I like Janelle Monae. I like Lauryn Hill. I like Erykah Badu. I like Jill Scott.
And I like Azealia Banks.
Not only are they all very good at their craft, but I appreciate how each of them represents the different sides of being a woman. The quirky side, the poetic side, the deep side, the freaky side, the vulnerable side, the androgynous side, the spiritual side, the sexy side, and on and on. I don’t have to know them personally or even agree with them all of the time to be able to see parts of myself, or other women I know, in them and in their artistry. It’s the inner Banks inside of us, to whatever degree it manifests, that gets us back on our feet when the world is an asshole telling us that we ain’t shit because we’re a woman, because we’re Black, we’re too dark, too sensitive, too loud, too unattractive, too whatever. It’s our inner Banks that comes in with a glamourous middle finger to the naysayers, whisks us out of our self-loathing and pity and saves our ass. Or when the world ignores us and wants to pretend like we don’t exist and treats us like we’re irrelevant, it’s the inner Banks that says “I’m here and you’re going to sit your ass down and listen to what I have to say, damn it!”
But the way the Black community regards her – like she’s some kind of leper – reflects a cultural unwillingness to see a more complete picture of Black women/womanhood.
I have found that instead of seeing a young, gifted, Black artist who is passionate about her craft and trying to find herself as an artist and a woman, the community has largely dismissed her as ratchet, ignorant, emotional, and unworthy of any respect. This is mainly because Banks can be brash in her public remarks. Not only that, but her lyrics are pretty raunchy and sometimes they reflect her bisexuality, which means she’s not always rapping about pleasing a dude. Nor does she invest a lot energy in creating a visual image/brand to sell stereotypical sexiness as defined by conventional hip-hop standards (i.e. light skin, ridiculously abnormal looking ass shots, large breast implants, doing the sexual but submissive routine, etc.) to tantalize straight men. Basically, Azealia Banks does Azealia Banks. Pop Quiz: In the world of hip-hop especially, what is a Black woman if she’s not always catering to the sexual fantasies of heterosexual Black penis 24/7? Answer: Despised. Also see: Shunned.
And yet, these anti-Azealia sentiments are found in the very same community that will happily cosign that “The only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace”, even though he’s said plenty of foul shit about women and rapped about murdering folks; the same community that will hardly bat an eyelash at the declaration that Tupac was a great storyteller and that his contradicting lyrics that both degraded and praised women are what made him a “complex” and layered artist. The same community that will bend over backwards to support Chris Brown, talking about “you gotta separate the man from the music”. Our community can somehow see the Black man past the lyrics but can’t do the same for Azealia. The men are free to express themselves, no holds barred. But not Black women like Azealia Banks. That’s hypocritical as hell. It appears that we firmly believe that men are born with an inherent, damn near divine, sacred, fiercely protected and respected right to be themselves and express themselves however way they see fit. But women do not enjoy that same privilege. It’s as if we believe that men are good and righteous by birth but women are born flawed and imperfect. It seems like he must do or say something so outrageously and undoubtedly wrong before the community decides to turn its back on him and label him a “bad” man. Whereas for women, we/they must work to earn the “good” label but any deviance or perceived misstep from our path to righteousness is held against us until further notice.
The way people respond to Banks’ public spats is testament to the fact that she is always perceived as abnormal or less than an ideal woman, somehow. She gets into a verbal match – whether it’s with Icky, Kendrick, or Erykah- the aftermath is comments about how what she said or did made the person “lose respect” for her. Huh? For what? Speaking her mind? I mean, let’s be honest, she didn’t say anything so bizarre or out of this world in any of those feuds. So why is the response so harsh? That means, to me, people didn’t have much respect for her in the first place, if at all. Granted, most people felt her on the Iggy fiasco. But even then, I sensed the support to be lukewarm because of “how she said it”. Ok, now, I don’t know about the space program but here’s what I do know about hip-hop beef: First, it’s usually between two men. Second, it’s typically expected and comes with the territory of the industry so no one is ever that shocked when it happens and third, the rules of engagement are very much in the spirit of “may the best man win”. Once the beef is over, it’s over. No one goes into a character attack of the rapper or whines about losing respect for him, or gives some ridiculous analysis as to why he should’ve said it like this and not like that. No. It doesn’t go down like that when it’s two men involved. The men are given the freedom and luxury to express themselves however they feel but women are not.
