Sunday, March 05, 2006

"It's [Not As] Hard Out Here for a Pimp"

Embarrassed? A bit. Excited? A bit more.

Three 6 Mafia just won an Oscar for their composition of “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” in Hustle & Flow and I couldn't be more pleased.

Preceding the awarding of the Best Original Song category was an introduction offered by Ludacris (who held a prominent role in the film) that seemingly made the attempt to justify the inclusion of this questionable hip-hop score to the viewing audience. Ludacris’ overture was perhaps more embarrassing for me than any other piece of the performance, as his rationalization of the relevance of hip-hop within popular American culture served as a sad reminder that black art forms are still subject to rigorous standards of white approval.

In making reference to all those other questionable songs throughout the history of the Oscar’s that have been nominated, Luda implied that Three 6 Mafia’s nomination wasn’t one that should necessarily be thought of as odd. While the incredulous smile he wore throughout his preface made me question whether or not he genuinely believed what he was saying, it’s a defining moment in hip-hop and black culture as a whole, no matter how seemingly trivial.

In the weeks preceding the Oscar’s, the public criticism of “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” mounted. While both conservative and liberal media outlets seemed to be asking each other why and how this urban score could be taken serious in such a respected American awards tradition as the Oscars, the fact that it was even considered in the first place is a small victory in itself. Why you ask?

While hardly glorifying for southern, black, urban culture, “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” is symbolic of a struggle much deeper than the surface level prostitution and hip-hop that Hustle ‘N Flow is based upon. The struggle that Three 6 Mafia articulates is one that calls attention to the daily reality of a life that is especially difficult for any black person -- not just a pimp -- “when you’re tryin’ to get the money for the rent.”

Although Hustle & Flow didn’t necessarily tackle these broader social issues of black survival, the fact that the Academy has taken stock of this particular score leads me to believe that there is greater attention being paid to the relevance and importance of the plight within black America.

Considering the desperate situation many blacks face on a daily basis, the Academy’s recognition is one that I see as a sign of progress. That might sound foolish to some, but with a contemporary predicament as dire as the one the black community faces (look no further than the incarceration rate for young black males) I took Three 6 Mafia’s single victory as one of great significance.

Upon Three 6 Mafia’s acceptance of their Oscar, the excitement seemingly displayed by every black person in attendance was truly touching. While we all knew that this particular song wasn’t the most constructive reflection of our culture, we all seemed to understand that it was a step in the right direction, no matter how embarrassing that particular admission might be because of the potentially embarrassing form that it was packaged in. Moreover, anytime the producers seemed to be looking for the litmus test of black opinion the cameras cut to either Jamie Foxx or Terrance Howard, and it was truly encouraging to see both of them excited that this song in particular had received just recognition.

Of course, my opinion is all reliant upon the belief that Hustle & Flow is a film that touches upon relevant black issues (see the crisis of purpose within the black male community), while they might not necessarily be familiar to the larger population.

That being said, it is hard out here for a pimp. But with that glossy new Oscar -- symbolic of the recognition of a larger struggle -- it just got a little easier.


Anonymous said...

I urge all of you brothas to get Minister Farrakhan's 2006 Savior's Day address! It spoke directly to these ills and set me on higher level since. Get that DVD! NOW - Whup that trick, whup that trick, Hard out here for a pimp. I didn't see the movie and have no desire to see it - boot-leg or not! What is the redeeming value of it all? I have never purchased a 3 six mafia CD and don't plan to. This is high jacking and exploitation of our culture. And when and if you have a daughter, like the minister said, it's open season on our women and youth! Listen to the lyrics:

You know it's hard out here for a pimp

When he tryin to get this money for the rent

For the Cadillacs and gas money spent

Because a whole lot of bitches talkin shit

Will have a whole lot of bitches talkin shit

And as for Matt’s boy M.E. Dyson - The guy blows like the wind of popularity! When will he take a stance and be strong? You just brought him out Dave… Here’s the trick – As the movie goes he went from pimpin’ women to pimpin’ the music… He’s still a pimp. He still a scourge on society! He’s still not a positive influence for anything or anyone. Where were they to give awards to movies like Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Straight Outta Brooklyn, so on and so forth… What about hip hop songs that respected us and were still real! I’m very passionate about it because the youth can’t tell the difference and go with whatever!
- Keenanwu

Anonymous said...

