When did I first fall in love with hip-hop?
The year was 1986 and my older sister was a sophomore in high school. Her friends would come over, the break-dancing cardboard would go down, and the volume of Egyptian Lover and Electric Kingdom would go up.
And it was on.
The love affair has intensified over the years, ebbed and flowed as love affairs do, but I have ultimately always respected the craft, energy, and life that can be found in hip-hop. Through all of its reincarnations, I’ve stood firm and taken the criticism. “How can you be a feminist and like Jay-Z?” “How can you be an advocate for social justice and not take offense at the violence?”
My answer to both of these questions — and others like it — has always surrounded authenticity. I knew these men. Not them specifically, but brothers like them. Black men with no fathers and different men in and out of their lives. Boys who had to sell drugs to take care of their mothers and younger siblings because their older brothers were already locked up. I knew them beneath the blinged-out shell and I understood. I didn’t condone, but I understood.
“What about the women selling their images for a few dollars?” I would explain that I used to waitress in one of the most notorious strip clubs in Atlanta and a lot of the dancers had goals, aspirations, and dreams and they were working toward them. Some of them had to drink before they hit the stage because they couldn’t stand it. Some of them ran away from home and had been pimped for years. I would tell them about the older stripper — we shared a birthday — who was married to her pimp. I would cringe when young girls look at videos and want to be those girls, be in that club, look like them. Because I knew that it wasn’t all good. The “vixen” is a stripper, the stripper is a prostitute, and almost every man in the video had a wife and children at home.
Not that all women and men in the music industry are pimps and “hoes,” but the strip club is most definitely a microcosm of the music industry. And their environments — sometimes mirroring their brothers’ — were not conducive to them taking another route. Beneath the g-strings and the baby oil and the butt injections were my sisters. I didn’t condone, but I understood.
What I do not understand is the cultural prostitution of hip-hop and Vibe magazine selling it like a piece of ass. Literally.
From Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, to Buffy the Body and Rihanna, there is a slide show featured on Vibe.com on the evolution of ass in hip-hop. To make matters worse, there isn’t even the pretense of sexual empowerment. It’s merely “during this year, this male rapper decided that this ass is what women should aspire to.”
I kid you not.
To make matters worse, it’s to “celebrate” their June/July Issue Sexy Issue, where reality stars Chrissy Lampkin, Kandi Burruss, Tamar Braxton, and Evelyn Lozada are featured on the cover as “your new role models.”
It was rather easy to deduce that they meant the title in as sarcastic, disbelieving, and traffic-inducing a way as possible, and I was the first to defend the cover against lazy journalistic accusations that they meant it sincerely. Still, I can think of no rational excuse for an entire page dedicated to the “evolution of ass” other than they really don’t give a damn about women, they really do buy into the misogyny and sexism that has come to define commercialized hip-hop, and the page views of teenage boys is worth more than any kind of social consciousness. Hip-hop has it deep flaws and its ugly scars, but one would think a magazine that portrays itself as a keeper of the culture, if you will, wouldn’t reduce it to ass shots.
And one would think wrong.
When did I fall out of love with “commercialized” hip-hop?
The year is 2012 and it happened when I realized that sisters who used to be priceless are now worth no more than “dimes.” Or, better yet, $5.95, wherever Vibe is sold.