Appropriate Appropriation

Iggy Azalea, most notably known for her single “Fancy”, recently released a statement regarding the cancellation of her “Great Escape” Tour. Jumping from theatres to arenas is no small feat, and it seems that Iggy’s lacklustre ticket sales lead to the cancellation of the tour, though the artist argues against these rumours. While Iggy has been all over the radio with chart toppers galore, she’s also been held under a virtual knife for dissection- how did a young Australian find herself under T.I.’s wing, with the accent of an Atlanta female? Cries of cultural appropriation abound in the greater hip hop community, and they aren’t just targeting Iggy.

Julianne Hough later apologized for donning black face in her Halloween Costume.
Julianne Hough later apologized for donning black face in her Halloween Costume.

Black culture has been the victim of cultural appropriation for years on years on years. When it wasn’t “cool” to be black, there was minstrelsy. White people stereotyped black people, creating caricatures of an entire race while in black face. This may not seem like something relevant to modern society, but it remains a problem that the black community contends with. Black face hasn’t ended, and I mean that in a very literal sense- take a look at Julianne Hough.  “Dear White People”, a film about black students navigating their white college campus, tackles these issues with cunning satire, but also leaves the question of what is right and what is wrong open for the viewer:

Hip Hop itself has been a target of accusations- who controls the black artists we see, and do they further promote the stereotypes that they’ve already been labelled with? Is hip hop music a form of black face? This is an issue slowly changing, with hip hop music increasingly tackling broader issues of being and living as a person of colour, with multiple lifestyles. The questions that are currently being asked deal with appropriation. Why is it okay for [mainly white] artists to exploit other cultures for monetary gain, when people within those cultures are still discriminated against for those very same traditions and lifestyles? The answer is that cultural appropriation isn’t okay- and Iggy might have to add that to one of the reasons her sales weren’t doing so well. Just ask the Huffington Post.  As hip hop becomes increasingly diverse, questions of how to appropriate appropriately come up.

White artists can navigate a black art form with respect, as argued by Brittany Cooper in her article for Salon.com, entitled Iggy Azalea’s post-racial mess: America’s oldest race tale, remixed. She argues,

“Though rap music is a Black and Brown art form, one does not need to mimic Blackness to be good at it. Ask the Beastie Boys, or Eminem, or Macklemore. These are just a smattering of the white men who’ve been successful in rap in the last 30 years and generally they don’t have to appropriate Blackness to do it. In the case of Southern rappers like Bubba Sparxx or Paul Wall, who do “sound Black” as it were, at least it is clear that they also have the accents of the places and communities in which they grew up.”

Macklemore, also criticized for popularity in rap because of his whiteness, at least understands where he is coming from, and whose world he is entering, as he raps on his song White Privilege:

Hiphop started off in a block that I’ve never been to

To counter act a struggle that I’ve never even been through

If I think I understand just because I flow too

That means I’m not keeping it true, I’m not keeping it true

Now I don’t rap about guns so they label me conscious

But I don’t rap about guns cause I wasn’t forced into the projects

See I was put in the position where I could chose my options

Blessed with the privilege that my parent’s could send me to college

Macklemore’s success is largely outside the hip hop sphere, with a fan base who isn’t really into rap. As far as Eminem is concerned, Talib Kweli argues that he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time. Eminem hasn’t entertained racist thoughts, and has never used the n word. He just focuses on being good at what he does. This is in contrast to Iggy Azalea’s slew of racist tweets targeting Mexicans, Asians, and more.

White artists are infiltrating black spaces as hip hop becomes increasingly globalized; just ask J Cole on his song Fire Squad:

There is a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it- it just entails a bit of respectfor the people and artform that you’re engaging with. As Iggy takes a break to rebrand, she hopefully will find out how to engage with hip hop without stepping over coloured bodies.

Advertisements

“Y’all Can’t Match my Hustle”: Hip Hop’s 5 Best Business Minds

Much of a hip hop artist’s content comes from their realities: past, present, and future. For many, the past includes becoming the King of the corner, and hustling their way to the top of that hierarchy. The present includes the new luxuries of their lives, an upgrade through their business savvy. As hip hop artists grow in importance, the future horizons present images of business mastery. The hustle that helped to create them back then is now helping them retain relevance. Here are 5 artists who are are navigating the business side to hip hop with ease.

