As the premiere of VH1’s “Single Ladies” came around, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but out of curiosity I felt compelled to watch. As I viewed the drama-filled premiere, I must admit I was surprised to see who was playing the adulterous mayor cheating on his beautiful wife with a plethora of women, including the one white (main) female character on the show. It was Common. I’m not sure why, but in my mind I didn’t see him as the “type” to play that kind of role.
Although Common has come a long way from being ‘Mr. Ta ticka-ta ticka-ticka-ta-ta,’ for some reason I still had this image of him as the soulful, poetic brother wearing the knitted hat, rapping over a Bobby Caldwell sample in a candle-lit room, peeling a mango and reciting a musical love letter to Ms. Badu, saying: “Few understand the union of woman and man/And sex and a tingle is where they assume that it land.”
The more I thought about it, I realized that maybe subconsciously I had placed him on ‘The Conscious Pedestal.’ This often happens when artists are labeled “conscious,” and we put them in a certain box due to their message and image. When an artist is put in this category, die-hard fans can hang onto their lyrics and quotes like biblical references, they’re hailed and loved as the anti-industry-sellout, and they’re work is appreciated as real and undiluted. They are expected to act, dress, and sound a certain way–stay in their lane essentially.
But what happens when they don’t? Do we, and should we become disappointed?
While I don’t see a problem with an artist being labeled conscious–even though some tend to run from it, as rapper Jasiri X once said he rather “be labeled conscious than unconscious.” And in a music industry filled with artists choosing the easy route to success–glorification of sex, drugs, etc.– I can appreciate an artist that can bring something alternative and socially aware to the table, and make it hot at the same time. But, what I strive not to do is get caught-up in the expectations we sometimes place on these artists. I think the problems come from the way we view artists who strive to bring a positive messages or social critiques through their work. Sometimes we become so drawn to their messages/lyrics, we begin to hold that artist to a very high-standard and become upset when, in our eyes, they fall short of that.
This is why so many fans were up in arms to see Erykah Badu strip down in the “Window Seat” video, as this was the same person who had took jabs at other female artists in a interview stating that if you want to make it you have to “just be butt-naked somewhere.” And this is why many were taken a back to hear Jay Electronica, who is seen as almost a saviour to the rap game, joke about whether women like to be choked during sex during a concert. Because, being as though he’s conscious, in many people’s mind he should know not to joke about something like that.
But, we must remember that, for example, just because someone may offer a poignant critique on the pitfalls of the music industry, it doesn’t mean they’re immune to compromising their work or message for the C.R.E.A.M. Or that even though someone like Lauryn Hill came out saying “Look at where you be in, hair weaves like Europeans/Fake nails done by Koreans” doesn’t mean we won’t ever see her rocking some 22” inch yaky or a french mani one day, it’s possible. Not only do we have to give artists room to grow and experiment, but we also have to recognize that they can be as flawed and full of contradictions as the rest of us are. This is how an artist like Tupac can put out songs like “Keep Your Head Up” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and also a song like “How Do You Want It?” Or how Nas can put rap about a “Black girl Lost” and also put out “Oochie Wally.”
For some reason many of us take the images and actions of artists we deem conscious very personal. This can lead to the disappointment and backlash produced when we’ve bought into and supported a certain idea we have of an artist, and they seemingly go left of what we expect of them. So while it’s fine to admire and appreciate artists for the issues they bring to light, their abstractness, or alternative views or sound, it’s important not to become so invested in that person’s image that we begin to feel they can do no wrong or we can not wrap our minds around them ever changing. For as history has shown anyone is susceptible to falling from ‘The Conscious Pedestal.’