Round Table Talks: Nicki Minaj to Sandra Bland. (Abridged)

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Imagine that the many problems in the world are strands in a spider’s web. Tiny threads come together to create a scene that is larger than life, and every strand has an impact. Indeed, movement felt in one part of the web to individual strands will create vibrations that reverberate in other parts- the entire web will shake when a problem arises. This is the analogy that mattered when I sat down with my friend Amba to discuss Nicki Minaj, and watched the conversation turn to Sandra Bland and more.

Bhumika: Let’s be real here. We both know that Nicki Minaj was right to call out white privileged media when Anaconda got snubbed. What were your initial thoughts on hearing the story?

Amba: My initial thoughts were solely about Nicki. My thought process was thus: “yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss”. That reaction was for one of the industry’s hardest working people standing up to say what needed to be said about how the VMAs and MTV in general simultaneously commodify black contributions to society while devaluing it.

Nicki Minaj has won the BET award for Best Female Hip Hop artist 5 years in a row.

Bhumika: Agreed. As a female, and a black female at that, Nicki has had to work her ass off in order to gain credibility as a rapper. Hip hop and rap are known as black forms of music, but in this instance it almost felt like she wasn’t being celebrated for her contributions. Nicki spoke to the way black culture is valuable, but black women aren’t. Why do you think Taylor Swift injected herself into the conversation?

Amba:  She inserted herself because she, like many white female entertainers and many white women in general, cannot comprehend a black woman’s struggle in any way shape or form. They are often incapable because they see a focus on black women’s issues as pitting people against each other because it is something they themselves cannot relate to. They cannot understand that they are often the perpetrators of these micro aggressions against their “sisters”. So the tactic used here is to accuse the offending “angry black woman” of being anti feminist, or of attacking women in general.

Bhumika: Taylor Swift lacks the ability to view things from an intersectional standpoint. She tweeted “Maybe one of the men took your spot” at Nicki. In the world of white feminism, intersectionality does not exist; it doesn’t consider that culture, ethnicity, religion, and race matter in the grand sphere of equality. To me, Taylor seems to see it in this way. She automatically jumps to the idea that women shouldn’t be pitted against one another, but that men might be the culprits here instead. She doesn’t even take into account that Nicki is speaking to the unfair treatment of black women as a whole.

When the media got wind of all of the excitement on Twitter, they painted Nicki as a villain, and Taylor as the victim. This was done through the wording, and through the pictures used. How do you feel about the fact that a black woman, when speaking about a relevant issue to society, was painted as a “bad guy”?

Amba: I feel unsurprised, as did Nicki in her immediate reaction to the depiction. Prominent black celebrities and twitter personalities chimed in quickly as well. Notably, Janet Mock immediately pointed out that the pictures used were in poor taste, and replaced the wacky Nicki picture with a poised pose, and Taylor’s demure picture with a zany shot.

Black voices, especially black women’s voices, are silenced in many ways. The easiest is to invalidate their words by suggesting that they and everything they do are a joke. Nicki specifically has long been a target of this because of her sexually provocative lyrics, clothing, and her loud makeup and hair. The easiest way to dismiss legitimate voices is to make all black people into a joke.

Bhumika: In the grand scheme of things, I think the invalidation of black voices is a huge problem. When you reduce an entire group of people to a caricature, their experiences and struggles become a non-issue. This is heavily tied to white privilege, and white people, as they have the power to speak and silence these issues. As we speak, voices are erupting on social media asking for #justiceforSandraBland. She knew her rights, she was an advocate for black lives, and now she is dead. When black voices are dismissed as irrelevant, black bodies are as well.

Places like Twitter can erupt in moments like these, but groups in positions of power can limit their interaction and ability to change anything. They have power at grassroots levels, but not in places where systemic racism occurs (or can be changed for that matter). When Taylor Swift offers an apology to Nicki (which she did on Twitter), the conversation is meant to be silenced. This perpetuates the problem, because these are things that shouldn’t be silenced. Taylor Swift didn’t react to the way black bodies and women of colour are marginalized. She likely won’t.

