Comment | Beautiful Sister: Conscious Hip Hop and gender politics

JaJa Soze's 'Beautiful Sister' reasserts the problematic nature of conscious Hip Hop's recent attempts to engage in gender politics. Only through self-reflection can these problems be addressed and patriarchal attitudes overcome, says Robert Kazandjian..

Arts & Culture, Music & Dance, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 15:15 - 9 Comments

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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.

See Also: Debate | HIP-HOP ON TRIAL: does it enhance society, or degrade it?

Robert Kazandjian

Robert Kazandjian is a London-based freelance journalist and researcher. He has previously been published by The Independent and The Guardian, and writes on class, gender, race and international affairs. He's on Twitter at @RKazandjian.

9 Comments

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Sofia
Jun 26, 2012 15:50

Another point is that (straight) women who “sleep around” do so with men. Thousands of years of male control over female sexuality is the context in which male criticism of female behaviour must be placed.

Thank you for a thoughtful and much needed article that highlights the limitations of Jaja’s approach to women. Hopefully, more men will re-examine how they treat women in light of this.

For anyone starting to think about these issues for the first time, bell hooks has on point analysis of the connection between racism, sexism and classism.

GlobalFaction
Jun 27, 2012 2:47

This is an Interesting yet Eurocentric and ‘removed’ analysis of the track which includes 2 women (Gigi Daai & Jareth) while the video has 3 women featured in total, who are not even mentioned (Not even once) in this article. Also not mentioned is the specific cultural context which has given rise to such a track and others like it. Surely a specific cultural context is also important here?

What you have done is taken 1 piece of a jigsaw puzzle and attempted to analyse it outside of the context of the collection of pieces thus compartmentalising Jaja Soze’s contribution….into the context of your own personal worldview. Admittedly, his lines are not for the queezy, he speaks first and foremost to a specific audience who appreciate and respond to straight talk and not necessarily to your average broadsheet reading audience. Have you spoken to the women involved regarding their views on Jaja’s lines or to overstand what they’ve seen locally and globally that has informed their own lines and their willingness to take part in the track? Also, what is your understanding of the impact of the all pervading Euro-aesthetic on young men and women of African Descent? Gigi speaks of turning that glossy page while “we think lighter skin is cool” therefore disliking one’s own level of melanin. Skin bleaching creams and hair straightening products/straight wigs, etc. are big business in areas which have a high population of Black people and the vast majority of the money made is certainly not being made by the community that does the consumption. Disliking one’s natural hair and skin colour cannot be cast away as simply personal choice. It is actually through a process of manufactured choice and we challenge this manufacturing of choice as we challenge the negativity, self hate and “Big Willy talk” put forward by many male ‘artists’. These and many other issues are the context within which to analyse this track in order to provide a more rounded analysis.

The women involved in this track are strong and assertive. It would be good for you to listen and learn from them and ask why they decided to be involved. It would make you a much greater writer to broaden your knowledge of the historical/cultural experience of others.

Amaru X
Jun 27, 2012 11:18

I have known about Jaja since I was kid in secondary school and have seen how much he has changed over the years. I live in Brixton myself and I am encouraged to see brothers like himself joining the struggle and fighting for the rights of his people. Before analysing “Beautiful sister” I have to admit I actually didn’t see the sexism rooted in it, it had to be pointed out to me by me female friend.

The problem with the issue around sexism in our society is that it is so deeply ingrained into us that it seems to go undetected most of the time, even the two sisters in the video might have not detected it…..yet.

I think it is really important to listen to what women have to say, I have seen many discussions about this video on twitter and I have seen how us men have completely disregarded all the arguments that were put forward by women. I think we should listen to our sisters, since they are after all at the bottom of this white/male social structure.

vitoria
Jun 27, 2012 13:14

I actually spoke to the author online and I am female so let me try to provide some cultural context for the video which I see as an attack on female sexuality and agency. During the online exchange in which many were active, some black males were attacking promiscuity among black women as predictably happens. My intervention was driven by the need to question who gave them the right to judge how many sexual partners a woman should have. I pointed out then how this discussion was culturally bound, that is the view points on display reflect white capitalist patriarchy’s domination and colonisation of our minds. In other cultures – and I mentioned here the Maasai, young women were given free license to enjoy as many sexual encounters as pleased them. Black women in the UK are not only oppressed by racism but also by patriarchal values such as those on display in this video which suggests there is a heteronormative standard – a vision of perfect womanhood – that we should all abide by and any deviance from this standard is treated as a threat. Who exactly does this serve?

