Tag Archives: hip hop

A (Not So) Guilty Pleasure: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta

23 Jul

By now, many of you have experienced the delightful ratchet theater that is Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.


One word: Ratchetstilksin

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta is the brain-child of producer, Mona Scott-Young, who also unleashed upon the world created the first Love and Hip Hop series. LAHHA follows, as you might have guessed, the high and lows of several (not particularly well-known) artists, producers, baby mamas, and the like who are enmeshed in the music scene in Hotlanta. After randomly stumbling upon the show a few weeks ago, I must confess that I am hooked. I swear I watch episodes without blinking!

How could you look away?

I find a couple of things fascinating about the show. One of the main plots of the show is the love triangle revolving around producer Stevie J, his long-suffering “main chick” Mimi Faust, and his protégé/side piece, Joseline Hernandez.

The shade of it all!

Shoot, I might could call it a love rhombus since Stevie J can’t seem to recall how many women he’s “smashed.” (Also, could we forever retire that term as it relates to sex? Between banging, smashing, hitting, cutting, beating it out the frame, and blowing people’s backs out, sex seems more like war than an exercise in pleasure. For real.)

In any event, I have been chatting with various friends who watch the show about the allure of Stevie J. I just can’t figure it out!

Yes, this fine specimen.

We debated whether he was really putting it down like that, if it was just some swag (that I couldn’t see), or is it that he preys upon the weak and the desperate.  I think it may be a heady combination of all those things. What has been interesting, though, is despite the foolishness of LAHHA, in many of these conversations, my friends and I are not simply talking about the antics of these “characters” that we may make fun of from a distance, but remembering the fact that some of the people we know and love—perhaps even ourselves—have been embroiled with the insecure, the unavailable, the emotionally-manipulative, the wack, and the ratchet. Or that we ourselves might have (and still might be) those very things.

The other thing that’s interesting to me about LAHHA is the whole discourse around femininity, especially as it relates to Joseline. A former sex worker with aspirations of producing mediocre rap/reggaeton, Joseline’s so-called masculine appearance has been ridiculed on the show and pretty thoroughly in the blogosphere.

Tell ‘em why you mad.

I’ve heard everything from the fact that she is “really a man” to the notion that her whole experience of getting an abortion was just a ploy to convince viewers that she is “really a woman.” Now, I expect very little from VH1, which has rebranded itself as a top channel on the backs of women-of-color acting a damn fool, but this unadulterated trans hatred has lowered my already piss poor expectations of the network.  And the discussions of Joseline on the ground emphasize what we already know: we desperately need the language to talk about sexuality and gender expression in ways that not only do not diminish others, but that also recognize complicated realities within ourselves.

The storyline with Lil’ Scrappy (bless him) and Erica is also fascinating to me. The whole notion that she’s unavailable emotionally and that he needs someone who’s more affectionate is type interesting. On the one hand, let me mess around and find out that the Prince of the South is a softee and just needs to be held at night. I appreciate seeing dudes with neck tattoos reveal vulnerability. Then again, the discussion about Scrappy’s emotional needs seem to come at the expense of Erica’s. So, she’s wrong for not staying by his bedside when he has an alcohol-infused asthma attack, yet Erica revealed that Scrappy was not there for her during a miscarriage. Now, relationships—even on reality TV—don’t survive on passive aggressive tit for tat type behaviors, but something just ain’t right there. And it seemed all too convenient that their breakup went down after Scrappy got into some extracurricular activity with his best friend, Buckey from Flavor of Love Shay. This is all too messy. I will say, the exchange made me think of some sistas I know who, on the one hand, are asked to always asked to be a STRONGBLACKWOMAN and who then get blasted for being too cold, frigid, and distant. It just seems like a setup.[i]

OK K K!

Some of you may be thinking, “Really, Crunkadelic? I come to the Crunk Feminist Collective to read about weighty issues and you talking all this noise about some silly show on Vh1. Really?!”

Yes, really.