Amba: Denying the value of Twitter or social media spaces in general is denying the world that we live in. Twitter and social media as a whole absolutely have the power to effect change, and the discussion is not, was not, and cannot be silenced by Taylor Swift deciding it is done.

Invalidating black voices means that black people are rendered partially invisible in society. The only visible image of black people in media is negative: criminal, hyper sexual, deviant, degenerate, absentee parents and out of control children. All of these are smashed by actual facts and statistics, but those things are rendered invisible in this hypervisibility of faux tropes.

This leads even the conscious media viewer to questions that aren’t even posed, before the media is even skewed. What should Sandra have done to avoid being killed? What did she do to bring this on herself? Was she high? Was she a criminal? We ask (or are led to ask) these questions because the right answers will fit her into the negative trope that Americans are taught. Existing outside of that trope is hard to understand.

Nicki Minaj exists outside of that trope. She is articulate, she is powerful, she is successful. She is unquestionably in charge. All of those things need to be erased and invalidated to fit the trope that American media (and american society) is comfortable with.

Nicki Minaj will not be silenced, but mainstream media will stop discussing this issue because Taylor swift has attempted to close it. People will continue to discuss it, and theorize, and pontificate, and generate meaningful discussion. It will take a hundred more Nicki Minaj’s who immediately call things out as they happen before it is even acceptable for Black people (esp. Black women) to have voices in our society. And even then, that’s assuming that eventually white people wake up and smell their privilege- a grand and generous assumption.

Bhumika: Nicki’s “Anaconda” broke Vevo’s ‘most views in 24 hours’ record. It was a pop culture phenomenon, inspiring memes, artwork, and even Ellen Degeneres, who produced her own Anaconda video. Why didn’t MTV consider it relevant again?

Round Table Talks: Nicki Minaj to Sandra Bland.

Imagine that the many problems in the world are strands in a spider’s web. Tiny threads come together to create a scene that is larger than life, and every strand has an impact. Indeed, movement felt in one part of the web to individual strands will create vibrations that reverberate in other parts- the entire web will shake when a problem arises. This is the analogy that mattered when a friend and I sat down to discuss Nicki Minaj, and watched the conversation turn to Sandra Bland and more.

Amba is a small town girl turned fellow Torontonian. She eats, sleeps, and breathes online, and so she was the perfect person with whom to discuss Nicki and Taylor’s Twitter debacle. She is a critical drinker, a heavy thinker, and all around opinionated lady. The latter is my favourite part- especially when our opinions seem to agree, as they did on this occasion.

Bhumika: Let’s be real here. We both know that Nicki Minaj was right to call out white privileged media when Anaconda got snubbed. What were your initial thoughts on hearing the story?

Amba: My initial thoughts were solely about Nicki. My thought process was thus: “yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss”. That reaction was for one of the industry’s hardest working people standing up to say what needed to be said about how the VMAs and MTV in general simultaneously commodify black contributions to society while devaluing it. It is an old pattern, as old as slave labour.

Nicki Minaj has won the BET award for Best Female Hip Hop artist 5 years in a row.

Bhumika: Agreed. As a female, and a black female at that, Nicki has had to work her ass off in order to appear relevant and gain credibility as a rapper. Hip hop and rap are known as black forms of music, but in this instance it almost felt like she wasn’t being celebrated for her contributions. Instead, white women who utilize the black form are being celebrated. We can talk about Iggy, or Mylie, but that would deviate from this discussion. Nicki spoke to the way black culture is valuable, but black women aren’t. Why do you think Taylor Swift injected herself into the conversation?

Amba: I would love to say that Tay Swift inserted herself because she was mistaken, or confused, or even simply a bad person. But she didn’t, wasn’t, and is not. She inserted herself because she, like many white female entertainers and many white women in general, cannot comprehend a black woman’s struggle in any way shape or form. [I interjected here to add a succinct “SLAY”] They are often incapable because they see a focus on black women’s issues as pitting people against each other because it is something they themselves cannot relate to. These individuals usually invoke men as the common enemy because they cannot understand that they are often the perpetrators of these micro aggressions against their “sisters”. So the tactic used here is to accuse the offending “angry black woman” of being anti feminist, or of attacking women in general, or of attacking them personally.