We saw the same vilification of black women in the aftermath of the London riots when male commentators in the media, both black and white, were attacking black single mothers for the violence – claiming that black teenage mothers were having babies when they were barely grown up and thus unable to successfully raise children. Again who does this serve? This script was pumped not just in the usual media organs who constantly deride black female sexuality but everywhere.

Like the author of this piece I found the lyrics offensive because of the way in which black females are objectified as “cum” holders. This is the kind of slut-shaming talk that black men on the conservative right love to indulge in and it is not only black men but white culture that presents black women as jezebels who sleep around and who subsequently have many baby fathers. This is the representation that is used to control black female sexuality in the racist mainstream press. In Hip Hop there seems to be only one way to view women and that is as a “hoe” so the producers of this video offer an alternative image but one that fits the conservative right, both black and white who employ these representations to police the sexual behaviour of black women.

When you look at the research into black women’s sexual attitudes in the UK, contrary to what the Daily Mail reports, teenage girls hold some very conservative ideas about sex and marriage. Most express a desire to wait until marriage before having sex for the first time. That’s what you would expect in a white capitalist patriarchal culture that pushes this idea at every opportunity. The average age for the first sexual encounter is 17 among black teenage girls. And if we look at representations of black women in Hip Hop what do we encounter? These same demeaning images.

I get that the video also attempts to present a more “gratifying” or clean image of black women celebrating what is now being called on Tumblr the naturalista look. This a choice of one among many for women to decide. Who made the artist the arbitrator of black womanhood? Anyway, I could say more but I’ll end here by requesting that black males who wish to work with their sisters affirm their choices and let us decide how we choose to dress and who we sleep with.

Sam A
Jun 27, 2012 15:18

I’ll apologise here and now for sending Jaja some rude tweets. He had dismissed a sister who was trying to engage with him about the track and had also written the following two tweets a couple of days before:

‘How can a guy buy a bottle of drink that cost £5000 in a club just to give a chick that already links a guy on the estate for free. Smh’
and
“Smh at females that stand next to the bar looking sexy and thirsty waiting for some guy to buy them a drink, next time bring a packed lunch” I retweeted them.

I was not constructive in my replies to this.
Having never heard his music before ‘Beautiful Sister’ and then seeing these two tweets I wondered how can someone who didn’t seem to even like women let alone respect them feel justified in telling them how to act? I have no idea of his background but this view of woman as the ‘albatross’ in a man’s life is repellant. He has said he hasn’t read any feminist writing, i haven’t read enough, perhaps we can start a library and a book club, because this lack of education on an important issue is getting us nowhere.

Hip hop is a voice of resistance you have the opportunity to reach out to people and many already try to educate & liberate through their music on a number of topics. So do you want younger generations to be talking about your friends & family as receptacles for ‘cum’? You’re not talking to a family member, no, but the easily influenced boy down the road might.

I’m glad of this article as we can now all debate constructively. Take the time to listen to the women that you are chastising rather than unconsciously upholding a power structure which is manipulated by the media. This ‘slut shaming’ narrative attempts to subjugate women by attacking their sexuality. As Agent of Change points out ‘Is there a hip hop song in existence that crticises male promiscuity? #Didn’tThinkSo’ I believe that is a good starting point for this debate. Who does this narrative that this track supports, serve? As the commenter above me says the UK press and even one of the few black male MP’s David Lammy were blaming black single mothers for causing the riots. Does Jaja want to collude with that narrative? This marginalising of women guarantees that issues that do exist are left unchecked and blame is apportioned without true thought, sensitivity or understanding. The capitalism system is invested in promoting black men and women as promiscuous, sexual objects and by supporting that you have been divided and ruled, no doubt.
Regarding a white male writing this article, he took the time to talk to women who had watched this video. I was one of them. Its important not to dismiss any conscious person who decides to challenge the status quo whatever colour they are. I’d hope that goes without saying.