I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like reality shows or if you prefer to save your brain cells by watching more intellectual fare or by reading a book. We not going fall out about it. Indeed, I totally cosign with my girl Black Artemis who recently wrote a great post about letting go of her guilty pleasure, Basketball Wives. (A show that brings my pressure right on up. I just can’t do it). Sometimes, shows (books, jobs, people, etc.) are just too toxic and, if we can, we have to let them go. That being said, I’m pretty unapologetic about my complicated viewing choices. I have already written about my appreciation for trashy TV. These days, when I do have time for TV I can watch anything from Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC to The Barefoot Contessa cooking show, Parks & Rec, Sherlock (I’m obsessed! Also, I want a puppy named Benedict Cumberbatch), in addition to more ratchet fare such as Keeping up with Kardashians (I know I’m not the only one), Love & Hip Hop, Single Ladies, and so on. And I’m interested to what these scripted reality TV shows say about our own lives and how we make sense of life and love where cameras are not rolling.

So, fam, what are your thoughts on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta?


[i] Check out Joan Morgan’s When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost for more on this phenomenon.

The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick, Part II (or Why Miss Independent Is Probably Single)

25 Jun

NOTE:  This blog continues the conversation about the implications of hip hop masculinity on heterosexual love relationships between black men and women (see The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick).

Independent Woman: A woman who pays her own bills, buys her own things, and DOES NOT allow a man to affect her stability or self-confidence. She supports herself on her own entirely and is proud to be able to do so (Urban Dictionary)

My father’s absence and general disinterest in me growing up, alongside my mother and grandmother’s insistence that I know how to take care of myself, led to a fierce independence in my twenties that annoyed some and confounded others.  On the outside I held myself together with super glue.  On the inside, I felt my independence was a symptom of larger issues that required me to be self-sufficient.

My independence was not (immediately) linked to (my) feminism both because I didn’t have the language at the time, and because there was no consciousness or intentionality behind it.  I was independent out of necessity and fear.  I needed to be self-reliant because I was afraid of the consequences.  (What would happen if I needed someone and they left?)

My mis-independence was informed by the singleness of many of the women in my life and the way they came together to take care of me and each other, sometimes with harsh words warning me that blackgirls become strongblackwomen, and I better not depend too much on anybody but myself (and, when applicable, them).  What they didn’t say was that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be kept, cared for, and loved on.  I imagine they didn’t want to get my hopes up so they taught me to be prepared because the ability and luxury of being dependent was reserved for rich women or white women or rich white women and we were none of those things.

The lessons I was given insinuated that I should never tolerate the malfeasance of a man, (as in “you can do bad by yourself”) while watching women, with needs that went beyond money-help or affection, put up with all manner of foolishness from men (as in “do as I say, not as I do”).

The confusion of these childhood lessons are equivalent to the confusion forwarded through mainstream media and hip hop.  Last month I wrote about the evolution of a down ass chick, and while an independent woman, like the “good girl” I discussed in the first installment, is in theory the antithesis of the stereotypical down ass chick, I think in a way she can be manipulated into another version of the DAC, riddled with contradictions about being desirable and unwanted at the same time.

I have always questioned the so-called odes to independent women.  When I taught a Women and Communication course at USF and we discussed the independent woman phenomenon black men overwhelmingly said they wanted an independent woman but they didn’t want her throwing it in their face (I would often tease them and ask if what they really wanted was an independent woman on the down low who was self-sufficient in private but needy in public–an adaptation of the lady in the streets, freak in the sheets meme). But their opinions, largely informed by patriarchy and hip hop, were consistent with what hegemony requires and what we were hearing on the radio at the time.  Patriarchy doesn’t allow for women to be truly independent, and hip hop doesn’t allow women to have much gender versatility.  So, the independent woman becomes an anomaly of sorts and can only be acceptable in hip hop, as a romantic option, if she imitates the down ass chick.   I have a theory… stay with me…

Let’s look at the music.

