The Difference Between Being a Role Model and An Example of Success

Jay is apparently doing the skirt thing now. Clearly, he is not a role model.

Jay is apparently doing the skirt thing now. Clearly, he is not a role model.

Last week I ended up in a back-and-forth debate about Beyonce and whether or not she was a role model. Somehow, Beysus manages to be everything to everybody and nothing to everybody at the same damn time. It’s amazing how polarizing she is and it’s mostly her own fault. She wants to be all things to all people. She wants to be able to make albums that are personal and talk about gettin’ nutted on in a car via her husband and still be able to be apart of campaigns to not be bossy. Which TO BE CLEAR, I’m not saying that one negates the other people. RE-READ THAT LAST SENTENCE. Just pointing out the extremes here.

I had to have a convo with a womanfriend about this “Ban Bossy” campaign. I honestly didn’t realize that women were outchea being called “bossy” in such negative fashion. But rock rock on. Take back the words. I guess. What it really sounds like is “Ban B*tch” but as was pointed out, it’s hard to make that work on a commercial and universal level. Somewhere, Kelis is kickin’ tires and lightin’ fires, big daddy #bawse

Anyway, the convo stemmed from an article written by LZ Granderson for CNN that specifically talks about the “Partition” video and lyrics and makes mention of the fact that Beyonce – the role model – was on shaky ground.

Beyonce the artist is above reproach. With 17 wins, she has only one less Grammy than Aretha Franklin. She has more than 13 million Twitter followers despite only tweeting eight times. And she famously crashed iTunes by releasing a full CD without any promotion.

However, Beyonce the role model is questionable as hell.

I’m all for handcuffs, hot wax, stripper poles, whips — whatever it is two consenting adults want to do in the privacy of their bedroom to keep the relationship fresh. But increasingly, Beyonce has chosen not to keep such things private.

Those lines spawned a convo that wove its way into Dr. Dre (not a role model) and Jay-Z (also not a role model) to Michelle Obama (role model), etc. But it ultimately comes down to what makes somebody a role model. To be clear, I do think that looking for people to be role models is a bit of a tired art, but nevertheless, this is our society (and every society). People become reluctant role models, outrightly deny being one, or seek the title (as I think Beyonce does).  Truly, your parents (or parent-like people) should be your role models seeing as they are the people with the most interaction and guidance in your life. But we all look up to people we don’t know and will never meet. It’s human nature.

So here’s my take: Jay, while a very clear example of success despite the odds is not really a role model. I tend to view role models as people who strive to show you the way to achieve and succeed in as positive a light as possible. Sure, Jay success is positive. And I’m a huge Jay fan. But you can’t divorce the person from the art that got him there. You just can’t. Same with somebody like Dr. Dre who is remarkably successful and rich who  has made the majority of his fortune weaving tales of rape and murder. I’m an NWA fan but I can’t defend nearly any of the music they ever released on wax. I appreciate from an artistic rebellion rapper standpoint.

But again, they’re great examples of starting from the bottom and now there there. Beyonce is on that line. While she’s clearly the greatest entertainer on the planet right now (FIGHT ME!) she really does want to be a role model as well. She wants to stand for something and show somebody some light. Which I’m all for. Especially after so many years of folks thinking she was a vapid soul just put here to look into the camera with a blank smile and say “I like good things because good things are great!” Personality was great. And she took it to a whole new level with this last album. It felt like her most personal outing yet. Which is also where I think she starts to tow that line too closely.

Granted, all of the sexual agency she’s exhibiting and sharing blah blah blah is coming from a space of a married woman who did everything “right”. She got married, had her kid, and her and her husband are sharing their lives with us…explicitly. And I’m not sure if that’ s role modelesque. Granted, she can make any music she wants (and does). And I get the argument of owning your sexuality as a woman. It’s just that the folks usually looking for role models are younger and I’m not sure I need 12-year-olds listening. Which they shouldn’t be.

I’m also not going to run the lines about the fact that lawyers and doctors, etc are all our role models. They are but they’re not perfect. But role models don’t have to be perfect. They just need to know what to keep to themselves and what to share, pretty much only bringing something to the table worth noticing. Which is why you get so many entertainers not wanting to be role models because they want to speak freely and shoot up strip clubs and be ignorant without worrying about destroying the minds of some impressionable youth. Though, saying you’re not a role model doesn’t stop people from placing you in that role. That’s the gotcha gotcha. I feel like most folks who are actual role models leave little in the way of having to actually debate it. There’s usually no question about it.

