Hova Speaks, Will Hip-Hop Follow (Again)?: Will Jay-Z’s Support of Gay Marriage Help Hip-Hop Become Less Homophobic?

Although it was a forgettable song (well, forgettable sans for Pharrell’s hook) on an even more forgettable album, the video for “Excuse Me Miss” remains underrated in regards to how much of an influence it had on pop culture.

There’s a scene in it that shows Jay-Z typing on a very cumbersome and very cool looking device that was far too big to be a Motorola two-way and far two small to be a laptop. This mysterious device was the first T-Mobile Sidekick, and it’s inherent coolness combined with the coolness of Jay-Z using one made it the “it” electronic device of the year. I bought one a week after seeing the video. (And, because of T-Mobile’s draconian termination fee and contracts, I hold the dubious distinction of being the only person on Earth to own a Sidekick in 2002 and in 2009)

If you remember, at that time cell phones were getting smaller and smaller — a point parodied in this hilarious SNL skit. The Sidekick was the first phone to start the shift back to big  — leading to today’s behemoths — and Jay-Z deserves (at least) partial credit for spearheading that trend.

I’m bringing this up because, regardless of how you feel about Jay-Z the artist/former drug dealer/freemason/”business, man” you can’t deny the fact that he’s wielded a major influence on Black culture in the last 15 years. If the Sidekick story isn’t proof enough for you, think about this: Remember how cats used to spend hundreds of dollars on throwback sports jerseys; rocking them to night clubs, weddings, proms, and funerals and sh*t? Jay-Z managed to pretty much dead that trend with half of a bar .

“I don’t rock jerseys, I’m 30 plus…”


Now, unless you’ve been hiding in James Harden’s beard over the past week, you’ve undoubtedly heard that Jay-Z came out in support of same-sex marriage. I’m not going to spend today breaking down the apparent hypocrisy and lack of sincerity of someone who has repeatedly used the word “faggot” in his work denouncing people who oppose gay marriage. Whether this is a political move to impress (and keep) his high society friends is not my concern.

What I am concerned about, though, is whether Hov has the type of pull to change the attitude of what is arguably the only billion-dollar entity in the world where it’s not just ok to be violently homophobic, it’s encouraged: Hip-Hop. (And yes, today, in 2012, Hip-Hop/Rap is more violently and vehemently homophobic than any other major “thing” you can possibly name. Nothing else beats us it right now.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Hova isn’t the first prominent Hip-Hop artist to start the homophobia is bad train. Both KRS-One and Chuck D have spoken out against it, and Drake’s entire career seems to be a pro-gay PSA. Eminem’s Grammy performance with Elton John still remains the awkwardest five minutes of TV I’ve ever seen.

Also, Jay’s protege has done more to spearhead this current era of skinny-jeaned Hip-Hop androgyny we live in than any other person, and the most popular female rapper ever has cultivated a persona that’s somehow asexual, bisexual, and hyperheterosexual all at the same time.

Basically, while I won’t go as far as to say that hip-hop was already becoming more gay friendly before Jay-Z’s statement, it does seem like it’s been progressively less antagonistic towards homosexuality. Will Jay-Z’s considerable voice and presence be enough to help hip-hop evolve past accepted homophobia? I don’t know. I do know that the fact that I’m somehow still tied into my T-Mobile contract means I wouldn’t bet against it happening.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Believe Half Of What You Hear and None Of What You See?

These guys have killed millions. Of people. A lot.

I realized something a few days ago. And I’m not quite sure how to say this so I might as well just say it straight up.

I like being lied to.

Yes, apparently as a fan of mainstream hip-hop, I appreciate being lied to by some of my favorite artists.

Notice I said, MAINSTREAM rap. For all of you boho’s out there who will think this is an indictment on ALL rap, please read the preceeding sentence again. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

*humming Eminem’s “I’ll Kill You”*

N.W.A. lied to me constantly, Mobb Deep lied to me.

T.I. lies to me. Rick Ross lies to me. Lil Wayne lies to anybody who will listen. Common is lying to us all now. Well you get the point. These ninjas are all lying because they continue to write all of these tales of their current street acumen and all of the weapons they travel with and the drugs they currently slang, etc.

And I am a fan.

