Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beyond Beats and Rhymes

This is for whoever decides to post a comment on the film we watched last week in class. I felt as though the film deserved discussion so what better way to kick it off! I couldn't find the complete youtube video like we saw in class but this one leads to all 6 parts.


Ani Reina said...

Thanks for making this post Kevin; it definitely helps with the organization.

As for my thoughts on the film: I felt something that needs to be addressed are the attitudes some of the men expressed about knowing that being tough is what they need to present in order to get a recording deal. One of the men even said that this is image is what they have to sell to make money. We constantly talk about how those who make certain types of music/movies/fashion are supporting patriarchy that they are putting women and men inside of a box, we rarely talk about how these people are they themselves being “used” to push these ideals. Some of these men are caught up within the system and are just trying to “get rich or die tryin”.

Leila said...

Here's the link for the entire film:

Andrea said...
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Andrea said...
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Andrea said...

I really enjoyed this video, because I do love hip-hop and I listen to it regularly, but I do realize that the words being said are not always morally or ethically correct, but I feel that I can separate myself from the songs and listen objectively. The problem is, that most people do not look at music, or media in this way. This tough/”gangsta” persona that objectifies womyn in rhymes and videos is being spread to people of all ages, with a negative message. Not until rappers are already big and “on top” in the industry do they put out positive messages that come against violence or drugs, because they know that sex sells, and they have to “sell out” temporarily in order to get to where they want to be. This type of rap is what is in the mainstream and on the radio, so therefore it is heard the most. Awesome hip-hop with political messages such as Dead Prez, is really good music, and done right without the “gangsta/pimp” attitude, but of course, it isn’t heard by the masses like Lil’ Wayne or Eminem.
Before T.I. was as well known as he is now, he was all about money and hoes, but after being arrested and realizing that he had to go to prison for illegal gun use, he decided to do a show on MTV. His show was called “Road to Redemption” and he used this as an outlet to reach teenage boys who thought they were “thugs,” and who were heading down the wrong path. T.I. would take the boys to funeral homes, let them spend time in jail, or just sit down to talk to them, while being straight up on what their lives are going to look like in a few years. He let his hardcore, rapper image down to be real with these boys, and he helped them. It took T.I. having to go to prison to realize all of this, and to change his image, but his lyrics have definitely shown his progression from a “G” to a “Gent.”
Of course, it is easier said then done when you are already successful and rich to get your voice and message heard, without having producers dictating your every move to push records.

Zen Lien said...

Thanks for posting this Kevin. I thought this film deserved a little discussion as well.Growing up I listened to a lot of Hip-Hop. Mainly because my friends and I would love to go to clubs and parties and dance to them, not to mention sing along with every lyric. While I wouldn't have been caught dead in a "video girl" outfit, I still held the attitude "well I don't care if he says bitch or ho 'cause he isn't talking about me". After awhile I realized the rappers may not be talking about me but they are talking about my fellow females. Many of these women do choose to dress a certain way or dance and act a certain way but I really don't think any of them are doing it with the intention of called a bitch or ho or to be sexually harassed or even raped. I think they do it because they can get attention or maybe some money out of it (dancing in video etc.).However Hip Hop music is male dominated. Whether it be the rappers themselves or the men that sign their checks. I do agree with Ani, most of these rappers are tools of the industry and the few that aren't as Andrea mentioned don't get the same recognition.For example I told someone I like Common and Talib Kweli they said "who?"

I would've been curious to see what female rappers had to say about this. They are just as much a part of the industry and offer a unique perspective on the masculinity associated with the music they put out. While I understand that the purpose is to focus on masculinity I think some female artists would have added a much needed layer to the documentary.What do they think about the masculine posturing in Hip Hop? Are they offended by their male counterparts' lyrics? How do they try to oppose this and make their music positive for women? To put it into perspective, we all know who Queen Latifah is, but do many people remember her as a rapper, can anyone name her songs? Just like the men, her positive music faded into a distant memory.

Jo said...

I guess I’m a little different because I don’t generally listen to hip hop. I enjoy dancing to it and there is some that I enjoy hearing otherwise, but not much honestly. Also, most of my exposure to hip hop is what is mainstream, so it’s the gangsta genre that I dislike that I hear most. I enjoyed this movie and was interested in a few things it brought up. I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the unwillingness of some of the rap artists to discuss sexism/misogyny on any deeper level than “sex sells.” And I guess I’d secretly hoped to hear someone admit to the messages they were representing in the lyrics and videos. I agree with Zen, although I had not thought of it, that it would have been interesting to hear women rapper’s input on the subject.

