Happy Friday good people!
I wanna start off by acknowledging my wonderful mother and saying HAPPY EARTH STRONG (that means birthday ppl) as she celebrates her 59th year on this planet and gets ever more radiant. YASSSSSS SIS! Glow-up!
Now aside from that phenomenal lady, I also wanna shine a light on the late great Tupac Shakur who would have been celebrating his 47th birthday today. Happy Birthday Pac! Looking at the complex and at times controversial life of Pac always affirms my thoughts on what it means to grow up conscious, brilliant, and unapologetically black, all the while fighting your way out of poverty. More importantly though, what really drew me to Tupac and separated him in my mind from artist of his time and mine, was the way in which he always created space to center and honor the struggles and triumphs of black women at a time when the depiction of black women was devolving in our music.
While Tupac is able to elevate the realities of women through complex story telling, he himself has a very complicated and relationship with women in his own personal life, from his dealings with women in the media to being sentenced to prison for sexual abuse. Pac was by no means flawless and I believe it is this contradiction that propelled him to advocate vocally for black women through his music.
May I remind you, in the 90s, which is collectively considered “the golden era of rap,” that hip hop was making a shift from a more conscious standpoint to a misogynistic one. We were given tracks like:
SOPHISTICATED B1TCH” -PUBLIC ENEMY
CAPTAIN SAVE A HOE” -E40
“BYATCHES AIN’T SHYT” -DR. DRE AND SNOOP DOGG
AIN’T NO FUN IF THE HOMIES CAN’T HAVE NONE” -SNOOP DOGG
“ONE LESS B*TCH” -N.W.A
“THEY WANT MONEY ” -KOOL MOE DEE
Now I’m sure it doesn’t take an analyst to quickly pinpoint that these songs are full of misogyny and riddled with imagery that present women in the worst light imaginable. Shaming their bodies, hypersexualizing them, and reducing them to objects of sexual conquest was the norm and it set the tone for harmful messaging that still echoes through much of rap and other forms of popular music today such as R&B and Dance Hall music to name a few.
If art imitates life, then the question becomes, why the hell do we as Black men hate our women so much? And if we don’t hate them, then why do we denigrate and demean them in such horrible ways?
In the 90s, while hip hop was dominated by the vulgarity of street life, and lyrics that demonized black women, TuPac always stayed steadfast in the way in which he supported black women. In his classic “Keep ya head up” He writes:
But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up
Forgive, but don’t forget, girl, keep ya head up
And when he tells you you ain’t nothin’, don’t believe him
And if he can’t learn to love you, you should leave him
‘Cause, sister, you don’t need him
And I ain’t tryin’ to gas you up, I just call ’em how I see ’em
You know what makes me unhappy?
When brothas make babies
And leave a young mother to be a pappy
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women — do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up?
I know you’re fed up, ladies, but keep ya head up
Set aside that this lyricism in its purest form, coupled with his ability to advocate for the resilience of women and call men out on their BS, which has seemingly left the rap game. What’s also important to analyze is Tupac’s challenged and at times difficult relationship with women. Up until his alleged rape and subsequent conviction of Ayanna Jackson, Tupac had shortcomings which were displayed in the way his own love life played out in front of us. This man had demons and struggles that pushed him to be introspective and look at his own mishaps and mistreatment of women. From there he used his music to work against these contradictions in his own personal beliefs. These contradictions create a character that is not only talented, but conflicted, rapping about his own realities and mishandling of women.
So have rappers lost their ability to be lyrical or have the levels of misogyny and the vilification of women just grown? I posit these questions to us all, because I honestly don’t know the answer.
I can only speculate on the reasons that hold up such an abusive narrative; either because of poor maternal relationships, or because of tumultuous interpersonal relationships with women, or as Dr. Joy Degruy points out in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing , personal factors as well as environmental ones, which collectively add to behavior. Since slavery, Black men have watched Black women be raped, beaten, and terrorized at the hands of White men. Imagine being in that situation and as a man you can’t protect your mother, or sibling, or wife. Now imagine as that happens for hundreds of years, and the way in which this continued traumatic set of events have affected you. We’ve watched black women at the mercy of white men while unconsciously deep seeded issues are spawned within us. If our model of success has always been white men and if we have always aspired to whiteness then it’s easy to see how their attitudes and behaviors have affected how we see and treat our women.
I know men who have admired women and then turn around and belittle women. I’ve gone through my own bouts with toxic masculinity and not properly affirming a woman’s existence. But I now understand the way in which we knowingly and unknowingly endorse misogyny and perpetuate images and ideologies that hurt black women. There is a consistent sense of self hatred that has been built in us, and as Carter G. Woodson states of the educated negro, “we unconsciously contribute to our own undoing by perpetuating the regime of the oppressor.” We hate, abuse and demean or women because we have been watching white people do it since being brought to this country.
I have a boat load of sisters and nieces, a small three year old daughter, and a beautiful Black mother and I strive to learn and understand the ways in which I can support them; because they are worth it and deserve it.
Love, life and our relationships with women should be stoked in affirmations. We must positively affirm each other, because let’s’ be honest “ Who else gon’ do it for us?”
Jose Vilson says “you can’t be what you can’t see” so I suggest we start being the type of men, that we’d want for our mothers, daughters, or sisters; so that these young men of color know how to respect these young Queens and themselves. We have to have supreme regard and respect for our women, reminding them and ourselves to have pride in all that they are and have done.
The issues we see in music and popular culture in terms misogyny and chauvinism are snapshots of the larger issues of our community.
As educators, we must confront the misogynistic mindsets of our young men head on, in hopes of really understanding where this miseducation comes from. Then we must commit to moving our students to a point of greater realization about the ways in which their daily practices contribute to the oppression of the women they should hold dear. As we honor Pac today let’s use his lyrics, poems and even this new movie on his life as a source for analysis and dare to dig deeper with our students. Lets peel back the multilayered life of Tupac and use it as a entry point to your student’s life.
In one of my favorite Pac interviews he says, “I will spark the brain that will change the world.”
Kendrick is out here setting himself apart from the typical MC’s of his generation. With a steadily growing sense of consciousness and purpose as a thought changer, speaking the realities of our people, Lamar is poised to take over the throne left vacant by the sudden departure of the former King of the West Coast. On “Mortal Man,” a track from his album To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar has this transformative conversation with Pac in which the crown is passed from the icon to Lamar. Lamar’s music attempts to bolster the greatness of black men and women and the hope is that other artists will follow suit and we as a community will, as Pac said, “heal our women and be real with our women.”