|—||The King Ad Rock speaks on sample clearance to Ego Trip magazine (why yes I am just reading their archived 90s interviews online, how astute of you!)|
Black women were doing the hard work of demanding respect in the rap game while MCA was still guzzling Budweiser and talking about his porno collection on wax. From Salt N Pepa to Lyte to Latifah to Monie to Miss Melody to Yo Yo to… I’ll just stop there, because all of them came up before Paul’s Boutique dropped. Nah, let’s go forward, mid-90s til inifinity: Missy, Lauren Hill (while with the Fugees and on her own), Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Eve, and on and on.That you looked to the Beastie Boys for a non-misogynistic voice in hip hop while it was there all along in the form of women rapping about and for themselves strikes me as incurious at best.
This would be a fair criticism to level at a hip-hop head - someone who cared about rap primarily in the early 90s and was really on top of even the releases that were poorly promoted or never made it onto the charts.
But the Beastie Boys - due to a racist, fucked up industry and culture - were megastars, and you didn’t have to look for them. You heard their singles (like “Sure Shot”) even if you only liked rock music. Even if you only liked country, probably.
A lot of the people I see commenting on this topic seem really young… not like they’re childish, but like they don’t remember a time when all music wasn’t just at your fingertips at all times, and if you didn’t live in the centre of the universe, you relied on the radio and heavily curated music video programming, and MAYBE you had a cool community radio station with a DJ who was in a couple of hip-hop record pools or MAYBE you had someone who could tape videos for you or MAYBE you only got to hear the most popular, heavily promoted music on earth.
You couldn’t just go youtube everything. So if the music industry in 1994 gave you Tical, Project: Funk Da World, Sittin’ On Chrome, 6 Feet Deep, Blunted On Reality, Ready To Die, and Ill Communication, then odds are pretty good that if you don’t have someone looking out for you, all you’re going to hear is the Beastie Boys out of that pool until years later.
(I think those are all recognized classics to some extent, but only one of them even has a featured woman performer and it’s not because *I* didn’t hear all the classic rap records from that year when they came out; it’s because the industry wasn’t trying to put the money and time into women rappers that it takes to build a classic.)
When rap let women like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown and Missy Elliot shine, and put black women on television so I could see them doing awesome shit and making mad money? That’s when I knew.
That was the late 90s. None of those artists had a career in music prior to 1994 (when MCA said “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue…”), except Missy who was writing R’n’B in an unsung background role.
If you had said Nefertiti, MC Lyte, Bo$$, Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, Nikki D, Antoinette, then you would have had a point… except all of them were marginalized in their careers by a disrespectful rap industry, which is why you don’t know who they are.
That one line by that one rapper didn’t fix or ameliorate the sexism of the music industry, but he didn’t drop it in a landscape that was already celebrating the artists you name.
I know rap loves me back, even with all its problems. Rap stayed loving before any Beastie Boy ever picked up a microphone and it will keep loving now. The thing is, that love isn’t for people like Valenti—you don’t need and you don’t have to have it. Sorry if it’s not there to validate your every fucking breath—that’s not what it’s fucking here for and it never fucking will be, so you can stop trying to come for rap and fuck off somewhere.
This is such a weird perspective. All of your favourite rappers of colour over the age of 25 revere the Beastie Boys as peers, idols and inspirations, and are personally wounded by the loss of MCA. Read their twitters from last week. They’re not worried that the history of hip-hop is getting whitewashed by someone recalling that time they were relieved that the Beastie Boys started off sexist but stopped eventually.
Hip-hop is not more sexist than mainstream western culture, but mainstream western culture emphasizes the normal amount of sexism present in rap when it deigns to celebrate it because mainstream western culture LOVES sexism. It is hard, even now, to get people en masse to pay any attention to rap that is non- or anti-sexist. It’s not hip-hop’s fault.
I’m disgruntled by the rush to snark on Jessica Valenti for saying that hearing MCA’s famous “little something that’s long overdue” in “Sure Shot” was one of the first times she ever felt like the music she loved loved her back. In particular, as much as I’m upset when hip-hop per se is mischaracterized as intrinsically or overwhelmingly misogynist - usually in the mix with some appalling dearth of racial analysis - I think it’s dishonest to pretend that the popular rap landscape was CRAWLING with artists of colour who were falling all over themselves to give respect to women as equals.
Certainly white rappers weren’t either - 3rd Bass wasn’t, House Of Pain wasn’t (Everlast wouldn’t invent the idea that abortion is complicated until 1999), Blood of Abraham wasn’t, Miilkbone wasn’t - and it is gross if anyone thinks the Beastie Boys invented rap with a conscience, or that “Sure Shot” represents the first time women weren’t getting dissed on record. I hope it can go without saying that it would be preposterous to believe that artists of colour are more misogynist than white artists, but I also don’t think that’s what’s implied by shouting out that moment on record.
