Tag Archives hip-hop

Is Everyone Saying “N***a” Now?

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Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | Lil Wayne Unplugged
Lil Wayne at MTV Unplugged
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“If you having a good time, I want you to say, ‘Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!”

“Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!” the crowd screamed back at Lil Wayne.

I scanned the stadium of concert goers: a sea of young, white and light faces surrounded me, bopping their heads to the beat, hip-hop hands swaying in the air, phone cameras recording and repeating at Lil Wayne’s command,

Helllllll yeah, niggaaaaaaaaa!!

I looked over at my friend, who, like me, hadn’t joined the crowd.

“What the hell?” I mouthed at her, as my face contorted itself into surprise and disapproval.

This was the situation at a concert I attended in Orange County, California (“OC”) a few years ago. Orange County’s black population is similar to Utah’s in number. That is to say: nearly non-existent. Still, I didn’t expect to be such an obvious minority at a hip-hop concert headlined by black artists. I know white suburban teenagers are now the largest consumers of hip-hop, and Orange County is like one giant suburb, so really I shouldn’t have surprised me. But, there’s what you know and what you actually see for yourself.

____

Last year while in San Francisco’s Mission district with a friend, we overheard three teenagers shouting in conversation:

“Did you hear what I said?”
“Daaaamn, fool!’
“Yeah, that nigga’s cray.”

They all laughed.

My friend and I turned to each other, the same “Did you just hear that?!” looks on our faces. None of the teens were black.

“Huh,” I exhaled. “So, that’s what’s going on now?”

It’s time like these when I feel my age. I resisted the urge to use my budding “kids these days” voice or wag my disapproving finger while giving them an impromptu history lesson on the “n-word.” They weren’t using the word in a hurtful manner. The way the kid said it, the word carried the same weight as someone saying “snow is white.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a teenager cavalierly use the word “nigga.” I’ve heard it from the mouths of black, white, Asian and Latino people. People who no doubt count themselves among a large and diverse group of hip-hop fans.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.

____

No matter how many times I hear people attempt to explain that using the derivative “nigga” is a way of reclaiming the word, stripping it of its power, I can’t buy into that argument. It is a word based in hateAs long as there are people hatefully hurling the word at black people with intent to wound and stake their superiority, that word is still mighty powerful. Even seeing it written stirs up emotion. If other black people choose to use it, that’s their prerogative. It’s not for me. Honestly, I don’t know that I will ever feel comfortable hearing any form of the word escape the lips of someone not black, outside of an academic discussion, and even then I may involuntarily wince.

It was less than 10 years ago when my youngest sister’s white classmate mean-girled her and nastily declared,

“No one wants to sit next to her because she’s a nigger.”

It hurt me to hear of the incident because I’d hoped, naïvely, that by the time my youngest sister reached the cruelest years of school, that kind of prejudiced language would lose favor with her generation. Just thinking of the experience still angers my sister. The girl made her life “a living hell.” I had hoped she could avoid some of the race-related pain her older sisters and parents endured growing up. Unfortunately, the power of the word persists.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | Green Stop Sign Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance | source

The incident at the Lil Wayne concert forced me, once again, to face the cognitive dissonance of my hip-hop fandom.

I recognize that by listening to certain hip-hop artists, attending their concerts or streaming their music, I’m part of the problem. Just as I wish that magazines would quit covering Kim Kardashian’s every move and cleavage-baring ensemble, yet I’ll still click on a link to see her latest fashion atrocity, thereby reinforcing her (perceived) popularity.

I listen to hip-hop despite the liberal use of “nigga” in many songs and the fact that I have issues with the themes (violence, misogyny, celebration of drug slinging) and language (bitch, ho, THOT) in some songs and videos. Last year, popular rapper Rick Ross came under fire for the lyrics in his song “U.O.E.N.O”:

Put molly all in her champagne / She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain’t even know it.

– Rick Ross, U.O.E.N.O

His lyrics seem to describe drugging a woman by secretly slipping molly in her drink and then having sex with her. Many felt his lyrics diminished the seriousness of date rape and even glorified it. He claimed his lyrics were “misinterpreted.” The lyrics disgusted, but did not surprise me. This isn’t the first time he’s penned sickening verses. I’m not the biggest Rick Ross fan, or a fan at all really, but I can’t pretend his “Blowin’ Money Fast” doesn’t get me pushing out my lips and nodding my head.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | 50 Cent with two Guns
50 Cent from his video “Shooting Guns”
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How do you reconcile liking music that at times is regressive, offensive and sexist with your personal values and morals?

