Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad”
Let me start off by saying that I would consider myself to be a fan of Lupe Fiasco. “American Terrorist,” Kick Push,” and “All Black Everything” are my jams! I also applaud Lupe Fiasco for being very outspoken on things like Western imperialism and the hyper-materialism and all around foolishness of modern mainstream rap. However, despite the fact that some seem to think that “Bitch Bad” is a deviation from the usual patriarchal narrative in hip hop, it is not different so much as it is just another side of the same coin–the patriarchal coin. As I tweeted recently, there is nothing new or subversive about black men telling black women that we need to be (better) “ladies.” There is a deluge of movies, books, blog postings, tweets, etc. that are dedicated, if not hell bent, on telling black women what the “appropriate” standards of womanhood are and how we can best adhere to them. I can’t stand it when it comes from pin stripe, pimp suit wearing Steve Harvey. I can’t stand it when it comes from Tyrese, a fallen off R&B singer who thinks he is Socrates reincarnate and I am not anymore receptive to it when it is coming from the likes of a conscious rapper like Lupe Fiasco.
In the song’s hook, Lupe claims “Bitch bad, woman good, lady better.” This hierarchy in which “lady” is “better” ultimately divvies up which women are worthy of being treated like human beings and which ones are not. Ideas of “proper” womanhood and ladylikeness are too subjective and ever changing to use them as standard measures for deciding which women deserve to have their humanity and dignity honored. The politics of respectability always seem to dictate that we tell young girls and women how to be more “respectable” but the more apt and important message is that ALL girls and women are worthy of respect. NOTHING, and I do mean NOTHING, warrants our emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual degradation. In the same way that we know Trayvon Martin’s hoodie and black skin did not give George Zimmerman license to stalk him down and take his life as if he were mere prey, we should know that black women’s clothing choices, musical tastes, hobbies, etc. do not and should not invite subjugation and abuse.
Earlier today I logged onto twitter and my timeline was full of people tweeting about a domestic violence situation that unfurled right before our eyes on the social networking site. A young woman tweeted pictures of her bloodied and bruised face that she received at the hands of her boyfriend. A whole slew of folk were in his mentions telling him that he needed help, he should be in jail, and he shouldn’t hit women to which he responded something to the effect of “I don’t believe in hitting ‘females,’ but [his girlfriend] is a dumb bitch and I don’t mind hitting dumb bitches.” Again, this is what happens when we decide who’s humanity is worth being honored and who’s isn’t.
I would have been much more impressed had Lupe actively taken his hip-hop colleagues (especially his male peers) to task for not only perpetuating but profiting off of the controlling images meant to justify black women’s oppression. It is interesting that in his opening verse, out of all the examples he could have used, Lupe uses a hypothetical mother rapping along to a “Bad Bitch” anthem to suggest that she is sending mixed messages to her young son about women. Wouldn’t it have been much more “inventive” and “new” had he taken on men that make these misogynistic songs that mirror how black women are portrayed and treated in society at large? Where do black men’s culpability figure into Lupe’s narrative?
Some people have argued “Hey it’s not perfect but we should give him an E for effort and applaud the fact that he has tried. Stop downing the brother.” As the domestic violence case I mentioned above illustrates, the situation is just too dire for us to be lax on any sort of well-meaning yet arbitrary hierarchies and dichotomies that ultimately dehumanize black women. To those folks I say that Lupe’s (and black men’s) egos will heal much faster than black women’s lives, souls, and bodies.
What are your thoughts on this “Bitch Bad” business?