Kanye Omari West
Kanye Omari West

5. Kanye West

Kanye West once rapped “You know white people; get money don’t spend it. Or maybe they, get money buy a business. I’d rather buy 80 gold chains and go ig’nant”. Apart from being some of the worst monetary advice to follow, it seems that Kanye has done just that- and it’s only made him more money. Kanye’s business savvy lies in his eccentricities and his connections. It doesn’t matter if you hate him or love him, because you can’t stop talking about him. This means that he doesn’t have to try as hard to stay relevant, because the people do it for him. And when they don’t, his wife does. West is making waves in both the fashion and music world. His Nike deal produced the stunning “Red Octobers“, and his new deal with Adidas brought us the limited edition “Yeezy Boosts“. His allegiance has certainly changed, and he’ll be the first to tell you about the new Adidas reign:

When Kanye isn’t doing clothes, he’s doing music, and is an extremely decorated artist at that. With his own record label, GOOD Music,  he has signed artists like John Legend and Big Sean. He’s not a stranger to award shows either, and his stunts have left him lauded and criticized. The more somber and happy Ye can be found by Kim Kardashian, his wife and social media queen. This partnership shows Ye in some of his most tender moments: footsies with his daughter, and actually smiling while getting an honorary Doctorate. Do you love or hate the guy?!

Curtis James Jackson
Curtis James Jackson

4. 50 Cent

He got “a mill out the deal, and [he’s] still on the grind”. 50 Cent is a true born hustler, and it has only made him a better business man. He rose to fame during the growth of gangsta rap, and released one of hip hop’s most highly praised albums, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Taking the former route, his heavy success brought him deals on deals, such as his G-Unit clothing line collaboration with Ecko. Even as gangsta rap dwindled in popularity, 50 retained relevance through his hustle. In 2007, Coca Cola bought VitaminWater parent company Glaceau, which 50 had a 5% stake in. He made a cool 200 million, while the company was bought for 4.1 billion dollars. He now has ventures in SM Audio, and SK Energy, an energy drink company. One of his latest ventures is his promotion of Effen Vodka. The conflict of earlier days hasn’t been bred out of him, as he is constantly hash tagging #nopuffyjuice to take Diddy and Ciroc head on. 50’s only inadequacy lies in his social media use- he hashtags every brand that he promotes on every post. When you’re worth 250 million, however, people seem to look past that.

Shawn Carter
Shawn Carter

3. Jay Z

“He’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man”. Jay Z’s hustle has been long and strong, and boy has it been fruitful. From Roc Nation, to clothing lines, to a stake in the Nets, it seems as if the only place Jay Z hasn’t been is on the bottom. He currently owns Armand de Brignac, known as Ace of Spades, a premium champagne line that he acquired from Sovereign brands. His wife runs the world, making them a power couple beyond reason- Beyonce once sang “Of course sometimes some shit goes down when there’s a billion dollars on the elevator”. Coming up from success as a drug dealer, Jay Z is now dealing things like paintings instead. He makes a smooth transition from crack to carats, and has managed to strike deals with companies like HBO to demonstrate how far his tastes have come.  A deal with Samsung helped him sell 1 million albums (Magna Carta Holy Grail) before it even dropped. Both deals have helped to elevate Jay from rapper to artist to icon. The only questionable decision he’s ever made has been purchasing “Tidal”, a music streaming service, which still receives much criticism from fans of free music.

Sean Combs
Sean Combs

2. P. Diddy

From humble beginnings as Puff Daddy, to mogul status as P. Diddy, Sean Combs seems to have it all- especially the magic touch when it comes to making the right business decisions. With an estimated worth of 735 million dollars, he’s the guy you want on your team when you need to make it in the world. Just ask the creators of Ciroc, a premium vodka brand, who were selling 40,000 cases before the arrival of Diddy. Now, Diddy receives half of the brands profits, and has helped Ciroc sell over 2 million cases a year. Diddy has now taken his talents to De Leon tequila, and is on a mission to put Patron out of business. Diddy seems to have a knack for beverages, as he also markets AquaHydrate water. With the way things are going for Diddy, we may just need to change the way we mark time- BD and AD. Before Diddy, and After Diddy.

Andre Romelle Young
Andre Romelle Young

1. Dr. Dre

The one simple thing we need to consider when talking about the best business minds in hiphop is the money. The best business decisions make you exceedingly rich. That is why the number 1 spot on our list goes to none other than hip hop’s first billionaire, Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre is known for his beats- most notably those on The Chronic, and The Chronic 2001. Nowadays, he’s known for “Beats by Dre”, his line of premium headphones. When Apple purchased Beats by Dre for 3 billion dollars, Dr. Dre became the richest man in hiphop. The most interesting thing about Beats is that music experts don’t actually believe that they are impressive headphones. The sound quality is really only great for catching head shaking bass, which is what the people seem to want. Beats are also a status symbol- they can be found around the necks of youth as if they are outfit accessories rather than music accessories. As one of the greatest beat makers of our generation, Dre’s name behind the product further certifies their status as impressive headphones. Dre is straight out of Compton, and straight to the top.

