Lil Wayne and The Evolution of Hip Hop… Or Zebra Pants!

2011 MTV Video Music Awards – Lil Wayne

 

Hip Hop has changed so much since the 1990’s. I know I must be getting old because I don’t like it. There’s always been a lot of rap music that I couldn’t really get with because of its misogyny or materialism levels registered just a lil too high for my tastes. But there was always a camp of angry shootem up rap artists that I enjoyed deeply. Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, Onyx, and others had a way of speaking to my inner angsty teenager mind. Nowadays I believe the face of hip hop has changed partly because masculinity has changed. Back in the 90’s wearing tight pants was a no-no for men, and now its a very popular trend. When Lil Wayne showed up on stage at the MTV music awards in zebra print leggings and brightly colored sneakers, everyone from my generation had a moment of like, what the hell happened to hip hop. Hip hop music evolved from being a music that was about transforming suffering into something beautiful. From turning pain into poetry. Into something that is almost entirely materialism based. The misogyny and materialism got turned up and the substance and lyricism got turned down.

Its not fair to make Lil Wayne a stand in for all rap artists. There are those who make rap music that tries to bridge the gap between commercial interests and artistic integrity, but ever since hip hop went pop, it has slowly been losing its authenticity and relevance, to me at least. I’m sure the teens love it; Vapid little monsters that they be…

Yo Mama’s Last Supper

Renee Cox is a provocative artist. I still remember when then mayor Rudy Guiliani was campaigning against her show going up in the Brooklyn Museum. Her Yo Mama’s Last Supper piece, which is a combination of five photographs, features her at the center as a naked Jesus. I hadn’t paid much attention to her art since the whole controversy back in ’99, but watching the Hennessey Youngman video on how to be a successful black artist I decided it was time to revisit it.

As a black female artist, I have found myself being pulled towards catering to what the market wants, rather than what I wanted to make. I felt like I was being pushed in certain directions by professors in undergrad and even though my first inclination was to push against it, I figured that if I wanted to have an art career, I might as well make what the people like. Eventually I felt like if I wasn’t making art that was true to my own voice, what was the point? Besides, there are plenty of other ways and easier ways to make money.

I don’t mean to call into question Cox’s authenticity but I wonder how much market demands shape the decisions she makes in her work. In particular the decision to be naked all the time. Is she challenging an idea or reinforcing it? Maybe both.

Black People Movies and Why They’re So Bad…

Or Who Let Tyler Perry Produce For Colored Girls?

I am awash with sadness. Tyler Perry movies. They polute my life.

When I heard that Tyler Perry was producing a movie version of For Colored Girls. I almost wept. I had such a strong connection to the play the first time I saw it performed, that the mere thought of Tyler Perry bringing it to the big screen upset me deeply. First I wasn’t convinced it was meant for movie form. Part of the appeal of the play for me was the intimacy of it. The lack of props and context. The colored women as stand ins for everywoman. To make a movie you need a cast and a backdrop. Theirs little room for imagination. That alone had me feeling like the movie would be a wreck.

I refused to pay to see it, but once it showed up on my netflix I thought I should give it a chance. It had gotten mixed reviews It was so bad I couldn’t watch the whole thing. I stopped about a third of the way through the film and thought to myself THIS is what people are going to think of when they think about Ntozake Shange’s Choreopoem!? This crap?! Goodness I was besides myself.

Why is it that its usually bad black films that make it to major markets?Although I guess lots of bad films get funding. I think I might scream if another movie comes out with a black man dressed in drag, posing as a black woman. Its offensive! When did it stop being offensive!? I’m done.

The Fight For Integration

Busing Riot, Boston, 1965.

 

Recently the NYTimes published an article about how segregated NYC schools are. Interestingly enough, the charter network that I have been working for manages the school that has been designated as the most segregated school in the city. The school is comprised entirely of black students.

As part of the admissions team I have a fairly clear understanding of why the school is composed the way it is. Like most charter schools the admissions system operates on a lottery process, but it has a preference system in which students who live within the district are admitted before any other students who may have entered the lottery. So in this case the school really is a reflection of the neighborhood its located in. However in many instances, charters tend to be more racially segregated than the communities they’re located in. This is partly due to the fact that charters recruit low income students specifically in order to dispel the idea that they cherry pick students in order to raise their test scores. By matching the demographic numbers of neighboring schools they hope to prove their superiority.

The problem of segregation has been a persistent one. Jonathan Kozol, who I read for the first time when I was twelve, has been writing about the inequities built into our school system for years. Yet how do we solve the problem of segregated schools when it seems everyone has lost interest in integration as a worthy goal.

The picture above reminded me why so many are stalled on the idea of integration. Many white parents worry that their kids won’t get as good of an education if they’re forced to go to integrated schools, and many black parents were the children who were put on buses in the 70’s and 80’s. Who were met with scorn and disdain, and have no desire to put their own children through the same.

