Friday, April 21, 2006

Once a SAM-BO, Always a SAM-BO

The following are excerpts from

Mos Def calls out Lil' Jon- "Our priorities is gettin' f*cked. Lil Jon-I love his music. But why are the East Side Boyz names Big Sam and Lil Bo? What the f*ck? What's next, Kunta and Kinte? The South should know better. This is the same country that ran up in Fred Hampton's crib and shot him in bed with his pregnant wife. You think the rules changed cause niggas got No. 1 records? What are we supposed to tell our kids? After Malcolm, Martin and Dubois we got Sam-Bo? I'm supposed to be down with that 'cause it makes me dance?"

-"Jimmy Iovine, Lyor Cohen, Doug Morris...all of these dudes were notprepared in their schooling or in any of their social upbringing for a world where they have to deal face to face with, not only people who are outside of their class, but people who in their minds could very well be their servants. Now you gotta deal with somebody you've been trained to deal with as your underling as your partner. It's a bitter f*ckin pill to swallow cause now you need this person. Jimmy Iovine is not your buddy. Lyor is NOT happy about Jay Z being president of DJ. I dont give a fuck what he say. If the dude could go from rhyming to being a CEO in 10 years or less, what is he going to be in 15 or 20? He might have Lyor's job at this rate"

-"Paris Hilton don't really care about ya'll niggaz, man. She can't evenhear ya'll niggaz. I'm just keeping it real. This shit is entertainment to them. We're adopting their morals like we them and we never been them. We don't have the same struggle. Dudes is no more than 20 years removed from real poverty. For dudes to have this much access to money and it's not translating to people power, its inexcusable"

Now, understand something first: Mos Def is a rapper himself, which by definition makes him an entertainer. He would love to have made the millions that Lil’ Jon and “SAM-BO” have made. I remind you of this fact because Mos may be a bit upset that he can’t make money the way he wants because of the way the industry works (this is not, however, a New York vs. Dirty South beef).

That said, as a young man who is not a rapper and who looks at the entertainment industry as a whole, I agree 100% with what Mos Def says. Rap music is out of touch these days and I really wish I could do something to change it. We as black people often times watch a black dude with a corporate job, a white wife and a lost memory of the struggle and sacrifice his parents made to put him a cut above the rest as someone who has sold out, but I disagree. That person simply forgot who he is and where he came from. Lil Jon and “SAM-BO” sold out in the truest sense of the term, because they glorified all of the stereotypes blacks have fought against for centuries in order to make money. The question I have concerns their motives: do they not know or fully understand the struggles that have allowed them to reach their current monetary heights, or do they fully understand and just not care? Whatever their reasoning may be, they, along with many other “artists” (D4L, ‘Dem Franchize Boyz, just to name a few) are quite embarrassing to watch. I don’t care how much they make me dance…


Brother Lightness said...

Therein lies our conflict. We two-step to these tracks every weekend while we're knowledgeable enough to know that they're a larger cultural embarassment.

Two-stepping to Public Enemy or KRS-One just doesn't have the same appeal.

Brother Spotless said...

Why is it necessary to sell out in order to provide two-step music?

J said...

How is this any different from how the culture has appropriated, reclaimed and revalued the term 'nigga.' There is a degree of power evident in black people being able to take negative stereotypes and disengage them from thier original intent and used them otherwise. The gay community did the same thing with the term 'queer'- to study gay culture in schools you have to appropriate this once violently prejudicial term. The legacy of the BPS is NOT Mos Def and not Jay-Z... its a political activism that understands capital and the state as hostile and attempts to fight it in ways tht are not limited to owning companies and acting as the token skinny black guy in Hollywood movies. The last time I saw Mos Def at a show he was 2 hours late, came on stage drunk and high and proceeded to tell his audience about the porn flick he was watching backstage. Maybe we are all sambos and minstrels for laffytaffying it while we lean back, snap our fingers and two-step-- but don't make the mistake of thinking that one sambo is better than the next.

Brother Spotless said...

Again, they are all entertainers and they are all in it for monetary reasons.

"There is a degree of power evident in black people being able to take negative stereotypes and disengage them from thier original intent and used them otherwise."

Please tell me J, what is the "otherwise" intent you speak of? I ask because I only see negative stereotypes. To the best of my understanding, this is different than changing the term "nigga" into a positive. I have heard that term used in positive ways. So please tell me what Lil' Jon is doing to turn his stereotypical "niggerish" ways into examples of anything remotely positive, because I fail to see the positive.

"The legacy of the BPS is NOT Mos Def and not Jay-Z... its a political activism that understands capital and the state as hostile and attempts to fight it in ways tht are not limited to owning companies and acting as the token skinny black guy in Hollywood movies."

First, my knowledge is lacking: what is BPS? I think it's the black power struggle, but not sure...Second, I fail to see any form of understanding other than how to make a party "CRUNK." You mention the "token skinny black guy in Hollywood," and I take it as an understanding of this character as a stereotype (correct me if I am wrong). So, show me that Lil' Jon and SAM-BO are not stereotypes. If there is some form of political protest in their antics then please inform me. And please, spare me the "New South" mantra I hear from time to time, because that argument is not appropriate for these guys. Lil' Jon and SAM-BO continue the same stereotypes I see in the old black and white movies.

Brother Tallness said...

"Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?"
~Ralph Ellison

I'm always weary in labeling folks as sellouts and what not. To me, these cats are practicing an organic form of culture. I always identify selling out as making a deliberate change in one's behavior in order to make money or gain acceptance. While I'm not the biggest fan of cats like the Eastside boys or No limit records (I like a lot of Southern rap though), I gotta recognize that the hip hop industry adapted to them, not the other way around.

Mos Def's criticisms are interesting though because they return us to the eternal debate about how truly comfortable we as a people are with the black public image. There's this inherent bamma-ness that exists in black culture that just won't go away. Ralph Ellison touches on this in the character of Jim Trueblood. Here's this person who lives right outside of the college who the entire black community is deeply embarrassed by; In fact, because the narrator takes the college's rich white benefactor to see Trueblood, he gets kicked out of school for embarrassing the black race. This conflict between assimilation and bamma-ness plays itself over and over again in Invisible Man.

Ultimately, I think Ellison is trying to say (and this is why I brought up this literary reference in a debate about hip hop) that the bamma can never be synthesized into mainsteam american culture so, in order to succeed, you have to divorce yourself from him; but, at the same time, the specter of the bamma is always there. To be black in America (and to a greater degree, to be American in general) is to waver between binaries: The intense fear of being reduced to a sambo stereotype and the magnificent liberation of embracing your inner bamma.

Brother Spotless said...

Inner Bamma (I'm not sure what that really means) I am sure does not equate to ignorance...right? It sounds like you are using "Bamma" to speak about a true black culture. Am I correct in my assumption? That's great, but a true black culture doesn't have to ooze sheer ignorance, as the Lil' Jon Posse does.

Please explain more of what you mean when you say "organic form of culture."

Brother Tallness said...

When I refer to bammas, I'm thinking of those characteristics that we would define as unrefined or uncouth. I would define bamma in opposition to cosmopolitan or urbane; a rejection of the global in favor of the local. In this lens, one could certainly look at it as ignorant. When blacks first arrived to the northern industrial centers like Chicago and Detroit in the first half of the 20th century, they were considered backwards and unsophisticated. I wouldn't consider a bamma behavior indicative of true black culture though. There's certainly a historical legacy for its roots, but that doesn't mean that it is essentialist or all encompassing.

When I speak of organic culture, I'm thinking of practices that are maintained without outsider influence. When you look at the hip hop scenes in places like New Orleans, Houston, Oakland, and Atlanta (among many others) you see cats rapping and producing in a way that is particular to their city. While these sounds have all been commercialized, mimiced and mass produced on a national level at this point I would argue that if crunk or hyphy or snap music were to suddenly go out of style on the national level, a lil scrappy or an E-40 could still rock a local venue with their original style.

Basically, I believe that because culture can arise from a local scene, with local support, and possesses characteristics specific to a certain city/area, it cannot be called selling out.

Brother Afrocan said...

Let me list some negative black stereotypes that come to mind.

-currently in, just released or on the way to jail
-bangin b$#%hez with no rubbers, thus 4 to 5 baby mommas and a couple of STD's
-Addicted to 40's or crack
-Loves bling, grillz and dubz prob due to some inner insecurities must flaunt wealth
-Only legal employment is as an entertainer: playing ball or spitting rhymes
-sells rocks or J
-Does bizzare/idiotic stuff but regards it as'gangsta' or cool: frivolously carrying and using a gun, ghostriddin the whip
- other stuff that does not immediately come to mind.

Is this my inner bamma?

Brother Tallness said...

Brother Afrocan,

My definition of inner bamma is not analogous to contemporary black cool pose culture. While certainly some of those characteristics that you mentioned are produced and practiced by people I would consider a bammas, its not enough to say "if black person X does Y activity from your list, then black person X is a bamma.

The focal point of my definition is the practice of a behavior or system of behaviors that is localized in an form of cultural expression that is seen as outdated or detrimental to the public image of the race. Where I would try to push your definitions a little bit farther is to ask them to behave in more complicated manners. What if Brother Lightness puts in his hours at a large multinational consulting firm during the work week but then ghost rides his whip on the weekend? What if by day, Brother Smartness works at a prestigious NYC law firm but by night leads a double life that involves box chevies, gangsta grillz, and sitting on 22s?

A less extreme example of this that immediately comes to mind is the dilemma of eating fried chicken in public. While we all live in an era where multinational corporations serve fried chicken to people of all races and creeds, I ask in all seriousness, What is the first thing you think of when you see a brother or sister thoroughly enjoying three piece meal? Right.

And the thing is, it doesn't matter if you are the teenage welfare mother, the CEO of AOL-Time Warner, a first team All NBA shooting guard, or the deacon of Abssynian First memorial Ebenezer Baptist on Butte Street: The moment you get caught mid bite with a mouthful of fried deliciousness, You'sa Bamma.

Brother Lightness touched on this issue when he spoke to his ontological crisis on grills; Ralph Ellison articulates this whole dilemma way better than I ever could as well. His essays "The Little Man in Chehaw Station" as well as "What Would America be Like Without Blacks" do a lot in terms of trying to explore the relationship of black culture to larger society.

Brother Afrocan said...

Great points tallness. Its good you bring out the distinction between what i like to call negative stereotypes and non-negative (bamma?) stereotypes.

Negative stereotypes would be- the unemployed, rock slinging, childsupport fugitive. Non-negative would be the watermelon and fried chicken eating blackman. However, it does raise the question whether you can truly claim there is a distinction between the two. Is there such a thing as 'harmless' stereotypes? And do the harmless stereotypes, like seeing a black person eating a watermelon, serve as confirmation that the other negative stereotypes are true?