So, seeing as how I’m new to this editorial thang, I figured that I’d kick it off with something that’s been on my mind very recently: male privilege in Hip-Hop. I know that this topic has received more coverage than an Amish teenager lately (think about it…it makes sense when you think about it…), especially in light of Byron Hurt’s EXCELLENT documentary Beyond Beats & Rhymes, and (more recently) former Source editor-in-chief Kim Osorio’s book Straight From the Source: An Expose from the Former Editor in Chief of the Hip-Hop Bible. However, I feel like the conversation has been merely looked at as a way for underground Hip-Hop heads/artists to wag their finger at the mainstream while trying to cover up their own hypocrisy regarding the subjects of misogyny and female objectification.
Consider, if you will, Jeru the Damaja. Not only did he–in my opinion–provide one of the best voices for DJ Premier’s incredible musical output in the mid-’90s, but he also had a very unique intellectual approach to his rhymes. Peep his verse on one of the greatest collabo tracks of all time (alongside O.C. and Chubb Rock), “The Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers”:
“Listen cause for your mind I got the right nutrition
We keeps it hard like fat asses and cases of Heineken
Here in Brooklyn, home of the warrior and villain
Trife type chicks Top Billin’s, the anthem
Rastas smoke marijuana
Enterprising businessmen shoot dice on the corner
Excuse me while I light my spliff but some choose to sip
So bullets hit brains, when bottles hit lips
Clips whatever happend to 38 special
Now it’s Desert Eagles, government issue
Probably the same one that killed Noriega
Chips that powered nuclear bombs, power my Sega
Subliminal hypnotism and colonialism
leaves most niggaz dead or in prison
In Crook-land, right hand cuts off the left hand
to spite the hand, jealous of the next man
So violent crimes, black on black plus mad crack to boot
Everybody can’t rap, so most hustle and shoot
Make money money, get money take money
I can’t understand that concept cause Jah rules everything around me
Fire burns the unjust like arson larsony
melt MC’s with mental telepathy
With precision, we’re slicin and dicin
Peace to the East New York, Perverted Monks, and Mike Tyson”
Ill, right? Jeru definitely has mad skills, and I respect him a whole lot for dropping as many jewels as he does. He paints a terrific picture of his surroundings and his first couple of albums (The Sun Rises in the East and Wrath of the Math) are often mentioned on many a list as two of the greatest rap records ever made.
Aiight…now that I’ve given the man his props, it’s time for a reality check. Take a look at his verse off of Math’s “Ya Playin’ Yaself”:
“Now these ladies is lookin pretty from city to city
I refined a few I met, around the country
The nitty gritty, it’s all reality, no question
Actual fact like tight jeans cause yeast infections
And sisters with good minds, get no respect when
Their ass is all hangin out, playin the bar section
of the club shake what your mama gave ya, back to the lab
I drop the truth, cause rhyming is more than just my craft
Or a way to get ass, or fast cash, or blasted
Black women, make sure you’re respected
When niggaz is kickin that old off the wall shit, let em know
from jump: “Dead it”, you’re not ignorant
Knowledge wisdom understanding is the key to wealth
Put some clothes on that ass if you respect yourself”
Now, it’s pretty clear that Jeru is out to try and save the ladies here. However, he’s going about it in the wrong way–instead of possibly exploring WHY these women dress the way that they do (i.e. media influence, pressure from a significant other to do so, pressure from men IN GENERAL to do so, etc.), he all but calls ’em hoes. He doesn’t really attack men for treating women disrespectfully (with the exception of the twelfth and thirteenth lines…but even then he puts it on the women to play ’em off). That’s the problem: Jeru’s male privilege is kind of blinding when it comes to issues like this. While there is some personal responsibility with the way that women dress, it CERTAINLY doesn’t give men cause to attack them under the guise of “dropping knowledge.”
That shit’s just FOUL. At least the so-called “mainstream” and “commercial” rap acts are honest about how they feel about women. To be betrayed by more intellectual emcees is even worse. It’s like having two friends who like to gossip: you’re always gonna prefer the one who says out-of-line ish to your face–then at least you know that they were real with you.
But when the one that you thought was your homie, the one who you were down to RIDE for, starts saying a whole bunch of grimey thangs about you behind your back? That’s the biggest letdown of all.
Don’t get it twisted, though–I ain’t putting this ALL on Jeru. Yours truly has used the same exact reasoning in the past to explain away all of my chauvinism as just trying to “save” women, and pretty much EVERY underground/golden age Hip-Hop head uses this rationale to rail against mainstream rappers. But it’s just as present in backpack rap as it is in snap-hop.
The danger of such trains of thought is that it’s in line with folks whose judgment of women often supplies a blind spot for the men who don’t want anyone to look at their OWN treatment of women. Telling a woman to cover herself up more in order to “respect herself” is very similar to the husband who hits his wife and tells her that it’s for her own good: men cannot decide what is “right” and “wrong” for women to do–we’ve been doing that for centuries. The only people who can decide that ARE women. So let ’em breathe, jo…and quit playin’ YASELF for thinking that you’re doing them any favors by missing their minds for their clothes.