Friday, February 19, 2010

Ya'll Quit Hatin on my Big Sister Erykah Badu!!!

Erykah is back and so are her haters. I’m not exactly sure how many different men Erykah has children with, but I also don’t really care. I do promote intact families and do find them ideal, but it can’t always work out that way. Sometimes those are the breaks. What I do know is Erykah is probably not on government assistance and more importantly to me her children all seem to have positive relationships with their fathers. For all the negative things said about her on blogs, and blog comments more likely, I have never heard any of her children’s dads stepping forward to say anything negative about her, nor have I heard her say anything negative about any of the men who are in her life. One of them even apologized to Erykah a “trillion times” about things not working out. Now that I think of it every interview I’ve ever read with Erykah and Andre 3000 or Common etc…they all speak very highly of one another. I respect that.

I also love Erykah’s music. If you buy the notion that one’s art is a reflection of themselves one cannot deny that Erykah love’s black men in a way that is not commonly communicated in the media, let alone the music industry, which has found a way to commodify the bodies of black women and the minds of black men, and in the process denigrate any healthy notion of love between the two. But Erykah is different. She always has been. Sure there is the occasional Angie Stone, "Black Brotha" song, or the occasional "Brown Skin Lady" or "Independent" song that gets play on the airwaves. But compared to the work of Ms. Badu songs like those are two dimensional portraits. Those songs are empty, and in the end, they are just another stereotype recast in a different light. Those songs don’t adequately communicate the feelings, frustrations, and complexities many experience when looking to meaningfully engage the opposite sex. They may leave you feeling good when juxtaposed against the I want to have sex with every girl in the world or Ill bust the windows out your car type of music we normally hear, but they don’t really shed any new light on our relationships or how we view one another.

Beyonce had a hit song "Soldiers" where she sang about needing a street cat, and in it, Beyonce romanticizes, and creates an incentive (the incentives her sexuality if you missed it) for, being "hood". Well, I’m not hood. And besides not being built that way, I’ve done a lot of things right in my life so I do not often find myself in situations where not being hood would prove problematic. I guess it could be a problem if I want a chick like Beyonce, but I know better. I just wonder how many young, impressionable, adolescent boys know better. As if they don’t have enough influencing them to behave like thugs to now have to worry about being undesirable by the opposite sex if they happen to not be "hood". Thanks, B. Now peep Erykah’s song "Danger". Erykah does not deny the allure of a street cat that knows "how to get dough", in fact the narrator of the song is in love with a drug dealer. Yet Erykah paints the picture of having to stay up at night worrying about him coming home, having to keep stash, bail, and "on the lamb" money, and having to be ready to take off running from cops or rival dealers at the drop of a hat with a baby and a shotgun in tow. Basically, Erykah makes that lifestyle real.
Me and this baby gon be here all night long
Walking this wood flo' till my man gets home
I'm at the front door I'm listening by the phone
But I'm gon be here with my make-up on
It's been a long time since my man's been gone
But when he gets here you know I wont be gone
Because I love him Love him strong
Got a box of money that I keep under my bed
But we don't spend it though might need it for more yeyo
We need this money just in case we need to make a run
We'll there aint no mistaken
In that the money you making it leaves you nervous and shaken
Cause at night your awake
Thinking bout lives that you've
Taken and all the love your forsaken

Any impressionable young girl listening may now think twice about a "street cat" that knows "how to get dough" and "carries big thangs" and if you know what I mean that dorky kid with glasses on who sits in the front with his hand up all the time may not be looking so bad after all.

Erykah has another song called "Soldiers" where she actually talks about the black male nerd figure, and I never hear about us in music! : p I can't help but notice Erykah's take on a soldier as compared to Beyonce's. Of course the heroic nerd gets shot and killed before the first refrain, but before he dies the narrator romanticizes his qualities:
see he's organized
and he's on the ball
never miss a day of school
and he's a underdog
wanna learn more and more
cuz his mama taught him good
He's about to change the face
of yo ghetto neighborhood
walking to school today
The whole song is about our communities' and how we collectively view members that have transcended the community's negative aspects, but also have the potential to elevate the entire community with their success. The nerd is a martyr in the song. He represents the positive forces in our community and his murderer represents those that would impede the community’s progress. When I don’t feel like going to class, this song inspires me. I’m on the ball!! That’s me! Not that I’m anti-thug, or anti-blue collar, or anything like that, but there is a stability present in the song's martyr, which is conducive to strong relationships, and that is lacking in most of the "I don’t give a fuck" or "hustle drugs" from day to day characters we typically see glorified in urban genres of music.

