Taking it to the streets: from our pages to a stage at Spelman College, Take Back the Music goes on the road
The audience at our Take Back the Music Town Hall dialogue, held earlier this year at Spelman College in Atlanta, clearly wanted to be heard. As the panelists were introduced, cheers revealed those the 600-plus people attending loved and those they had issues with. But Spelman junior Shauncey Mashia's question gave their concern a voice: "Why are you all so mad at Black women? Why are we bitches in songs? What did we do?"
Her questions were aimed at panelist Bryan Leach, vice-president of urban A&R, TVT Records--home to crunk artists Lit Jon, as well as the Ying Yang Twins. She silenced the auditorium and, for a moment, Leach as well.
The February 25 event was part of our ongoing examination of the derogatory images of Black women in urban music. Partnering with this country's oldest historically Black school for women was a natural for us. Last year Spelman students threatened to protest a campus appearance by the artist Nelly over his hypersexual portrayal of Black women in some videos. In response, the rapper refused to speak with the students about his work.
Our theme for the gathering was "Where Are We Now? How Did We Get Here? Where Are We Going?" Panelists included MC Lyte, hip-hop artist and actress; Kevin Powell, author and activist; Michael Lewellen, vice-president of corporate communications at BET; Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Spelman; and Moya Bailey, a Spelman senior and president of the campus group Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. ESSENCE editor Michaela angela Davis moderated.
Leach, in the hot seat as a representative for hip-hop music gone bad, eventually did get his bearings. "I know these artists personally," he replied to Mashia's question. "They don't walk around with the thought, Women are bitches."
The audience didn't buy it, and panelist MC Lyte let him know it. "So you're saying that they sell us out to sell records?" she demanded, as the audience cheered. [See Lyte's take on hip-hop in "Said," last page.] But Leach countered, "No, that's not what I'm saying. Many of these artists talk about what they feel is their lifestyle growing up. Let's face it, a lot of people come to Atlanta because the strip clubs are hot. So those men are used to women who act like strippers. That's their reality." Author Kevin Powell shot back: "As a lifelong hip-hop head, I used to say 'keeping it real' was representing what we see. But those same brothers in southwest Atlanta who are listening to what we put out will grow up to be sexist pigs and may actually be one of the boys to violate your daughter one day."
By evening's end, the panelists agreed to disagree. But Spelman alumnus Asha Jennings, a mediator in last year's protest, refused to let it rest: "We can't wait for BET to change things." With a sense of urgency, Tarshia Stanley added: "We must take this even further, into the community, into places where intellectual discussion is not always heard. We need to talk to the artists and the industry owners and raise consciousness. All forms of social protest began because young people decided they would speak out."
Sounds like a good start to us.
Stay tuned to essence.com for more Take Back the Music initiatives.