Archive for the ‘rap music’ Category

Feasting on Michael Jackson’s Flesh

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Special thanks to Fal for granting me permission to post her reflections on last night BET Award Show with its special tributes to Michael Jackson. I couldn’t catch the show here in Hawaii, but thanks to Twitter I managed to catch folks’ reactions to the show.

bet awards show 2009I am deeply troubled by the buffoonery of the 2009 Black Entertainment Television Award Show where “blackness” guaranteed BET’s ownership of honoring Michael J. Jackson’s life. Of course, there is an endless laundry list of technical, sexist, homophobic, and simply tone death performances that I could blog about. However, the most compelling issue for me is that we witnessed consumption at “it’s finest” where Jamie Foxx unabashedly highlighted his many upcoming projects and the beauty of his voice, where every five seconds large digital placards of sponsorship appeared before our eyes beseeching us to buy their wares, where Joe Jackson plugs the revival of his singing career, where the infamous golden arches tell our children that they should dream of working at McDonald’s when they “become big kids,” and where we the viewing public further the cannibalization process of Michael Jackson by not turning our televisions off in righteous indignation because consciously or unconsciously we enjoy the thrill of consuming flesh . . . the gossip, the speculations, the betrayals, the “sins,” and yes “if it bleeds then it leads” or in the case of the BET Award Show if it stereotypes black people then it sales.

This only shows that we do not know how to honor our dead. We only know how to consume them and extract the last bit of value from their dead flesh. With Michael Jackson’s death, future record deals will be made from sampling his catalogue, cottage t-shirts industries on each street corner beckoning people to remember Michael through purchasing a t-shirt, increased Itunes downloads of Michael Jackson’s work, juicy gossip to make the workday bearable, legal rangles on CNN about the authenticity of Michael Jackson’s will, biased scholarly debates on Michael’s masculinity, psychological fragility, and his love of children. Of course, I too am guilty of participating in feasting upon his flesh, after hearing the official announcement that he was dead, I raced to Itunes and bought one of his greatest hits albums so that I could remember and honor him.

But does buying an album and then privately consuming the purchase constitute honoring the dead?

Of course, all of this is not to say that consumption in of itself is bad because we need to consume various things to live, however, when consumption becomes the end in of itself and when it is not intimately connected to the idea of mutual replenishment than it becomes capitalism where I take more from you and there is no guarantee that I will give you anything in return unless it too benefits me.

bet awards show

Did anyone else notice that not one of Michael Jackson’s songs that deal with accountability (i.e. the Man in the Mirror), building a peaceful global community (i.e. We Are the World and Heal the World), environmental justice (i.e. Earth Song), critique of globalization/policing (i.e. They Don’t Care About Us), ending global racism (i.e. Black or White) justice and safety of children (i.e. Little Susie/Pie Jesu and Childhood), and the need to be connected to each other (i.e. Will You Be There and Stranger in Moscow) showed up on last night’s BET Awards show? Why not? Because these songs are Jackson’s kryptonite critiques on consumption behaviors.  And BET decided that that’s not what interests his fans, especially his young fans like those of us who are 20something like myself.  But I disagree. Yeah, there was Ciara’s song Heal the World, but my ears don’t allow me to count her rendition. (But that’s another story.)

Hey, I am not saying that Jackson’s pop and romantic tunes should not be celebrated because they should. But something is wrong when not one ballad about healing, community, connectedness, and environmental responsibility was featured in any public or pronounced manner.  That omission says something about where we are as a society. Certainly reminds us that the Black Entertainment Television channel  cares more about black consumption than black legacy.

Someone special told me recently that the way you honor your parents or mentors is not by submitting to their authority or legacy, but by choosing to live your life seeking your purpose so that if your parents or mentors had to choose to live their life over they would choose to live your life because your purpose is enriching the world.

Here’s how musical legend Michael Jackson would have been remembered last night if I were producer of the BET Award Show.  I would have ended the show featuring global cultural workers who enrich the world followed by a musical medley of Man in the Mirror, Heal the World, Will You Be There, and Earth Song set against the video depictions of current political events—political protests in Iran, rape in the Congo, foreclosed houses in the US, fighting in Israel, and Hurricane Katrina—and environmental concerns—erosion of beaches, global warming, pandemics and epidemics of all kinds. All of which was to remind the audience that Michael Jackson cared deeply about people and the current state of the world. Thus, we honor him not only by remembering his soulful music—Billie Jean, Thriller, and so forth—but by choosing to live our lives dedicated to the service of humanity, a life that if Michael Jackson had to live his life over he would choose our interpretation of his best vision. That’s what I think should have been done last night. Or something like that. Anything but how BET and last night’s performers chose to remember Michael last night.

I guess it gets down to this: Can we expect people who live in a consumeristic culture to know how to honor the dead when they don’t even know how to honor the living –without consuming them alive?

Girl, Put Your Records On

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Never fails. I’m driving and a song from my past comes on the radio, and 4 minutes and 17 seconds later I don’t remember how I got to where I am. I don’t remember stopping at any stop lights. I don’t remember changing lanes. Certain songs come on the radio and I’m 15 years old again, or 25 years old, or 35 years old again. Back when emotions were high and passions ran deep in my life. “The decades of a thousand agonies” is the only way to describe those years for me. Back when every decision was agonizing. Every new love felt like forever. Every heartbreak felt like death. Music has the power to define the times.

