[16 November 2009]
Irreplaceable. That’s pretty much the length of commitment our music and lifestyle promotes. The mindset that people and relationships are disposable is the anti-thesis of marriage and commitment. Beyonce and Jay know that their public personae don’t match their private one, yet I, like Jozen Cummings at The Root.com, cannot forgive them for not being more conscious about their lyrics. They know the state of black America—they grew up with us—yet they still promote men as soldiers and providers, and the sexes as in complete competition, and opposition, with one another.
Of course, that Venus vs. Mars narrative cannot sustain a marriage, or any genuine relationship, including a solid friendship. Yet, friends and lovers, like a Louis or Fendi, are replaceable. It probably has not occurred to the hottest couple in music at all that they are empowered enough to not only shape their respective genres of music, but to move Black America—and therefore America—forward.
Jozen Cummings’s post on The Root.com was prompted by a recent study published by the Yale Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course, claiming that there were few marriageable men for black women, partially because black women were less likely than their racialized male counterparts to wed outside racial bounds. Still, anyone visiting a college canteen can see the ratio of black men to women. Luckily, patriarchal masculinity is not disrupted by this ratio, and in facts rewards men for “conquering all that pussy”, according to much commercial rap music, as well as big and small screens.
Moreover, “Women are penalized for waiting to get married, while men are rewarded for their patience,” exclaims Niambi Carter, PhD on NPR’s Tell Me More, who carried a conversation about the Yale study under the rubric “Black Women: Successful and Still Unmarried”. The study has caused waves.
Despite their riches, B. and Jay-Z are no more liberated, and therefore powerful, than they were as basic negroes on the grind. Jay-Z might feel that he has nothing genuine to offer; the dominant images of hip-hop—the materialism, violence, misogyny, and self-hatred—demonstrate that most have yet to decolonize their minds.
Jay-Z knows that he’s not irreplaceable. B. went from “Nasty, put some clothes on,” with her girls Kelly and Michelle, to a Sugar Mama swinging on a ho-pole, willing to pay a man for his services; “Damn, I wanna buy you a short set,” Beyonce says in her video and stage reproduction, sucking on a caner stick, laid out, out of breath. Neither seems to have comprehended their own potential impact. If their wealth were not so ephemeral, ethereal even, they wouldn’t need to brag about it. The same goes for stardom.
“It’s a lie,” says Madonna to fans during her Confessions concert tour, after singing a smashing, high-powered rendition of her hit “Jump”. “I can’t make it alone,” she repeats, sitting on stage, taking gulps from a bottle of water, contradicting the song’s refrain. Even above 50, the “Material Girl” is still the crowned queen of reinvention . Her album Ray of Light marks one of her most remarkable shifts. From then on, Madonna has remained fiercely critical of materialism, racism, homophobia, the perils of stardom, and especially hypocrisy in politics and morality.
Reincarnating her image has gained Madonna’s stardom the staying power of a Trojan—wood or rubber. If fame were not so short-lived and insubstantial, if fans and stars were not so caught up into reproducing stardom as an end in itself, then perhaps our popular culture would have more genuine artists—we would have more self-aware professional entertainers. Otherwise, pop stars just titillate—ass and tits, or pecs and six-packs—it’s all just diamonds and pearls to please the crowd.
The disconnect is that fans like us would like to believe that they actually are irreplaceable. And why should stars believe otherwise—we’re the same fans that turned our backs on Michael Jackson until it was too late. We treated him like he was replaceable until he was dead, and that’s far too late. Were rappers to value themselves rightly, fans would surely have a richer pool of positive, life-affirming images from which to chose and gain pleasure. Now, if we want a good beat, we simply settle for scraps and scrubs.