C’mon man… I saw it happening with Master P and Nelly when he first came out. They simplified the beats and the lyrics and removed all sophistication the rest of the country had added to the music. Now the melodic tunes are nothing more than Pac Man 80’s production with doubled-up drum beats! And it’s catchy! C’mon… Lemme see your grill… Catchy – I love the beat and the chorus is tight, but come on, it’s buffoonery! It’s Minstrel Show material! And as much as I respect Ludacris’ lyrical ability, he’s wrong when he said Sunday night, it was a historic moment and high point for rap & hip-hop… It was like a double shot of bloody Sunday. Our ancestors were beaten in Alabama crossing the bridge and Hollywood said, “We won’t embarrass ourselves with Broke-Back, we’ll embarrass them with Hard out Here for a Pimp. Now The Minister said, Jewish Hollywood is promoting stereotypical images of Blacks and homosexuality – where did he lie? Denzel can’t get an Oscar for Malcolm X, but when he plays a scourge on society and promotes that line – King Kong – (Denzel being a Black man) ain’t got nothin’ on me, like saying I’m even worse than him, he’s promoted! Where was the award for the great performance of Will Smith in ALI? Why did Halle in a movie have to take all of her clothes off and have sex with the guy that murdered her husband and was father to her only child get an Oscar? And look at the message behind that – Monster’s Ball? What are they telling us?

Brother Spotless said...

Good points by the Anonomous Brothers or Sisters (or both). I had the same stomach churn when I originally heard Nelly in "Country Grammer." But don't blame all of Hip Hop; these same issues you point out (Denzel and Hallie) were mentioned about a year ago in song by Jadakiss.

I know that the Minister has his issues concerning Jews...can someone expound on why he thinks Jews dislike/don't trust blacks?

Also, the first black person to ever win an Oscar played a stereotypical "Mammy" character in "The Scarlet Letter" (I forget her name, somebody help me there). Was she an embarrassing?

Brother Afrocan said...

I at first restrained from posting any response for fear that my view was very elitist and the problem could be that I was not analyzing the issue properly and turning a blind eye to the positives of the situation. Put simply my embarrassment over the Three 6 Mafia Oscar award overshadows the positive sentiments brother lightness has put across so well in his post above.

I was embarrassed when Ludacris uncomfortably mumbled his illogical defense of the song's questionable first glance impression. I just wanted him to shut up. It takes a lot of faith and

The moment I heard 'Hard Out Here for a Pimp' called out for the award, I held my breath and thought, "Please don’t act all niggerish when receiving the award Three 6 Mafia!" Sure enough when they jumped on stage, as I feared what ensued was mostly unintelligible shout outs to some ray-ray and lil derrty and Jesus intermingled with a couple of curse words that network TV were gracious enough to censor. Don’t get me wrong, as an individual I took no offense in how they accepted the award, my disappointment lay in how well they played into the black entertainer award speech stereotype.

I felt embarrassed and to a greater extent really pissed off every time Jon Stewart referenced the Three 6 Mafia award, in a bemused subtly derisive manner. His disparaging commentary was punctuated by his snide comment "...for those at home keeping count, Martin Scorsese zero Oscars, Three 6 Mafia one!" suggesting that if Three 6 Mafia could win an award, no one has an excuse of not winning one. It was clear that the ‘academy’ was not laughing with Three 6 Mafia as they deliriously accepted the award and did their jig. The academy was laughing AT Three 6 Mafia and what they perceive to be ‘black culture’ The same academy that as has been pointed out, would not give Denzel an Oscar for Malcolm X, which in my mind remains his best performance to date and would prefer to see him in acting all black (the black image of course, that was planted in their minds by ugly stereotypes)

But I wont act all holier than thou- no I did not go to Jacob with 25 thou’ before I had a house, but I did really enjoy the movie Hustle and Flow. It’s a well presented story of a man pursuing his dream against steep odds. My favorite line from the movie is when, Ludacris tells Terrence Howard “Everybody’s gotta have a dream”. My understanding (very naïve it appears) of the songs he was recording, is that they were a reflection of the type of music that sells, and for a man that sell p%$$y all day, selling racism and stereo types through rap music can be viewed as a step up.

