Louis Armstrong Back in the Day

Louis Armstrong Back in the Day
With His Signature White Handkerchief and Smile

The significance of the blues aesthetic for those who are not professionally conversant in musical notation or the academic discipline of music or jazz history.

Monday, August 3

Black Feminism and Hip Hop

I wrote this article for the Times back in 1990.  It was one of my important educational steps, a teachable moment they are calling it now.

I believe it was the last of my forays into cultural reporting for The New York Times.  The editor then of my part of the Arts & Leisure section kept getting disgusted with me because I kept mispelling all these idiosyncratic spellings of groups.  Unfortunately, the reigning expert, Tricia Rose, did not much care for what I had to say either.  Here I was trying to get a mention of her into the article and trying to spell the name right when I could have used the quote unattributed, and there she was mad as a snake because I had cited (like a good black feminist should) her as saying, "Rap is Locker room with a beat."

She didn't say that, she complained, would never say such a thing.  Certainly she had never meant to appear in the New York Times saying such a thing.  Maybe she said something more like, "some people think rap is Locker room with a beat."  Hell, I guess I said it then cause god knows I believe it.  And now that I think of it, I think it rocks (the statement and the locker room).

This is already 20 years ago (how could that possibly be?),  this article "Black Women and Rap" I think it is called.  But it was my last venture into the hallowed precincts of the Arts & Leisure section at The New York Times, albeit the piece does get reprinted all the time in obscure places, as Rose accurately predicted when she lamented the comment attributed to her.

Music criticism keeps changing and I never knew much about it in the first place.  What I didn't realize is that critical cultural judgments of this kind can't be called back ever. Hell nothing I have ever written has responded to the recall and renunciation notice because most readers don't keep up.  For some people, they will be struggling through BLACK MACHO AND THE MYTH OF THE SUPERWOMAN when I am cold in the ground.  Hell, it's a hard book to understand.  I don't understand it, what made me write it, where all that sassy backtalk came from.

In my youth I was a shy, introverted girl.  But then I started writing and every time I put pen to paper, Frankenstein rears her ugly head with her mouth wide open talking trash.  I don't really know where it comes from or who it is.  Of course, no one will ever believe this but writing is really a lot like being possessed, having witches ride your body while you're sleeping.

All I can say is that.  Nothing has a longer shelf life that stuff written in the New York Times.  The paper of  record just doesn't let anything go, particularly if it should happen to piss a few people off, particularly if it happens to piss off some uptight rigid black folk (yes, I said it!)

 Not that I am displeased with the article.  I think the times have borne out my argument and my thesis about hiphop and rap, about it having this little sexism problem?  And that giving more play to women rappers would be the right answer to that.  Still popular culture criticism is a tricky, useless business indeed.  Most people who would put credence in such a proclamation know so little about the music industry and the role of hiphop within it that there hardly seems a point to saying what I said to who I said it to.  It leads to nothing I think but I don't know.  In any case, for those of you who remain frustrated by the lack of criticism of hiphop by women, this piece is for you.  The New York Times will keep it in print forever I should imagine. 

Very proud that I wrote about women in hiphop at this point, that it is documented and that all these ladies have turned out to be such dazzling people in their own right: Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Salt n Pepa, all the ladies.  

But what has this got to do with the blues?  The usual: dealing with the writing of this article and its outcome gave me the blues.  Yeah.  

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