I don’t have the solutions yet but I was glad to see the issue of segregation in schools become a talking topic once again. I for one believe integration is still an important and worthy goal.

 

 

 

Michelle Obama Goes Natural

Michelle Obama Rocking Natural Hair

I know I know its probably a weave but yes its still a big deal.The decision of more and more highly visible black women to not wear their hair straight impacts what we understand beauty standards for black women to be. When Viola Davis came to the Oscars with a short fro instead of a wig, my news feed was ablaze with the pictures. The audacity! To take off the wig and embrace the natural texture of her hair. Especially after Viola received a lot of flack for playing a maid in “The Help”. Many asked her why she took the role and few were satisfied with her response. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t really pass judgement on her choice or her performance.

I remember when I saw the poster for the movie at the 42nd Street theatre. My boyfriend pointed it out to me as we were leaving the theatre and we both laughed knowingly. I remember remarking that it was clearly going to be the most racist movie ever before slipping into my yowza boss voice. It was all in good fun. At the time I wasn’t purposefully taking a critical eye to the composition of the advertisement or even noticing the actresses that were featured. I took a cursory glance and immediately knew that the movie had to be directed at white people who had no real grasp on american history. Because here I was in 2012 looking at the reincarnation of hattie mcdaniel and some bubbly white teen.

Usually movies make more of an effort to reinvent the black servant role. Jennifer Hudson in the first Sex in the City movie was considered a personal assistant, who border lined on filling a friendship role, but its still clear throughout the film that she’s actually Sarah Jessica Parkers employee and that theirs a clear power dynamic there, that parallels that of the old school housewife and maid.

But back to Michelle Obama. The first lady receives a lot of criticism for how she dresses. I remember seeing a headline about her wearing shorts, and another about her having her shoulders exposed? It’s all very silly to me. But the first lady wearing a natural hair style definitely sends a statement about whats acceptable in particular for professional black women. A lot of women will straighten their hair because they feel it makes them more likely to be hired or to get a promotion. These things are probably true but the more often black women shirk these biases, the more acceptable natural hairstyles become. And as someone who loathes to put chemicals in her hair, thats good news for me!

Viola Davis at the Oscars

Waiting For Storm… I Mean Superman…

Who doesn’t love black superheroes?!

As a kid I must admit I idolized Storm of the X-men. She was powerful, respected by her teammates, and just all around bad azz. I hadn’t thought much about how race plays out in super hero characters until a few years ago when P. Diddy was quoted as saying that their were no black super heroes (which was patently untrue). I think he was trying to market the new Will Smith movie Hancock, but I’m not entirely sure.

Looking back at my childhood now its kind of funny to see how characters can be racially coded, even when their race isn’t explicit (i.e. Panthro of the Thundercats). Disney movies that I enjoyed take on a whole new meaning now that I’m more conscious of associations that go along with speech patterns and color choices. I think the most interesting and consistent color choice I have noticed is the tendency to make black characters in cartoons blue. I wonder how blueness became a stand in for blackness. I’m sure there are exceptions but its definitely a pattern. Even in “The Proud Family” which is a show made up of mostly black characters, the group of girls who are considered bullies and aren’t middle class, are all colored blue.

Real Housewives Go To Africa

 

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Its a bad show. My boyfriend makes fun of me for watching television shows and youtube videos for the sole purpose of pointing out how bad or wrong they are. I sit there and talk at the screen and when I’m done he makes fun of me.

In the latest episodes of the Real Housewives of Atlanta the cast takes a trip to South Africa. During their stay they take a ride on a yacht, go on safari, consult a witch doctor, and visit an orphanage. They spend the majority of the trip making shows of wealth, even though everyone on the show is far from wealthy. They count their blessings as they interact with orphans and “villagers”. They enact Africaness by dressing up in traditional garbs. They also revel in ordering around white service staff.

I think the point of the episodes was to give a more well rounded version of “Africa”, but the fact that they kept referring to a particular country by the name of the continent was problematic in and of itself. Still it’s interesting to see the dynamic of African-Americans visiting Africa, participating in the kind of voyeurism that made me uncomfortable during my own trip to Namibia. When shanty towns become tourist sites, something just ain’t right…

Never Forget, Get Over It.

I came across this image and thought how apropos. I don’t think many people think of slavery in this sort of context. Its become common place to expect that the history of slavery in this country be swept under the rug to one extent or the other. Places like Texas would like to strip it from the history books entirely, while most people just don’t want to talk about it anymore. It was a long time ago, lets just, move on. But when you place it next to these other traumatic events it kind of highlights the way in which black suffering is often minimized and made inconsequential, partly because it has become so ubiquitous. Although I think that in the case of the holocaust and 9/11, there has been some level of closure, so it can be argued that this is an unfair comparison. In either case, I think the question that I get from this image is, why can’t we get over it?