As for grillz, laffy taffy, I’m in love with a stripper, every 50cent record and the rest of the crap that has taken over rap; once again, I won’t act holier than thou. If you see me at club, I bop my head when the dj plays those tracks, hell you might even find a couple of those CD’s in my car. What can I say, the beat is tight n in most cases the flow delivery is right; overall I find the songs catchy in a very silly stuck in your head kind of way. Sadly I have learned to tune out the content of the lyrics, which is not that hard with lyrics like “…I’m Mr. Chik-O-Stick…dun dun dunt”?

To sum up my way too long rant, why cant movies like Malcolm X, Color Purple gain recognition at the Oscar awards. Why don’t rappers with something positive to say move units. How come almost every time something associated with black culture gains recognition it reinforces negative stereotype. Anyway, that is just my opinion that is open to criticism, even accusations that it is shades of bitter Uncle Tom selling his people out.

Brother Tallness said...

I gotta raise some issues with the responses in this thread.

First, in the defense of southern hip-hop, the stuff guys like master p, nelly, and three six are doing is way more organic than anything that has come out of new york in the last 10-15 years. While New York rappers are still jumping through the hoops of the record industry, the southern guys are building their own identities and forging a strong regional fanbases way before they gain national attention. The music that they make is not the result of any radio payola scandals or mtv overexposure; they have the legitimate support of the people in Memphis or New Orleans, etc.

With regards to form, simpler does not always mean reductive. The Southern guys have lyrics, they just save them for the album cuts or mixtapes. When you're making a club single, the main goal is to make sure people are dancing and having a good time--The most important thing is beat and the hook. This has been true with any older form of black music that was made for people to dance to; and ironically, all of these forms have been criticized for their lack of complexity as well.

Finally, with regards to content, I would venture and say that 90-95% of hip-hop music is stuff I wouldn't want my kids to listen to. This has always been the case. There is no positive mission statement at the core of hip hop music. There have been positive rappers who have had success, but they've always shared the stage, and often been overshadowed by their more negative counterparts.

I state all of that to say the questions of image and representation that you guys raise go deeper than 3-6 mafia or hip-hop. They've been associated with every form of popular music we as a people have ever made, and the roles that our actors chose (or have chosen for them) in major movies. When we deconstruct the media portrayals of blackness, we see the part of our own culture that is most difficult to digest: the persistence of the various stereotypes that we strive to escape yet still exist organically in our society.

Darryl Cox said...

Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the southern revisionist fantasy movie "Gone With the Wind." It was a stereotypical role but Ms. McDaniel, as a recently published biography revealed, absolutely never turned her back on the black community or own other blacks aiming to break into Hollywood. Dorothy Dandridge, for example, always told people that Hattie McDaniel had gone out of her way to assist her when she came to Hollywood and other black entertainers spoke highly of her as well. She contributed money to black organizations and causes throughout her life.

Darryl Cox said...

There are several things that I find extremely interesting about the statements made here in reference to Three 6 Mafia winning an academy award. Why would anyone think that any song nominated for an Academy Award should be socially relevant, positive and uplifting. The overwhelming majority of the songs nominated over the past, say, 30 years are utterly forgettable and the winning songs have been scarcely more memorable and pose no threat to the Great American Songbook.

The great jazz musicians and singers picked up on and recorded versions of early winners like "The Way You Look Tonight", "Over the Rainbow", "It Might as Well Be Spring" "Baby, Its Cold Outside", "All the Way" and "The Shadow of Your Smile". I don't think, however, that the Marsalis Brothers and their contemporaries are going to record "Flashdance...What A Feeling", "Let the River Run", "Say You, Say Me" or "Last Dance".

