Last Friday I woke up to a message from a friend. In the message the friend raved about a new song from Wondaland. Being that I’m a huge fan of Janelle Monae, I immediately opened SoundCloud and was unprepared for what Hell You Talmbout was. From the very first drum beat the song is so beautifully Black. Harkening back to message songs from the 60s and 70s, Janelle and the rest of the Wondaland crew recite the names of so many Black people who have lost their lives because of police brutality and lynching. The song is equal parts a demand for justice as it is an expression of mourning for lives lost. By the end of the song I found myself crying, not from the weight of the subject, but as a release, because with every passing of the chorus I was reminded I am not alone in this feeling of danger in my own home.
But with everything that is beautiful, powerful and moving about the song it wasn’t until a friend of mine on twitter expressed her concerns that I realized that it gets one important detail wrong. Behind each name, the Wondaland crew demands that the listener Say His/Her Name, but loses track of where Say Her Name actually comes from. The hashtag was started to highlight the nearly forgotten Black women who were also killed due to Police and Vigilante violence. These names often don’t get as much attention as their Black male counterparts because of the false belief that Black women are not harassed by the Police like men are.
It isn’t until the third verse in the song that a woman’s name is even mentioned, and oddly enough the female victims are only mentioned by female members of Wondaland. In fact, of the 18 names that are chanted in the song, only 4 of them are women. This runs counter to the point of the hashtag, and unknowingly does what the tag was trying to prevent. It drowns out the names of Black women and does so using a phrase/hashtag/space that was meant to be specifically for acknowledging Black women’s deaths.
I don’t want to take away from the beauty of the song, nor do I want to call out Janelle or the rest of Wondaland as being careless when they clearly were trying to do good with a song. However I also believe that an offense is an offense no matter the intent. The song is flawed, but I think it’s a flaw that the song’s creators can fix and learn from. Unfortunately there is a long list of both cis and trans women who have been murdered by police and vigilantes in just the past year. The song can be rewritten, the names spoken and Black women can still be honored and the song would still be just as powerful.
I’ve had my issues with Azealia Banks over the years. I used to be an avid fan of hers but lost interest a couple of years ago after several instances of her popping off at the mouth on Twitter. If it had been the normal shit-talking that I’ll even admit to participating in, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much. Sadly Azealia’s shit-talking on several occasions delved deeply into trans phobia. It was a really disappointing, because I really enjoyed getting to see a dark-skinned black girl be both talented and outspoken in an industry that likes to pretend we don’t even exist anymore. But even the most outspoken #problackgirl can quickly lose my interest when she reveals herself to be trans phobic and unapologetic about it.
Over the past few months the idea of being a fan of Azealia has rocked back and forth in my head a few times. The release of ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ reminded me of why I liked her in the first place. Azealia is a talented
rapper lyricist with a style that is influenced by Hip-Hop, Caribbean music and NY Ball culture. In the prism of Black Cool, Azealia has found her niche and is good at what she does. Her presence on twitter however, will have moments of genius awareness before sliding back down to being seriously offensive.
Last week during an interview with Hot 97, Azealia broke into tears at least two times when asked about her feelings on the cultural appropriation of hip-hop music. During the interview Azealia breaks down in her own words how appropriation is slowly erasing blackfolks out of hip-hop, specifically black women. Those with less fluency in issues like this were quick to paint the interview as Azealia being jealous of Iggy, including the pop artist herself who called Azealia a bigot on twitter.
It’s hard to explain to those who aren’t familiar with or fluent in the lives of black women that Azealia Banks is trying to express her frustration with a world that wants her creativity but doesn’t want her. She’s fighting an uphill battle, and every time she speaks up about it she gets backlash that is highly racialized, especially when it comes to her “feud” with Iggy Azalea. In the interview she points out the Forbes article from earlier this year that claims that Hip-Hop is becoming a white dominated genre of music as an example of how the media is trying to erase black people from it. Forbes also claimed that Iggy was running Hip-Hop this year, and proceeded to say that Nicki Minaj deciding to stop making Pop/Top 40 centered music left “a void to be filled by none other than Iggy.” That statement alone derides Hip-Hop as a genre of music and places it’s value only in what could be sold on Pop charts. Even now in 2014 in order for black artists to be legitimate they need to cross over into the white dominated pop charts and in order for black music to be appreciated it needs to be performed by white musicians. It’s a larger problem that will be ignored in order to paint Azealia Banks as an aggressive, angry black woman and belittle her talent.
That isn’t to say that Azealia doesn’t have anything that needs to be critiqued. Her above mentioned trans phobia as well as her recent tweets about Bill Cosby are beyond problematic, they’re just plain wrong. People do have a right to be upset and not listen to her because of it. If she is going to be critiqued she should be critiqued for that and not for page clicks.