For that reason I think most of these folks (entertainers and athletes) are fine examples of making it. But role models? I don’t know. But what do I know, I’m lightskinneded.

What do you y’all think? What makes somebody a role model? Who gets to be one?

Talk to me.

Oh and who would be a role model? Yo mama. No…seriously.

-VSB P aka MR. I’M NOT A ROLE MODEL aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Macklemore’s Real Problem With Black People

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Imagine a world where…

1. Justin Bieber and Beyonce performed together at a major event

…and…

2. During the show, Beyonce “accidentally” made an obscene gesture that kinda, sorta seemed planned by her and Bieber

…and…

3. When questioned about the gesture, Bieber threw Beyonce under the bus, allowing Beyonce to receive all the negative press by herself

…and…

4. Within the next several years, as Beyonce continued to suffer from the public relations hit, the Black community would begin to embrace Bieber while collectively forgetting about her.

Seems completely far-fetched, right? I’d even say that it was impossible. Like, not f*cking possible in a million Pharrell years. But that would make me a liar. Because this exact thing happened 10 years ago. 

Janet Jackson may not have been as big then as Beyonce is now, but she was close. And Justin Bieber today might not be as big now as Justin Timberlake was then, but he’s close. But those are minor details. The major detail remains the same: Black America collectively “forgave” a 20-something White male for his role in effectively ending the career of a Black music icon.

There are myriad theories for why this was able to happen. You could argue that Janet was already on the downside of her career, and this was just a nail to a coffin that had already started to close. You could argue that the entire controversy was just another example of the double standard for male and female and Black and White performers. You could even say that Janet was blacklisted because she was the one who actually had a body part exposed.

While each theory has some truth to it, none really explain why Black people have been so quick to embrace Timberlake. I mean, he’s on every Black awards show, he works with the best Black artists, and he’s the White celebrity crush for like 17% of Black women.

The answer is simple: Timberlake has talent.

That’s it. Talent is the great neuralyzer; powerful enough to make us forget and forgive anything. It makes us liars and hypocrites. Excusers and enablers. Things we say that really, really, really, really, really matter to us like integrity and loyalty and even racial solidarity stop mattering once someone is talented and cute and makes us laugh with his dick in a box.

He’s cool with us because he’s cool.

Timberlake isn’t the only example of this happening. I’m sure many of us can think of suspect stuff we’ve let slide because of how much we liked a person’s music or movies or pizza. It happens to me, too. Quentin Tarantino has a long history of saying and/or doing racially problematic things, but I look the other way because I love his movies.

All of this helps me understand what’s happening with Macklemore right now.

Macklemore is literally everywhere right now. And by “Macklemore is literally everywhere right now” I mean “Think pieces tying Macklemore to White privilege and disingenuousness and cultural appropriation are literally everywhere right now.” Seriously, on my way to the bathroom earlier, I tripped and fell over a 1,100 word long piece comparing Macklemore to John Boehner and Joseph Caiaphas. It was sleep on the floor. I gave it a granola bar.

He has become both pop culture’s and Black America’s punching bag of the week. I even joined in the fray during the Grammys, tweeting that he was the only Grammy winner where the “get off the stage” music is better than his. 

While the heat he’s receiving now will eventually die down, one thing is certain: He will never, ever, ever, ever receive the same type of embrace from us that Timberlake or even Eminem does. Never, ever, ever, ever. He’s not quite the male Miley Cyrus. But, as far as him symbolizing “everything that’s wrong with the music industry” and “White people stealing shit again”, he might as well be.

Which proves (again) that we’re all hypocrites.

The only thing really separating Justin Timberlake and Eminem and Robin Thicke — all White artists who’ve been embraced by Blacks despite doing and/or saying some racially problematic things — from Macklemore is that we think Macklemore sucks. We don’t diss him because of appropriation or undeserved Grammy wins or Instagrammed messages to Kendrick Lamar. I mean, we say that we do, and we do a very good job of seeming upset about that stuff. But, when you consider that some of the White artists we embrace have done much worse, the Macklemore hate comes down to the fact that we think his music is simple, saccharin, and stupid. If he was a little more talented, a little less awkward, and maybe a little more handsome, we could be convinced to look the other way. But he’s not, so we don’t.

