The “straight outta” social media frenzy surrounding the upcoming debut of “Straight Outta Compton” which will be released this Friday has stirred up a generous amount of healthy discussion. Not to anyone’s surprise, those conversations are being spearheaded by Black women. Black women are asking the necessary questions in order to critique imperative aspects of our once, and from the looks of it, still beloved “gangsta rap” culture. Without an in-depth analysis on such a topic how can we expect to bring about the necessary change to promote productive growth, both in our minds and our communities? It is important to note, that by celebrating N.W.A we are also celebrating their lyrics, which extend FAR beyond “Fuck The Police”. They encompass such lyrics as, “Dumb hoe says something stupid that made me mad/ She said somethin that I couldn’t believe/ So I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy ass weave/ She started talkin shit, wouldn’t you know?/Reached back like a pimp and slapped the hoe/Her father jumped out and he started to shout so I threw a right-cross cold knocked him out.”
It disheartened me to see the very same Black men who have been consistently preaching about uplifting Black Kings and Queens, while parading around in their cloaks of consciousness, upload and promote their “straight outta” branded photos. Perhaps it is time to take a step back and understand the messages we are promoting by branding ourselves as “straight outta” our respective hometowns. Much like the messages the white man sends to our children and communities with his selective story of our history, what messages are WE sending by promoting THIS type of message as opposed to all of the other positive messages in music we could be endorsing? One could easily argue that we are doing the white man’s job of destroying our communities and families for him. How does “So what about the bitch that got shot, fuck her, you think I give a damn about a bitch, I’m not a sucker” promote unity, respect for black women or black humanity? As we continue to grow as a people and organize as a community, standing against these types of messages should be included in that growth.
We must ask ourselves, do we want “Compton” included in our oral tradition? Is this the story we want our children and future generations to read and learn from? How will we come to explain, that at during this very wave of “Black Enlightenment” our endorsement of “Straight Outta Compton” was merely an endorsement of Black economics? That is an irresponsible excuse for not holding our communities to the very standards upon which we want others to hold them to.
I too have faulted, and have realized my stumbling, but that only came through self-actualization and after months of harsh self-criticism. I loved myself enough to change the things about who I was in order to fully accept me as a person; I love music enough to do the same. I shouldn’t have to decide which aspect of the Black culture I want to support. Black culture should be all-inclusive of everything that is altruistic, loving and humane. I should no longer have to shield my child from the ugliness embodied in mainstream and commercialized hip-hop/rap.
If we are to overthrow the oppressive forces of white supremacy we must also overthrow the oppressive forces of gangsta rap, that deem it not only acceptable but honorable to demean women, our people, our communities and life in general. It is no longer acceptable to choose when our women are to be upheld as Queens (in an attempt to counter the negative images of Black women by white media) yet deem it acceptable when we are doing the same. Does black consciousness end where black profit begins? We must be more responsible with our money, and that means keeping it out of racist establishments as much as it means keeping it out of the hands of women beaters and misogynistic artists who promote the killing and rape of black women in our communities.
As I critique all aspects of the world it is imperative that I do the same within my own culture as well. It is not fair to artists such as Yusha Assad and Real Talk Raps, of whom I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak at last year’s Hip-Hop conference at my alma mater Hampton University. These are just two examples of artists who are putting the message back into music and not compromising the integrity of our women or communities. At that very same conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with author and artist Jeff Weaver. His book “5/5 No Compromise” with an introduction by Freedom Williams, who was also in attendance at the Hip-Hop Conference, offers an enlightening insight into the obstacles that hip-hop/rap artists must overcome in order to fully serve the people. Referring to music from a spiritual standpoint, Weaver writes, “However, it is the manner in which the artist and producer paints the picture and fires the musical torch that sculpts the portrait that makes the difference. The obsession with the ‘creations’ of God change the spiritual direction of the message of the song. Attracting malignant energy to the ‘host’ artist/producer and opening doors to spiritual and soul prostitution. Thereby causing what I refer to as ‘spiricide’ or a self-inflicted spiritual death.” During the age of Black Enlightenment are we to continue what Weaver refers to as “spiricide?” Are we prepared to “consciously” kill our spirit and prostitute our souls to support music that we KNOW does not align with our journeys as Enlightened Black Women and Men? In “5/5 No Compromise,” Weaver goes on to further discuss the lack of understanding artists have in the sacredness of their power of speech or their ase, he writes, “Unfortunately, the same applies to most rap artists and MCs who lack understanding of what they are doing in the context of their ancestral history, despite how well they do it by the standards of American Pop culture. Like bastard children-in this case, raised and abandoned in the culture of their captor father Uncle Sam-they demonstrate the inherent genetic traits of the mother (Africa) they have never mer, but have been taught to despise. Hip hop exemplifies the bold, aggressive combativeness of American-driven Western culture, while simultaneously embodying the spiritually compelling, magnetic and irresistible creative expression of traditional African culture.”
I’ve seen quite a number of images of Malcolm X being brandished over social media in response to police brutality and realized oppression. I hope we have not forgotten the journey Malcolm Little took to become Malcolm X; we owe it to him and others to break free from our shackles of oppression, even when that oppression comes in the form of entertainment and from our “brothers and sisters.” Shouldn’t we use art as a means to not only reflect our reality but to bring forth positive and impactful change? In “When I Die” Nikki Giovanni writes, “Do somebody please tell him i knew all along that what would be is what will be / but i wanted to be a new person and my rebirth was stifled not by the master but the slave.” Let us take this time and ask ourselves: “Does consciousness end when gangsta rap begins?”