musings on music

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Pause. What'd You Call Me? Run That Back

I've never experienced anyone maliciously calling me out of my name, but Lord have mercy, I pity the fool who ever tries it.

I told some folks on Facebook weeks ago I'd publish a lyrical analysis of Lupe Fiasco's, "B-tch Bad." Lupe...that cat always seems to be in the middle of some controversy. But it seems like his heart is in the right place. Anyway, here it is:

To ignite a conversation on performance, identities and role of women in Hip-Hop, I found it befitting to highlight the lyrics of Lupe Fiasco’s, “Bitch Bad.” The second single off the 2012 album, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 offers a frank examination of misogyny in Hip-Hop and the contradictions associated with using the word, “bitch.”

Michael Eric Dyson (one of my favorites authors and public speakers) in “Cover Your Eyes As I Describe a Scene So Violent,” a dialogue with film director, Byron Hurt conclude that the term “bitch” is multievidential—it fits a lot of circumstances and can be used in multiple ways to either affirm or negate a specific identity or instance.  Whether or not rappers are aware of the social implications of their music is arguable (I don't have the time or the interest to even address Rick Ross and his suggestive rape lyrics), but Fiasco attempts to convey that what children, boys and girls alike, hear and see in music affects who they become as adults—do they continue the cycle of hypermasculinity and self-disrespect? Or do they take strides to change it?

“Bitch Bad” reinforces the ideology that “bitch” is used far to loosely in rap music and the definition of what it means is contradictory.  It also reinforces a negative social construct that has somehow has been twisted into a term of endearment. In the first verse, we are introduced to a young boy whose mother is singing along to a rap song: “Now imagine there’s a shorty maybe five, maybe four/ ridin’ ‘round with his momma listening to the radio/ and a song comes on and not far off from being born/ doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong…/ …his momma sings along and this what she says/ ‘niggas, I’m a bad bitch, and I’m a bad bitch/ dun uh dun that’s far above average…’”

Children are impressionable, so the boy immediately associates the word “bitch” to an independent woman of resource, his mother. Dyson believes the association between an independent, self-sustaining woman and “bitch” comes from pseudo-patriarchal notions of respect. In American society, black men are constantly oppressed, due to racial profiling or general hegemonic struggle from non-blacks.

Much of the mainstream social order is reflected in Hip-Hop culture. Black men feel they must fit into a hypermasculine construct—an out birth of socialization that serves as an outlet of power or influence for an otherwise disempowered group of people. This false sense of superiority from the oppressed black man reinforces the need to oppress a lesser group--in this country, that lesser group  happens to be women, homosexuals and children.  According to Dyson, in a society dominated by men, women are assigned a lower niche on the societal totem pole. Do you see where I'm going with this? Stick with me.

So what you end up with is, men disrespecting their female counterparts by calling them a “bitch,” ironically for being a strong, intelligent black woman. However, her intelligence and success is a threat to the black man’s masculinity. I believe it’s a classic case of repetition—if you say or see something a number of times, you start to believe it. In Fiasco’s song, the mother calls herself a “bitch” and since she is the child’s primary provider, the son doesn’t question it. But now the child’s view of women is misconstrued, along with his perception of good and bad: “Couple of things are happenin’ here/ first he’s relatin’ the word “bitch” with his mama—comma/ and because she’s relatin’ to herself, his most important source of help/ and mental help, he may skew respect for dishonor.” The child sees how a negative term (from a woman of power) has ignited a positive reaction.

Fiasco can be applauded for bringing light to the problematic nature of using the word, however, the song is not without flaw. The hook says: “Bitch bad, woman good/ lady better, they misunderstood,” which implies more respect is found in being a “lady” than actually being a woman. As stated earlier, women are one of the constantly oppressed groups in this country and Fiasco only furthers that oppression by implying being a lady is the highest form of feminism. He found a way to incorporate his own sexist framework, which he has every right to do since he holds creative freedom over his work. Dyson even admits that sometimes it is difficult to escape the deeply engrained sexism that is ever so present in this country.

