I walked into SVA Theatre for T.I.’s “No Mediocre” screening late rocking midnight black and gold shades. For once, a rapper was on time. He was already on stage talking to the evening’s host, Lil Duval, discussing his upcoming album Paperwork. Basically Paper Trail Part II, unofficially.
T.I. was doing that charismatic thing he does where he tries to navigate two worlds: the life of the streets from his past and his modern day Cosby-esque image portrayed on his hit reality show “T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle.” In one breath he wanted it known that he’s still a “real nigga.” In the other he needed the room full of mostly white media and record label heads to know he can sound book smart.
His big booty white girl protege, Iggy Azalea, sat two rows in front of me rocking a slick bun pony with humongous gold hoops. The “Fancy” singer was surrounded by a bunch of black dudes, a couple chicks and some celeb notables like Irv Gotti.
Music editor boyfriend had convinced me to come out knowing I’d been down with the southern rapper since the days he went by T.I.P. before promptly changing to T.I., out of respect for Q-Tip.
When his debut I’m Serious dropped in 2001, I was a high school junior in Nashville. The east coast wasn’t checking for T.I. yet, but in the south where trap beats reign supreme, he was golden. “Dope Boyz” and “Do It Baby (Stick It Baby)” knocked hard in our tricked out whips with two 15s in the trunk. It wasn’t until the sophomore follow-up, Trap Muzik (2003), that’d end up being the blueprint for what would later catapult him to mainstream success.
By then I was a ride or die fan.
T.I. and Duval are babbling on, dropping a lot of “niggas” and “mothafuckas” when the topic of Iggy arises.
“I can’t believe we’re at a place in America where we still see color,” he says in direct response to people (read: black women) who’ve asked him, “Why couldn’t it be a black woman?” Because apparently people had been asking him why he couldn’t mentor and put on a black female rapper.
I was immediately uninterested in where the conversation was going. To be fair, I’m not interested in anyone who talks about colorblindness. It’s both an ignorant concept (every single person sees color) and it shouldn’t be the goal. I don’t want people to not see my color. I don’t want to be oppressed and discriminated against because of it.
Hearing talk of colorblindness from an artist I’d been a fan of for more than a decade, all because he wanted to cape for a white female rapper who once rapped, “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave-master,” was disappointing. A black man from the once-segregated south who understands the unfair sentencing in the judicial system— one that he has his own history with —really thinks we shouldn’t see color? Ok, Clifford.
Duval isn’t a cultural critic or journalist so I didn’t expect any type of nuance about the idea of colorblindness. Enough of his tweets have creeped in to my timeline to know he’s not exactly W.E.B. Dubois smart, or even Tyler Perry smart. So, there’s that.
T.I. stops doing the whole double consciousness routine to play some snippets from his forthcoming record: “I’m A King,” the Pharrell-produced “Paperwork,” “G Shit” and “New National Anthem,” which he referred to as a politically charged record.
Before introducing “New National Anthem” T.I. said, “They’ve always tried to make it seem like we were the problem. However, now we’ve seen in recent history that they have bigger problems than us. ‘Cause we don’t run in movie theaters killing people, we don’t go in schools in Connecticut shooting kids. This is not us.”
Wait. You don’t want America to see color when it comes to your championing for Iggy yet you recognize that we, the Black folks, aren’t “Go[ing] in schools in Connecticut shooting kids” like they, The Whites? T.I. is no more interested in being colorblind than he is in going back to jail. He wants to appease a white demographic for the white female rapper he hopes will make waves in the rap game. I see you, bruh.
By the time he played the first official single “No Mediocre” featuring his beloved Iggy Azalea, I was unable to deal with his synopsis about the song being for women and how we should be oh so thankful for it.
Because I love women so much, I chose women as my topic of discussion. So, you’re welcome. Now ladies, you were already born on a pedestal. The only thing that can take you down, is you. Ok?…It’s conveyed through your actions and presentation of yourself. I’ll give you an example, if your bras and ya panties ain’t matching and you know you gon’ get naked later on and somebody else gon’ see it, man, you being mediocre. You need to get yourself together.
It was more of the same of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. school of sexism and respectability politics that proclaims women are asking to be disrespected if dressed too sexy.
Somehow a white female rapper appropriating black women’s whole style with a fix-a-flat booty, faux southern ‘hood accent isn’t mediocre, but black women with their tracks showing is soooo mediocre. And this song is for us. Cute.
I couldn’t get out of the listening fast enough.
Maybe I was so bothered by his rhetoric because the room was hella white, and some white people tend to take what black celebs say as the holy grail voice of The Blacks. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because Iggy gets to appropriate shit black women have authentically been doing for decades, but gets to do so without the scathing degradation of insults of being a “bitch,” “hoodrat” or “ghetto ho,” something black women aren’t exactly afforded the privilege of. After she’s done playing dress up, her whiteness remains intact. Maybe I’m sick of culture vultures dominating black music and the black men who rush to co-sign or save them. Maybe I’m frustrated by the trendy suburban white boys whose voices and pens are at the forefront of coverage on the culture black folks created while black journalists and black press are treated like dust. And yes, I’m definitely sick of hip-hop writers/journalists (black and white) who do very little critique of hip-hop, no pushing the culture forward, but come to events to stan out, get a quick quote for their blogs and tell everyone how dope the music is.
James Baldwin once noted, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” It’s akin to how I feel about hip-hop.
The personal is always political. Separating the misogyny and cluelessness some artists have about race (looking at you Pharrell with this “new black” BS) from the music is an impossible task. And just like I want rappers to be more informed about their ideas about race, misogyny and sexism, I want journalists who cover hip-hop to be more honest, critical thinkers, and to create better content around the culture we’re consuming daily.
There was a time music journalism did this. I’ve heard the stories of rappers and their cliques coming up to magazine offices ready to bang you out over an unfavorable album review. I’ve read the public articles taking Dr. Dre to task for horrifically beating up Dee Barnes. Not advocating for the days a rapper would come see about you, but the honesty and fearlessness music writers had then, is desperately missed.
This must be what it feels like to be the old lady in the club.
Everybody’s too busy dickriding now, I suppose.
No one wants to be called a hater. Few reporters wants to ask hard questions because the artist may end the interview. No one wants to think beyond how the beat makes them bop their head. It’s much easier if we all write the same corny lists and praise the artists we love.
God forbid someone say maybe Iggy just ain’t that good; and she’s benefitting from the machine of the mainstream media agenda to make her pop, cultural appropriation and black men’s co-signs. And God forbid that dissenter be a woman.
May as well put back on those black shades, nod to the beat and shutup. The bass is too loud for anyone to hear you anyway.
*Full disclosure: I’ve interviewed both T.I. (read here) and his longitme friend and business partner Jason Geter (read here). Both interviews went incredibly well. That was business, this is my opinion from a fan and cultural critic perspective.