Daniella Maison is the edgy, unswerving, soulful writer been best known for her series of poetry publications since her astonishing poetical debut in 2000. A young Masters graduate, Maison currently works as a freelance writer and part time music promoter, and is set to make an impact within the local and wider community, she comments:
‘James Baldwin once said ‘The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in’ this was at the genesis and remains at the essence of what I endeavour to achieve through writing’.
Maison is currently Editor of Research for The African Academy (theafricanacademy.blogspot.com) and is preparing for an upcoming ‘Maison & Maison’ exhibition entitled ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker’ which will unveil a much anticipated collaborative exhibition between herself and photographer Joshua Maison (joshuamaison.com).
The formidable Lee Jasper recently said of the black community in relation to commercial hip-hop,
‘We have a culture of producing radical progressive social commentary through our music. We need to promote such a culture to counter the overwhelming negative influence of the dominant culture of greed, materialism, masochistic narcissism that has come of late to represent our music.’
It is my belief that we can only achieve this through the realisation that commercial hip-hop is a detriment to the very soul of our global community. In this series, ‘Commercial Hip-hop’s slaughter of a community’ I hope to inspire the dialogue that preludes this realisation. As a young woman of colour, I feel It necessary to begin by firstly looking at the industry’s dictatorial agenda to misrepresent women. Misogyny, violence, and self-hatred have been aggressively promoted and almost universally accepted. We have the power to organize the chaos around us, regardless of age or background, through pedagogical debate and progressive awareness. And so I ask only this, that you, the audience, examine the first episode of this series with an open mind, an open heart, and a collective approach, it is time we stopped leaving the future and awareness of our youth in the hands of the modern media industry and mere chance. Garvey taught us that ‘Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people’, and it is time we now demand our hopes for a positive representation in modern media are fulfilled.
PART 1: The slaughter of the Black Woman: No longer recognising ourselves among the rubble.
If the complex, gritty world of commercial hip-hop is a battlefield, then women are the targeted casualties. Smutted and exploited in the darkest sense of the words, our purpose and dignity have been abandoned by the wayside like the bloody corpses of collateral damage, in exchange for male domination, glory and self-veneration. The trouble is that, as black women, we no longer recognise ourselves among the carnage.
A wise man once said that our respective communities (on local and global scales) are healthiest when they function as mirrors to our personal beings. If this is the case, and our mirror neurons are intact, every child on the news is our own; and we would in turn make progress through sanguine acts of familial responsibility and futurism. If I made a personal choice to perceive the world in this vein, then day after day I’d watch myself exploited, dehumanized and humiliated publicly by the bloodthirsty popular domain of commercial hip-hop. And yet it continues.
If commercial hip-hop is anything to go by, then I, as a modern black woman, am a usable object, no better than an animal. With this as a yardstick, I possibly have three basic carnal dimensions. The first being my primary function as a sex object. Secondly, my need to be violently kept ‘in line’ and third, (and ultimately a bi-product of ignoring the second) is that as a daughter of Eve and thus inherently deviant, I will, in due course lie, manipulate and deceive adeptly. I know this because modern commercial rap artists tell me so. My many names, ‘ho’ ‘bitch’ and ‘trick’ are virtually lit up in neon lights on MTV base everyday to ensure I never forget.
This is propaganda that has been perpetuated through art forms (and namely by the white patriarchal church agenda) ever since Eve first made her alleged bloomer. Medieval churches eagerly responded to calls such as Conrad Marchtal’s demand that all women (recognizing that the innate ‘wickedness of women is greater than all the other wickedness of the world’) be banned from churches in order to ‘save souls’. Artists responded to biblical interpretations by presenting women as naked, sinful, tempting floozies. Indeed, this has changed. Now, we no longer need the white patriarchal agenda to force feed us tales of our alleged inadequacy; our own ‘brothers’ will do it for us for the quick gain of a healthy paycheque. The exploitation of the black woman is a moneymaking business and we, in the midst of precision marketing as old as time, and have gone so far as to become the very consumers of our personal downfall.