Destiny’s Child first penned a song about independent women in 2000.  Their theme was borrowed by Kelly Clarkson in 2005… and then a rapper and crooner caught on a few years later.  Webbie’s Independent came out in early 2008 and then Neyo’s version, which came out the latter part of that year, was so popular he offered two parts (the follow up She Got Her Own featured Jamie Foxx and Fabolous).

Something happens to the independent woman trope depending on who is behind the mic (or writing the lyrics).

For example, the original version, Independent Women by Destiny’s Child,  upset a lot of men.  The song lyrics paint the picture of an independent woman as cold and aloof, fully financially independent, and disinterested in men or relationships except for occasional sexual encounters.  This “independent woman” taunts men about how she doesn’t “need” them and they aren’t on her level.  This is the independent woman that pissed off my male students.  Essentially, this independent woman is alone because she deserves to be and supposedly wants to be.  She is the modern day Sapphire, emasculating men with every hard-earned dollar and stinging them with every harsh reminder that they are disposable, replaceable, and not needed.  Her vocality about her independence is a turn off.  She doesn’t play her position.  She is not “down” for the cause.

The Kelly Clarkson (I know, not hip hop, but go with me) version of Miss Independent is a woman who has been hurt so much and so bad that she doesn’t believe in love anymore so convinces herself that she doesn’t need a man…or love… but (in the white-washed version) is able to “get over” her temporary independence and find true love.  Note that this version isn’t about the limitations of men, but rather about the erratic nature of love.  This “independent (white) woman” is redeemable, innocent,  and only alone long enough to get over her heartache and defensiveness.

Webbie’s i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t woman “has her own house, car, and works two jobs.”  His version is a down ass chick in disguise because she is a “bad bitch” who he can brag to his friends about.  She is not classy, and is therefore not bourgeois, and doesn’t use her independence or success to intimate men, but rather to entice them.  She “never trip” because she is only interested in the relationship for sex.  She is preferable to a golddigger and instead provides money to her dude, but unlike the Destiny’s Child version she is not braggadocios (instead allowing her man to brag about her and what she does for him).  According to the song, she has a good job, doesn’t need his help with her bills, has good credit, has straight sex game, and “spoils him” (buying him gifts).  He, therefore, can’t be bothered with a woman with material or emotional needs (a fact that he brags about towards the end of the song).

Then there is Neyo’s Miss Independent, which he reportedly wrote as a tribute to his mother and grandmother.  In an interview he described the song saying, “This song is an ode to my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, and all the women all over the world like them – women that can do it themselves and make no apologies for who they are. They’re strong because they’re strong, love it or leave it.”

Neyo’s initial intention of Miss Independent was not a woman he was necessarily checking for, but rather one he appreciates and admires (which he says in the intro to the song).  So, even if Neyo & Jamie Foxx sing “there is nothing that’s more sexy than a girl who wants but don’t need me”—they are checking for models-turned-housewives, not Ph.D.s and supervisors.  And while I imagine that there are many men who deep down desire to be with a woman who puts them in the mind of their mama when they settle down, this is eerily similar to the good girl—DAC binary.  This version of the independent woman is the good girl that gets put on the backburner while the needy woman gets all of his attention and affection.

There are at least five things that the independent woman has in common with the original down ass chick:

1)      She loves and WANTS a black man (but doesn’t need him…except for sex)

2)      She makes her own money (&/or goes to school)

3)      She is fly

4)      She is put on a pedestal (albeit different pedestals and for different reasons)

5)      She is in competition with the other (DAC vs. IW)

So essentially I think there are versions of the independent woman, some of which challenge the DAC, some of which mimic the DAC.  I also think that when a woman defines herself as independent it is seen negatively, but when a man recognizes her as independent it is an asset.

Independent women get a bad rap.  Seems they are largely damned if they do, damned if they don’t.  They have needs but to articulate them out loud is emotionally dangerous.

Like Destiny’s Child says, “it ain’t easy being independent” especially since according to one of my homegirls, “men need to feel needed…”  Ultimately the men in my class agreed, saying they wanted to feel needed (like their girl can’t do without them) even if its bullish. (Fair enough, I think everyone, to a particular degree, needs/wants to feel needed/wanted).