Now granted, I don’t actually believe any of these dudes do half of the sh*t they claim to do. I don’t believe that Rick Ross is moving that much snow in the hood or that T.I. is still moving blow in the hood. I don’t believe that any of these dudes have murdered anybody, with the possible exception of 50 Cent and that’s strictly due to one line on his song “Problem Child” from like 2003:

“they say you can never repay the price for taking a man’s life/I’m in debt with Christ cuz I done did that twice” – 50 Cent

I’ll admit, I do question the veracity of that statement and maybe it just sounds good in rhyme. But, errrum, most rappers tell you that they WILL kill you, as in future tense. 50 says that he HAS done it. Somehow, that makes me a little nervous. Luckily he isn’t in any jeopardy of going to Heaven anyway as I do in fact believe his posters are plastered through the Great Hall of Hades as one of the biggest proponents of Hell.

But for the most part, I don’t believe most of these rappers. And I’m not saying that none of these dudes sold drugs. I’m sure that T.I. did as I’m sure that Jay-Z did. I’m sure 50 Cent did as well as a slew of other rappers. Of course, there are lots of questions about how big these “drug dealers” were as even Biggie’s own people have said that he wasn’t nearly the drug dealer he claimed to be. Many of these dudes do indeed have the soul of hustlers so I believe that many of them have done SOME of the things they claim in rhyme. Let’s just say that amongst the lies they share resides some segment of truth.

But between all of the murders these rappers claim to be willing to commit and all of the weight that they claim to be moving and the fact that I don’t actually believe any of them are as big time as they claim, it just seems that I like being lied to. I mean, I buy into it as it relates to their persona on wax. And somehow, they seem to buy into their own stories enough to convince me to buy into them. And I’m not alone. For some strange reason, as far as our mainstream rappers go, with the possible exception of Kanye West, we all like to hear about how hard these dudes are and we can easily look past the fact that their entire catalog is filled with odes to drug slanging and killin’ ninjas on the block.

Now for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’ll let this type of sh*t slide. The lies, I mean. Most normal people detest liars. People that will lie to you are the very people you’d not want to be around. Yet in mainstream rap, being able to convince people of your street respectability, be it fabricated or not, is paramount. If somebody found out that Kenny Rogers had never played a game of poker, well, how upset would the country music world be? Or what if the Dixie Chicks were from Canada? Or what if Guns ‘N Roses didn’t live the life they sang about? Of course, that’s an impossibility because if you’ve seen the vh1 Behind The Music on the Guns, you’d realize, them white boys and Slash were nuckin’ futs.

I guess this all ties into the very notion that even as an educated black man, respect and pride are very important. I live in a black neighborhood and you don’t want anybody to even think about wanting to mess with you. Somehow, these are the problems we concern ourselves with. So I sometimes walk around with this air of “don’t f*ck with me or this might be a bad day for you”. We all know I’m as gangsta as they come, but we also all know that I purchased a Hillary Duff CD. The key is to not let anybody else know it. And I think this is a problem that is unique to the black man experience. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that we spend a lot of time trying to scare the bejesus out of white and black people. Hell, we don’t have anything else…all we have is our respect.

Or so we say.

And maybe that’s why we like to be lied to so much. We spend so much time trying to be the dude that everybody wouldn’t want to mess with, kind of as a manifestation of our idea of self-preservation, that despite the sheer impossibility of many of these rappers claims, we see them as a lot like us, even if we may come from totally different circumstances. Right?

I remember during the last episode of Season 3 of The Wire, after Stringer Bell, had been gangstaliciously murdered by Omar and Brother Mouzone, Detective McNulty was in Stringer’s apartment looking through his books and possessions and couldn’t believe the types of books String had been reading. It was so astounding to him he wondered aloud who in the hell was he chasing?

I wonder if a lot of these dudes are indeed like that. They all seem to look up to Tupac and we know the intelligent hoodlum he was. I know a lot of people don’t like Tupac as a rapper, and I have my days as well, but as a person he was the epitome of the young black man so many of us wish to be. Educated but respected by all. He had the pedigree, he had the struggle, he had the ability to rise above it, and he went out in a blaze of glory. Actually, nix that last part, I’d rather go out while drinking some Kool-Aid when I’m 98.

All in all, I wonder if the reason we love being lied to so much is because so many of us spend time lying to ourselves about who we really are. From white suburban “thugs” to some of the inner-city black “thugs”. Yeah the white boys get to grow out of it, but so many of us black men still fall victim to the idea that we have to be able to be respected in the streets, at age 30.

So yes, I like being lied too. Hell, I enjoy it thoroughly. And I think I don’t pay much attention to it because in some kind of weird way, I understand.