I once watched a young Somalian child play the action computer game ‘Black Hawk Down’ in an Internet café in Harlesden with enough aggressive fervour to be an American militant. This game was based on the hugely successful movie (heavily tipped for the Oscars), which offered us a hideously bogus Hollywood account of the US armed forces endeavour to fulfil a humanitarian mission. The movie focuses on the fact that in 1993, 18 (allegedly irreproachable) US rangers lost their lives in the process of trying bravely to alleviate famine. The problem? The problem is that the movie conveniently neglected to recall the truth. The truth was that the Americans left behind horrific statistics in their patriotic wake: namely 6-10,000 Somali casualties two-thirds of who were innocent women and children. In a Hollywood bid to erase the holocaust the Americans inflicted on the starving Africans, the distortion of the truth was executed with meticulousness. Such meticulousness infact that I was able to watch a 10 year old Somalian boy ardently playing a game in which he was a member of the American Delta force: his mission? To ‘kill everyone.’ His only obstacle? African civilians can only be killed at brutal close range. One reviewer reported, ‘not even a head shot takes them down straight away’. As he pressed buttons that shot guns, threw grenades and used explosives in 3D exuberance, he didn’t recognise himself among the black skinned and weaponless victims staring back at him through his first person shooter lens (created for a more ‘authentic’ effect) as he fired two or three shots into their temples. We no longer recognise ourselves amongst bloody carnage. The propagandist media tool is far too effective.
Each time I begin this debate, I’m met with the answer ‘but it’s only entertainment’. If ever Satan sewed a more successful web of deceit it was the one he sewed through entertainment. There has always been an audience for entertainment, which exploits entire genders or races, and this has never once made it any less exploitative. The film Zulu made blockbusting box office success and was, virtually fraudulently, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of black people all over the world. A male Caribbean member of my own family once sat to watch the film with me, delighted when the cast maintained their ‘bravery’ even in insuperable odds. Unfortunately ‘bravery’ in this movie was defined by the systematic shooting of malnutrient Africans on their own land. I doubt very much that he recognised himself among the dead colonised Africans fighting for their lives, their lands, their families, their homes. Trained by years of biased media, my blood relative instead affiliated himself with the white colonisers. Interestingly, the BNP rate this movie one of their top white supremacist movie choices of all time. The fact that so many people from African backgrounds rate this film too is no co-incidence. The fact that we as black women no longer recognise ourselves amongst the carnage (and become avid fans instead) fed to us by MTV base us is as old as time, and changes nothing.
I challenge any woman to watch serial woman hater 50Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P’ video and not be offended. The opening scene presents him and a trio of prostitutes dressed in their underwear whose sole functions are to dress him, and adorn him in his chains like a horde of slaves. One of them can be seen counting the money she has presumably been forced to earn through prostitution and handing it to him dutifully. In this video, 50Cent is the ultimate archetype of male power. Gained treacherously through the oppression of the bevy of black women forced to walk behind him in scanty underwear, slave chains around their waists and, later on, dog leashes around their necks. Dog leashes are an apt choice of accessory, and by no means a small coincidence; after all to these men, we are literally drooling, instinctual, well-trained canine creatures. Tellingly, in ‘Candy Shop’ 50Cent assures us of his sexual prowess by insisting he is a ‘seasoned vet’ – perfect for animal handling. In his dreamland slave kingdom women are powerless objects who live entirely by his demands. Snoop Dogg makes his entrance to the song and raises his hand to mimic slapping his ‘whores’ with the back of his hand four times in the video, and just incase of any moral protests, the audience is assured of their absolute adulation regardless of his ferocity when his exploited haggle moan obediently ‘We love you Snoop Dogg’ as 50Cent smiles next to his fellow ‘Pimp’. Trampling over the debris of the young black women he dehumanizes (and suffering acute and timely amnesia over the same system which left him orphaned, shot and incarcerated as a young black man), 50 Cent merely, shrugs ‘I’m not trying to save the world. As a musician and artist, it just ain’t me.’ And the cash register ticks on.
