Soundtrack: Jay-Z – “Dirt on Your Shoulders”
Beyoncé – “Bow Down/I Been On”
So, I posted this on Facebook yesterday: “I might write a blog about Beyoncé. Every other post on my timeline being about her is annoying me. She got so many haters from so many different perspectives. But the thing that bothers me the most is the people saying she’s setting a bad example for young girls by telling her music industry rivals to “bow down, bitches”. But her husband, who chills with the Obamas right along with her, doesn’t get any flack for balling so hard mufuccas wanna fine him. Why can Jay say whatever he wants but Bey has to stay prissy and proper? I call bullshit”
Now that I’m a little less annoyed, I can elaborate on the thinking behind that statement. There are two points that I want to bring up in relation to this subject. Let me start off by saying that I’m not a huge Beyoncé fan. I don’t listen to her music on my own, although I certainly don’t mind hearing it on the radio or when I’m out somewhere. The sister makes great songs; they’re just not the style of music that I generally choose to listen to. I am a huge fan of Jay-Z. He gets my vote for greatest emcee of all time. That doesn’t mean he’s my favorite emcee; he’s not in my top three favorite emcees. But if I put on my Hip Hop scholar hat and look at the subject objectively, I believe that his skill set in all areas of what makes an emcee great is better than the skill set of any other individual emcee that we have seen thus far. I’m also not a big personal fan of the Obamas so the Carter Family’s personal relationship with the President and First Lady doesn’t affect me like it does some other people.
I’ve spoken before here at COMPLETE CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGE about the suppression of femininity. This Beyoncé debate is a real life illustration of how women are forced into a small box with a glass ceiling in today’s world. I juxtaposed Bey with Jay because it is easy to see that Jay is allowed the freedom to be many different things. He openly acknowledges that he was a drug dealer before he started his music career. He wasn’t able to get a record deal so he started his own record label to promote and market his music. He later became the president and CEO of the historic Def Jam Records during his brief “retirement” as a recording artist. He has been a celebrity spokesperson for several major brands including Hewlett Packard and Budweiser. He owns hotels, restaurants, liquors, clothing lines, the highly esteemed chain of 40/40 upscale sports bars, and a chunk of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. And he still makes music with references to drug selling and plenty of four letter words including a heavy dosage of the b-word that his wife is currently being maligned for using.
I think that’s a good thing. Like most human beings, Jay is interested in many different things. And he explores his interests freely. The song that Beyoncé recently released is an example of her exploring her interests. She released a couplet of songs that have the sound and feel of the Houston Hip Hop that she grew up listening to. And people are reacting as if she slapped their mama. How dare she tell other women to bow down? How dare she use the word bitch? Well the word bitch is a subject for another day but I wonder how many of the people complaining about her using it have used the word themselves?
The underlying implication in the complaints about Beyoncé’s word usage or demeanor is that she is only allowed to be one way, all the time. She can’t step outside of the squeaky clean, Disney type image that her team has created for her since she was a teenage superstar or else she’s committing an abomination. Beyoncé is 30 years old. She’s an accomplished professional woman with a daughter and a husband. Should she not be allowed to be herself, at least just once? Of course not, because women are not supposed to be that bold and brazen. They should remain delicate and vulnerable. Apparently Beyoncé doesn’t agree with that. And I don’t either. If people didn’t believe deep down that men have rights that women don’t have then this subject wouldn’t even be discussed.
My second point is that Beyoncé has released these new songs as homage to the neighborhood that she grew up in. She is from the Third Ward on the south side of Houston, Texas. The same community that produced the legendary DJ Screw who is known all over the world for his slowed down music. Screw’s “screwed and chopped” (which means slowed down and repeating certain portions for effect) mixtapes became so popular that they came to be known as Screw Tapes. Beyoncé grew up in the height of Screw’s popularity and there is black girl or black boy who grew up in Texas, especially in Houston, who hasn’t loudly and proudly sung songs about being from that H-Town, coming down and dripping candy on the ground (candy referring to “candy paint” on cars which is glossy and seems to change colors in the sun).
Some people have simply said that they don’t like “Bow Down/I Been On”. In judging the artistic merits of it, especially for those who think it’s poorly arranged, it’s important to understand that it’s really two different songs. “Bow Down” is one song, produced by Hit-Boy. “I Been On” is a different song, produced by Timbaland and Polow Da Don. They were put out together because they share a similar theme. And it’s not intended to be an artistic masterpiece. This is music in the same vein of the Screw Tapes. Most of the lyrics on Screw’s music were freestyled, off the top of the head, by some very skilled lyricists. It was good enough to be recorded and released to the public; but it certainly wasn’t treated with the need for perfection that would mark your typical Michael Jackson record, or a Beyoncé record. It’s about the tempo and the melody and how well you can brag about yourself. That’s the nature of the genre. If you judge the song by any other standard then you miss the point. This is Beyoncé, for once in her life, speaking as a girl from the hood.
There have always been people within the Black community who are ashamed and afraid for our true culture to be exposed to the world. We try to so hard to assimilate into the mainstream and we don’t want anyone to know that we get drunk and talk real loud and slam dominoes and play the dozens when there is nobody around but us. But this is who we are. This shame is the reason why the so-called Black leaders have never made an effort to celebrate the music that comes from the ghetto and find a way for our people to benefit from it. Since the beginning of recorded music 100 years ago, people outside of our community have seen more material benefit from our music than we have. Because the most popular music from the black community has always been music that reflects the ghetto side of us more than the aspirational striver side of us, with a few notable exceptions. So other people have gotten the benefit of the popularity of Jazz and R&B and Rock ‘n Roll and Funk and Hip Hop. We’re still ashamed to be ourselves in front of other people. Shout out to Beyoncé for taking the risk and showing us this side of her.