Propaganda, Pop Culture, and Politics

The_Marvel_Universe

When Marvel hit the big screen in a big way, the comic book universe experienced a resurgence in their fandom. I was one of the consumers who immediately became a fan. I wasn’t a part of the comic book era, but the X-Men and Spiderman animated series were my childhood- Saturday morning was nothing without them. I decided that I had to start way back at the beginning of the superhero universe- comic books became a part of my life. I couldn’t decide on a single favourite hero, and so I purchased the Avengers Omnibus Volume #1 to stay connected to as many of them as possible.

The comic was brilliant. The images were vibrant, the lettering impeccable. Each story contained so much written content, which was my favourite thing about them. My biggest issue with the comics was the blatant propaganda- an issue that we still contend with in the general cinematic sphere.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed the propagandist undertones- many wrote in to Stan Lee and Don Heck to explain their concerns. In The Avengers issue #22, “The Road Back“, Canadian David Mackidd wrote in to say this:

“Dear Stan and Don,

I have written to discuss a recent controversy that has popped up in the Fan Pages- whether or not you should use Communists and other political figures as villains in your stories. I, myself, am strongly against this for this reason: While this practice should not have any serious effect on your more mature readers, you have in your reading audience some children of a juvenile and immature age whose minds and convictions are strongly prejudiced by such stories…Don’t you think that it is right that these children should be allowed to reach a mature age and make up their own minds about such important subjects as political beliefs? After all there are perhaps thousands of individuals in the world who believe in Communism or Socialism whose intentions are every bit as well meaning as most Americans! Is it fair to slander these innocent people with your stories? I fully realize that your stories are aimed at the bad side of Communism, but they still shed a bad light on the well-meaning persons, too. I don’t think that it is the place of comic magazines to spread anti-communist propaganda… I think that you as editors should not take part in this argument, especially when young minds are concerned…What do you say?”

 Stan and Don’s answer followed:

“…As these words are being written, American lives are being lost in Viet Nam, in physical combat with communists. A cold war is in progress, between the free world and the communists. A continual propaganda barrage against the United States is constantly beamed to the rest of the world by communist nations. Now then, if this doesn’t qualify the reds to be used as “bad guys” in an occasional adventure yarn, then we’ll have to take a refresher course in semantics! As for influencing younger minds, we’d rather they read our little fantastic fables than the pages of Pravda! ‘Nuff said!”

Tony's Captors spoke a mix of Middle Eastern and South Asian languages, from Urdu to Pashto. They also randomly speak Hungarian.
Tony’s Captors spoke a mix of Middle Eastern and South Asian languages, from Urdu to Pashto. They also randomly speak Hungarian.

I had the same questions as David before I read his letter to the editors, but mine were targeted at Marvel movies. In our age, the propaganda moved from a literary platform to a cinematic one, and impressionable young minds were sucked into the fray. We can see this in the first Ironman movie as compared to the comic book. Tony Stark is captured by Vietnamese terrorists in the first issue- the introduction of Ironman comics coincided with the Vietnam War. In the movie, his enemies became an amalgamation of Middle Eastern and South Asian men; either all people of my skin colour were enemies, or it just hadn’t been decided which type of “brown” was to be held in American disregard. This is not the only instance of this happening, especially outside of the Marvel cinematic universe. The reasons for the propaganda against specific country can be explained by way of politics and economics.

In his book, “In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India”, Edward Luce has much to say of America’s relationships with India and China, both growing economic super powers. “…India is seen as the only country that could counterbalance China’s rise as a global power. America has watched China’s emergence with growing anxiety… The world appears to be on a trajectory where relations between the three big powers will outweigh all other ties as the twenty first century unfolds. The nodal point in the triangle is, of course, the United States. Short of war, however, the United States cannot prevent China from rising as a global power. So America will continue to assist India’s rise as a counterbalancing force…”

America’s fear of China’s power isn’t only demonstrated in its political plays. It’s also a message that has been distributed to the masses. In 2012, the movie “Red Dawn” was released. As China threatens America’s economic power, the movie was supposed to be about an American struggle against Chinese troops who colonize the country. The film was supposed to be released in 2010, but to maintain access to a Chinese box office, the Chinese enemies were traded in for North Korean enemies. One Asian villain was traded for another. Movie goers tweeted their racist feelings without hesitation, and many grouped all Asians as collective villains:

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.22.28 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.22.03 PMThe interesting thing about “Red Dawn” was that it was a remake of an older film. In the first “Red Dawn”, the villains were portrayed by Russians, who were the enemies of the States at the time. Propaganda really does seem to work on the immature and the ignorant with ease.