It’s easy to take the simplistic view: “Why not just stop listening to it?’

The problem is, I grew up on this stuff. It’s part of my history, it’s part of my culture. Rap and hip-hop evolved from the forms of music my parents exposed me to. Those same soul, funk and R&B songs from the ’60s, 70s’ and 80s’ that P Diddy – and later other hip-hop producers, following his lead – made a career out of samplinlaying rap verses atop and producing hit after danceable hit. Songs released during my formative high school and college years.

Of course, Diddy’s lyrics are practically granny-safe compared to some of today’s artists like Eminem, Juicy J or Schoolboy Q. Jay-Z and Kanye West had to go and release a song titled, “Niggas in Paris,” causing panic and confusion among many when singing it aloud in mixed company.

I can’t help but grin thinking of the self-aggrandizing lyrics rampant in many a verse of today’s rap, that give me a brief feeling of extra bravado. You know what I mean. It’s that extra swag some dudes seem to think they have as they blare T.I. from their cars.

I also appreciate the talent of true lyricists who can write and spit an impressive collection of words strung together in clever ways. If you’ve ever tried rapping, even just karaoke, you know it’s not easy, especially freestyle. It requires talent, confidence and showmanship.

At the core, I listen to hip-hop for its high energy. I just plain enjoy listening to music I can dance to. I’ve had many a solo dance party in my apartment, turning my living room into a club floor, free of groping hands and spilled beer.

There’s also a bit of, “If I have to take a stance against everything in the world that’s morally tainted, what will be left to enjoy?”

Not all hip-hop artists use misogynistic language or praise illegal activity. There’s a long list of “conscious” rappers making music, some of whom struggle to sustain careers if they don’t break into the mainstream – where the real money is. I listen to a handful of these rappers and it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover a hip-hop artist who really has something to say. Even Lil Wayne – for all his rapping about smoking weed, sipping sizzurp and his affinity for lady parts – is actually quite witty.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black
As film has it’s “popcorn flicks”, so does music | source

Every so often we come across art laden with poignancy that moves us. I think that’s a beautiful, but uncommon experience. Just as there are “popcorn flicks”, Oscar-winning films and myriad film categories in between, the same goes for hip-hop. I don’t need profundity from everything I listen to.

Last month I went to a Wiz Khalifa concert with my middle sister. When Wiz shouted to his fans, “Say ‘Dat’s my niggaaaaa.'” My sister glanced at me with a questioning look and a smile. She knows how I feel about this. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.

I asked my sister after the concert, “Is this one of those things where this is just how it’s gonna be? And I can either choose to adapt and accept it or be that annoying grumpy old person?” She shrugged.

It’s complicated being a hip-hop fan.

I Don’t Pop Molly

Note: If Google brought you here, see the definition of the song hook lyrics at the bottom of the post.

“I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford.”

– Jay-Z, “Tom Ford, 2013

Photo cr: epSos .de, flickr.com
Photo cr: epSos.de, flickr.com

If you listen to hip-hop these days, you’ve no doubt heard all the references to molly (basically ecstasy): “I Can’t Seem to Find Molly“, “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin‘” or maybe you’re even listening to Miley “cultural appropriation” Cyrus’ latest song. She sings about poppin’ mollies in “We Can’t Stop“. [She told producers she wanted “something that sounds black.” Girl, get your life! I give major side-eye to people who reduce blackness to the sliver of sub-culture of which they are aware. You need to diversify your black exposure. 13 million black Americans aren’t all the same. It’s like if Rihanna said she wants a “white” sound for her next album and had bagpipers all up in her video. Have a seat with your pancake booty that has no business twerking.]

My sister asked me to go with her to an album release party for Big Sean‘s album release party earlier this month. We arrived just in time to see him being hustled from his outdoor stage into Brooklyn Circus to sign CDs. The crowd was large, super hype and pushing and shoving trying to sneak in behind him. The bodyguards weren’t having it. It was a disorganized mess. No one seemed to know how we were supposed to get into the signing. Some people had wristbands, others didn’t. If there are two things I can’t stand: crowds & chaos. As the crowd started to form a line, I overheard this exchange between a girl who appeared to be in her early 20s and two older teenagers:

Girl: “Y’all want some pills?”

