Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jay-Z & Tyler Perry--More In Common Than Realized

You know I thug 'em, fuck 'em, love 'em, leave 'em
Cause I don't fuckin' need 'em
Take 'em out the hood
Keep 'em looking good
But I don't fuckin' feed em
First time they fuss I'm breezin'
Talking 'bout what's the reasons
I'm a pimp in every sense of the word, bitch
Better trust and believe 'em
In a cut where I keep 'em
'Til I need a nut
'Til I need to be (in) the guts
The it's beep-beep and I'm pickin 'em up
Let 'em play with the dick in the truck
Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist incuffs
Divorce him and split his bucks
Just because you got good head
I'mma break bread
So you can be livin' it up
Shit I part's wit nothin
Y'all be frontin'
Me give my heart to a woman
Not for nothin' never happen'
I'll be forever mackin'
Heart cold as assassins, I got no passion
I got no patience and I hate waitin'
Hoe get your ass in


The offending litany of  words that I've posted above is from Jay-Z's classic song "Big Pimpin" that was way popular in the late 90's when it came out. I remember this song clearly. I was in my early to mid 20's, about to finish graduate school (I got my MA in 2000) and was a Resident Director at an urban university in Baltimore. Childless, I was already, by this time, fairly done with the radio, always pissed that when I turned it on, there was, yet another song that offended my sensibilities as a self-loving female. The song above was one of the top sellers when it came out so that meant it was played on the radio at least 100 times a day. And, even though the radio and video versions had most of the profanity bleeped out, you still had a clue what was being said. Despite its infectious beats and Jay-Z's mesmerizing vocals (yes, I'm being a bit sarcastic), I managed to avoid becoming a slave to rhythm and allowing it to marinate in my airwaves. I turned it off whenever I had the power of the dial. But, my early censoring of Jay-Z is really not the point or topic of this post. My point in even reminiscing about the song came up after reading an interview in which Jay-Z regretted the words he used in the song "Big Pimpin" after he was taking a look back at the lyrics of some of his past successful albums. Here's an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal interview:

WSJ: You're famous for not writing your lyrics down as you compose them. What changes about them when you see them on the page like this?
Jay-Z: Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not "Big Pimpin." That's the exception. It was like, I can't believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.

Harsh? Huh, to say the least. But, I guess, one can say that Jay-Z was feeding into what was the norm and has continued to be the norm of much of music on urban radio. If a woman is not defiled by being called every negative name one can imagine, then the song becomes an ode to the great sex she provides or how great her ass looks in the club while she's dancing. But, my attitude towards Jay-Z with this admission that he is bothered by his own lyrics when looking back is one of anger when I think of how much he has capitalized off of the music that contains lyrics and sentiment such as this.

It's all great and well Jay-Z that you NOW realize that the lyrics were terrible and offensive, but look at the money, attention and fame that you've garnered from such sentiment. Look at all the mini pimps you validated by this type of song and how in record time, you popularized the word pimp as being something not just boys, but little girls, aspired to be in their own little sphere of the world.

You did all that Jay-Z, I would shout if he were in front of me. But then, of course, I would step off of my soap box and realize that it's necessary to put a pause on it for a second.

For, yes, while Jay-Z has amassed an incredible fortune, one that makes him worthy enough in the first place to be interviewed by Wall Street Journal, he didn't do that by praying for pennies and nickels to drop from the sky. He had an audience to support him, pay for his music and support his musical agenda to become the legendary rapper that he is. There are men AND women who have been willing to look past his lyrics and focus on other things that impress them-- from his uncanny freestyle flow to his clever use of language that has not been replicated since he's emerged onto the scene. Jay-Z could rap about hoes and bitches and 99 problems that don't entail having to be a responsible and loving partner to a woman, just as long as he looked cool and sounded cool doing. Just as long as folks emulated and wanted to be him and bought his records, then he was a win all day.

Jay-Z's fame has not been accidental. He sold us the pimp game and we bought it time and time again. And, we still buy into it, because, shoot, look where its taken him. He owns corporations, makes deals with Microsoft and,  married Beyonce.  To be real, it was probably more risky for him to admit publicly that he had a problem with his own lyrics from the song "Big Pimpin" then it was to even create, perform and promote the song in the first place. But on that same note, while Jay-Z only makes a personal remark on how animalistic ONE song of his is/was, he's not out trying to promote a peace concert, fund a school or camp for girls and self-esteem or any other thing that would appear counter-active to the misogynistic music he's flooded the market with.

So, when we look at someone like Tyler Perry, what do we see that is so different? While Perry is a filmmaker and not a rapper, an actor and not necessarily a lyricist, his past work has been viewed by some with contempt (like Jay-Z) but largely accepted, earning Perry millions at the box office. His career was born from his stage plays that revolve around the drag character Madea who is a foul-mouthed, unattractive and over -the-top stereotype of Black women. Despite cries over the offense of it all, folks be flocking to see Perry's movies. He's ousted Spike Lee as the most financially successful Black filmmaker. But, what are the films he makes? Well, it's up for debate. Some call them Jesus flicks-- a plot that exists only to have main characters talk about Jesus and how He saved them. Some call them warped depictions of Perry's own personal demons, particularly the storylines that revolve around the male abuser and docile woman victim. But, it's his latest film project For Colored Girls, based on Ntzoke Shange's 1974 choreopoem has been met with criticism, and with ire. "Stay in your lane", the most conscious and socially astute of us yell with a certain sheen of elitism on the surface, yet, the reality (and irony) is that the lane he wants to move from is the lane that is paying the most money.

Kevin Powell speaks of this regarding Tyler Perry and his production of For Colored Girls in an eye-opening way that is bound to open minds of even the most hardened critic of Perry. He writes:
That is the challenge for Mr. Tyler Perry, as "For Colored Girls" continues to make money and continues to be both debated and disparaged. That is, can Tyler Perry-or will Tyler Perry-strive and struggle to transform the one-man economy his films have manifested, and use his voice, and his power, to push the envelope to make films, Black films, that not only show the vast complexities of the Black experience in America, and on this planet, but to also be spaces, simply by virtue of the genius of the work he produces and endorses for others, that can be healing circles for as many of us as possible?

That's a perfect question that I would also direct to Jay-Z as well. As he comes out with his new book that drops next week, how much of it will share with us how he hopes to transcend and right the very negative energy he perpetuated early in his career and create healing spaces for the very people his music denigrated? Is that even a goal of his as he continues to earn big and live richly off of a legacy borne from misogny? We'll see. But, to be frank, until that happens I probably won't be supporting anything financially that he does, continuing a trend that has been ongoing since the late 90's. I'll also try my best to monitor (and control) my daughter's radio habits, making sure that music like Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin" and its abundant clones don't make it in to her airwaves. Knowing that, in all realness, though, I'm sure he could give a damn.

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