Besides, if I want honesty, I’ll just listen to Milli Vanilli.

So what about you? Do you like being lied to as well or do you even pay attention anymore?


Why Ashley Judd Was 100% Right…And 100% Wrong

They're raping everyone out here

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or one of Big Baby Davis’s boobs, you’ve undoubtedly been made aware of the negative comments Ashley Judd made about hip-hop in her upcoming memoir, “All That Is Bitter And Sweet

“Along with other performers, YouthAIDS was supported by rap and hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy to spread the message…um, who? Those names were a red flag.

As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with it’s rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”

Predictably, these remarks set off an internet firestorm. There were reluctantly pro Ashley articles, pro-Ashley articles, Ashley for president articles, reluctantly anti Ashley articles, anti-Ashley articles, all white b*tches must die articles, and all black n*ggers must be castrated articles. As of 11:05pm EST Wednesday night, googling “ashley judd hip-hop” returned 3,620,000 results.

It’s been a little over a week since these comments were made public. In the time since, after apparently receiving death threats from everyone from Diggy Simmons to Andrew Bynum, Ashley has “clarified,” stating (from her interview with Russell Simmons on Global Grind):

…My intention was to take a stand to say the elements that are misogynistic and treat girls and women in a hyper-sexualized way are inappropriate. The male dominance that is displayed, and the reinforcement of girls’ and women value and identify as primarily sexual, is not helpful in any artistic expression, in any cultural form, whether its country music or in television story lines.”

She even gives a shout-out to hip-hop’s richest and most notable nihilist.

“As for the artists themselves who I mention, I write about being friendly with and enjoying Curtis Jackson’s company, then being confused when on stage his .50 personae comes out.”

(I just have to say that I’m absolutely tickled that she referred to Fiddy as .50.)

As far as whether Judd’s initial comments — particularly the “rape-culture” remark — hold water, let me share something with you.

I originally was going to title this “25 Reasons Why Ashley Judd Was Right,” and, instead of creating my own reasons, I planned to just take “rape-sympathetic” lyrics from 25 different songs made by uber-popular artists in the last two or three years and list those instead. Each genre of rap — from the South and the mixtapes to the “conscious” and the club — would have been included.

Yes, rap is much, much more than running trains, putting p*ssies in sarcophaguses, and bruising esophaguses, but no with a working brain and even one working ear can deny that hip-hop is EXTREMELY misogynistic. You can argue and debate exactly why it’s so women-hating, but you just cannot ignore the fact that it is, it has been for (at least) 20 years, and it’s getting worse.

With that being said…

I haven’t read Faith Evans’ “Keep the Faith: A Memoir.” I also haven’t read Janet Jackson’s “True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself.” And, although the cover looks nice, I’ll probably never read Victoria Rowell’s “Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva.”

But, although I’ve never read any of those books, I’m 100% certain that none of them contain any disparaging remarks about country music, grunge, metal or any other genre of music where popular artists have been accused of being misogynistic. While every person obviously has a right to speak up about injustices, I’m not so certain that hip-hop needs a country music scion to police it.

Yes, these statements were published in her memoirs, and (good) memoirs are basically published diaries — completely naked accounts of your life and your thoughts –but that’s actually my point: Why did she even feel the need to go there? I mean, when I eventually write my memoirs — “The Passion of The Deez” coming in July of 2031 — you can be certain that I’m not going to devote an entire paragraph to my feelings about Billy Ray Cyrus or Johnny Cash or Boris Yeltzen or anyone or anything else I really have no business writing about.

This isn’t a race thing either. If a white person with a bit more of a relationship to hip-hop or even a pop culture critic like a Chuck Klosterman made these remarks, fine. But, an actress whose two most notable claims to fame are A) coming out of Naomi Judd’s vagina and B) rooting for a college basketball team?¹ Miss me with that.

Anyway, people of VSB.com, what you do think about Judd’s statements? Do you think she had a valid point? And, even if you think she might have a point, how do you feel about someone like her publicly expressing it?

The carpet is yours.