Here are the questions of the day:  Do you think independent women are another version of a down ass chick?  If independent women don’t “need” a man for material things, how can they express emotional and physical needs without feeling vulnerable (a fear that oftentimes fuels their independence)?  And how can men in/and hip hop create a space that makes it safe for them to do so?

On Ashley Judd and the Politics of Citation

13 Apr

Ashley Judd holding a copy of her new book

A couple of folks were asking for a crunk response to Ashley Judd’s memoir passages and the resulting controversy. Judd is being called to task for singling out rap music as the “contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.” You can read her words here.

There are lots of responses that you can check out but I want to say something about the folks who defend Judd’s words with “Well, She has a point.”

Black women have been talking about (and back to) misogyny in hip-hop since it’s inception. Y’all remember Roxanne Shanté right?

It’s frustrating when all the work that black women have done to speak back to music that has particular, real world consequences in our lives is ommitted and unacknowledged. We’ve also done this talking back with an analysis of the systemic forces that make black men/rap music the scape goats for societal oppression of women. I know it’s a personal narrative, but can some hip-hop feminist foremothers get a shout out?

If we can all turn to the Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies, we’ll see that the first commandment reminds us to “know and cite” authors who have shaped the field of hip-hop feminism. This commandment doesn’t just apply to Judd but also to some of her defenders. If you are going to defend her position, can you cite the black women who have actually done work on the issue in scholarship, film, and action? The “she has a point” camp feels dismissive of decades of resistance and carefully crafted projects by hip-hop feminists and activists.

Rap music’s connection to rape culture and misogyny is real explicit. Its visible and repetitve invocations of gendered violence voiced by black and brown men make it an easy target. But by only focusing our attention there, we miss the larger picture of a white supremacist capitalist (hetero)patriarchal society that supports rap’s bad rap. It’s not a coincidence that we don’t know the names of the white men who sign the checks that rappers’ cash. Four major music labels account for almost 80% of the industry and not one CEO is a person of color (…and the white man get paid off of all of that).

The gendered violence that Judd experienced in her own life was not accompanied by thumping bass or autotune. To return to the commandments, if Judd had contextualized and situated her comments within her own lived reality, would rap music makes sense as the soundtrack to the misogyny she and the women closest to her have experienced or are experiencing?

CF Esha’s last three posts provide important context for how gendered violence is a social issue that goes so much deeper than music. She points to international military attacks by the U.S., national and state legislation, along with a moral cultural war that work in concert to oppress women, and women of color most specifically.

I am a big fan of holding rappers accountable for their misogyny. Trust. But I also want to push for white folks to hold each other accountable for the ways in which they perpetuate systems of oppression in culture writ large. I’m interested to read the whole book to see how she understands white culture’s impact on the way she experienced violence. She mentions the soundtrack but what about the movie itself?

*Update*

Ashley Judd Apologizes

Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies

9 Mar

This past weekend, the CFC attended the important Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference at UT San Antonio. We had a great time and  were reminded of all the wonderful possibilities in the field of Hip Hop (and) Feminist Studies, and we thought we would share a summary of our presentation and our thoughts on what can move the field forward. Thanks to  CFs Aisha, Susana, and Rachel for their contributions to this post.