Boy 1: “You got mollies?”

Girl: “No, but I got those Obamas and McDonalds.”

Disappointed, the boys shook their heads no.

What the…?

Obamas?! My sister joked, ‘That must be some Presidential-grade shit!”

I looked at my sister, pleading with my eyes to leave. This isn’t my crowd. I don’t pop mollies, Obama or McDonald’s. I am not here for that business. I’m too old for this shit. We didn’t get to see Big Sean perform, but we did see him. I didn’t need an up close and personal experience.

My sister declared, “This.is.ratchet! Let’s go!”

Thank goodness.

—-

Definitions (since more than a few people land here after searching for the meaning of the song hook):

(to) Pop = (to) take, ingest

molly = a drug, MDMA, makes people feel good. Drugs are bad, kids.

(to) Rock = (to) wear well

Tom Ford = fashion designer

Voluntourism in Tanzania: Day-to-Day Life as a Volunteer with Give a Heart to Africa

Give a Heart to Africa House | Voluntourism in Tanzania, Africa | The Girl Next Door is Black
The GHTA house

I volunteered in Moshi, Tanzania (TZ) for three weeks with a program called Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA). With the aid of volunteers and donations, GHTA strives to empower Tanzanian women through education. I considered other organizations for my voluntourism trip and eventually settled on GHTA because the program fees were very reasonable and all the funds go directly to running the school and management of the house. Volunteers are unpaid, including the founders and the organizers.

Here is part I of my stay as a volunteer, written during my trip.

MEET THE OTHER VOLUNTEERS

There’s a rooster who cock-a-doodle-doos every night beginning at 3am and continues until well after the sun rises. One of the GHTA managers wants to print t-shirts with the rooster’s head in the center of a red circle with a strike through it. He’s notorious and wanted. On nights when I forget to use my earplugs, I lay awake during his moonlight sonata and debate which is worse: trying to sleep through nature’s animal chorus (including neighborhood dogs that bark and howl at each other nightly) or man-made noises like the car honks and alarms, garbage trucks and loud drunks I experience at home in L.A.

The volunteers all share one large 3-bedroom house which is next to the small school. Up to six volunteers share bunks in the house. The house/school manager resides in a small “studio” just behind the main house.

Living Room of Give a Heart to Africa House in Moshi, Tanzania, Africa, Travel Voluntourism | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Living Room

I didn’t have a roommate until A_ arrived in week two, declaring to me within the first hour we met:

I usually don’t like Americans, but you seem cool. Perhaps because you travel and you don’t have that annoying American accent?

She shuddered.

“Uh, thanks?”

A_ is half Arab/half Polish with a mostly Australian accent. She’s striking; a girl the boy’s flock to. She has long, dark, wavy hair; large green eyes, and a willowy figure. She’s 21, a student at a private university in London, and full of energy enough to power a Prius.

We roomed together my remaining two weeks, the first few days of which, she quizzed me about my life:

“Where are you from?

“What’s your family like?”

“What are your plans here?”

“What have you done so far?  How do you like it?”

“How old are you? You look really young!”

“Do you work? What do you do?”

“Don’t you hate when men aren’t straight up and play games with you?”

She is inquisitive, to say the least. I have never met anyone like her.

George, at Peponi Beach Resort

George slept across the hall from us. He is a tall, lanky, but athletic, 25-year old from South Carolina with perfectly straight white teeth, boyishly cut brown hair and a slight Southern drawl. He speaks with a booming voice, is gregarious and innocently straightforward. He has enough energy to power a dam. I met him my first night in Moshi when he invited me to join the other volunteers on a safari the next day. He has an amazing knowledge of geography and will share random facts with you such as:

“For each 15 degrees in longitude, the time zone changes by 1 hour,” (or something like that).

He also seems to have memorized the entire catalog of country songs that charted between 1990 and 1999. Over the three weeks I was in the house, I heard him sing country songs to himself, to the students (which helped them learn English) and to the other volunteers. He is pure entertainment and a sweetheart.

