Comment | Beautiful Sister: Conscious Hip Hop and gender politics
Arts & Culture, Music & Dance, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 15:15 - 8 Comments
JaJa Soze ‘Beautiful Sister’
Universal Music Group, Warner Music, Sony Music Group, BMG, and EMI control approximately eighty-six percent of the global music market. These Global entertainment conglomerates that enjoy hegemonic control over the industry have appropriated Hip Hop music. The genre, as it is packaged and presented by the dominant white male power structure, champions individualism, materialism and misogyny.
However, Hip Hop was born out of resistance against oppression, giving a voice to those most marginalised. There are conscious artists who adhere to the revolutionary ideals of the genre and deliver a message that rages against the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the dominant power structure. In the U.K, independent artists such as Akala, JaJa Soze and Lowkey provide listeners with inspirational verse that encourages collective solidarity and equality.
While it is undeniably progressive that these artists are willing to engage with gender politics and challenge the misogyny that prevails over mainstream hip-hop, patriarchy is so conditioned and normalised that their attempts to do so are often problematic. JaJa Soze’s acapella, Beautiful Sister (below) provides us with the most recent example of this.
Beautiful Sister is JaJa Soze’s appeal to women. In order to fully realise their societal value and worth, women must follow his prescribed doctrine. This concept reinforces the patriarchal ideal of male ownership. We (men) are the oppressors and women will lead any movement towards the emancipation of women from gender-based oppression. Our role in the movement is to be supportive. We certainly don’t define a woman’s worth.
JaJa is critical of the sexual choices women make. We enjoy sexual freedom and are not belittled because of the choices we make. We have no right to judge or attempt to obstruct the sexual freedom of women. I am not proposing that sexual liberation equates to total emancipation from gender-based oppression. However, if we consider the patriarchal urge to control a woman’s sexual choice as a response to the male fear of sexual inadequacy, then liberation from this control is a significant move forward.
While critiquing the sexual choices women make, the language used is particularly dehumanising and degrading:
‘Sleeping around and complaining when the baby comes, you should’ve thought of that when you got filled up with cum.’
‘…Because I can smell you from here and it don’t smell clean. I’d probably run away if I saw you in a wet dream.’
If Beautiful Sister is intended to demonstrate love for and show solidarity with women, then the language is in direct conflict with the message. In this context, a phrase like ‘filled up with cum’ totally objectifies women. Suggesting a woman who has more than one sexual partner is unclean perpetuates negative stereotypes. These examples are insulting to the women that JaJa hopes to connect with and are more likely to gain applause from men entrenched in patriarchal behaviour.
When conscious artists make the attempt to engage with gender-politics, they often slip into the norm of viewing women through the prism of how men relate to them. By doing so, this implies that women are only worthy of respect through their attachment to men and fails to see women as human beings in their own right. JaJa places great emphasis on motherhood as a woman’s ultimate destiny. What of the women who opt out of motherhood? What of the women who can’t have children for medical reasons? What of transgender women? This fetishisation of motherhood reinforces the patriarchal notion that women are property of men and it is their collective purpose to fulfill our needs.
If we are serious about standing shoulder to shoulder with women and being allies in the struggle to overcome gender-based oppression, it is important that we do so in ways that are not counter-productive.
We benefit from gender privilege and should acknowledge the fact that we do. Our gender privilege can be utilised as a weapon to challenge patriarchy from within. JaJa is an inspirational person. He has successfully adapted his collective, PDC (Poverty Driven Children), to perform social good. And he has done so in the face of predictable oppression and resistance from the white male power structure. The Black Panthers sought to adapt gangs to perform social good. The concept is truly revolutionary. If JaJa emphasised the need for men to respect women and treat them as equals then his impact on this particular struggle would be remarkable.
Crucially, we must be prepared to listen and self-reflect. Allies in any given struggle are not immune to making mistakes. Patriarchy is so deeply embedded in the fabric of society that our attempts to counteract it may sometimes be misguided. We must accept the criticism that follows and resolve to learn from it. By learning from our mistakes we strengthen the movement.