My point is there has been a general decline in the quality of the songs that have been nominated for Academy Awards and Three 6 Mafia's song does not represent a break from this recent tradition. It is as bad, but probably no worse, than many other songs that have received Oscars over the past two decades.

The fact that this song has no larger redeeming value means little at all. Most of the films released in any given year have no redeeming value. Most popular culture has no redeeming value.

Brother Afrocan said...

I would like to respond to a couple of points that have been raised. In my previous post, I may have focused too much on Southern Hip Hop in tirade against the industry. NY and LA rap may not be as simple in terms of beat and hook, but they are equally bankrupt in terms of content. 50 Cent, the self-proclaimed king of New York (or Greenwich CT, depending on the level of geo-accuracy you choose) probably moves the most units out of all the black rappers in the game today. However, his beef ingiting, dry snitching on wax, gangsta posturing music is no less of a mistrel show than any of the stuff Nelly puts out. "...Dude, then new album by Mr. Bojangles, umm sorry 50 Cent sure is gangsta, calling pple out on record, that is totally black man, he even has gunshot sound effects and sh%t, GGGGUNIT!,.." says the white suburban hip hop buyer.

I agree wholly with the opinion brought out by ptcruiser100, popular culture is never positive. I dont expect popular culture to EVER be socially positive. What I am decrying is when a certain type of popular culture becomes synonymous with a certain group of people. A movie I really liked was Hollyshuffle, sure it was VERY low budget and Robert Townsend is not the greatest actor, but the question raised were poignant. In the movie he plays a struggling actor trying to land a christopher reeves type "superman" role but only gets offers to play pimps, and slaves. In that same vein, I dont so much expect popular culture to be positive but I HATE seeing Hollywood nod in approval to a black man talking about pimping. What he cant be an evil CEO of a rogue Enron-like multinational corporation or are there no black CEO's?. Why he gotta be a pimp, or two-bit gangsta? He does not have to be positive, but he also does not have to reinforce negative stereotypes we as a community face everyday.

Rell said...

I don't think it was necessarily progress by Academy owning up to it, I think it was more of coddling.

I think it was a "Look, see we nominated a black song and let them perform! yay! diversity" type thing.

This is a good blog, we've touched on similar issues on mine and seem to be of the same mindset.

good stuff... I do Michael Eric Dyson but I don't wear traditional garb lol

Brother Smartness said...

Here's my concern Brother Lightness: If this song does in fact portray a reality that not only exits, but must also be realized, what is the Academy saying when they remove the language from a song whose message is enveloped in its raw presentation of reality?

After giving this much thought, I think we've all been bamboozled by the Academy folks. Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand how you can have a watered down performance for a song that was nominated on the merits of its "realness". They shouldn’t have had Three 6 Mafia perform at all if the essence of the song would have been compromised by censoring the song. Maybe then they would have worn tuxedos and could have put more thought into what they would say if they won the award.

As a matter of fact as soon as they finished performing (and by that I mean their song and not their acceptance speech), all I was thinking was “they have still have enough time to change into a tuxedo right now.” Then they flashed over to a clip of them waiting not only in anticipation, but also in fitted caps and throwbacks. “Damn!, there goes that.”

Three Six Mafia is fortunate I'm not an actor. When those cameras would have focused in on this brother, I would have had my head below the seat in front of me with my tuxedo jacket over my head in shame. As a matter of fact that was my in fact my immediate reaction upon watching this. The second these fellas began their acceptance speech my jaw dropped and I was simultaneously amused and amazed. Phone calls ensued and my opinion on this began to formulate.

They gave a shout out to Tennessee!?!?

What happened to the notion that times were hard when you had to "pay the rent?" The message of the song was lost in their excitement and I think it’s truly indicative of how not “real” this song really is. And I’ve gotta agree with Rell. It’s a win-win for the Academy because they were able to say they put on a controversial act and awarded yet another hip-hop song (the first was for Eminem’s 8 Mile). Another black on their wall. Pardon me, that previous sentence was a typo, what I meant was it's another plaque on their wall.

Pop your fitted caps folks, our minds have officially been pimped!

