Thoughtful Notes #2: “For Free?”


My friend Vay is a lady and a scholar. She put me on the sounds of Noname Gypsy a little while ago and many a head-bop later, I’m still on this young Femcee’s team. Her flow is up there with the best of them, and she tells a story (which is becoming very rare). Plus her awkward, almost dead-pan delivery makes her genuinely endearing 🙂  She has a mixtape coming out shortly. Keep up with her on her website.

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As you know, we gets political around here…not because I want to get a rise out of anyone, it’s just that as a black woman the political is personal. It cannot be helped.

Now, a few days ago, Mr. Kendrick Lamar released the video for his “For Free?” interlude that is off his critically-acclaimed sophmore album, To Pimp a Butterfly. You guys know that Kendrick is a problematic fave of mine. I stan for the boy, and for this particular body of work because it is beautiful, brutal and unapologetically black. But this video, though visually compelling made me squirm in my seat…

You’re probably wondering what exactly would make me uncomfortable with Kendrick’s little ode to the last poets, that is accompanied by a seemingly humourous visual. Well, it’s the fact that once again, a male rapper has used a black woman to represent the pressures and expectations that white America place on a black man. I’m so tired of this trope in hip hop. I just can’t.

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This conflation of the relationship between black men and black women, with the oppression of white supremacy is not only invalid BS, it’s harmful to black women (who, honestly, are even more oppressed by white supremacy than black men…and yes, I know this is not the oppression olympics). Funny thing is Kendrick is talking about how he will NOT be pimped and decides to pimp his fellow black woman to make this point. When I thought about it further I realized that in fact, To Pimp a butterfly as a whole characterizes black women in the negative or ignores them all together (see the cover art, not a single woman on there)

“To feminize the negative or to negate the feminine serves nothing new or revolutionary to hip-hop or art in general.” ~Raquel Willis~

The video portrays the woman as  a caricature in the mould of a hyper-sexualized, mindless gold-digger. This  stereotype dehumanizes black women…and before you remove yourself from that equation, oh fellow girl hip-hopper, please believe this is mostly how we are portrayed and therefore how we are perceived. All of us. Why do you think Mo’ne Davis, a 12 year old child was called a slut by a grown man? Because that’s what black womanhood is portrayed as in the media: Over-sexed. I mean just look at another problematic fave of ours, J. cole, who in the song “No role modelz” goes straight-up hotep by slut-shaming a whole group of women for their sexual choices. As if those women are not sexual beings with their own agency. As if they live in a vacuum. As if they are not a result of a white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. I really can’t with this basic-ness from the two artists who are apparently carrying the flag for hip hop right now.

“By naming sexist oppression as a problem it would appear that we would have to identify as threatening a group we have heretofore assumed to be our allies — Black men. This seems to be one of the major stumbling blocks to beginning to analyze the sexual relationships/sexual politics of our lives. The phrase “men are not the enemy” dismisses feminism and the reality of patriarchy in one breath and overlooks some major realities.”

–Black feminist activist Barbara Smith from Notes for Yet another Paper on Black Feminism, or, Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up?

Art is what nourishes the spirit and informs our perspectives, so no, it’s never just a song or a video. When we create art and consume it, we have to think about what we are doing, and not just in the context of our own little bubble, which is what Kendrick did. He believes that since this is his narrative as a black man, he doesn’t have to think about it broadly, well he does. With the kind of  talent and reach he has, he absolutely does because so many black boys and men, not mention girls and women, look to him for answers. Critical thought must be employed, by all of us, and even more so by our beloved, black geniuses. Kendrick’s work is a call for black liberation but it will be no liberation at all if it dehumanizes or dismisses half of us.

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