Everyone who listened to hip-hop in 1994 remembers that line. It gave us CHILLS, I mean those of us who were hoping to hear that sentiment anywhere. I guess a lot of people might have thought it was corny, but they’re jerks or something. Maybe it is a corny line, but it didn’t matter. It was more affecting than it was affected.
Not everyone who was listening to hip-hop that year had heard album tracks like Digable Planets’s “La Femme Fetal” or … … … what else? This is what I think is dishonest - if you really know hip-hop, and I really know hip-hop, you know that it was dominated by young men from day one. And young men can be lots of different ways, many of them lovely, but young man culture very rarely takes a moment to address women as people in a positive way. And in rap, it was NOT HAPPENING.
So everyone who was like “pfff Jessica Valenti it is racist of you to not have been even more impacted by the many times other rappers said explicitly respectful things about women in general on hit major label singles prior to the release of ‘Sure Shot’” is pretty much blowing hot air because they haven’t named even one example. Not one. Because it wasn’t an existing trend.
I remember songs like KRS-ONE’s “Brown Skin Woman” which seems really positive until you put it side-by-side with Jeru The Damaja’s “Da Bichez” and realize it’s the SAME SONG, and that song is an assertion of the virgin-whore dichotomy.
I remember a time when Ice Cube saying “A Black woman is my manager, not in the kitchen / so would you please stop bitching!” felt like PROGRESS. I mean I can’t pretend I was thirteen, fourteen years old and had total feminist consciousness and a clear understanding of the need for respect, but I understood that disrespect made me feel bad.
Are we gonna pretend that Native Tongues had things to say about women that weren’t mild-mannered versions of “I wanna fuck?” I mean they tended to be relatively respectful versions of “I wanna fuck,” but not always, and there was never that moment of “hey let’s be serious - can we stop dissing women for a minute here?” Black Sheep - probably the most conscious and politically outspoken segment of the troop - actively mocked “Ladies Against Sexist Motherfuckers” in a skit on their timeless masterpiece debut album.
The thing that is problematic about the prominence of the Beastie Boys in popular music while their predecessors, peers, and betters from classic hardcore hip-hop languish in obscurity is not that they don’t deserve recognition for what they accomplished within the sphere of hip-hop. Everyone from hip-hop respects the Beastie Boys. You should hear Ice Cube’s first demos - he wanted to BE Licensed To Ill. They’re from New York, they were there when it happened, they belong to that history and they ought to occupy a certain special corner of it.
The thing that is problematic about what happened from there is that the mainstream embraced them as white. The extent to which they’ve benefited from that is appalling not because they’ve sold hundreds of millions of records, but because they’ve sold hundreds of millions of records more than Masta Ace, and Souls of Mischief, and Def Jef, and Heavy D, and KRS-ONE, and Kurious, and pretty much all of the hip-hop artists who made noise between 1986 and 1994 COMBINED, and it’s because they were allowed to do whatever they wanted and they were embraced, and because all those other artists pretty much were allowed to either be Tupac or a footnote - someone Jay-Z references in one line to make someone like me smile.
I do feel grossed out that every cool white chick I know between 30 and 40 years of age gets excited to rap along when “Get It Together” comes on but has literally never heard even one Tribe song ever in her life (knowingly). And I’m sure we all bear some burden to broaden our horizons beyond the white walls of pop culture prominence and I guess people who only like “Get It Together” are derelicts of dialect in that regard… but they weren’t really given much of a chance to do otherwise.
Sometimes I think people who like the Beastie Boys but don’t love Cypress Hill and Funkdoobiest are just plain racist. But if I think about more than beats and vocal inflections, the truth is that while people who like House Of Pain but not those other two groups ARE racist (THE SAME GUY MADE ALL THOSE RECORDS, SHEESH), the Beastie Boys took advantage of their white-skinned privilege to put out a record and be goofy and nice and non-threatening, and Columbia Records was never going to put out a goofy, nice, non-threatening album from Cypress Hill or Funkdoobiest.
It’s not rap’s fault that people didn’t get to hear a lot of variety in content in rap, and it’s not the fault of artists of colour that people didn’t get to hear a lot of variety in content from them. At least, not without being passionately devoted to finding it in the dusty dungeons of no promotional budgets, half-assed development deals, or indie records. But it isn’t the Beastie Boys’ fault that the same bullshit wasn’t heaped on them, and it isn’t their fans’ fault, either.
But really I mean really you SHOULD have been listening to Digable Planets. It’s not that I don’t think everyone should have been listening to Digable Planets. I just understand why not everyone WAS. And I hope they do now.
Um does that make any sense?
|—||Sage Francis on the passing of Adam Yauch|