Bhumika: But she assumed Nicki spoke about her. Do you think this was an okay assumption to make?

 Amba: I think that from Taylor’s vantage point, anything addressing the VMAs, MTV, music, or the music industry at all is personal, because she felt a sense of entitlement to her right to fair play. When there is any suggestion that something was unfair in a white women’s favour, they cannot comprehend. They feel personally attacked. They feel defensive…Taylor had no reason to think Nicki was calling her out. She had every reason to know that she benefitted from the unfair advantage that Nicki was describing in her post. And that is why she responded. Nicki did not mean Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift knew that the specific type of privilege benefited her, and she reacted. That is why Nicki was so in the right to say that she didn’t mean Taylor at all… but that she “should speak on this issue”.

Bhumika: Taylor Swift lacks the ability to view things from an intersectional standpoint. She tweeted “Maybe one of the men took your spot” at Nicki. In the world of white feminism, intersectionality does not exist. This is why second and third wave feminism came to be. White feminism, often considered first wave feminism, doesn’t consider that culture, ethnicity, religion, and race matter in the grand sphere of equality. To me, Taylor seems to see it in this way. She automatically jumps to the idea that women shouldn’t be pitted against one another, but that men might be the culprits here instead. She doesn’t even take into account that Nicki is speaking to the unfair treatment of black women as a whole.

When the media got wind of all of the excitement on Twitter, they blew up with news about the fight. Many media outlets painted Nicki as a villain, and Taylor as the victim. This was done through the wording, and through the pictures used. How do you feel about the fact that a black woman, when speaking about a relevant issue to society, was painted as a “bad guy”?

Amba: I feel unsurprised, as did Nicki in her immediate reaction to the depiction. Prominent black celebrities and twitter personalities chimed in quickly as well. Notably, Janet Mock immediately pointed out that the pictures used were in poor taste, and replaced the wacky Nicki picture with a poised pose, and Taylor’s demure picture with a zany shot.

Black voices, especially black women’s voices, are silenced in many ways. The easiest is to invalidate their words by suggesting that they and everything they do are a joke. Nicki specifically has long been a target of this because of her sexually provocative lyrics, clothing, and her loud makeup and hair. It can even be tied to the era of blackface and minstrel shows evolving into the modern vision of a clown; the trademark makeup of over-lined lips and large nose mirror minstrel show depictions of black people. The easiest way to dismiss legitimate voices is to make all black people into a joke.

Bhumika: In the grand scheme of things, I think the invalidation of black voices is a huge problem. When you reduce an entire group of people to a caricature, their experiences and struggles become a non-issue. This is heavily tied to white privilege, and white people, as they have the power to speak and silence these issues. As we speak, voices are erupting on social media asking for #justiceforSandraBland. She knew her rights, she was an advocate for black lives, and now she is dead. When black voices are dismissed as irrelevant, black bodies are as well.

Places like Twitter can erupt in moments like these, but groups in positions of power can limit their interaction and ability to change anything. They have power at grassroots levels, but not in places where systemic racism occurs (or can be changed for that matter). When Taylor Swift offers an apology to Nicki (which she did on Twitter), the conversation is meant to be silenced. This perpetuates the problem, because these are things that shouldn’t be silenced. Taylor Swift didn’t react to the way black bodies and women of colour are marginalized. She likely won’t.

Amba: Denying the value of Twitter or social media spaces in general is denying the world that we live in. Mike Brown’s murder would not have been global news if not for Twitter specifically. First hand video circulated via Twitter. Doxxing racists has resulted in real people losing their jobs. President Obama has used both Twitter and Tumblr as spaces to engage in meaningful discussion with the people. Twitter and social media as a whole absolutely have the power to effect change, and the discussion is not, was not, and cannot be silenced by Taylor Swift deciding it is done.

