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?