Negative stereotypes and portrayals affect our  ability to consider one another as equals, and it’s especially damaging when these ideals are pushed onto younger, innocent minds. It’s a problematic situation for me, especially because I want to enjoy Marvel movies, and other films. Fortunately, I can see the blatant racism clearly- and understand that it stems from fear of the other. Unfortunately, I’m left with a feeling of helplessness when I cannot change what has already been created. We need to create dialogue, and recognize these prejudiced ideals even while enjoying everything else about the literature and cinema that is created for us. Once we are more aware of the issue, we may be able to overcome the racist tones that keep us distant and indifferent to one another. One can only hope.

The [New] Home of Hip Hop

When the lights dimmed on Kanye West’s Adidas x YEEZY  debut fashion show, the only thing more noteworthy than the first season collaboration was the front row of guests.

mgid-uma-image-mtv.com-10007026
From left: Alexander Wang, Rihanna, Cassie, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay Z, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian West, Anna Wintour.

It was an eclectic mix of people- royalty in their own right. Sean “Diddy” Combs, Beyonce, Jay Z, and Rihanna all shared space with large names in the fashion industry such as Anna Wintour and Alexander Wang. Kim Kardashian West seemed to be the link to bring both sides together; her entry into hip hop’s elite group through Kanye reflects his entry into fashion through her. His front row of guests demonstrates the changing tides of the world- hip hop has transcended its place as a musical platform and become synonymous with a pop culture landscape where anything is possible.

Hip Hop grounds itself in the movement of the people- it was an aspect of black communities used to demonstrate their dance (breakdancing), music (DJing and rapping), and art (graffiti). At its essence it is about humanity, and later the struggle of black lives. While keeping its roots alive, it has now grown into so much more than lyrics and beats. Jay Z has moved on from rapping about the hustle that created him, to the opulence and luxury that surround him. Kendrick Lamar still keeps it real by making the political personal, as noted most dramatically on To Pimp a Butterfly. The most notable way in which these artists are using their craft is through a time tested element- the relevancy of their subjects.

Beyonce during her MTV VMAs performance.
Beyonce during her MTV VMAs performance.
kanye-time-magazine
Kanye West on the cover of TIME.

When Beyonce, or Queen B as she is known by her Beyhive, dropped her self-titled album without a moment’s notice, the world immediately began talking about her messages of feminism. Her music helped to give further credibility to an already strong movement, and became chart toppers and club bangers in their own time. The [in]famous Kanye West was named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people, categorized with the likes of Barack Obama, and Narendra Modi. With elevated visions of artistry, there is not a moment when Kanye hasn’t been relevant in his career. Anticipation of his newest album only strengthens the pull that hip hop has on the people. Kanye and Beyonce prove that hip hop encompasses a broader category of thought- it is becoming a defining force on the global landscape.

Why I Write

A few months ago I used to be a part of a bookclub- I know what you’re thinking when you hear that.

Grey Haired Grannies.

Seven Cats.

Doilies.

Tea.

This was anything but. This was a group of women in their prime talking about the relevancy of fact and fiction, and learning healing through conversation. We led one another onto a train to Pakistan, through walks on Beale Street, and even found Power in our Secrets. We captured the essence of life, and created a platform for our thought processes. Alas, the club disbanded when our lives got too busy, though it remains a whisper on the winds to come some day. When the book club let out, I lost an outlet.

Writing is sharing one’s voice without making a sound.  Words are set in stone- in blog posts rather. They give us the freedom to let our thoughts tumble out of us, creating streams of conscience that merge into rivers. They are everything that I had with my book club, but of my own mind. Only of my mind. This is why they are necessary.

WP_20150520_005Every time I crack open a new journal, the first entry is always about “why I write”. The reason changes every time. This time, it is less personal. It is about my need to share with others. Writing online is about cultivating relationships with kindred spirits around the world. It’s about looking for an outlet that is bigger than me. I want to share things that I think are relevant, whether literary, analytical, musical, political, or problematic.

These thoughts are a part of my story. Won’t you read with me?