I thought it was really important that Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall of Spelman College pointed out that the gangsta rap started to be produced more and more after the major (white) corporate backers became involved. She said that prior to that there had been more artists and songs that were positive and political. It makes perfect sense that those in power would want to dispel any movement toward growth and positions of power. It’s the same major corporate contenders that control the rest of the media output including the “news” channels. They mentioned Clear Channel in particular who owns the several television and local radio stations. They control what constitutes “news” as well as what images of masculinity and femininity are acceptable.

Kelly T said...

This film was so great. I left class and was thinking about the people in my life I needed to share this video with right away! It was pretty upsetting to see that the “top dogs” in the industry are very hesitant (if at all) to speak about patriarchy/misogyny. On the other end of the spectrum it was great to see that a lot of the younger crowd trying to “be something” in the industry realize that they need to put on this front in order to get to where they want to be. At the same time, while they realize that it’s a front they need to put on, they don’t seem to have a problem doing it. They understand that sex and being “tough” is what sells but really, if the majority of them realize that then why aren’t they working together to change it? If all that’s available to the industry is music with good beats and better lyrics then eventually they would have to cave and take what’s there. Right? This calls for a revolution in the hip hop industry but I doubt we’ll be seeing that anytime in the near future. While class is still something that people define others by, it will continue to play a role in how people must act in order to fit into their culture (including their class). If they stray from the norm of their class but can’t quite fit into a different class, then what? What would they do then? This movie really brought up a lot of different questions in my mind. This film wasn’t just about men and masculinity. It brought up questions about integrating classes and even African American people in “progressive” movements. Classes exclude one another because they can, society always has. The more we talk about issues in this class the more I realize that the root of all of our problems doesn’t stem from just patriarchy or masculinity issues. But from the way our society was founded. How do you just mobilize a society to up and change the “values” of their nation by trying to show them things that are wrong? Things like this get me thinking about our country and world in a larger perspective and it just boggles my mind.

r1693689 said...

I don't think this is where this post goes considering this is the "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" section but I didn't see one for the Blog Prompt given. (I'm having a hard time figuring out the organization and structure of this blog...)

For the majority of my adolescence my father was not a primary figure in my life because he worked long hours and on weekends would be playing golf or doing other various things. The biggest influence my father had on my life, when I was younger, was in punishment. Physically my father, when I was younger, was an imposing figure. His height and strength, though probably comparable to now, were frightening and he used his body to convey strength and fear. Now as an adult I find myself convinced strength and power are conveyed through the physical abilities of the body. These aren’t limited to physical strength and power but professional as well. Now I find myself paying extra attention to how I portray myself within public and am an avid people watcher. Professionally I find myself “acting” like my father and manipulating my body and facial expressions to mirror his to convey my own power and strength. These “act”tions while enabling me to feel more powerful within my situation also make me self-conscious because they are the physical lineage tying me to my father and expressing his “male” traits.

Body image in my family, especially with my father, goes unmentioned. In our household my mother whispers things like “tampon” or “period” as though they are dirty words one should not be caught saying. The body is an entirely private place and one should not bring it up unless a problem is associated. With such neglect of the body I tend to forget myself as having a body. Shame and guilt arise with any extravagant mention or exposure of the body and sex is a topic completely avoided. Until recently when I came out as queer or not straight to my parents the subject of sexuality (mine or theirs) had not been addressed. Ever. Anything involving the body is shielded from “decent” conversation and goes unspoken. Because my family background with the body and sexuality is either avoidance or shame my body image during puberty was tainted with the negative. Changes, like puberty, were terrifying and something to hide from others. Even today I find it slightly uncomfortable to be in bathing suits with or near my parents. Our bodies are something to shield and hide from each other. Looking upon their bodies feels like I’m intruding on an intimate place and creates the body to be an oddly valuable object to keep to oneself. Luckily and strangely, however, I have not maintained this mentality outside of my family and feel very comfortable with my body and the bodies of others either clothed or nude.

Ultimately my experience with the male body of my father is similar to that of Bordo. While my father is not dead and/or sickly I feel a huge connection to my body and my father's because I imitate his poses, postures, and cultural cues.

Sara N said...

"We know that misogyny is shot through the culture. It's in country. It's in rhythm and blues. ... So you can't just single out the hip-hop artists and have them bearing the burden for the whole culture. On the other hand, Snoop Dogg is just as accountable as anybody else." – Dr. Cornel West, Princeton

This is important to note because we know that misogynistic lyrics sell hip hop records. A helpful corollary might be to ask why? What has shifted in our culture that “I just wanna fuck every girl in the world” is ontologically valorized (Lil Wayne, Every Girl). Hip hop is has the potential to be a positive social force. Take this verse from MURS’ song Love and Appreciation II:

“B word this H bomb that
And in the midst all of this I wonder where your moms at?
Cause if she ain't one, then tell me where the hate from,
You just calm down and maybe you can date one.
Buy some flowers, open up some doors-
She needs some tampons, homie go to the store.
Vitamin water, a bottle of motrin,
Teddy bear, candy bar something, a token
Of affection, a step in that direction
'Cause love is about progress not perfection”

What is going on in our culture which relegates this message to the real of “underground” hip hop? When we talk about “misogyny and homophobia in hip hop” what we are really saying is mainstream hip hop, correctly noted by other classmates.

