Bad Bitches and Ladies, by Vanessa Rene

21 Oct

Lupe Fiasco has, for a while now, been one of my favorite rappers. I’ve loved his impressive wordplay and his clever lyrics, his amazing storytelling and sick flow. And for a little bit, I considered myself a Lupe stan. He could do no wrong in my eyes. Food & Liquor is a masterpiece. The Cool is probably my favorite album of all time. I pretend that Lasers (an album that was released, ultimately to appease his record label…he distances himself from that record every chance he gets…) never happened. And I, like the rest of the Lupe stans out there, anxiously waited for the announcement of when he would be releasing his next album,Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album.

I came across the lead single from the new release off his Facebook page.

The song, “Bitch Bad” is definitely a conversation starter: Lupe tells the story of how two young individuals define the phrase “bad bitch.” A young man heard his mother use it while rapping along to a song. He loves his mother; she takes care of him, and raises him well, so he associates “bad bitch” with women who are like his mother.

A young woman comes across the phrase while watching uncensored rap videos online without parental supervision. To her, being a “bad bitch” is to be like the women seen in those ‘raunchy’ rap music videos: they’re beautiful women who have caught the attention of powerful men in the music industry. She sees the video vixens as role models because of all they were able to achieve, and begins to call herself a “bad bitch,” in hopes of aspiring to their success.

The two eventually meet, and don’t particularly hit it off. They both have two different meanings of the phrase.

The chorus is where the cognitive dissonance starts for me. I can’t enjoy the song as much as I’d like to, nor can I hop onto the message that Lupe attempts to expose because he raps:

“ ‘Bitch’ bad, ‘woman’ good
‘Lady’ better, they misunderstood…”

And in the last verse, he even goes so far as to say, “…greatest: ‘motherhood’.”

While the discourse could be interesting (I can identify with his praise of motherhood, while still acknowledging how problematic it is to suggest that all women aspire to become mothers), especially considering the political climate with regards to Black womanhood, his assertion goes hand in hand with the larger “virgin-whore” dichotomy that is so pervasive in our society. Black women are particularly under such scrutiny.

In 2008, after Erykah Badu revealed that she was pregnant with her third child, she was criticized heavily, because each of her children had different fathers, and she was not married. Apparently, she went off, and defended her herself online, advising those who criticized her to:

“live how you want . follow which ever pattern YOU like .
MY CHILDREN WILL BE LEADERS
and they will not ever be slaves to this society’s failing idea of morality.
THEY OWN THEIR MINDS AND THEIR DREAMS. [sic]”

After Beyonce officially announced her pregnancy at last year’s VMA’s, I remember going through too many Facebook statuses and Twitter posts that claimed that she went about it “the right way,” meaning she dated first, then got married, then got pregnant. Some people even went so far as to ask, how dare she; having a baby would take away from her career, and she would be forced into an early retirement.

Black women are constantly being shamed for the choices they make with their bodies. And if their situation does not fit the widely accepted, neatly packaged, cookie-cutter mold of “first comes love, then marriage, then the baby carriage,” they are viewed as non-contributing members of society: the welfare queens sitting on top of mountains of government distributed checks, lazily pumping out children.

The hierarchy of Black Womanhood that Lupe presents in the hook of his song is disconcerting because his comments don’t exist in a vacuum. They need to be analyzed and framed within the historical context of the commoditization of Black women’s bodies, and the sexist and racist portrayals of Black women’s sexuality that still exist in our culture today.

Lupe, as a straight Black male, cannot decide “bitch bad, woman good.” He cannot determine what words Black women decide to reclaim and identify with. With the privileges assigned to his maleness, he cannot claim that “lady hood” is what Black women should aspire to.

What exactly makes a “lady,” anyway?

The character in his song asserts that:

“He thinks she’s bad at being a ‘bitch’ like his mother
‘Mama never dress like that, come out the house, hot mess like that
Ass, titties, dress like that…’”

The “lady” image is conflated with the way that young woman dresses. We are meant to praise and laud the young man’s mother, who he greatly respects and admires. She calls herself a “bad bitch,” and it’s fine. But we are meant to shame the young woman in the story who took “bad bitch” and used it to define herself differently.

I guess I can see where he was coming from: Lupe is attempting to attack misogyny in music and how it can negatively impact young people. His efforts come off as misguided, particularly because while he does attempt to start what could be an interesting conversation, all his talking points fuel the same sort of sexism that we’ve encountered before. But he doesn’t take into consideration the political climate that has created these harmful stereotypes. He never calls out the society that places these images onto women, and which misinform the men that perpetuate them. He even sympathizes with his male character’s sexist assumptions:

“Just like that, you see the fruit of the confusion
He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion
‘Bad’ mean ‘good’ to her, she really nice and smart
But ‘bad’ mean ‘bad’ to him, ‘bitch’ don’t play your part”

He does not acknowledge the young woman’s autonomy. He paints her as a simple, one-sided and uninformed figure, one that cannot possibly understand the negative origins of the word. He never really acknowledges reclamation and the positivity that can come from it. He doesn’t give his character, or the women like her, enough credit.

The song could have really been an interesting conversation on reclamation, which I know Lupe is capable of starting, but it just feels like a thinly veiled, misguided and misleading attempt at consciousness.

This is not to say that I won’t listen to the Great American Rap Album, or that I condone Lupe’s hypersensitivity to a negative review of the song on Spin magazine. I still love rap, I still love hip-hop, I do not blame either for misogyny in music, and Lupe still holds a special place in my heart, if not on my iPod, at least.

But you can love something and still be critical of it.

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