The personal has always been political for us as Black women. A few years ago, when then Essence Editor-in-Chief Diane Weathers came up with the idea of the Take Back the Music campaign, it was an outgrowth of what she was hearing from readers, as well as what she had heard of her own teenage daughter’s music. The TBTM campaign focuses on the negative images of Black women in some hip-hop music and the impact these images have on our community.
Recently my 7-year-old came home from school and wanted to show me a new dance he had learned. He then proceeded to break into the Soulja Boy. I was horrified that my considerate little boy with the bright smile and laughing eyes was imitating something so vile. Where did this come from? My husband and I don’t allow him or his 8-year-old brother to watch music videos. We monitor the music in the car and on our older son’s iPod nano. I was surprised to hear he had learned this dance from his friends at school. Unable to explain to him why it was inappropriate for him to sing the lyrics to this degrading song, I adopted the old parental standby, “Because I said so.” A cop-out, yes, but I don’t think you try to explain to a 7-year-old why someone would write a song about boys ejaculating on girls.
Unfortunately, examples of such disrespect are everywhere. Six teenagers sitting in front of me on a crowded New Jersey train one night loudly recounted this song’s sexually graphic lyrics, while a popular comedian at an awards show joked that he wanted to see a prominent female politician do the Soulja Boy dance. What’s going on? As someone who grew up on hip-hop and still has the ticket stub from her first rap concert, with Run-DMC, I’m pained by this phase we’ve entered. The groundbreaking and revolutionary pump-your-fist sound track for Black folks that hip-hop once provided is no more. I know there are some in our community who accept the excuse a few rappers have used: They weren’t taught any better and what they’re producing is just a reflection of what they’ve grown up seeing. As excuses go, it’s soulless, simplistic and, quite frankly, sad.
But perhaps the “money, hos, all a brotha knows” mentality will soon run its course. According to The New York Times, hip-hop sales fell 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and the trend seems to be continuing. More and more people appear to be fed up. Grassroots organizations are lodging protests around the country to hold corporations accountable for the negative and stereotypical images of Black women and men in music and videos. Bloggers are posting insightful commentary on their sites and holding passionate radio roundtables to debate the issue of misogyny in music. And Essence is cosponsoring its third annual Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest with the Berklee College of Music, which aims to give positive music and artists a platform where they can be heard—go to Essence.com/takebackthemusic for details. Perhaps, together, we will finally take back our music. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you think about the state of hip-hop and what you’re listening to these days.