Invalidating black voices means that black people are rendered partially invisible in society. This happens to all minority groups, but for African Americans it is hard to imagine such a large group being invisible. This invisibility is sometimes perpetuated by their hypervisibility in other lenses, such as Fox News’ news that paints only stereotypes and lies (because they have no legal obligation to report the news). The hyper visible image of black people in media is negative: criminal, hyper sexual, deviant, degenerate, absentee parents and out of control children. All of these are smashed by actual facts and statistics, but those things are rendered invisible in this hypervisibility of faux tropes.

This hypervisibility of the “Phantom Negro” leads even the conscious media viewer to questions that aren’t even posed, before the media is even skewed. What should Sandra have done to avoid being killed? What did she do to bring this on herself? Was she high? Was she a criminal? We ask (or are led to ask) these questions because the right answers will fit her into the “Phantom Negro” trope that Americans are taught. Existing outside of that trope is hard to understand.

Nicki Minaj exists outside of that trope. She is articulate, and she is powerful (financially and in terms of cultural following). She is successful. She is unquestionably in charge. All of those things need to be erased and invalidated to fit the trope that American media (and american society) is comfortable with.

Even black people and black women discussing Nicki Minaj are being invalidated: “why aren’t you talking about Sandra Bland?”. If we discuss her death “why aren’t you talking about other deaths?” and if we discuss other issues, “what about our troops?” And that generally leads to “if you aren’t patriotic, go back to where you came from”. Such a basic, circular, illogical tactic should be laughable but is actually common.

Nicki Minaj will not be silenced, but mainstream media will stop discussing this issue because Taylor swift has attempted to close it. People will continue to discuss it, and theorize, and pontificate, and generate meaningful discussion. On this issue, and on the murder of Sandra Bland. And on the murder of black trans women. And on misogynoir. And on many other topics. And all of those discussions will be invalidated by lumping them together in a generalized “black twitter” joke. Their use of memes, a popular song, AAVE, whatever it is, they will be dismissed by mainstream media. And it will take a hundred more Nick Minaj’s who immediately call things out as they happen before it is even acceptable for Black people (esp. Black women) to have voices in our society. And even then, that’s assuming that eventually white people wake up and smell their privilege. Which is a grand and generous assumption.

Bhumika: It’s crazy to me how the invalidation of black voices and bodies can be felt in so many instances. I think that it’s up to us as the people, and as allies to make sure discussions like this continue to take place, regardless of whether white media decides it isn’t relevant. By listening to grassroots discussions and trying to empathize with others and understand their pain, we may be able to aid them, and work together to push rights that result in equality.

Nicki’s “Anaconda” broke Vevo’s ‘most views in 24 hours’ record. It was a pop culture phenomenon, inspiring memes, artwork, and even Ellen Degeneres, who produced her own Anaconda video. Why didn’t MTV consider it relevant again?

Meandering my way through a TIDAL review.

Ease of access to music online has put a severe dent in the music market. Hop Hop artists want to sing about the money, but what are they going to do if they can’t really get it? Enter streaming services. Artists get paid based on ad revenue and premium fees. At this point, Spotify, Tidal, and Apple are contenders in the same market, though some streaming services are doing better than others. Today, I’ll be taking a look at Jay Z’s TIDAL. A few months ago, Jay Z caused a stir when he bought the music company Aspiro for 56 million dollars. He was entering the music streaming market with the company’s streaming service TIDAL, and in my mind the game was over for Spotify. I was completely wrong.

TIDAL offers a one month free trial when you sign up for one of their plans, at $9.99 a month and $19.99. I signed up for the 19.99 plan, which offers lossless high fidelity sound, high quality music videos, and expertly curated content. You can choose to pay with credit card or PayPal. I chose PayPal.

