Hip-Hop: Where Keeping It Real Goes Wrong
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or have no clue what Twitter is) you’ve seen the recent piece on Vibe.com where Slim Thug gave his opinion on dating black women. The feature, told to Vibe contributor Starrene Rhett, caused a firestorm on the internet as everyone weighed in on his opinions regarding race and relationships. Here are some excepts from the article titled “Slim Thug: ‘Black Women Need To Stand By Their Man More’.”
“My girl is Black and White. I guess the half White in her is where she still cooks and do all the sh*t that I say, so we make it.”
“White women treat they man like a king and Black women feel like they ain’t gotta do that sh*t. Black women need to stand by their man more.”
“Black peoples’ mentality is real f*cked up in general [and] it’s affecting everything.”
The day after the feature went live, Slim Thug and professor/activist Marc Lamont Hill engaged in a back and forth discussion regarding the piece, with Slim making an attempt to defend his position. The entire internet went mad with opinions while some came to Slim Thug’s aid. The most notable was Talib Kweli. Kweli found some valid points from Slim and chose to highlight the general talking points, rather than pine over the negative. Points that Slim Thug made about people “making it rain” and women who “buy $3000 bags” were indeed valid. However, the problem with the piece was that Slim Thug painted his targets in a broad stroke of black and white, rather than addressing “some” people who do these things regardless of color. Although scattered with points that people should address, the stereotyping of many or all black women as gold diggers while white women are docile and passive was flat out wrong. Those stereotypes exist in both communities and are actually more prevalent in entertainment than they are in everyday life.
It was kind of like Bill Cosby‘s rant about African Americans back on May 17, 2004 where he lambasted a whole culture at the NAACP gala celebration at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Although there were valid points that Cosby made, he was widely criticized by his own community for how he made them. The negative generalization of an entire community only reinforced what some outside of the community assumed, whether right or wrong. Slim Thug’s rant was similar in stature.
But this isn’t really about arguing semantics regarding who was right and who was wrong. There was one particular point from Kweli that stuck out like a sore thumb. After a Twitter user tweeted, “rappers often do not separate the entertainer persona from the person they are,” Kweli added “agreed, but consumers still should.”
My qualm with this statement is that hip-hop culture has prided itself on “keeping it real” for practically the entire lifespan of rap music. The fake and phony were lambasted and individuals such as “studio gangstas” were shown no love. Rappers were supposed to practice what they preach as they never wanted to be questioned about their credibility. While some rappers actually preached and then practiced, they still did their best to connect the entertainer from the individual. Unlike acting, when the cameras go off, the actors go back to their normal lives. Denzel Washington wasn’t Malcolm X when he walked off the set. But in hip-hop, Lil Wayne is Lil Wayne 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sure there’s some embellishment, but most of the time what you see is what you get. According to what Kweli stated, the consumer is supposed to somehow figure out if Slim Thug or Stayve Jerome Thomas (his government name) is speaking on black women.
In my opinion, it’s a cop out to suggest your alter ego is the one that messes up while blaming the consumer for not knowing when it’s the artist or the person speaking. Slim Thug said what he said as Slim Thug. Maybe his mother and close family call him Stayve, but I dare someone off the street to call him Stayve and see how he responds. When Slim Thug raps about cars, clothes and hoes, I’m not sure if he thinks he’ll attract professional women with class or the $3000 handbag hounds that he cries foul upon. If Slim Thug was a character he turned off when he left the studio, I could buy this argument.
To look on the other side of the coin, does this suggest that Kweli, Mos Def, Common and other “conscious” rappers are playing a role when they rhyme about uplifting the community, empowering black women and saving our children? It would be unfair to question them about their dedication to the community. How upset would dead prez be if everyone called the music they made as strictly entertainment? Calling it an “act” would be blasphemous.
Ultimately, you can’t distance yourself from who you are when it is convenient and reap the benefits any other time. What Slim Thug did was “keep it real.” Even if what he said came out wrong or rubbed people the wrong way, he said it. You don’t have to agree with what he said, but as long as he can own up to his words, I can respect him saying what he felt. Whether I agree with his sentiments is a different blog for a different day.