future. I find these women to be the lemonade made from the lemons of our realities.

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Getting Into Formation with EXTRA Black Beyonce

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I’m not part of the Beyhive. I’ve followed Beyonce since the “No, No, No”era, but haven’t praised every move she’s made. During this 19 year distant relationship, I’ve freely critiqued artistic choices she’s made along the way, while dancing my ass off to many of her songs (I used to clear the dance floor for “Crazy In Love.”) There have been moments (i.e. when she culturally appropriated herself into Coldplay’s music video) when I’ve wished she’d use her talent and her fame differently. And when I say differently, I mostly mean that I wish she’d called us to get into Formation a long time ago. But, I won’t sulk about how long it took her to get here. In fact, I think her timing of being unapologetically EXTRA Black (hot sauce bag, swag) and EXTRA proud (you mix that Negro with that Creole makes a Texas bama) is appropriate. We needed this.

Whatever the reason is behind her shying away from race politics in the past, I’m glad she showed up. My students look up to her, and so do many people of all ages. And whether it’s right or not, celebrities have the platform when it comes to naming what matters. They are the ones archiving our voices and concerns. In this video, Beyonce puts her stamp on many important things that matter, but have been ignored or mocked:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Black Lives
  • Police Brutality
  • Baby hairs & Afros
  • Long braids, colored wigs, and many other creative Black hairstyles
  • Cornbread(s) & collars greens

And, now, at the club, tons of Black women who’ve been hiding behind their Negroness- because that’s what we’ve been taught to do- will be proudly be shouting, “I like my Negro nose/ with Jackson Five nostrils,” and that’s fly. #BlackPower

 

What I’m Dancing To… Thanks Missy!

This blog was supposed to be a woman’s perspective on Hip Hop. I usually begin my, now, rare posts on Hip Hop with this sentence, to remind myself where ShesGottheMic began. It’s now morphed into many things since then– partly because of my boredom with the current state of Hip Hop, but mostly because my thoughts, which were once focused on the representations of women in Hip Hop, has shifted, and become more layered and complicated, to put it simply. But, there are still moments when a Hip Hop artist inspires me to geek out on the culture that defines much of my adolescence and college years, and I’m reminded why I wanted to start a blog that entirely focused on Hip Hop.

A couple of months ago, it was  Kendrick Lamar who inspired me to go back to my Hip Hop roots. This time, it’s Missy Elliot’s newest song, “WTF (Where They From)” featuring Pharrell Williams. While Kendrick’s, “Blacker the Berry” reminded me that one of Hip Hop’s most powerful tool is its ability to document the times and produce a message, Missy’s “WTF,” reminds us of Hip Hop’s roots– to make people dance and have fun.

Now that she’s back (we missed you Miiiisssyyyy!!!), she’s brought us a song that can’t be listened to sitting down (I’m listening to it right now as I type at a coffee shop, and my booty is definitely moving). And the video… Missy Magnificence! Aside from reminding us that she’s still got it on the dance floor (you make 44 look glorious), her Afrofuturism/ comic book-esque/ Roundtheway Gurl style remind us that her creative energy doesn’t stop at beat making, but is carried out into the details of her videos (I once read that the ideas of her music videos were replicas of dreams she had). And did you see the Missy and Pharrell marionettes?  Magic and creepiness at its finest.

Thank you Missy Misdemeanor for your  return!

Its been 7 years since you left us with one of your jams. I’m sure in that time, you’ve changed, I know that I’ve changed, but one thing remains the same. When I finish watching one of your videos, my only goal is to hit ‘da club.

Kendrick Lamar LaysDown The Message with New Song: “The Blacker the Berry”

Usually, I let things ruminate before I post them. I sit with my opinions, maybe, I’ll read/listen to what others have to say, and then I write. But, I just listened to the new Kendrick Lamar song, “The Blacker the Berry,” and I need it to be documented on my page NOW.

You know, this blog was supposed to be about Hip Hop: A woman’s perspective on what’s going down in Hip Hop, was the original premise. But, for the past few years, Hip Hop has bored and disappointed me. It hasn’t reflected my perspective or my story, and in most cases, it has simply felt like its given up on itself. Yes, artists like Kendrick Lamar, Azalea Banks, some J Cole, and Common have piqued my interest, but I haven’t been getting what I need from Hip Hop the way I used to.