Next door is Ka__ and Je_ a mother / son duo from Northern California. Ka_ is German/Dutch and of an age where a lady doesn’t tell. She’s blond and her German-accented English is endearing and pairs well with her welcoming attitude. 22-year old Je_ is tall, slim and would probably make a fantastic fashion model. He’s super chill, though some tough life experiences have left him a bit hardened. He’s very easy to talk to and shares my sense of fun. We became fast friends and he’s my buddy for most of my stay in Tanzania.

Cockroaches live in the house too. I don’t like cockroaches. They are disgusting scum of the earth that refuse to die, live in people’s homes without paying rent or at least washing dishes and the ones in Texas even have the nerve to fly around flaunting their filth.  While I sneer at them and smother them in bug spray, my roommate screams and runs away in fear, as though they will morph into an aliens with giant tentacles and chase her around the house. I feel like her protector.

Dining Room in Moshi, Tanzania House | Give a Heart to Africa House | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Dining Room

AT “HOME”

The weekday housekeeper, Me___, is a former GHTA student in her 40s. She’s feisty, takes her job very seriously and is determined to teach the volunteers Swahili one phrase at a time:

“Good morning, Me___.”

“No. Habari za asabuhi, Me___!”

She will wash your clothes for what amounts to US$.13 a shirt and $.18 for pants. Between teaching every morning – during which the sun bakes the non-a/c’d classrooms, playing soccer with the local kids who visit twice a week,  my daily “beauty regimen” of sunscreen and mosquito repellent, and hot, dusty 20-minute walks into town, I had plenty of clothing for her to wash. She’s a clothing ninja. We leave our shoes on the patio to avoid tracking dirt in the house. One morning I walked outside to find my flip-flops missing. Another volunteer, noticing my confusion, asked “Are you looking for your shoes?”

I nodded.

“Me___  washed them for you.” This would be a regular occurrence.  If Me___ noticed a speck of dirt on my sneakers, she’d clean them. I’d feel bad because the next day I’d walk into town and come back with dust-covered shoes. She’d just wash them again. I overpaid her purposely.

Ugali, photo by Bacardi on flickr.com | Tanzanian Cuisine, Tanzanian food | The Girl Next Door is Black
Ugali Photo cr: Bacardi, flickr.com
MEALTIME

We also have a cook, another former student turned employee, who prepares dinner Sunday through Friday nights. She is very sweet and sings songs in Swahili while she cooks. The menu, posted on the fridge, rotates every two weeks. Dishes vary; sometimes it’s Tanzanian cuisine like chapati, ugali, mchicha (myummy!) and pillau. Other days we have meals based on recipes provided by former volunteers, such as: zucchini fritters, pasta with sauce, and chili. We usually eat dinner together every night except Friday and Saturday when many volunteers go away for weekend excursions. Having dinner together each night gives us a great opportunity to discuss our days, get to know each other better and form a semblance of a family.

I THOUGHT COLD SHOWERS WERE FOR TEENAGE BOYS
cold shower
photo by stevendepolo, flickr.com

The house has two bathrooms. One is in George’s room, the other we share between the other two bedrooms. The first week and a half of my stay the water in the shower was freezing cold and no one could figure out why. There are two buttons to press to activate the water heater before showering, but they damn sure weren’t heating the water. For over a week I took cold showers: shivering, speed cleaning and all the while trying to imagine I was in a sauna (it sorta worked). Eventually a technician fixed the issue. I’m not sure what he did, but we went from ice-cold showers to burn-the-skin-right-off-your-body steams. Given the option of cold or hot water to bathe in, I choose hot. It also gave me the opportunity to teach the students a new English vocabulary word: scalding.

TURN ON THE LIGHTS
Scrabble Board | The Girl Next Door is Black | Games to Play
Photo cr: martinak15, flickr.com

Electricity in  Tanzania is a problem. Depending on who you ask you’ll hear that it’s either because they’re short 900MW, or the government is corrupt and makes deals with sketchy electric companies. Either way, from time to time the electricity goes out without warning. I experienced this my first night in Moshi when I arrived to a pitch black house. The power went out for more than a few hours at least three more times while I was there. On one such night, only A___, George, and I were in the house. The lights flickered out in the middle of dinner. A__ became slightly panicked:

“What if the cockroaches start coming out now because it’s dark?  What are we going to do? I can’t take it!Why are they heeeeeere?!”