So how does “bitch” affect little girls, according to Fiasco? As the young boy associates the word with being a strong role model, the girls attribute it to an overly sexualized male fantasy that they wish to emulate: “Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve/ on the Internet watchin’ videos, listenin’ to songs by themselves...”At this part of the song, in the video, there is portrayal of a stereotypical, braggadocious, black male rapper— standing in front of a chromed out car, wearing baggy pants and huge medallions saying, ‘bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches/that’s all I want, that’s all I like in life is bad bitches…’  Children tend to take things literally, so the young girls only see what the rapper is attracted to: “Now let’s say they are less concerned with him and more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims/…high heels, long hair, fat booty, slim…” and unfortunately develop a false representation of what beauty is while associating “bitch” with glitz and glamour.

In reading different analyses of this song, many have stated it does not address the issue of patriarchy, but I disagree. Because of the hypermasculinity that exists in rap music, men have made it acceptable to use “bitch” endearingly or as an insult—either way, they are using the word and controlling the context in which it is used.  Dyson continues his dialogue on masculinity in rap music by saying the Hip-Hop industry is based largely on the dominant masculine voice, a voice that rarely expresses respect for women as peers—only as mothers.

The little boy in Fiasco’s song respected his mother, who referenced herself as a “bitch,” but the rapper who was attracted to the video-vixen type described in the song did not have that same respect for the vixen: “The little boy meets one of those little girls/ and he thinks she’s a bad bitch and she thinks she’s a bad bitch/ he thinks disrespectfully, she thinks of that sexually…” To him, she is an object—an object of his affection, his lesser; someone to conquer and have power over, someone that allows him to be a patriarch.

Fiasco is trying to ignite a conversation about the multievidential use of the word “bitch.” I believe he also wants listeners to realize the psychological effects the actions of adults have on children: "Disclaimer: this rhymer, Lupe, is not usin' 'bitch' as a lesson/but as a psychological weapon/ to set in your mind and really mess with your conceptions." He wants listeners to think about the connotations behind the words they are using.  

In the final verse of the song, Fiasco brings things full circle. Both the young boy and the young girl have grown up, identifying with the word, but under two different definitions. The girl thinks “bitch” equates sexiness and promiscuity in dress, while the boy’s connection to the word reminds him that of his mother: “He thinks she’s bad at bein’ a bitch, like his mother/ momma never dressed like that, come out the house, hot mess like that/ ass, titties, dressed like that, all out to impress like that…he’s caught in a reality, she’s caught in an illusion…” However, I find the last line about the girl being caught in an illusion troubling. Isn’t the connotation behind “bitch” based off the illusion of hypermasculinity? What reality is Fiasco referring to that the boy is supposedly caught in? I believe it is what society has said it means to be a “bitch.” The child has allowed another system to infiltrate his thought process—but because he is a child when his definition is originally formed, it is difficult to escape that thought process as an adult. There is nothing positive or reminiscent of African Worldview about hypermasculinity—it is simply a social construction needed to feed the black male's  illusion of influence.

The song is politically relevant because a conversation about the perception of the word “bitch” has not been had by a black rapper—at least not from a lyricist of our generation. The sexism and misogyny that appears in rap music is a result of black men feeling inferior—and blaming this inferiority on women. If a woman wears “high heels, long hair, fat booty, slim,” she is a “bitch” because she is dressed promiscuously. But if she’s intelligent, able to provide for herself without the assistance of a man, she’s still a “bitch” and considered a threat. Now isn't that a disgrace. I don't understand that. Black women are the biggest supporters of black men. Why tear down a group that only seeks to build and support you?

Fiasco ends the song with: “But bitch still bad to her, if you say it the wrong way/ but she think she a bitch, what a double entendre.” A word with so many meanings makes it very difficult to explain to impressionable young minds. In all seriousness, there are adults walking around that are still impressionable--being apart of society but not being an active, thinking member of society. Dyson says historically, rappers don’t understand that though they are victims, they still have the ability to victimize—and do. The clichéd response to solving this would be somehow teaching men to value women—but that’s impossible without changing the entire American social order.

So how do I feel about the word? My name is Kikora Naila. Don't call me anything but.