Re the two women that are in the video as a brother says above ‘The problem with the issue around sexism in our society is that it is so deeply ingrained into us that it seems to go undetected most of the time, even the two sisters in the video might have not detected it…..yet.’
I urge anyone who visits this article also to follow @blackfeministuK on twitter. There are others that I’d recommend but will ask their permission first.

I also think until we get a full picture of why this happens then will we not be able to change it. We are not taught to think in school (where these gender roles really take root) just taught how to pass exams. So it takes personal study & interaction with others after school and as adults to hone our freethinking skills and get free of the white capitalist patriarchy system.

And as a black woman I will continue to wear my hair however I want to, I do my hair for me, not you.

NativeSon
Jun 27, 2012 15:35

I think there are a number of things we need to problematise about the lyrics of this song, however it is first important to note that it is good to see Black men showing a public concern about the conditions in which Black women live – I think however that, in the same way as we would read about imperialism or capitalism – the intersectionality of race and class needs to be studied before someone can make a song about it.

The first problem, of course, is the line “you should’ve thought about that when you got filled up with cum”. This line indicates that women somehow passively fill themselves with cum and create a child, rather than men producing the cum, and in most cases, being the sexual predictor who initiates intercourse and, as the owner of the penis, should be responsible when decided to use protection.

This theme is consistent throughout the song, as there is very little in the way of self-reflection in regards to men’s/patriarchies impact on women’s sexuality.

The second thing which is important it the role of race. As Black people, mainstream feminism is steeped in Eurocentricism and, by extension, white supremacy. Furthermore, due to white supremacy, Black people often do not have access to the intellectual resources which lead to sophisticated analyses of the intersectionality of gender and race.

Black feminist public intellectuals like bell hooks, dream hampton and Tricia Rose offer useful critiques of Black masculinity, including their perceived ownership of Black women and their bodies. They do not attack or dismissive approaches like the one adopted by JaJa, but rather offer a ‘loving critique’. This approach offers the important critique of white supremicist or liberal feminism which Global Faction allueded to, in addition to presenting an understanding of Black female empowerment which shows how Black women can be disempowered by Black men, without falling into racist steriotypes or denying female agency.

If we, as Black men, want to really help our sisters, I think what we first need to do is look at, and judge ourselves and our own actions, rather than the Black sisters we disapprove of.

Good literature on this includes: We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity by bell hooks and The New Black Man by Mark Anthony

vitoria
Jun 27, 2012 18:39

Another great book is The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses
By Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí. Google preview here:

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=X3JSjO6_UvIC&pg=PA184&dq=the+invention+of+women+oyeronke+oyewumi&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bUHrT4nlEajb0QWz0ZHeBQ&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

As Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí clearly shows colonialism shaped the way gender played out between African men and women. Before colonialism there were Yoruba women chiefs and officials all over the Yoruba state. Authority was not gender determined. The way in which power was distributed after colonialism, which destroyed these structures, proved most detrimental to African women. And we suffer still from the way in which the global racial hierarchy is constructed with black women placed at the very bottom. If black women are critiqueing JaJa it is because the message that is being sent by this video emanates from the perspective of a black man who still does not see us as equal and unwittingly finds himself reproducing the controlling images of black woman as highly sexualised, libidinous individuals. And to reinterate what I’ve already said that view point is a eurocentric one with roots in slavery.

mamusu
May 13, 2013 17:48

thank you for such a decent and informed piece of writing- a man that actually gets it. A white guy that gets it better than so many black men who are still pandering to conservative Christianity, claiming it’s how blacks and Africans naturally were before white people came along. There isn’t a single thing wrong with this article and i found global faction to be up his own arse, its obvious that the author is aware of political meanings of personal choices and did not need a lecture. also the fact that global faction did not address the central message of the piece of writing, stop judging women for their sexual choices and enforcing an imagined and male constructed Madonna/whore dichotomy would indicate that he/she supports it but cant’ actually refute this authors position- so he/she chose to try and undermine the author by saying he doesn’t understand black culture and history. Sorry but- misogyny is abuse- not an aspect of ethnic culture- men try to control women’s sexuality all over the world- so nothing sacred there then. well done on an excellent and please write some more. global faction, listen and learn fromall the females who are saying this author speaks to their concerns.

JaJa Soze’s – Beautiful Sister: Conscious Hip Hop and gender politics | Floating Complexity
Jul 30, 2014 14:05

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