But, “The Blacker the Berry”….. (biting fist now)

Kendrick Lamar, I salute you. I mean, I’m not surprised that you would be the one to remind us what Hip Hop is supposed to be… but thank you. Thank you for releasing a song that is honest. That’s complicated. That’s ugly. That’s reflective of what’s going on now. “The Blacker the Berry,” captures so much of what I’ve been thinking as I read the news, as I see what’s going on in East Oakland. Thank you for having a message that’s layered and rooted in the hypocrisy of this country. Thank you for understanding your position as an artist, and making your airtime count. Whether people agree with you are not, they’ll listen to what you have to say, and maybe, we can begin begin to have some real dialogue.

Thank you, Kendrick, for being an artist.

5 Albums that Interrupted my Year of Nostalgia

For new music, 2012 has been the year of revitalization. Folks, like myself, have been complaining that “Hip Hop is dead,” that “They don’t make R&B like they used to,” that “Everything sounds the same,” but this year, there were a few artists who challenged such statements.

Before I share my list, I must admit, this is the year that I have been the most out-of-touch with that which is modernly cool. As I prepared for my Mad Men inspired wedding, which inherently causes one to reminisce on their younger, FUBU days, my soundtrack for 2012 could simply be entitled, “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests.” “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests” features timeless talent like Miles Davis, TLC, Dilla, Anita O’Day, SWV, and Astrud Gilberto, with special guests being those artists whose modern-day-talent was so big this year, that even I could get up from my black & white slumber, and recognize the making of new classics.

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5. Azealia Banks. She would have made it further up the list, but I’m deducting points for not releasing a full album. Her EP, titled 1991, after the year she was born (man, I feel old!), has left many wanting more. Blending house music, with a Foxy Brown-styled flow, Ms. Banks is fighting to stay away from labels, and is defining the type of artist she wants to be. She unapologetically reveals skin when she wants to, wears Mickey sweatshirts in music videos, and makes music that makes you dance. Mad props goes to a young woman claiming, and maintaining her own agency in a male-driven industry.

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4. Lupe Fiasco. I would call Food and Liquor: The Great American Rap Album Part I my theory-heavy album of the year. Fiasco released his fourth album with a plan to tell America his opinions about racism, the usage of the word “bitch” (though the n-word is continuously used without being problematized), American imperialism, and anything else that angers him. This Chicago-based rapper shares his opinions while exhibiting strong lyrical flow, against well-produced tracks. While, at times, it feels as though he’s being a bit too preachy, I definitely imagine referencing this album in future writings and teachings on examples of thought-provoking Hip Hop albums.

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3. Lianne La Havas. In her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, London based artist, Lianne La Havas brought back the beauty of simple acoustics with breathy singing. But don’t let her soft lyrics fool you. As evident in one of my favorite songs, “Lost & Found,” La Havas has a skill to match a delicate sound with heart wrenching, dig-beneath-the-soul lyrics. She has the ability to softly sing post-break up songs in a way that makes you feel like she’s going to be alright.

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2. Frank Ocean. The thing I’ve enjoyed most about Frank Ocean is he’s unpredictable. From his nasally head-boppin’ release, “Novacane,” to laid-back interludes like “White,” and his grandiose track, “Pyramids,” it’s hard to say, “Frank Ocean sounds like _______.”  As heard from his mixtapes and debut album, Orange, Ocean is an artist whose experimentation with compiling  sound changes the way we listen to music.

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1. Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamar is receiving accolades from every direction, and one doesn’t hate when such props are well-deserved. Like 2 Pac, and Doug E. Fresh, Lamar is a nothing less than a storyteller who happens to recite his reality in beautifully constructed rhythmic stanzas. Lamar’s talent of storying his experiences and lessons without preaching, sold me on his sophomore album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. While his songs indicate that he doesn’t usually engage in the hustle, he outlines how easily it is to get caught up. Despite the album’s name, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the two cannot be juxtaposed so neatly, thus complicating the West Coast rapper story.

Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Proceed with Caution

Hip Hop Pet Peeve: When someone tells me I’m not a real Hip Hop fan because I don’t like their favorite artist.

Buuuuuut….