TIDAL advertisements were everywhere. High profile artists in high quality videos sat around boardroom tables, and talked about revolutionary moments. TIDAL was about putting money back in the hands of artists, which many of them having stake in the service itself. This made sense to me, as they were the ones producing the music we so badly craved. Others cursed this; “they already have money, they don’t need more”. However, the prices are pretty fair. The lower end $9.99 a month plan is the price of a meal in Toronto, not even a good one at that. Students also get further discounts, which slash the prices in half for both plans. I decided to take in TIDAL’s services in a few different ways.

For the most part, I’m a Spotify-er, and I listen to my music in the background as I complete household activities. TIDAL would have to be treated in the same nonchalant way. I decided to make most of my trial and listened to Lil Wayne’s exclusive Tidal released album FWA (Free Weezy Album).  TIDAL is meant to have lossless streaming and high fidelity sound. As I listened, I couldn’t really tell the difference. As someone who listens to music in the background, I couldn’t care less. Indeed, tests done with users demonstrate that we can’t really tell the difference. I listen to music on my laptop, or through my shitty headphones. If I was listening through better headphones, or had a quality stereo system, it may have made a difference. I don’t know that a $19.99 price tag for quality matters when I’m busy folding laundry away; my freshly laundered socks don’t seem to care much. Offline streaming capability, on the other hand, makes a world of difference during tedious subway rides. As I listened to Lil Wayne croon in the background, I was most interrupted when he stopped. I looked back at my computer. The lossless audio was lost. It didn’t happen again, and started within a few seconds, but I was disappointed. For some reason, I expected a lot more from Jay, even though I’ve never expected the same from Spotify.

It seemed that the world did as well. TIDAL revealed itself as owned by artists, and fans raged about it. They saw greed, rather than due. Tidal was money hungry with their subscription fees, which were higher than other streaming services like Spotify. In order to curb anger about TIDAL, Jay Z even had to create a Twitter account. Most of his tweets are about how TIDAL isn’t evil.

One of the main components to Jay’s TIDAL is video, and artist curated content. You can check out popular artist videos, behind the scenes cuts, and access playlists created by artists and users. This is the portion that involved me stepping away from the world and sitting down to pay attention. Fine, I could do that- it meant watching the exclusively released “Feeling Myself” by Nicki Minaj and Beyonce. That video is a must watch, by the way. “Feeling Myself” was a gateway drug into the world of TIDAL video. My sister was out that night, but came home to me still glued to my computer, watching J.Cole lead a revolution in “G.O.M.D.”. She sat down for a second, and we watched “Feeling Myself” again. It was only when my eyes started burning that I knew I needed to stop. I discovered new music, watched my favourite artists, and felt like I was on a Netflix binge. Video is often underrated when it comes to streaming services, so this was a breathe of fresh air. A lack of ads, video, and all the music that I wanted made TIDAL a contender against Spotify. I found all my favourite artists, and had access to videos and extras that I don’t have on Spotify. Is it worth getting the service for a month, at the price of foregoing lunch? That depends on how hungry you are.

Presently, TIDAL isn’t doing well. I think this has to do with the way it was marketed. High profile artists were looking our for themselves, not the little guy, as they clinked glasses and sipped champagne. Furthermore, the little guy isn’t just a lesser known artist, but represents consumers without the funds to pay for services like this. Many will take the ads over the high quality sound any day.

A Kritikal analysis of Kanye’s “Heard ’em Say”

kendrick-lamar
Kendrick Lamar released ” To Pimp a Butterfly” on March 15, 2015.

A few weeks ago, my social media channels where all abuzz with a story about Kendrick Lamar. In an effort to engage his students, a teacher named Brian Mooney started teaching Kendrick alongside a book called The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. The story picked up, and Kendrick heard about it- it is truly a fairy tale from there. Kendrick visited the school, listened to the students’ cyphers, freestyled with them, offered his own insights, and even held a concert for the entire school. Kendrick talks about wanting to use his celebrity for good, and kept his word without hesitation.