Each and every specifically masterminded video brings us images of the exploited woman, which we hardly recognise, for what they are. Us.
R.Kelly loyally continues the misogynistic female slave theme in his video ‘Flirt’ in which we see him crowned (by one of his gyrating concubines) as the King of R’n’B. If he truly is then we live in darker times that we would like to accept. R. Kelly brazenly announced some time ago that he would now prefer to be known as the ‘Pied Piper’ of black music. His prosaic statement only served to highlight just how bamboozled we have been by the commercial entertainment industry. The ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’ is a German legend in which an adult man menacingly lures and abducts 130 children into a cave using his musical flute where they were never seen again. Some versions of the tale end with him drowning the terrified children in a river ‘like rats’. This is an ironic title for a man who was later indicted on 21 counts of sexual intercourse with a minor. While R. Kelly sits and smiles at us proudly beyond his riches and across the airwaves surrounded by his harem of black slave women, will we allow him to continue to lure our community into a place of no return?
50 Cent is an abomination to our community. Commercial hip-hop artists no longer even need hide their intentions, were too blinded by the sparkle of their bling to notice or care. The rappers’ perverse inspiration for his choice of rap name was actually Kelvin Martin (AKA ‘50Cent’), a violent robber and serial killer (reported to have ruthlessly murdered over 45 people in his short, dismal, sadistic life) remembered by his community as a man who ‘would rob anyone, no matter how much money they had’. He was shot to death on a stairwell and 50cent named himself after him fully trusting that we would be too busy funding his bank account to disambiguate his palpable intentions. We may view these men as pure ‘entertainment’ but their macabre pseudonyms suggest they are far from joking. As thousands of women and young people pay to watch his show and be ‘entertained’, it is no wonder we no longer recognise ourselves among the fatalities when we have trouble enough recognising the executors.
I was once an energetic 16 year old capable of gyrating in the masses to the latest tune in the latest club and the latest clothes like it was something new. As though wearing few clothes and being a self-proclaimed ‘bitch’ was the very heart of ‘Girl Power’. The fact is that it is as old as the day we were kidnapped and brought to the western world in abhorrent conditions. We watch ‘hip hop honeyz’ like Jade Marcela (who also appeared in Snoops own porn video, which he funded heavily despite his communities paucity and shot in the house his children live in) like they are doing something new, creating a new craze. We look at the artists who claim to own women, as though we are livestock, as though they are mastering a new form of cool. The tragedy for us as black women is that this how we have always been perceived by our male enemies, black or white. The fact is that the original slave owner’s exploitation of the black woman’s sexuality was one of the factors that defined the horrendous experience of slavery for females. The slave owners’ claim to the female slave body was tangibly realized on the auction block, where enslaved African women were stripped of their clothing, smeared in oil for erotic effect, then publicly poked and stroked by potential bargain hunters. This sexual mistreatment black women is no different to the images we see on the modern screens before us.
Commercial Hip-hop is not our brother, the rappers do not represent the boyfriends we might be fortunate enough to have one day. Commercial hip-hop has become our abusive father. Hated by the world that renders him inferior, he turns on those around him, beating them senselessly at every turn. Never an honest word from the men who impose negative images of ourselves onto us.
What can we do? Let us begin by recognising the crime of female exploitation. Lets begin to recognise ourselves amongst the fatalities and protest accordingly and with as much zeal as if we were attacked on the high street. Let’s recognise commercial hip-hop for what it is, an agenda which seeks to keep us down so that men can acquire a seedy power status.
I once read that a writer is an individual whom simply feels like talking on paper. That being the definition, I’m an individual who feels like talking on paper and pedagogically with my community about the brutal misrepresentation we suffer at the hands of commercial hip-hop.
Part 2: The Slaughter of the female body: The unyielding legacy of the exploitation of our bodies and it’s roots in slavery.
Let us begin the conversation.