If someone were to mouth the words, “I don’t like A Tribe Called Quest,” I would not only take it personally, I would likely shout out expletives, and categorize them as an idiot. A Tribe Called Quest is, hands down, the best Hip Hop group coming out of the 90s. I would even argue, they’re the best Hip Hop group ever. Of course the groups before them are to be revered and honored for setting up the Hip Hop scene, but Tribe took it to a whole new level with their jazzy sound & quirky style. In fact, it is because of A Tribe Called Quest that I transitioned from passively shakin’ my thang to rap on the radio, to listening, studying, and exploring Hip Hop music as a genre and culture. So, when I heard that there was a documentary on the group, I was excited. And when I heard that Q-Tip took issue to the final product, I was still excited about seeing the documentary, though, I did proceed with caution.

If you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy the movie—not because the director, actor, Michael Rapaport, did something new and amazing—but because you love Tribe, and they’re in it telling a part of their story. In Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, you get a peak into the making of this Hip Hop mega-group—you see Q-Tip show us how he samples some old school tracks to make some of Tribes biggest hits (wish there was more of this!), and you get to reminisce with the Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and, sometimes, Jarobi, on how the group went from being a couple of kids rappin’ around Queens, into an international, Hip Hop super-group.

A Tribe Called Quest w/ Jarobi

However… if you love Tribe, there will be moments of flinching, because (surprise! aurprise!) there’s fighting, and no one likes to see the people they love fight. It’s even more awkward to watch grown men fight. But isn’t that the age-old story of the demise of the super group (plug in The Supremes, The Beatles, The Fugees, Destiney’s Child here)?

In the first few melancholy minutes of the film, there are shots of the group performing at the Rock the Bells tour in ’08, and when Q-Tip is asked if the group will perform together again, he says no. Phife aggressively says the same thing, and DJ Ali, well, he just looks disappointed. In fact, throughout the entire movie you barely hear from the man who “speaks with his fingers,” as Phife says. You just see him in the background of Phife’s and Q’s arguments, looking disappointment, and probably thinking, “When will these grown-ass men stop arguing?”

(the preview is true to the film: starts out hyped, and then just gets sad)

Now, are we really surprised by the arguing between group members? This is what happens when teenage friends become incredibly successful together, and, then, work together for 10 years. I didn’t necessarily need a documentary to harp on it. Nor did I need the very sad scene when Phife and Q get in each others’ faces before stepping on stage at Rock the Bells in San Francisco. Scenes like this made me wonder about the intention of Rapaport. What was he trying to reveal when including this particular scene, and when harping on the classic music-group-fall-out between the star of the group (Q), and his talented, but overshadowed partner (Phife)? Of course, there needed to be something said about why the group separated, but we, or at least I, didn’t need that to be the premise of the last half of the story. A Tribe Called Quest is so talented, and interesting that the film didn’t need to rest on drama to be successful, but maybe, being an actor, Raparport is too Hollywood to realize that.

So… would I recommend it? Sure– but only because I recommend anything with the Tribe stamp. Like I said, if you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy parts of it. But, precede with caution– there is some ugliness. In fact, wait for it to get on Netflix so you can fast forward through those scenes.

One of my favorites!

Watch out Yeezy & Hova, Nastradamus is Coming for You

After being underwhelmed by Hova & Yeezy’s Watch the Throne album, I was grateful when my friend, Anjali, told me that Nas has some new stuff out (why didn’t I know about this?!). After listening to a few unofficial releases on youtube, I’m happy to hear that despite Nas’ previous assumptions, Hip Hop is NOT dead.

In Hip Hop terms, Nas is considered one of the fathers of Hip Hop, yet after being in the game for almost 20 years, he maintains his straightforward, street-intelligent flow, while mixing in old and new sounds. In “Nasty,” which was released on itunes yesterday, Nas comes strong with his delivery, matching his don’t-skip-a beat flow with hard drums playing in the backdrop.

In an unofficially released single, “Who Are You,” Nas slows it down and gets serious. He addresses Black intellectuals who have turned their backs on poor Black communities, and who have ridiculed these communities.  Each verse sets up different scenarios where he names examples of Black-on-Black, classist prejudice. In the chorus he asks, “Who are you trying to tell me who I am/
Tryin’ to box me in /Tryin’ to find who I am.” After one chorus, he responds to those who try to compartmentalize him and his community, and proclaims, “I’m Idi Amin/
I’m Marcus Garvey/
8 Track Brown/
I’m Muhammad Ali/
I’m Reginald Lewis/
George Washington Carver/
I’m Nas with incredible music.”

If these two songs are any indication of what’s to come up in his next album, then I think Jay-Z and Kanye West may need to step to the side of their throne.

Nas’ 10th album is reported for release before the end of the year.