  1. Know your history. – If you are going to engage in scholarship on Hip Hop and/or Feminism, know and cite the authors who have helped to shape the field—Joan Morgan, Gwendolyn Pough, Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, and others are a few good folks to start with. In the rush to incorporate the sexy theorists of the moment, don’t throw away important theorists like bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Anzaldua, Chela Sandoval and others in projects on Black and Brown feminisms. See a non-exhaustive, beginning bibliography here.
  2. Don’t Romanticize the Past. – There is no Hip Hop Eden. Resist the urge to act as though there has been a pure moment in Hip Hop where issues of misogyny, commercialism, opportunism have not been an issue.
  3. Positions—Know Yours/Take One. – Make sure as you are doing this work that you position yourself in relationship to the community. Recognize the need to acknowledge your race, gender, generational, and political positionalities. Be willing to take intellectual and creative risks, to question accepted orthodoxy.
  4. Contextualize and Situate. – Name the cultural, political, historical and scholarly contexts of your work and your arguments.  Make sure to articulate the key political and social issues that frame this moment. Other scholars pointed to the 70s and 80s as the era of deindustrialization, the defunding of arts programs in public schools, the war on drugs, etc. But this moment is very different. It is characterized by unparalleled conservative backlash, near total deregulation of media and corporations, outsourcing, the economic and political dominance of transnational corporations, battles over the meaning of American citizenship, the War on Terror,  the concretization of the prison industrial complex and massive economic downturn. These are the issues that have framed the creation of Hip Hop music and culture in the 21st century, and new analyses must be attuned to these issues specifically.
  5. Avoid the pitfalls of presentism.— You cannot have this moment for life. Do work that will last. Do not merely discuss those artists whose work is hot in the moment but will have no lasting value. Make sure that your line of inquiry ascertains the broader relevance of the subject matters you choose, so that the formulations you offer will remain relevant even if the example you choose does not.
  6. Embrace ambivalence. – Reject false binaries. For instance, the line between mainstream Hip Hop and underground Hip Hop is at best blurry.  Also reject formulations like the Madonna/Whore split when evaluating the contributions of women in rap music.
  7. Envision the possibilities. – Rather than merely deconstructing, Hip Hop scholars and feminists scholars alike, must ask “what kind of world are we creating or do we aim to create?” We must also ask new questions. Questions about misogyny in Hip Hop are fairly uncreative at this point. Projects should begin to address Hip Hop films, Hip Hop literature, Hip Hop fashion, Hip Hop and the arts, and Hip Hop’s epistemological relationships to other knowledge systems.
  8. Wield Technology.—Technological literacy is critical for scholarship, creativity and social movements. Open yourself to this world, and begin to ask questions about how the technological universe affects Hip Hop culture and feminist studies.
  9. Lived Realities Still Matter.—Scholarship must be accountable to the people. Hip Hop and Feminist scholarship must still be connected to movements for social change. Also, theory does not flow in one direction (i.e. from the top down.) In fact, scholarship needs to catch up to the culture, not the other way around.
  10. Recognize the Power of the Collective.Collective organizing draws on the best creative, political and          scholarly traditions of both Hip Hop and Feminism, and folks who actively move in these communities,       must both remember and recenter the power of the collective in doing scholarly, political, and creative work.

Holloween, The Mourning-After Poem

28 Oct

At a Halloween house party where I was one of two African American college students, I came to represent available, accessible sex. I was transformed from a sexual subject to object by the rap music and by the anonymous white guy who groped me. The rap music was so loud that I could not hear my soul yelling “No.” I felt hollow. I did nothing that night. I was consumed with rage. This is my mourning-after poem, my way of reconstructing and reclaiming that (body) part of me.


I still feel the echo,

My voice cursing

This drunken 6 ft. something

White man walking out

Of the door

After taking his

Football hand

To grab my ass from my

Rectum upward.

 

I came to the Halloween party with a halter

Spandex denim catsuit

Pretending

To be Foxy funked

Out in an afro wig and retro threads,

A black ghost

When I had my guts gored

By football hands

Thinking I was his

Foxy brown black whore.

 

I saw two blonde-haired twins in their

Pseudo-lesbian stance standing in

For the prostitute. Red-lipped Marilyn

Twisted through the crowd with a bottle of bubbly,

Her breasts bubbling over, her white skin

Blending in

With her white halter dress. I ad-

Dressed my Maryland

No-listen-to-hip-hop roommate why

She tagged her white tank a “wifebeater” without question, I asked her

What it meant

That her closest friends

Coming in as “Heaven” and “Hell” were free to take

Center-stage tag-teaming

Jeanie, Austin Powers and whiteman as himself

In a striptease dance

Which we all consumed,

Looked, laughed and frowned

Because we thought we were somehow not them. I wasn’t

Drunk, like them,

I sipped root beer.