Perhaps you don’t agree. Maybe you believe it’s not just about talent. That Macklemore comes off as fake and Timberlake seems authentic so that’s why we embrace him. And, you know what? I believe you.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I will believe you if you can do one thing for me: Name the last Janet Jackson LP.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Non-Conventional Gifts That Make Me Happy During This Holiday Season

Black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow.

Black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow.

Or any season really…

With Christmas right around the corner, I’ve been a bit reflective lately. It’s important to sit back and take the time to realize the little things in life and the tiny blessings that have been bestowed upon from out yonder and up above. If you take a second to truly look at life in all of its glory, you will realize that there is evidence that whoever you pray to was busy leaving little easter eggs all over the place. You know the kind of places where compromise has come full circle.

Yes, that higher power, what a great person. So it is in this season that I thank 8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus who don’t even know a word yet (though I happen to prefer mine with a mullet) for the bevy of good tidings he brings for me and my kin. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

With that being said, here a bunch of little blessings to be thankful for during this holiday season.

- unattractive men with big bank accounts

- unattractive women with great bodies

- multi-colorway Jordan’s

- Honey Jack Daniels Whiskey

- short men with great personalities

- overt racism

- Duck Dynasty (even despite the recent comments which to me is just like the Chik-Fil-A kerfluffle a few years ago)

- White Hennessey

- Black Twitter

- White Wegman’s

- Hybrid SUVs

- Cuffin’ season for the cold months

- Summer dresses for the hot months

- Strobe lights for drunken nights at the club

- Sweet & Sour Gummie Bears

- Boxer briefs

- women in wife beaters

- Black Santa

- White Jesus

- White Santa

- Black Jesus

- Beyonce albums when you least expect them

- Beyonce albums when you do expect them

- HBCU pride

- PWI ambivalence about HBCU pride

- Allen wrench drill bits for IKEA furniture

- Kanye West rants

- Answers to questions that Kanye thinks there are no answers to

- All Black everything

- Racks on racks

- The intro to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Foe Tha Love Of Money”

- The intro to Mint Condition’s “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)”

- non-Black women with big ole booties

- big ole booties

- brown paper packages tied up with string

- 2 Chainz

- The reaction of people when you yell 2 Chainz in a crowded room

- Finding dreams that were deferred

- Asinine opinions on music

- Pet rocks to throw at people with asinine opinions on music

- naked cartwheels on hardwood floors

- The Willie Warmer

And with that…I’ll stop. So what are some non-conventional gifts that you are thankful for this holiday season?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. WARM WILLIE aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Beyoncé and I Both Woke Up Flawless

Beyoncé: Hittin' the heisman on these hoes since 1997

Beyoncé: Hittin’ the heisman on these hoes since 1998

Let’s be clear: Beyoncé releases an album, I buy an album. I’m far from a “YAAASSSSSSSSS B*TCH YASSSSSSS” member of the Beyhive, but sometimes I think Ludacris wrote the hook for “Stand Up” with Queen Bey (I will be using Queen Bey for the rest of this writing because I’m tired of the special character tap-dance I have to do in order to achieve the accent aigu her mother felt the need to put at the end of her name) in mind since well, when she moves, we move…just like that.

Well, most of us anyway. Truth be told, I was about to rest soundly and humbly in my abode that fateful December evening (last Thursday evening) when it seemed like all of the people who would usually post misguided selfies on my Instagram feed began posting the pictures of an album for sale by Queen Bey. This made no sense to me since we’d received nary a video, single or peep about a new album. But lo and behold, there it was.

Which, in a strange way,  totally made up for the craptastic and lazy ass end to Scandal’s third season halfway mark. It’s almost like Shonda Rhimes knew and was like, “f*ck it, we’ll just toss this hot garbage onto their televisions because an hour later they’ll get a Queen Bey album and forget all about us.” Which worked. Because iTunes.