Z. Daniel Gura said...

To the person who inquired about the Ministers feelings on Jews....he doesn't like them because he's an f'in idiot. A person who honest does much more harm than he's ever done good. Why is it that two of the greatest African American leaders in the 20th century both became members and then rejected this ridiculous following? Why because they're a group of people (and I'm sorry here one shouldn't group, but after a while a spade become a spade and only a spade) who care only for themselves and don't have the intellectual or truly moral capacity to allow argument or conversation. The idiot Minister knows nothing about Jews and frankly should think twice about commenting on a group of people, who save blacks themselves, have done more for the advancement of black in this country than any other group.

Now some of you may in fact follow his religion and take him as a form of a leader of your religion. In no way do I believe that any (real) god fairing religion can or would be racist or ill spirited, so for the sake of time don't respond back that I'm bashing a religion. I'm bashing a man who in several instances has made extremely derogatory comments about Jews in America. A man who frankly did not realize that Jews where the only people willing to give black bank loans for small business' a man who frankly didn't read and learn that the legal team that Justice Marshall so brilliantly commanded was not only helped, but also funded (certainly not entirely) by Jewish donations. Now frankly I've made it a strong point to not listed to him or even consider his points; however, if he has renounced those comments then I would extend, not and apology but a congratulations on
in terms of him correcting a despicable error. So in closing do not support Farrakhan in any way -- as the great (someone who actually was and still is) MLK Jr. said "we cannot seek to prosper by drinking out of the goblet of hatred, bigotry, and racism"

p.s. please please someone who has the interest in responding about the brilliance of this idiot minister write be back email, call I don't care I just want to hear someone defend a bigot.

Brother Spotless said...

Mr. Gura, you raise some good points. Jews were some of the only "whites" to support blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. I would really appreciate a response to my earlier question: what's the foundation of the beef between The Nation and Jews.

It seems as though we have to stop looking at rap music as being "the mouthpiece" of our culture. As with movies, some songs will be representative of the Hip Hop culture, but you can't depend on that representation; everyone is in it to make money. Since money is the driving force, songs will be made based on what sells: sex and violence. The larger question of whether something is wrong with our values should not be concentrated on the Hip-Hop culture. These are questions that America at large should tackle.

Three 6 Mafia, 50 Cent, Common. They are entertainers first; what they have to say is secondary. Entertainers have to entertain in order to make money. In the immortal words of Andre 3000: "...I ain't got enough loot to last me/ To the end of the week/I live by the beat/Like you live check to check./If you don't move your feet/Then I don't eat/So we like neck to neck." My point is they make their living selling records, just like Martin Scosese has to fill seats in theatres. No one looks to him for moral guidance, so why are we looking to rap artists for the same?

Brother Spotless said...

I would like to add something to my earlier post:

I truly love the Hip-Hop culture, and many artists, performances and songs that rap music has offered us over the years. I just don't think rap music (or any music) can be looked at as providing the general voice for a entire culture.

However, there are several rap songs, artists, and performances that have hit me in ways almost unexplainable. Common's yearning for a better rap industry in "I Used to Love Her." Laryn Hill's MTV Awards performance of "Everything Is Everything." Tupac's utter defiance in "Picture Me Rollin." I can go on and on with the list, but my point is that there is something present in these songs and performances that hits me differently than other songs. There's a...passion. It's like listening to Shug sing "I Gotta Tell You Something" in The Color Purple, or other gospel songs that nearly bring you to tears. That power. That passion. I see it in the songs and performances I mentioned, and some I didn't.

Like I said, money dominates the entertainment industry. Knowing that, it seems foolish to look to rap music for moral guidance or to provide a voice for an entire culture or generation. It is a sad truth, but baffoonery has made some young black men a lot of legal money, and I can't be mad at them for that (especially knowing that some of them probably would be doing something illeagal otherwise). However, some of the music has helped to shape me in very positive ways. I say take it for what it is: entertainment. Dismiss the BS and enjoy what touches you.

Anonymous said...

To the post above me, Brother Spotless, can't agree with you more my man. The music provides such a burn and a passion that gets me goin. It's fires me up to hear shit like that.