The whole trip started with a single blog post that Mooney wrote, entitled WHY I DROPPED EVERYTHING AND STARTED TEACHING KENDRICK LAMAR’S NEW ALBUM. Mooney talks about the parallels between English and Hip Hop music, and how easy it is to relay the messages of the classics through Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. He is right. The complexity of rappers’ wordplay and their multiple meanings is what draws me to rap in the first place. It is the re-challenging of privilege that ignites fires in my blood, and raises goosebumps on my arms. I was an English student, and critique and analysis have since become a part of the workings of my mind. Inspired by Mooney, I have tried to write a short analysis that he might have written or seen in his mind’s eye.

If you ask me who my favourite artist is, I will tell you time and time again that it is Kanye West. The man is a rockstar, and an absolute genius. Heard ’em Say, while one of his more mainstream works, is beauteous in its critique of cycles of poverty and institutionalized racism for people of colour. Kanye’s lyricism isn’t always complex, but it is provocative, as seen on lines such as “And I know that the government administer AIDS“. He isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind, as seen in the Hurricane Katrina fundraiser clip.

Part of the reason why I love Heard ’em Say so much is that the video is as thought provoking as the song. We follow Kanye the cab driver, and a little boy and his mother. The boy packs his suitcase with the help of his grandmother and mother, who both have cigarettes in their mouths. A trail of heavy, perpetual smoke follows the boy and his mother as they get into Kanye’s cab, and travel through the city. The animation comes alive with Kanye’s lyrics, and the boy’s eyes are drawn with exaggerated largeness as he looks at advertisements of diamonds and jewelry, exhibiting his impressionable mind and social sense to copy what he sees around him.  As the woman runs into the gas station to buy lottery tickets “that are put just to tease us”, the boy picks up the cigarettes that his family members chain smoke.  He throws the lit match out of the window into a puddle of gas, and the car erupts in flames. Both the boy and Kanye pass on. This scene is accompanied by the following lyrics:

My Aunt Pam can’t put them cigarettes down
So now my little cousin smokin them cigarettes now

His job try to claim that he too n*****ish now
Is it cause his skin blacker than licorice now
I can’t figure it out, I’m sick of it now

Heard ’em Say offers critique on cycles of poverty and racism when Kanye talks about how “where [he’s] from the dope boys is the rock stars, but they can’t cop cars without seeing cop cars”, which demonstrates that hoods and ghettos don’t give people much to aspire to. Being able to provide for yourself or your family by any means necessary is necessary. Unfortunately, enforcement for change comes in the form of police brutality and harassment, instead of in the form of better education to stop cycles of poverty, and knowledge about privilege to help people of colour love the skin they’re in.

In the beginning of the video, a rich woman and her pampered pooch exit Kanye’s cab. When he asks for his tip, she flips him a nickel, exhibiting her privilege and expectations from Kanye- he owes her. The rich stay rich as the poor must hustle for meagre earnings; “Before you ask me to go get a job today, Can I at least get a raise of the minimum wage?

The little boy’s blackness will detail and define many aspects of his life without his having asked for it, which we see in his death in the animation. This is an all too relevant moment in 2015-  young black men are being killed because the colour of their skin is viewed as dangerous. His mother is left to deal with anguish on earth as the boy moves on. We are able to see death as the only equalizing moment for all lives, and the boy’s wide and impressionable eyes are gone as he does not have the ability to see the world and try to understand it. A world that works against him has taken that from him.

This is the type of conversation that a single hip hop song can bring into the classroom. Just imagine what the entire Hip Hop genre could accomplish. Back to Mooney for more of that.

The 411 on 401 Graffiti

Graffiti has always played a huge part in my life. It covered downtown bridges, alley way walls, we even had to learn graffiti techniques in grade school in art class. I’d cherish the opportunity to look out the windows of the subway car every time I was between Dundas West Station and Keele Station, as the graffiti on the back of buildings is beautiful to look at. When I made the vlog below, there was no question that I’d talk about graffiti and its evolution in hip hop, and outside of it. If you’re interesting in learning more about graffiti after my vlog, check out the documentary Style Wars, which is about New York Subway Graffiti. I’ve also included it below. Enjoy!