Much has been said about this album already. It’s raunchy. She’s either setting back feminism 100 years or pushing it forward. I honestly have no idea. In fact, the Internet has ruined my understanding of feminism to the point where I really have no clue what its all about. Or womanism for that matter (because that’s a thing too right?) All because of the million or so articles written about Queen Bey and feminism (or lack thereof…or something). I mean, I want equality and all that jazz too. I just like people. Can anybody explain that?

The most significant piece of this album was how she did it. I know we all want to think of her as a genius, but I read online somewhere that this was done because the label didn’t support the album to the point of promoting it because of how it might impact her image. And it is definitely an album that’s taken her sexuality and freedom to a whole new level. She’s a woman who owns it and that’s on display and a good thing. Listening to it, I can see how labels that have her boxed into a lane might be concerned about what the reception she might be. But they forgot that whole…

…when she moves, we move. Just like that.

There was a time back in the mid-2000s where I used to joke that Andre 3000 could have dropped an album full of dogs barking and dudes would still have found merit in it like, “you ain’t never heard dogs bar like they just did for 3 Stacks.” Well Bey has been there for eons at this point. F*ck a navy, Bey’s fans are somewhat insane and off-balance. So she drops an album and Internet might break (from what I gather, iTunes actually did crash for a bit). I feel like if she dropped an album of her own recording of the Brenda Lee “Sweet Nothin’s sample of “uh huh honey” made famous by Kanye’s “Bound 2″ she’d sell a milli.

Of course, Bey is not without her detractors. For every fan is a person who still doesn’t get the hype. She can sing but she can’t touch Fantasia or Jennifer Hudson or Mariah. She dances like Keri Hilson after three years of dance lessons from Darrin Henson and Devyne Stephens (who still to date is reigning king of the most hilarious hard-core/dancin-arse-ninja video ever for “Uh Huh” from way back in the day. I mean my man walks out the door with the thug walk then hits a ballet step. You can’t make this stuff up.). But at this point, to hate on Queen Bey is more for yourself than others. I saw a joke online that said something to the effect of “Y’all act like dropping an album that nobody knows about is new. Keri Hilson does it all the time”, which…ouch, but in today’s day and age the fact that she managed to pull this off is a bigger story than the album which is good, and I happily enjoy still having access to “Bow Down” though its linked by a very wonderful spoken word piece portion of a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie (who I’d never heard of before but am glad to be aware of now) that doesn’t match the song so well, but that’s alright.

There’s a song called “Drunk In Love” that features a Jay verse that makes me think he didn’t know of the album’s existence either til early Thursday afternoon when she told him to put a verse on it. But that’s okay…because Jay-Z. Every woman in America with this album seems to love this song which makes me realize how many women really aspire to drunken sex with their men. I suppose since Bey already covered single ladies, she decided to grace us with a drunk chick anthem which humorously mentions the word “surfboard”. The song “Swag Surfin’” didn’t even mention a surfboard. That Beyoncé (broke my pledge) is always ahead of the game. Such a cute song.

If I had a quarter for every time I received a text message that said, “boy I’m drankin”, well…quarters. There’s even the cute song featuring Blue Ivy entitled “Blue”. Awwww.

I know its not a popular opinion amongst ninjas who are supposed to be music people and/or just know better, but I truly appreciate Beyoncé. Not only does she snatch wigs without folks even knowing it, she lets other think they’re winning by not making a peep before snatching their wigs. Bow down indeed. You may be saying to yourself, did Panama just spend 4-6 minutes of my precious time talking about Beyoncé?

Yes, I did. YAAASSSSSS B*TCH.

Queen Bey made me get out of my bed, walk down my stairs to my really cold bottom level, pick up my computer, carry it back up my stairs, turn it on, and spend $15 of my child’s college fund on an album I didn’t know existed until the Internets lost their collective mind.

It’s the least I could do for Queen Bey.

In the words of Diddy, you can hate me now. You’re welcome.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. YAASSSSSSSSSSSS aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Rappers Rap, Activists…Activate

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Last summer, I was criticized by another writer for taking too long to write about a change in my relationship status. (My then girlfriend and I went our separate ways in October of 2011. I didn’t mention anything about it online until the next spring.) Since I write about dating and relationship-related topics, she (the writer) felt I had a duty to inform our readers of my new singledom, and stated that not doing so was dishonest. She also implied that the dishonesty was intentional. Basically, I didn’t say anything because the assumption that I was still in a relationship gave my work more credibility.