Another common archetype in the media is the idea of black men who have failed to live up to their potential. In music you have songs like "Scrubs" and "Bills, Bills, Bills" which in their hay were alot like anthems. But as a black man once struggling to come of age, in Erykah’s music and in songs like "Time's a Wastin", I found inspiration:
'Cause we're livin' in a world that's oh, so strange
Boy, don't let your focus change
Taking out the demons in your range, hey
Livin' in a world that's oh, so fast
Gotta make your money last
Learn from your past, oh
Time's a wastin'
Don't you take your time, young man
Keep on drifting
Ain't no tellin' where you'll land

where elsewhere there was shame and humiliation.

Even when Erykah aimed her pen at black men, and actively criticized us, creating an anthem of her own in the song "Tyrone", it was apparent she was trying to make things work with her mate. All she wanted was some reciprocity and time alone with her man:
See Everytime you come around
You got to bring Jim, James, Paul, & Tyrone
See why can't we be by ourselves, sometimes
See I've been having this on my mind
For a long time
I just want it to be
You and me
She wasn’t singing about being cheated on or abused in some way, which I don’t mean to undermine, but they are not the cause of a majority of break ups. Most break ups occur between two well meaning reasonable people and are caused by problems that are somewhat pedestrian. Stuff just like hanging out with the fellas too much, or not showing a woman she’s appreciated by spending quality time or picking up the tab every now and then. Who can’t relate to that?

But nowadays it’s become in vogue to blame relationship woes amongst black people on a shortage of black men, without taking a stance on either side of that position, I simply make note of another Erykah anthem: Bag Lady. I’ve read a lot of the articles and blogs outlining this issue of supply and demand and I can’t help but notice that with a lot of women making these claims there is some baggage present. Not saying that’s always the case, or even that I disagree with the premise that there is a shortage of black men (leave that for another post), but I could never see Erykah echoing that statement, probably because she doesn’t seem to have a problem getting men : ); but also because that excuse would be too easy for an artist like Erykah who uses her art to look into the souls of real people and their relationships. I don't think it is in her to express such a profound lack of faith in black men's ability to be partners. She simply loves us too much.

That being the case, as many of her haters have asked, why do her relationships fall apart? Why does she have so many children with different fathers? I wouldn’t know. I don’t know Erykah besides her music, and I don’t know any of her mates besides their music. I know Erykah’s music is progressive and meaningful, and I also know the music of her mates’ tend to be the same way. Andre 3000 goes without saying. When Common was dating Erykah he was right up there, though I’m not really sure what’s happened to him as of late. The D.O.C. is right behind Doctor Dre in engineering the west coast sound. And Jay Electronica of Exhibit C fame stays spitting hot fires and has already been deemed Hip Hop’s second coming. All I have to say about that is maybe all that glitters isn’t gold. That goes for Erykah and her mates.

Regardless, I’m going to still listen to her music. In an industry like the music business where every institution from radio to videos to the artists themselves seem intent on creating animosity between the sexes, an artist like Erykah Badu needs to be heard. I honestly cannot think of another artist who routinely promotes cooperation and understanding between the sexes through their craft. If you can think of some artists, please link me to their music so I can become a fan and support their endeavors.

When I listen to a lot of Erykah’s songs I feel okay for being me, even though I don’t fit the black male archetype of aggressiveness and hyper violence, or even everyday hustling and competitiveness. Erykah is my aural big sister and she comes through in surround sound. Always there with some words of advice, support, or affection. Even when I'm out of pocket she lovingly sets me straight. I genuinely feel for women who, at least by my calculations, have no male equivalent in modern music. She presents a complete picture of black masculinity as seen by the black female, which I can appreciate, and it makes me want to return that sentiment to the black female, in kind. So yall hater's? Leave my big sis alone!

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