I wasn’t high, like them,

I got off

From humming hip-hop in the corner

Screaming

From two speakers

From a homemade CD

The horror hostess called a “party mix” that I was mixed up in

‘Cause somehow drunken ass football hands

Who felt me up from the asshole up

Thought I was his real-life blaxploitation ho

From them 70s shows done over in them rap videos.

 

I walked in the house

Party with goddamn Madonna

In her ultra-mini, black lace tights, peek-a-boo tank

Surrounded by her

Entire blonde ambition, erotica entourage touring

All around me, but

Drunken ass football hands stationed right on top of me,

Right as

One of the number one raps raped me

In the background, I became (her)

Tone-deaf hearing

Nothing

But the curse

Words I could have said

If my blackness were not drowned

Out by all the white noise,

By drunken ass football hands

Walking up-

Right

Out the door

Hi-fiving his fratboylike buddies bragging

He finally got the opportunity

To fondle the foxy brown black whore

From his virtual

 

Reality.

 

An earlier version of this autoethnographic poem is featured in the journal, Qualitative Inquiry.

Sticks, Stones & Microphones

4 Oct

I can still hear a whisper (song). Arms oval. Neck curled. Hips sway to the familiar southern bass from a black (male) speaker rapping to me the dance floor.  Before I could face the voice coaxing me to move, he drops his hook—a line about a violent sexual fantasy, a common come-on echoed in hip hop club culture.  Still.  Arms raised, I am arrested by his lyrics likening sex to a beating. He wants to “blow my back out.” His lines are in step with other rap courters recounting sexual conquests by the penetrative acts of cutting, bussing, stabbing, screwing, hitting, pounding, smashing, thrashing, tapping, or slicing my body (into parts).  The hearty bass thump with the choreographed slow motion flutter from the strobe light stages a sensual seduction, or what he describes as “making love” in the club. But, love in this space is an illusion. It is a manufactured special effect similar to the one simulated by the strobe light.  It is this conversation between the flashing light and darkness, between bodies and sound, where I am swayed by a melody of misogyny.

Over the years, I have developed coping strategies to “manage misogyny.” In the past, I defiantly put an “X” in the air

Wayne and Drake perform at BET Awards

while walking off the dance floor, persuaded the deejay to play more woman-friendly songs, or created other words to replace the ones I could not bear to hear. Each year, I emotionally prepare myself to watch the BET or MTV awards. As a new crop of crooners emerged, I began listening to more R&B than rap to no avail.  The love songs don’t even love me. These days, I find myself storming out of clothing stores and restaurants, feeling accosted by the background sound taking over the physical and psychic space. I cannot turn off or tune out all of the car stereos, metro ads, or highway billboards where these images and words have become commonplace. Just how much hate can one woman tolerate?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I want to take time to reconsider the matter of words.  I want to think about the weight they carry in the everyday lives of black women.  More than a discussion about our love-hate relationship with popular culture, I want to take seriously the way misogyny impacts our relationships with menfolk and ourselves.  “Managing misogyny” has become an unwanted, collective group experience for women and girls of color from the hip hop generation(s). Language that humiliates, demonizes, objectifies and threatens is a form of violence.  It is verbal and emotional abuse accelerated and intensified by mass media technologies that make it so pervasive and systematic it is virtually inescapable. We know how language impacts our lives. We are witnessing how the state deploys labels such as terrorists, insurgents or enemy combatants to dehumanize (and kill without accountability). What about the words echoed by the black (male) speaker and transmitted by state-regulated media to dehumanize black women and girls? How does the language of hip hop sustain an environment conducive to our continued sexual and gender exploitation? Rap misogyny is verbal abuse.  Let’s name it. Let’s call it what it is because we’ve spent too many years feeling silenced by it.