As I explained to her, the real reason behind my decision not to mention anything publicly was that I knew my ex and many of her friends and family still read the site. I also still had (and still have) a decent relationship with her and many of them, and I just didn’t think that writing about the breakup so soon would be a good idea.

She (the writer) listened to my explanation. But, she still went away from the conversation believing that, in this case, the duty to my fans/readers superseded whatever was going on in my personal life.

Sounds crazy, right? A person having the audacity to criticize you and your work because what they think you should be thinking about and who they think you should be doesn’t match up with what you’re actually thinking about and who you actually are.

When thinking of someone feeling that way about a person like me, it does seem insensitive and rather selfish. But, for some reason, when the level of status is greater, it’s perfectly acceptable, encouraged even, to play passenger seat Geppetto and scold someone for not meeting your expectation of who they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do…even if it completely obscures who they actually are.

We’re seeing this play out right now with the reaction to the increasingly bizarre feud between Jay Z and Harry Belafonte. Before I continue, I have to admit that taking Jay Z’s side in any dispute is like rooting for Wall Street, drone attacks, the bubbles in Pepsi cans, or the f*cking McRib. And, having the audacity to have a public tiff with someone like Harry Belafonte over something like philanthropy and activism makes the line separating right and wrong about as clear as it can be. Which brings up my next point. Where you stand on this debate likely depends on how you define right and wrong. Or, more specifically, which rights and wrongs you sympathize with more.

There is no doubt Harry Belafonte is “right” from a macro perspective. (Also, it cannot be understated that Jay Z is wrong for how dismissive of Belafonte he has been.) People like Jay Z and Beyonce should do more—”doing more” could be anything from donating more money to needed causes to using their statuses to affect more change—and them doing more would benefit the greater good. Aside from the Carters having a lighter collective pocketbook and a busier schedule, it’s hard to imagine any real negatives coming from that.

But, what those who believe Jay Z is completely in the wrong here are ultimately asking is for Jay Z to not be Jay Z. Basically, they want his presence, his influence, and his money, but they don’t actually want him. I mean, how could anyone with any knowledge of Jay Z’s history (and present) expect him to be anything but distilled capitalist? I get why people are upset about him stating his “presence is charity” in his interview with Elliot Wilson. But, really, what the hell else did you expect him to say? This is Jay Z. This negro just took a vacation to f*cking Cuba (Cuba!!!), and quickly recorded a very public “f*ck you” to anyone who had an issue with it. Just a month ago, he totally upstaged his protege and new BFF by basically saying “Yeah, I know your album is coming out in three days and needs all the buzz it can get, but it’s Samsung and the NBA finals, man.” He is going to sound arrogant and dismissive because arrogance and the ability to be completely dismissive is what made him him. You can put a suit on a shark and make him a salad, but he’s still going to, um, bite your neck off the first chance he gets.¹

I’m not saying that a person like Jay Z is unable to change. Just that we’re wrong for expecting him to and even more wrong for getting upset if he doesn’t fulfill an arbitrary expectation he never aspired to reach.

Getting back to the my “presence is charity” line, I actually don’t think he’s completely off-base there, either. Being an activist—a real activist, not someone who retweets Jasiri X and Maya Angelou once every other month—is a calling, a full-time vocation, and criticizing someone who just doesn’t have an activist heart or mindset minimizes the efforts of those who do. The people who are on the front lines have combined their inclination to do that type of work with years of developing the very specific skills and passions needed to be effective. Just as everyone can’t walk into a studio tomorrow and make a classic rap album, you can’t expect everyone to have the emotional capacity, stamina, and very specific sense of moral intelligence necessary to be a Belafonte.

You know, I actually did see where the writer who criticized my omission was coming from. She had no way of knowing my backstory. And, even with what was going on in my personal life, I still could have written about it. I mean, if I write and publish books about dating and relationships, wouldn’t a piece or two sharing details of my own personal break-up be very relevant? Thing is, at that point in my life, the lines between who I was expected to be and who I actually was were getting increasingly blurry, and I had to make a decision. Instead of choosing the expectation, I chose me. And, as much as I want to, I can’t really fault Jay Z for doing the same thing.

¹This sounded much better in my head.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)