Just so we’re clear and nobody gets things twisted, I’m a fan of Positive K. I’ve had a copy of “The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills” since childhood, and I really need to get around to reviewing it for a Back to the Lab feature. Those aforementioned “Skills” of his are often slept on due largely to the fact that his single “I Got a Man” blew up far beyond anyone’s expectations – a sequel as it were to the minor hit “I’m Not Havin’ It” that he dropped with MC Lyte on First Priority Music.
The single had a whole lot of things going for it, starting with what was for me a very familiar sample from Freedom’s “Get Up and Dance.” This same break was used to great effect on BDP’s “You Must Learn (Live From Caucus Mountains Remix)” but goes back much further than that to “Freedom” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which subsequently found its way into the Grandmaster Flash showcase song “Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.”
The latter ended up on the first rap tape I ever owned – a “Breakdance” compilation with a foldout sheet of how to do various b-boy moves. The “Freedom” break has seemingly been chasing me my whole life, and by the time Positive K blessed the opening of his male-female relational rap over with it, there was almost no way I could hate the track. The core backbone to K’s track isn’t “Freedom” though – it’s A Taste of Honey’s “Rescue Me.”
It’s a genius effort of hip-hop sampling and layering, as “Freedom” and “Rescue Me” are just two of the six different songs on record as being layered into the self-produced “I Got a Man.” Positive K created a track that stands the test of time as a hip-hop single, even though it earned him the unfortunate and somewhat undeserved moniker of a “one hit wonder” given he was never able to duplicate the single’s monster success. If you’ve got to have “one hit” though, this is the one you’d want it to be.
One thing I took for granted then (and which most heads still do now) is how male dominated hip-hop music and culture tend to be – to the point that rappers like Too $hort (who for the record I’m still a fan of as well) can liberally toss around the word “bitch” without any fear of reprisal. On those rare occasions when the misogynistic language prevalent in hip-hop is brought into question by fans or scholars, it’s routinely explained away that “not all women are bitches” and that “if you don’t act like a bitch then the word ain’t referring to you.”
As a young proponent of hip-hop who felt like the music and culture were being persecuted by right wing Republican d-bags, I far too easily went along with these explanations, rarely considering the fact rap culture could be condescending to females in general. Mainstream female emcees like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah were in the minority, and when somebody new came along (I heard this all the time in college) the heads would say shit like “she’s good for a girl.” To this day the ratio of successful female rappers to male ones is outrageously out of balance. Other than Rapsody who has come along in recent years to rave reviews? Women are 50% of the population, but they certainly aren’t 50% of the music that’s made or marketed, and I can’t accept that’s due to a lack of interest by the female population. Go to any rap concert and there are plenty of women in the crowd, and I don’t mean “groupies” or “hoes,” I mean FANS who know the songs word for word and bob their heads to the beat just like the men.
If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Positive K, get ready for the big reveal. I’ve long accepted “I Got a Man” as a hip-hop classic without doing much critical thinking about it, but as times change and culture changes, I’ve started to re-examine what the song is saying about the male patriarchy and it’s not a good look. On paper it’s a classic “battle of the sexes” rap where the female protagonist holds her own by dissing and dismissing Positive K’s advances, but the problem is that Positive K doesn’t simply take no for an answer. I realize that wouldn’t make for much of a song, but I’ve done the math and calculated how many times Positive K is turned down in the song – it’s kind of shocking:
THIRTY-ONE TIMES OVER 3 MINUTES AND 52 SECONDS for an average of ONE REJECTION EVERY 7.5 SECONDS.
In the context of the song’s give-and-take that might seem cute, but if any guy at a bar or a nightclub was that persistent, a woman could reasonably expect to tell a bouncer that she was being harassed and that the advances are unwelcome – so throw his punk ass OUT. The phrase “I(‘ve) got a man” should in and of itself be enough to rebuff a suitor – and she uses that phrase alone 18 times (on average once every 13 seconds). Positive K’s message in the song suddenly takes on a more menacing tone – if a pretty lady says no, keep on bothering her trying to get her to change her mind, even though you’re clearly in the wrong and sexually harassing her. I doubt any of us had thought about the song in these terms before, but Positive K’s behavior really isn’t so “positive” after all.
I can already hear the rebuttal that I’m expecting, that I’ve been “brainwashed by feminazis” or that I’m “taking one song too seriously.” If that’s the best you can do I’d politely advise you not to waste your time. I still like Positive K, and I still like the song, but what I’m getting at in this editorial is how easy it is to accept “bad boy behavior” in hip-hop music when the vast majority of people who are making it, producing it or distributing it also happen to be men. Do we ever stop to question why the word “bitch” needs no apology or explanation? It’s because that’s how men talk to each other informally. “Man I can’t stand that bitch” is par for the course whether in a bar, a club, a skit or a song. If you’ve incorporated and accepted the male patriarchy of society into your life and walk around in that world oblivious to the detrimental way it effects things, it doesn’t seem incorrect to act or think that way. To be clear hip-hop is most certainly NOT to blame for it. It’s a culture-wide value that needs to change.
The bottom line is “NO ALWAYS MEANS NO” whether it’s flirting or sex. If a woman says “NO” or that she’s “got a man” then don’t keep asking “What’s that got to do with me?” Your advances are unwelcome. That goes out to all genders, all encounters, all creeds and all religions. Gay guy, gay bar, not interested, move on. Transgendered? Doesn’t matter if you’re confused, they’re not – “no” is still “no.” The song is cute but the value set behind it needs closer examination. No is never “maybe I’ll reconsider later” – it’s the literal opposite of yes. Take no for no and move on.
Positive K: “There’s a lot of girls out there who won’t say no.”
Good. Talk to one of them instead. She’s not havin’ it.