I have had the luxury of 20/20 hindsight after reading the Autobiography of Angela Davis and Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, by Elaine Brown. It was these memoirs that exposed my mind to the Black woman’s perspective. That the Black woman who was in the struggle with the Black man, was not seen as bringing anything of concrete value, other than sit up, listen, and grab a sign. Her mind, her genius, from the Black male to the Black female was not being utilized. Recently, Jermaine Dupri commented that all the female rappers rap about the same subject matter and are basically stripper rappers. I found it highly fascinating to hear Cardi B’s perspective to Jermaine Dupri’s statement. Cardi B pleads this isn’t her fault. She tried conscious content and knows other sisters that are doing it, but there is no support for it, either from Hip Hop journalist or bloggers, nor is there a commercial market. Her story is that the industry and the public doesn’t want this kind of lyrical content. This is where Cardi B’s response gets Jermaine Dupri in trouble.
Jermaine Dupri is not the paradigm of conscious content. He built a successful music career from mindless, cotton candy, devoid of any substantive thinking music. He was working in the same lyrical spaces as the very female rappers he decided to comment on. Currently, I am taking an undergraduate course in the history of Rock and Roll. Part of the curriculum is to do a lyrical research paper. The assignment requires a compare and contrast of lyrics from three to five different artists and songs. I chose five songs that the word “Jump” was a part of the chrous. The five songs included, The Sugarhill Gang’s, 1980, Apache (Jump on It); Aretha Franklin’s 1982, Jump to It; The Pointer Sister’s 1984, Jump (For My Love); Van Halen’s 1984, Jump; and Kris Kross’s 1992, Jump. Of these Works, only the women did I find any lyrical substance. If The Pointer Sister’s lyrics was the orgasm, Aretha’s was the foreplay. As far as the gentlemen were concerned, the most egregious violator of lacking substance was the Jermaine Dupri produced group Kris Kross.
In March of 2018, the PBS program Front and Center featured musician, singer, and songwriter, Nile Rogers. For those who do not know who Rogers is, it is said, he and his songwriting partner Bernard Edwards, fueled the Disco era with their band Chic and kicked off the Hip Hop era when The Sugarhill Gang rapped over their record Good Times. Their song, We Are Family, recorded by Sister Sledge, was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.” They produced Diana Ross biggest selling album Diana in 1980. They produced David Bowie’s biggest single Let’s Dance. And produced Madonna’s greatest selling single Like a Virgin. Despite his collaborating partner’s passing in 1996, Rogers teamed up with Pharrell and Daft Punk and released the 2013 Get Lucky. The single reached the top 10 in the music charts in over 32 countries and is one of the biggest selling songs of all time. Rogers is accredited with selling over 500 million albums and 75 million singles. On Front and Center, Roger recalls the time he was venting to his mentor, Jazz musician Ted Dunbar regarding playing top 40 hits at a club.
Dunbar was perplexed at Rogers vexations, telling Rodgers that the music did not belong to him but the public, and any record that makes it into the top 40 is an excellent composition. Rodgers was taught and trained in classical music and grew up in the world of Jazz. Having came from the world of Classical and Jazz, Rogers had a certain bias against Pop’s top 40 as being lowbrow music. He was told by his mentor, if a record moves people and is commercially successful it is a great composition. How many artist would cut their right arm for a one-hit wonder? From that point on, Rogers never looked at Popular music in such a highbrow way. I tell this story, because ever since I heard this from Rogers, I no longer do a highbrow analysis on lyrical content. Especially if it is commercially successful.
Anybody who is truly African-American, is aware of our internal tension between Street culture and nonadherance to that culture. Street culture is antithetical to the type of behavior earlier generations thought was necessary in order for African Americans to be accepted into American society. In music, this was exemplified by Motown’s showmanship . On TV, it was the Huxtable family on The Cosby Show. Street culture is highly frowned upon in the African-American community. It was well-known, Oprah Winfrey was not going to allow rappers on her show. They are seen as pedaling poison. Ice Cube is famous for stating he wasn’t going to allow his children to hear his music, yet after making such statements of being conscious of their harmful affects, he has never changed his lyrical content. I watched Warren G be highly critical of today’s rappers, stating in his era we did not rap about drugs, all they rap about nowadays are drugs. How many plots and schemes were hatched while under the influence of Warren G’s Regulators? I know I am one of them, it was a very, very, powerful song, about running your turf. We who have cut our teeth, and made our living in Street culture are the epitome of the Jesus Christ challenge, “He who has not sinned, cast the first stone.” What makes Brother Dupri’s statements appear to be chauvinistic, is his reputation for being a ferocious patron of strip clubs. While it’s okay to see a sista get money with her body, the moment she steps out of that place and is getting money with her mind, is being rewarded for her thoughts, and her ideas, this type of behavior is being delegitimized. We who come from this culture, Street culture; a culture where we are to embarrassed to tell our grandmother or mother what we’re doing; a culture that we want to shield our youngest children; are in no position to be hypocritical nor critical of how the poison being distributed by one person involved in this culture, is a higherbrowed poison from the next person’s poison. The African-American Community has a moral compass. When you are involved in a behavior that you would not feel comfortable telling your grandmother, or will want to steer your children from, those of us that have chosen to use this as a vehicle to find our place in the world; we need to drop the putting on airs, because we are certainly no better than anybody else working this thang, called Street culture.
This is our fourth published piece by this writer on feminism, the other three were:
“THE IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN VOICES IN STRUGGLE: Emphasis on the Black Woman’s Voice.” 2017
“The Myth of Intersectionality to Women of Color” 2018
“Due Process in the Era of Me Too” 2018
[C-Note has written for Prison Action News, California Prison Focus, and has been in People Magazine, Public Television-Los Angeles (KCET), and ABC-Los Angeles (KABC). He is a native of Los Angeles, poet, playwright, performing artist, award winning visual artist, and King of Prison Hip Hop. His works have either been exhibited, recited, performed, or sold, from Alcatraz to Berlin. In 2017, Google Search Engines listed him first in results, as America’s and the world’s most prolific prisoner-artist.]