I maintain that institutionalized racism, homophobia, gender justice and the intersections of oppression are what we need to be battling… not hip hop. Realistically, T.I. probably cannot get a better job outside of the hip hop industry. He has wealth, fame, women and immortality. Without his name recognition what other job would hire him? And, let’s be honest here, what other individual would have the chance to serve his sentence doing community service on television rather than in prison?

To borrow from our lovely T.A. once again, misogyny and homophobia in hip hop is the symptom of the disease afflicting our culture. To be clear, I’m not saying there aren’t problems in hip hop, rather, I am saying these problems are not limited to hip hop. I noted in class that “egalitarian porn,” whatever that means, would be a byproduct of an egalitarian society. Hip hop is a reflection of what consumers want to hear. In the same way, Hip hop, as it stands in society, is art imitating life imitating art. As would be expected, it’s a vicious cycle and one that is hard to break. Thus, I feel compelled to point out that these rappers, though still responsible for their actions, cannot be entirely blamed for trying to take care of themselves and their families. And, if misogyny sells then why are we not discussing the consumers, the individuals upholding cyclical misogyny. And where do the consumers get these ideas? From culture. We must take a step back and look at the holistic picture. Hence, I agree with Dr. West, it is not as easy as just condemning hip hop.

Abigail said...

This film reminded me of all the reasons I've stopped listening to the radio. I used to love hip-hop in the early 90's and our affaire continued for over ten years though at some point I'd had enough. I couldn't defend and explain that they were only making music and were not hurting anyone. I believe that everything around us affects our inner being and there is too much negativity in hip-hop to make up for the positive messages that can also be found.

Kevin Alvarez said...

Beyond Beats and Rhymes opened up a thoughtful, analytical, and purposefully reflective dialogue on the kinds of stereotypes that mainstream rap and hip-hop perpetuate (and don't get me started on mainstream rock: Nickelback). The film showed us that it isn't as simple as turning off the television or the radio to get away from these characterizations; many young African American men and women have internalized what they have seen.

Shaun Harper's "The Measure of a Man" in Men's Lives, creates a picture of an alternative black masculinity that coexists alongside the stereotypical. Harper's article points out that the culture of violence, misogyny, and sexual promiscuity may be a reaction to the "constraints of race" that young black men find themselves caught in when they attempt to fulfill traditional Euro-American masculine roles (136). When educational and economic opportunities are closed off to young black men they reassert their masculinity in other ways, many of them use their bodies to portray a individualistic, emboldened, emotionless being. The men interviewed by Harper are all single, college age, successful men who have redefined their masculinities to include: "advancement of the African American community...bringing about change that would improve the quality of life for minority students, etc" (142-43).

All of this is in stark contrast to the masculinities that mainstream hip-hop conveys to young black and latin people. As Byron Hurt's interviews with street rappers suggests: many young men living the hip-hop lifestyle, sold by old white male executives, are more than willing and capable of transforming the genre and breathing new political and social meaning back into the music. However, as these young men say, that's not the kind of hip-hop that sells anymore and it isn't the kind that executives sign to labels.

One of the black students believed that masculinity was defined by service to the black community and the ability to "hire other African Americans" (141). At the end of Hurt's documentary Chuck D urges young black people to take back their music and charges black record executives with the task of making the real range of masculine voices heard in the music. Only with a diversification of the top will we ever truly see a more well-rounded mainstream hip-hop.

Claraine said...

Watching this film made me remember what it was like to grow up in that kind of environment. I grew up in Queens, NY and saw firsthand the influence that music has on young children who have dreams of rising above their current situation. As I grew up more of my peers were joining gangs or going down a dark path, so many individuals with the potential to make great contributions to this world were mislead but why and how? Well, looking back I see that hip hop played a bigger role in that than I could ever have imagined. One thing that was mentioned in the film that I noted of was the fact that hip hop artists have these personas of being from the streets and selling drugs, or having flocks of women waiting to be with them but in reality that is what they rap about to sell records and to get signed to a label. This is a real problem in our society, why aren’t we encouraging positive role models for young individuals to relate to, why aren’t we inspiring young individuals to get an education and why aren’t we telling them that this is the best way to rise above your circumstances? I feel that as a black woman the hip hop community is really lacking in positive role models to show young people that rapping about misogynistic and homophobic topics is not the way to better yourself.