I still hear the Wilson Pickett record that was playing when the DJ came on to announce that Dr. King had just been killed in Memphis. There’s the James Cleveland eight track I played over and over for inspiration the night before I preached my first sermon. Whatever happened to that jazz cassette tape I listened to while preparing for my graduate exams? And let’s not forget the medley of songs friends and I stayed up burning on CD all night so we could play them at the funeral of a friend who’d died from AIDS. I remember. Oh God, I remember.

We all have our list of favorites. Favorite songs that kidnap us and hurl us back in time. Back to happier times. Back to sadder times. That’s the power of music, I suppose. The folks who create commercials and movies are great at exploiting music to make audiences pay attention and care about things they’d rather not think about.

Did I mention that I bought myself one of those little Ipod contraptions a few years back so I can hear my favorite songs when and where I want? There are the songs I play when I wanna dance and shake my…well, you know. There are the songs I listen to on the airplane to calm my nerves. There are the ones I blast through my house when I’ve hit a block in the writing. And those I turn to when I can’t pray. Of course, certain ones are right for when I need a good cry. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone who reads my blog often to know that most of my favorite songs are from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and a few from the 90s. (Hey, those were my formative years. Thank you very much. It’s all downhill from here.) Still, there’s that occasional moment when a contemporary song comes on the radio that gets my attention, takes my breath away, and leaves me begging my daughter to write down the words for me. The songs on my Ipod change from month to month, depending upon what’s going on in my life. But there are those stored in my memory that spring up inside at the oddest moments. Stirring up emotions. I hear them in my mind, and I’m the girl or woman I was once. Rewind. Scratch. Remember.

My Top Gospel Inspirational Songs This Month

James Cleveland “Lord, Do It For Me…”
Mississippi Mass Choir “Your Grace and Mercy”
Rance Allen “That Would Be Good Enough For Me”
Clark Sisters “You Brought the Sunshine”
Mahalia Jackson “Move on Up A Little Higher”
Edwin Hawkins “To My Father’s House”

My Top Soul Sounds This Month

Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song…”
Aretha Franklin, “Natural Woman”
Curtis Mayfield, “It’s Alright”
Temptations, “Just My Imagination”
Ella Fitzgerald, “Miss Otis Regrets”
Christopher Cross, “Sailing”
Oleta Adams, “I Just Had To Hear Your Voice”
Emotions, “Don’t Ask My Neighbors”
Mitty Collier, “I Had A Talk with My Man Last Night”
Lalah Hathaway, “When Your Life Was Low…”
Kool & The Gang, “Get Down on It”
Otis Redding, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”
Denise Williams, “Silly”
Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

Ooooo…..ooooo…just one more….

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Wake Up Everybody”

(Pssst. Don’t tell her. I just stepped into my daughter’s room and looked up the music on her computer to see whether we belong to the same planet when it comes to music. Not. “ay baby baby” by Hurricane Chris? Never heard of either. “25 Reasons” by someone name Nivea? Never heard of neither. “Beautiful Liar” by Beyonce? Heard of her, but never heard of the song. “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” by Soulja Boy. Wonder what that’s about.)

Overlooking the Lioness

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Historians have always paid more attention to the lions of a movement. Very little interest is paid to the lionesses even though they are the more agile of the species and tend to be the ones who do much of the hard work.

Judging by the comments of some, you would think that black women have been silent about being called out of their names. As far back as the early 90s the late C. Delores Tucker used her post as president of the National Coalition of Black Women to launch a fiery campaign against rap music. She took it upon herself to pass out leaflets with the lyrics to gangsta rap to everyone she met, calling the music “pornographic filth” and claiming it was demeaning and offensive to black women. Despite her legendary contributions in the civil rights movement and despite being the first black woman to be named Secretary of State (serving the commonwealth of Pennsylvania) Tucker’s campaign against degrading lyrics against women fell largely on deaf ears. To many she was an eccentric old woman who was out of touch with the lyricism of the times. To add insult, rappers like Eminem and Tupac Shakur blasted Tucker, a civil rights giant and a woman old enough to be their grandmother, by targeting her in their lyrics, using some pretty filthy, derogatory language to shut her up.

Since C. Delores’ Tucker’s death in 2005, and long before the debate that has ensued after Don Imus’ remarks against the Rutgers women’s basketball team, others like Essence Magazine and Oprah Winfrey have spoken out against the sexist and demeaning lyrics in some of the rap songs heard on radio. But you wouldn’t know that for many years now black women have been challenging women’s exploitation and degradation in popular music. You would think that black women have been content to be insulted by the music we hear.

Enter the lions.

After days of conversation with executives in the music industry, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons released a statement earlier this week recommending that words like “b**ch,” “h*os” and “n***ger” be banned entirely from the recording industry. His recommendation has met with mixed reactions, but there’s no denying that he’s gotten the attention of the industry. Similarly, in the early days of the fall out from Don Imus’ remarks activist Al Sharpton brought a repentant Imus on his “Keeping It Real with Al Sharpton” radio program and gave the shock jock a platform to apologize to black America for his comments. Sharpton later managed to secure spots for himself on CNN and “Larry King Live” boldly calling for Imus’ firing.

So, let’s see, what are the odds that when history is written and the move to clean up hip hop music is accomplished we find folks like Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton getting all the credit?

That the lioness was the first to sink her teeth into the prey will be all but forgotten.