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Rapper Lupe Fiasco is held up along with a handful of other rappers like Common, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli for their social-consciousness. When people want to push back against the argument that rap, as a musical genre, is inherently violent and anti-social, these Four Horseman are trotted out as evidence that it ain’t all that bad.
Fiasco differentiates himself by openly opposing Barack Obama. But he also shares Mos Def’s 9/11 Trutherism*. Fiasco’s father was a member of the Black Panther party so the rapper probably inherited his dad’s Black Nationalist. His philosophy seems one of radical self-sufficiency. That’s just some background on Fiasco.
I just came across his most recent single called “Bitch Bad”. I enjoyed the beat; I think the message is well-intentioned and that the black community can’t be hurt if such a message is spread. I separate this from my overall feeling on Fiasco and his politics. Here’s the video and some thoughts afterward.
The video diminishes the song. The White Devil businessman is profiting off of black rappers and ho’s donning modern black face to appeal to their audience. Heard this one before. At Spin, Brandon Soderberg dislikes the song/video for different reasons. Like Fiasco, he also misses his intended mark. Soderberg complains about Fiasco’s “mansplaining”:
The whole thing is an impressive exercise in mansplaining. Its hook goes, “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better,” which sounds sweet and all, but does any female want to be called “a lady”? And although the song is a bit more complex than described above — or really, muddled — it is the umpteenth example of so-called “conscious” hip-hop replacing one type of misogyny with another.
Fiasco isn’t engaging in mansplaining just as modern rap is not a system whereby white capitalist entertainment moguls are forcing black entertainers to sell themselves out in order to appeal to largely white masses. Rap music is a “black-driven” genre. FUBU and all that. While rap is popular among whites as well, rap is a genre which rose organically from the black community. White businessmen and black businessmen alike have profited from its rise. But one reason that it is also not analogous to black face and minstrelsy is that many black rappers do actually live the same lifestyle which they represent through the genre.
In his video, Fiasco pokes fun at 50 Cent. The black face character crying at the end is shown peddling a vitamin drink – a reference to 50 Cent’s Vitamin Water brand – and also wearing the grill and bandana and carrying around a gun and a blunt. But 50 Cent was famously shot nine times. Like Tupac, this is a source of pride for the rapper. Many other rappers engage in questionable activities which land them in jail. Point being, rap is basically the music of life on the hard streets. Its violence is often defended on the grounds that rappers are only speaking on their subjective truth. That many whites shake their collective heads at the blacks who engage in this *and* the fact that black face and minstrel shows were ways in which white audiences once made fun of poor blacks does not mean that these white audiences are essentially the same. In black face, the white audience was endogenous; with rap, they are exogenous.
But just to handle the “mansplaining” charge leveled by Soderberg – as I understand it, “mansplaining” is when a man tells women (or persons perceivied as inferior) “the way things are” in a manner that indicates that he believes that the listeners are ignorant. The term carries this gendered connotation because it is believed that only men have such a sense of entitlement to engage others in this condescending manner. The thing here is that the use of the word “bitch” in rap has been a long-running debate. Tupac Shakur and C. Delores Tucker went back and forth on the issue. Tipper Gore fought to place labels on records with explicit lyrics. Misogyny in rap music has been addressed by many female rappers as well. Fiasco is merely throwing his own lyrical and rhetorical style to this stale debate.
It’s not mansplaining, and it’s not blackface. Overall it’s a completely vapid discussion because it is between two competing victimologies.
*My interest here isn’t whether or not 9/11 is what we are told it was…it is mostly that people who embrace Trutherism are pseudo-intellectuals. And that’s being gracious. As Fiasco says in the interview at that link: “I’m a proponent of critical thinking.” Vanguard shit right there, I tell ya.