¹To her credit, Judd does have a very extensive and very laudable history of women’s rights advocacy. I was told about this after I posted the entry, and this knowledge has softened my stance quite a bit. Still, I prefer my hip-hop critics to have a bit more of a connection to hip-hop culture, though

—The Champ

If you haven’t purchased the paperback or the $9.99 Kindle version of “Your Degrees Wont Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime” yet, what the hell is stopping you?

the best hip-hop love song ever

so, while driving back to pittsburgh after last week’s matchmaker event, my (the wire-loving) friend and i listened to different satellite radio rap stations the entire way, and were both utterly flabbergasted at how bad today’s mainstream hip-hop is. seriously, i’m usually not a “everything was better back in the day” type of guy, but after a couple verses from something called “waka flocka flame” almost gave me epilepsy, there’s really nothing else i can say.

as we neared pittsburgh, drake’s “best i ever had” came on, and the following conversation ensued:

friend: “who is this guy?” (the only “new” rapper my man knows about is kanye. seriously, talking hip-hop with him makes me feel like i’m back in 1997. all i’d need is a pair of fatigues and a red jansport and i’d be right back in homeroom)

champ: “new cat named drake. why?”

friend: “i can actually understand what he’s saying. if i was a 13 year old girl, i’d love this song”

champ: “that’s easily the gayest thing you’ve said all day. you need to quit playing them away games”

friend: “the game’s out there, manye. you either play or get played”

anyway, remembering this conversation and the subject matter of “best i’ve ever had” got me thinking: what’s the best hip-hop love song ever made? to be honest with you, i’m not exactly sure…but, i do have nine nominees.

***note: on my list, “love” doesn’t just encapsulate romantic love. the songs i’ve listed run the gamut from romantic and platonic to even inanimate object. also, just in case another batch of people completely unable to not take themselves seriously happen to “discover” vsb today, i want to remind everyone to remove the sphincter poles and realize that these nominees are just reflections of my own personal whims and remembrances***

“sweet love” (method man, featuring street love and cappadonna)

one of the reasons why i’ve love the wu so much is that they’re completely and utterly unafraid to take artistic chances. from ghost spitting that his “rhymes are like ziti” to the rza’s perpetual (and occasionally annoying) experimentation, you literally have no idea what the hell you’ll hear when listening to a wu album. this fact is evident the first verse of “sweet love“, when street life rhymes about having sex with his girlfriend while he’s driving his car. not head. sex. while. driving.

later in the song, cappadonna spits his infamous “love is love, love. love is love, love” line (which i later immortalized with a left arm tat) and method man delivers a verse than i actually cut and pasted and sent as a poem to a woman i was involved with, lying that i wrote it myself because i knew she’d never listen to the song.

***btw, by “was involved with” i mean “totally had an unrequited crush for“. the “poem” didn’t help. a couple weeks later, i got even more desperate and cut and pasted an inspectah deck verse. this worked. and by “this worked” i mean, “i finally got some from her four years later“***

“you got me” (the roots, featuring erykah badu and eve)

from the storyline and the chorus to eve’s verse and the fatalistic feel of the end of the song, everything about this track is perfect. btw, speaking of perfect, if i had to rank “impressive and envy-worthy beards”, black thought’s would definitely be 1st, jerome bettis’, would be 2nd and paul pierce’s would be 295th.

“passin’ me by” (the pharcyde)

along with radiohead’s “creep” and “friends zone” by 88 keys and shitake monkey, this song perfectly represents the gamut of emotions men go through when faced with unrequited love. plus, it’s one of the 10 or so songs that any self-respecting hip-hop head knows all of the words to. and, if you need a surefire way to make hipster chicks swoon, tweet a line from fatlips verse at least once a day.

“me and my girlfriend” (tupac)

i’m including it because, well, i don’t know if i ever loved anything as much as tupac claimed to love his gun. well, maybe cookies and cream milkshakes, but that’s about it

“full moon” (killarmy)

probably the first real surprise entry on the list, i nominated “full moon” because of the depth of the brotherly bond for a murdered friend that killa sin expresses in the song’s second verse. i still get chills today when i hear him say “we went back far, like acorn fights around the swings”.

“undying love” (nas)

arguably the best story from hip-hop’s best storyteller, “undying love” deals with a rather, ummm, extreme reaction to finding out that your loved one was unfaithful. is also one of the only “story” songs where each of the characters involved is dead by the end. basically, it’s a great song to have on your boning mixtape.

“how’s it going down” (dmx)

for no other reason than the fact that i say “since you gave me the p*ssy, your ass has gotten fatter” in dmx’s voice (in my head) to my girlfriend at least once a week.

“love is blind” (eve featuring faith evans)

i had a “why it made the cut” summary written out, but i deleted it when i realized that it was completely panderific. the only reason this song is here is because i realized i hadn’t named any female rappers and wanted to be subversive by not going with  salt and pepa’s perfunctory “gotta man”.