Words hurt.

~ Aisha

This month, consider the language of popular hip hop music within the context of violence:

From the U.S. Department of Justice website: Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.

Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, biting, etc. Physical abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.
  • Economic Abuse: Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.
  • Psychological Abuse: Causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

Nicki’s World

26 Aug

As BET gets set to air its documentary about women and hip hop Monday, I am finding my 30-plus, old school feminist-self working hard to gear up to get down with the over-the-top, lyrically layered, brand savvy rapper that is Nicki Minaj.

The self-described Barbie is inescapable. She works every rap and R&B hook, and changes her looks to fashion what could be categorized as camp, cultural appropriation or classic sexual objectification.  Until Minaj, I’ve managed to safely maneuver around mainstream new millennium starlets because they offered no more than a cookie-cutter replica of the unique hip hop dynamism I remembered.  (See the links to artists below.) Likened to Lady Gaga for her eye-catching performances, this former theater student is adept at staging media spectacles, such as autographing breasts, adopting different voices, and orchestrating a coming-out tweet to squash rumors about her bisexuality for those who might have misread the Remy Ma viral video confession from her masculine persona, Roman, as Nicki Minaj. You can call the latter a cop-out or a capitulation to a commercial model that demands that all women perform hyperfemininity period. As I enter Nicki’s world (slowly and with caution), I am not only considering the ways she uses her body, but I am thinking of three ways her performances of race, gender and sexuality instigate a feminist engagement with the popular.

1.  Beauty and Postfeminism

Postfeminism advertises the sexy, smart, economically successful self-absorbed it-girl from a post-patriarchal world where politics are defined by “style wars” rather than issues of gender inequity. Here, beauty and postfeminism seem to be disconnected from critiques of consumerism, gendered labor, or political citizenship.  On the one hand, the look-good-feel-fine empowerment that Minaj offers feels as lifeless as the dolls she suggests every girl wants to be—you know, the nonspeaking, decorative, plastic bodies to be handled and watched. Then again, I can imagine her Barbie thang as her way of injecting a sense of beauty and wonderment for homegirls, like herself, who’ve had to create other worlds to escape the ugly one they lived every day. In either case, Minaj has managed to capture the attention of young women—hook, line and stiletto.

2. The Lady and The Freak

In what could be described as a post-Tip Drill moment where folks are “manning” the line to distinguish the ladies from the freaks, Nicki Minaj is not the only one who is creating personas to perform otherness. As Roman Zolanski she can express desire for another woman, and as Harajuku Barbie she can perform a sexualized Asian girlhood without damaging the central “brand” or image. Beyoncé is another celebrity with a freak persona. In big hair and tall heels, Sasha Fierce does Beyoncé’s “dirty work.” Both entertainers talk about a sense of freedom—which is almost always connected to sexual freedom.  Celebrity aside, ordinary young women on and off screen are crafting “real” and alternate/virtual identities as a response to the increased policing of their bodies through this hip hop binary. Rather than marking public/private bodies, young women like Minaj are now describing their “real” good bodies and their fake freakish ones. In our sincere efforts to “free the girls,” it is possible we might have caged our “real” sexual selves.

3. Camp, Celebration or Cultural Appropriation

From her Anime-inspired Vibe magazine cover, her Harajuku Barbie persona, to her recent music video, Your Love, where she plays a geisha girl (among others), Minaj reprises dated stereotypes about Asian women that suggest desirability comes in part from submissiveness or obedience.  Costuming conceals and reveals her body, and both frame her as the exotic; the hand gestures she does in separate scenes either to seduce her lover or to fight her foe are grafted from other forms of popular culture depicting Asianness. I can remember the debut of the Harajuku Girls shadowing Gwen Stefani at a music awards show. Then, folks flipped about a white woman co-opting Asian culture and parading other women (as objects of her imagination).  Yet, as Minaj mines the visual landscape to reinvent herself, her Afroasian encounters – whether camp, celebration, or cultural appropriation – remain unchallenged.

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