We grabbed lanterns, candles, and flashlights. A___ refused to make a move without George’s accompaniment in case a bug needed putting to death. 

What to do at 7pm with the lights out? Go to bed? Too early. Read? Too dark. Talk…to…each other? We talk a lot as is. Play a game? Play a game! The house had playing cards and board games.

None of us could remember the rules to any of the card games we knew, and without Google to help jog our memories, card games were out. We decided to Scrabble. We played Scrabble by candle and lantern light. A___ won and I came in second. I blame the poor view of my letter tiles for my loss. I am just a tad competitive.

Scrabble by candlelight makes for a good bonding experience.

IN CONVERSATION

DO YOU HAVE JUSTIN BIEBER IN AMERICA?
Training Day Poster, photo by jb2.0 flickr.com | Tanzania Voluntourism | The Girl Next Door is Black
Training Day, photo by jb2.0 on flickr.com

One of the non-live-in volunteers is a local, Pr_. Pr_ is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and so laid back I’m surprised he doesn’t walk in constant recline. He and I had a fun conversation after dinner one evening. He shared with me:

“We really like some American music here! We like Jay-Z, Rihanna, Beyonce (pronounced without the inflection on the final ‘e’), Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, 50-cent, Keyshia Cole…”

I informed him that Keyshia Cole spells her first name wrong (but I’m biased), Rihanna is actually from Barbados and Nicki Minaj from Trinidad, which he found surprising. He asked:

Do you have Justin Bieber in America?

I laughed – hard – and told him that we very much have the Canadian Bieber in “America,” much to the dismay of many of us.

Jay-Z came to Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam) a couple of years ago (with Beyonce in tow) and tickets cost about $20-$30. When you consider how little some people make in Tanzania – some as little as US$1 / day – it’s a huge investment to see these performers, but people are such fans that they do it.

Later, as we watched Training DayPr___ asked:

Is it true that Americans are quick to shoot each other with guns?

In TZ knives and machetes are much more prevalent than guns.

It’s a shame that one of the images of Americanism that we export to other countries, is that of US Americans as trigger-happy, homicidal asshats.

ARE YOU VOTING FOR OBAMA?
Inauguration Day 2009, President Barack Obama, L.A. Live Plaza | The Girl Next Door is Black
Inauguration Day 2009

I had hoped to escape thinking about or discussing the inane 2012 Presidential election on my trip, but there is no getting away from talking about American politics even on the other side of the planet. Quite a few times in TZ, when I mention I am American, the response is a wide-eyed variation of, “Oh, Obama!”, “He’s our ‘brother'” or “Yes we can!” POTUS has quite a few fans in TZ.

I get drawn into discussions about everything from the state of the US economy, to why some Americans are so against universal healthcare, to gay marriage, and to the horrid racism directed at President Obama and The First Lady. Once the topic of racism surfaced, Je__ shared some of his less than stellar experiences living as a biracial, young man in North Carolina. A__, my non-American-loving roommate, couldn’t believe her ears. But, that’s racism: it’s so asinine and absurd that it’s almost unbelievable if you don’t see / hear the incidents for yourself.

COUNTRY RAP

We took turns volunteering to wash the dishes after lunch and dinner each day. Often when George volunteered, his dishwashing time would turn into an American Idol audition with him belting out country songs. Once, I volunteered to dry while he washed. It thrilled him to learn that I like to listen to country music sometimes. I requested he sing a George Strait song from the 90s. He obliged, singing “Blue Clear Sky“, and followed it up with another song, aaaand another song, while A___ and I grinned and tried to sing along. I’m sure the neighbors could hear him since he was loud enough to out cock-a-doodle-doo the rooster with the death wish.

Once the dishes were done (man), we moved karaoke night into the living room and he went on a tear. He told us about country rap and one of his favorite country rap artists Cowboy Troy. I’ve never heard of this dude.

Not only did George sing for us, he rapped. Imagine a really tall, lanky, “aw shucks” white guy loudly singing a country song with a twang and suddenly busting out into a rap that includes the lyrics:

What’s-your-name is; now don’t be scared.
Get on the dance floor, girl, you heard:
Hands on your knees, arch that back.
Shake that podunk a dunk an’ make it flat.

Mic drop. It was awesome.