“renee” (the lost boyz)

i won’t say that the video still brings tears to my eyes when renee gets shot, but i will say that i haven’t watched it in over 10 years just because of that possibility. maybe this makes me a punk, but seriously, renee didn’t have to die. why the hell did renee have to die????

anyway people of vsb, i’m sure i’m missing a few (hundred). what else would you nominate for the best hip-hop love song ever?

—the champ

When Keeping It Rap Goes Wrong: Bangs

I was reading XXLmag.com yesterday, and the homey Byron Crawford wrote a post about Bangs ascendence into national prominence and it reminded me that a few weeks back, I had FULLY intended to write about “itz ya boy Bangs.”

But first, an intro (to let you know) so that we can all be on the same page here.  VSB, meet Bangs and his “hit” single, “Take U 2 Da Movies”:

You’re welcome.

A quick bio on Bangs.  He’s a Melbourne-based, Sudanese rapper who quite frankly SUCKS, but has somehow gone viral with his ridiculousness.  He’s been on radio shows, and hell, a few weeks back, in Washington, DC, his song “Take U 2 Da Movies” was played on Hot 99.5, which is the big pop station here in DC.

Now back to the lecture at hand.  Just to be upfront, I’m usually the first one in line to scream that you cannot blame hip-hop for society’s ills.  You just can’t.  It’s probably closer to a chicken vs. egg thing, but the fact is, life was f*cked up for a lot of people when Smokey Robinson was singing about “Crusin’” and will continue long after Souljaboy Tell’em’s career (yikes, he actually has one of those) subsides.  But only an ignoramus would attempt to downplay its cultural impact.  While I’m often willing to argue that its just art, I can’t deny that a lot of people take this “rap sh*t” serious, especially people from other places and think that all of us ninjas really do look and act like the folks they see in videos.  For a lot of people, it’s their only real connection to American Black people.

Quick story:  When I was in undergrad, me and my boy went out to eat with one our FOB African homegirls.  We started talking about how she liked America, and asked her what her impressions were like before she got to Atlanta.  She said that she pretty much thought we were all on some Menace II Society malarkey because at home (I think she’s Nigerian) at the time that was what she’d been exposed to.  Mostly the LA gangster genre of Black movies.

By the way, I realize that’s not how every non-American views us, but I’m guessing its not so far fetched that quite a few do.  See what happens when you take people to da movies (shawty)?

Back to 2009 and Bangs.  Bangs is what I always thought would happen if certain folks got ahold of rap music.  And by certain folks I mean, pretty much non-Black Americans.  Bangs has managed to take pretty much EVERY aspect of hip-hop that most of us reading ninjas wish wasn’t so omnipresent and run with it.  Hell, for him, it’s probably just his assumption of what he’d need to do in order to make it in the music business.  His album titles read like a horrible No Limit album from the late 90s.  He’s got the chains, the cars, the stack of money, the synth-based production…basically EVERYthing that he thinks you need because that’s what he sees.  Now, let me not take too much credit for him, he PROBABLY thinks this shit sounds and looks good, but in the words of my homey builtfromwax, “I couldn’t come up with that flow on my best day.”

Bangs is a truly terrible rapper.  There’s no denying that, but it almost isn’t even his fault.  Okay, that’s not true.  He’s mastered the English language about as well as the cashier lady at El Pollo Campero on University Boulevard in Langley Park, Maryland (I see you Maria – thanks for whatever the f*ck you put in my bag.  My order was just a suggestion anyway).  But he’s also a symptom of the problem we have here, does anybody make real sh*t anymore?  He’s just like 90 percent of confused rappers out now.

Now don’t get it twisted, I’m highly amused by him.  He might have the worst flow I’ve heard since Overit started rapping (shots fired), but his song is actually catchy as hell. I want to go to the movies right now and get some popcorn.   Shucks, dudes making the rounds and become quite the famous guy.  But I wonder if he gets that most people are laughing at him, not with him.  I don’t know.

But what I do know?

He’s more popular than Walé.  28K.

(And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you only ship 30K to stores if 64% of your sales were digital anyway.  You didn’t sell 28K out of 30K physical copies.  You sold 28K because frankly, you were going to sell 28K.)

So what do you all think, is Bangs just more fun and games or is he our worst fears confirmed about hip-hop and its reach?

And once again, you’re welcome.