In the most recent beef with Erykah Badu, the vast majority were quick to throw Azealia under the bus and refer to her like some kind of problem child. I read comments on my IG timeline that she was “crazy and needs to chill”, “she better not come for Erykah”, she “got a little thrown off track after gunning for Igloo”. A Huffington Post article even went as far as to solely blame Azealia for the beef stating that she “sparked” the fight. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/17/azealia-banks-erykah-badu-twitter_n_6699370.html
Ok, let’s all just pause here. And look at the series of events:
A fan engaged Badu, asking her if she’s listened to Banks. To which she responds “Tried.” Then, Azealia accused Badu of jealousy, came for her age, geolocation systems went on and it spiraled from there. In the end, the women squashed it and made peace. To me, this is classic beef. No different from other artists. How this automatically landed Banks in the hot seat is not clear to me. I adore Erykah. I’ve been riding with her since Baduizm. She is a respected and talented artist. And that means, as I’m sure she knows, her opinions hold weight and are given credibility. And with a remark like “tried”, clearly her opinion of Banks’ music is not a very positive one. But just like I respect Badu’s right to her opinion, I respect Banks’ right to defend her art. Erykah did say “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” Well, so is Banks. I don’t believe her response warrants the level of harsh criticisms she received. I believe that if these were two men, no one would fix their face to call him “crazy” and say that he needs to “chill”. They would have a bit more respect for his voice and his desire to defend his art. At most, they would make jokes about the spat and laugh off the personal insults between them. But because it’s Azealia Banks, whenever she opens her mouth any validity to her remarks and feelings are dismissed and berated. For many, she has become a woman they love to hate.
Yes, Azealia can be vulgar, crass and offensive at times. But no more than most hip-hop artists and pop culture celebrities. Where is the all the self-righteous outrage, indignation and flippant “crazy” labeling of the Black male artists when they say something offensive? Kanye, for example, has said and done some off the wall shit over the years and is unabashedly narcissistic. And yet we forgive him every single time. We, as a collective, sweep his antics under the rug or make light of them by turning them into jokes in order to justify our unwavering support of him. It begs the question then, why is someone like Kanye more deserving of our respect and support than someone like Azealia Banks? I need answers.
One thing is for sure, no young (and she’s been in the business since her teens) dark-skinned Black female is going to get very far in the colorist, misogynistic, and sometimes racist world of hip-hop by being quiet, mousey and holding her tongue all the damn time. She would just get railroaded (kinda like how Beyonce did to Ledisi, but that’s another topic for another day.) Her bold nature may get her into verbal sparring matches but it’s no doubt the very same spirit that gives her the will to fight for creative control of her music. When she discussed her fight with management over her music, DJ Envy nonchalantly and somewhat dismissively said “So you were being difficult” to which she quickly clapped back with “No, I was being creative”. I can’t help but to respect that kind of response. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFDS-VEEl6w
We give nature a feminine attribute for a reason, calling her Mother Nature. Mother Nature can bloom the sweetest of hyacinths and deliver the deadliest of hurricanes. We understand, in theory at least, that the feminine can be both sweet and harsh. Therefore, in the complete picture of what Black womanhood looks like, Azealia Banks’ expression of if fits just as perfectly as Badu, Scott, Monae, and Hill. Until Banks gets on Twitter advocating for us to eat infants and murder kittens, folks really need to find some chill. Yes, it is true that you get more flies with honey. But guess what? Sometimes no one is checking for the flies. Screw flies. They’re gross anyway. So cheers to Ms. Azealia Banks and the other Black women who don’t feel compelled to drown in a suffocating cesspool of fly infested honey for the sake of flaky public approval.
Image: By Tim Boddy (http://www.flickr.com/photos/405images/6785861586/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons