But this is not an album review and I am not a music critic.
I start this post out with Ocean because I've been thinking a lot about his song "Pyramids," a ten minute story of the transition from one "Black queen Cleopatra," to another. There is something about this song, which tells the story of Cleopatra, the "jewel of Africa" of the past, and Cleopatra, the dancer of today who works at the Pyramid to keep her N*gga's bills paid, that rocks me a little. Look, he doesn't really give either Cleopatra a voice and he plays around with the Black queen (which is always connected to the Black ho) trope a bit too much, but there is a vulnerability there, a complexity, it seems, to the relationship between the narrator and the woman he loves (?). And there's not just a vulnerability with her, but a vulnerability with his performance as a pimp/lover. And, even though we don't get her perspective, modern Cleopatra comes off as having some agency. Other reviews suggest that she is clueless about her objectification, the "cycle" she is caught up in. You know, because sex work always and only demonstrates a woman's lack of sound decision making skills. But, I don't see it that way. There is something humanizing about both of the contemporary characters in the song. The way she says his name, which makes him feel like "I'm that N*gga, tho I'm still unemployed." And, she's working at the Pyramid tonight...It reminds me of stories Me'shell Ndeogello has told about Black lives, ones that aren't often celebrated. Maybe it's a stretch and I'm still working it out in my mind and it may just be because I've known women who have worked in the sex industry my entire life--friends and relatives who have worked as dancers and escorts--and that's why it rocks me. Women many of us collectively discard cause they choose it. So, therefore, they like it.
In my mind, "Pyramids" is in conversation with the recent outrage over Lil' Wayne because there is a similar discarding of women. If, for some reason, you haven't heard, about two weeks ago, a lyric to Lil' Wayne's unreleased song, "Karate Chop" was leaked on the web. One of the lyrics of the song claims that Wayne "beat[s] that pussy up like Emmet Till." A reference to Emmett Till, the 14 year old African American Chicago native who was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman on a Mississippi street on August 28th, 1955. He was beaten beyond recognition. Tortured by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, shot in the head and then submerged in Tallahatchie River with barbed wire, holding a cotton gin fan in place, around his neck.
Yeah, that's what he referenced. That's how he beat the pussy up. I can't speak to Lil Wayne's motivations because there are no words. Till's family has issued an an open letter, here. And Davey D. has posted a response, here.
But, what I can speak to is how this outrage should also call attention to the lack of humanity and violence associated with the phrase, "beat the pussy up." And, I situate this conversation between two men because I need men to take this on, and to be outraged. Not because your "queens" are being disrespected, but because women are being discarded and treated as objects (not a new story) in our collective imagination.
The phrase beat the pussy up seems to be increasingly popular: This is not the first time I've heard it, nor the first time that Wayne has used it, and it isn't even the first time I've talked about it on this blog. I casually mentioned it once in reference to a Rainbow Noise lyric (Jay Squared, from IMMA HOMO), "I beat the pussy up, call me Dyke Turner." You heard that right: Dyke. Turner. Dyke Turner, you know referencing the man who beat his wife, Tina Turner, regularly. Raped her, regularly.
I don't understand the level of disassociation from one's self: disassociation as a Black person, as a woman (and queer person) to be able to pen lyrics that reference violence enacted on folks that share identities with you. The violence embedded in the lyric, the violence of capitalism, of the recording industry, of a culture that is invested in "controversy," record sales and profit, at any expense, is beyond what I want to imagine in this moment. To use the name of a child, or a Black woman, both of whom were treated so inhumanely to garner attention--Wayne, his record label, the media who have reported on it--is soul crushing. And I understand this latest challenge to actually be outraged about the entire lyric: what stands out to many is the cowardly reference to the murder of Emmett Till. But, it's also a reference to violence against women--not a woman's body part, as some have suggested, but violence. Correct me if I'm wrong, but beating up (as in I beat the pussy up) is synonymous with phrases like "kick the shit out of," "beat down," "hit over and over, really hard" or just, "hurt, intentionally," no? So, you "kicked the shit out of that pussy," you "beat that pussy down," you "hit that pussy over and over, really hard," or, you "hurt that pussy, intentionally." And I'm not talking about rough sex or intense sex between consenting adults. I'm not a prude. I know what fisting is :).
But, this is different, there's an emphasis on that in all those sentences because it's that pussy, nothing else. No woman attached. Unless, she's alternately being referred to as a Black queen. You know, like how Chris Brown beats Rihanna one day, tattoos an image on his neck that looks like a woman beaten the next day and then, later, tweets a "Happy Valentine's Day to all the beautiful women, our queens, mothers, daughters" to his 12 million followers? It's dehumanizing. Can we think, for a minute about the whole woman, your queen, who is attached to that pussy? Like a whole person? I fear, that this is how we are comfortable thinking about women, particularly young women and young women of color these days. Days when we're mad at Rihanna for getting back together with
Yeah, I need you to be outraged about that. Now.