On most days, mainstream Hip Hop is a place that makes me grimace and shake my head derisively (at the exact same time that my hips begin to gyrate and my ass demands to follow the pull of gravity.)
It’s Du Bois remixed for a new era: this inherent two-ness that Hip Hop engenders. If you’re a Hip Hop (Generation) feminist or even just a Hip Hop Head – which means at base that you listen brain first, then you understand the duality/the duplicity of the encounter, music with beats so good, and words so bad (by bad, I mean bad, not bad as in good #peacetoMJ) that you are left with an amplified sense of being “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
But we stay trying to stay (put) together in this place of (un)enviable contradictions. Ever confronting our need for mutuality in a place that seemingly only begets duplicity.
Lupe Fiasco’s latest joint “BitchBad,” offers some hope, that there can be a cross-gender and cross-generational dialogue about the misogyny in the music. (You should probably listen more than once.)
In it, he masterfully weaves a story of two young people – a young boy fast becoming a man, who has gleaned his understandings of womanhood from watching his mother – a self-proclaimed “bad bitch” reveling in her ability to do for herself and her son – and a young girl, “malleable…unmentored” perhaps too quickly on her way to being grown (or thinking she is) caught up in fanciful, video-chick informed ideas of what it means to be a bad bitch.
Inevitably, the two meet.
“And he thinks she a bad bitch…and she thinks she a bad bitch/ he thinks this (dis) respectfully and she thinks of this sexually/ she got the wrong idea/ he don’t wanna fuck her/ he thinks she bad and a bitch like his mother.”
This, Lupe, let’s us know is “the fruit of the confusion.”
Thus the refrain that he hopes will bring clarity:
“Bitch Bad. Woman Good. Lady Better.”
Two warring ideals…
When it comes to contemporary womanhood, the trajectories of who we can and should be are not so easily summed up in these facile superlatives –good, better, best.
I’m not sure I aspire to ladyhood, or that my future daughter should either.
So there is that. Then there is the fact that the word bitch moved into regular rotation in my lexicon after I became a feminist. Not before.
There is also my troubled sense that for all Lupe’s trying and despite the sincerity and potential truths of his critique, it is Black women and girls who come off as the villains and not the victims here.
(Yet, we can’t seem to talk gender politics in Hip Hop without a villains and victims narrative, and that will probably persist until we realize how infrequently such narratives beget victors.)
The young man in the song gets his confusion from watching his mother uncritically sing along to the copious “Bad Bitch” anthems of our times. The young woman gets her questionable ideas about Black womanhood from paying more attention to the willing video vixens than the rappers who pay them.
In the end, the boy has a grip on “reality,” while the girl is “caught in an illusion.”
The root of the problem becomes in Lupe’s estimation, gender role confusion, wrought by Black women’s failure to parent their sons and mentor their daughters more proactively.
“Mama never dressed like that/come out the house hot mess like that/ass, titties, dressed like that/all out to impress like that.”
To be sure, disrespectability politics reign in Hip Hop. And we have left Hip Hop’s youngest generation struggling to find their way to freedom and each other, with only the narrowest of labyrinthine paths, carved out in a desert of landmines.
In these kinds of conditions, superlatives are easy.
Bitch bad. Woman good. Lady better.
I want respect. Hell, I command respect. But I don’t want to return to respectability politics. The distinction is important. Respectability politics might seem better in the short run, but in the long run they aren’t best.We can place a high value on receiving and giving respect in our interpersonal interactions, without falling into the trap of believing that changing our behaviors will have the power to transform a system that actively works against us. We become accountable for changing shit we didn’t cause. And in the process we lose sight of those who have more power to change things than we do.
Men have some power. They are not hapless victims of less-than-thoughtful mothers and confused, non-self-respecting schoolgirls. As corporations go, male rappers are Davids fighting Goliaths. But at least David saw himself as having a stake in the fight.
Clearly, so does Lupe. And in that regard, what he has done (at least in terms of the music) is summarily GOOD. There is confusion. We are all complicit. Yet, despite all the bad, at the microlevel, in our everday interactions with those under our tutelage, we can do better. Much better. Thanks to Lupe for the reminder.
Now weigh in:
What do you think of the song?
Does it elevate gender discourse in Hip Hop?
Does his attempt to invert/subvert the Bad Bitch meme in Hip Hop work?
How do we navigate our way out of the endless maze of confusion?