Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His next project War Machine 2 was released this Tuesday, June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.
Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.
In American pop culture, women have long endured treatment as second-class citizens. I admit it's difficult for me to write this blog because I myself am a man, and it would be far too arrogant of me to assume that I completely understand the nature of such a problem.
Sometimes I feel the same exact way about white people in relation to racism in our country. You may not have noticed it, but in every slavery movie the camera is always on the outside of the cage looking in on the slaves as they glance back with a lack of hope in their eyes. This same concept applies to men and the plight of women when sexism is the topic. I don't completely understand or feel what you feel, but I will try my best to educate myself about the topic and influence my male counterparts to do the same. This is my message to every woman reading this blog today. I've always wished we addressed this issue head-on before it became an insurmountable demon. I want to use this platform as a chance to say sorry to every woman that has ever felt wronged by the hip-hop culture. I can't speak for everyone, but on behalf of myself and every man who thinks similarly to me, this is an opportunity to say, "Sorry." This is a golden opportunity to speak on this subject from a perspective that is often neglected.
Pardon the times my ignorance has been hurtful or disrespectful. I apologize for the times I have made records slandering you or feeding into the stereotypes that hip-hop has created about you. I'm a young American male, so I'll make music about partying and pursuing the prettiest girl, but I'll do my part in the future to also combat negative stereotypes about women.
I am not perfect, but this is also not an excuse. We as men must do better for ourselves and also our daughters, mothers, sisters, etc. You see, racism can't be abolished until whites in America choose to totally abolish it. The same concept applies to the fight for equality concerning women in our country. We must grow to the point where men can't stomach the thought of our daughters and sisters being referred to in derogatory terms. The day we can't stomach seeing the women in our lives live under a dark cloud will be the day things totally change.
I don't have any children at this moment but when I do I'm sure God will give me a daughter as some odd form of karma. I want her to be able to walk head high knowing she doesn't live in a world that demeans her intelligence and uses her beauty against her. It took us three million years to get a black president, and it will more than likely take another lifetime for a woman to become the president. My views about our ignorance as a country can sometimes be considered harsh and over the top, but I personally don't think we will ever have a minority woman president and especially not an African-American woman. An African-American female president would open the door to us having a Latin female president. You're out of your mind if you think it's possible this will take place in our lifetime. Can you imagine turning on the TV to see the State of the Union and an Asian woman starts addressing the nation as our president? You're out of your mind if you think this is a possibility in the America we have created for ourselves. America is great, powerful and mighty, but we are not as progressive minded as some of us have fooled ourselves into thinking.
I think about the brave women that have ventured into these waters and tried to boldly change the nature of our society. We use images of powerful men as examples of what we can become if we wholeheartedly pursue our dreams. What about the women that have walked in the same exact footsteps as them? We talk about the Rick Rubins and Russell Simmons but what about the Queen Latifahs and Roxanne's. What about Da Bratt, Lil Kim, Missy Elliot and Lady of Rage?
Queen Latifah is a living, breathing mogul in the flesh, and this actually doesn't receive the attention it deserves. In the same manor in which Lucille Ball changed the entertainment world, so has she. Lucille Ball didn't get the credit she deserves until long after her death, and I pray the same doesn't happen in the case of the Queen. Local rap artists like Mos Precious and Skiddalz are constantly battling to be embraced despite their gender. The playing field is far from even for the women of the culture and this is the world we currently live in.
For a brief spell in hip-hop, female rap artists seemed to vanish from the face of the Earth. Major labels stopped signing them, and the industry suffered severely from the lack of feminine presence in the market place. It's difficult for women to survive in this industry because often female artists are expected to be exact duplicates of their predecessors. This limits the range of creativity female artists are allowed to put into their music. The subjects covered in their music are often limited to the sexual gratification of men. If a female rapper is a member of a rap crew then she is more than likely the only woman in the crew. Like almost everything else concerning hip-hop music this format is generic and repeated a thousand times over again.
Lauryn Hill is one of the greatest hip-hop lyricists of all time. The industry has done everything it possibly could to destroy this woman. She refused to fulfill these stereotypical views and was met with great challenge from the record business superpowers. As a result of such activities she become extremely cautious and protective of anything her estate is affiliated with. This is a true shame because she is a genius musician, and as fans we have been robbed of her presence on a few different levels. I pray she finds peace with the industry, and makes a full time return in the near future. When a woman finds a way to break this mold she becomes iconic because finally she is allowed to take off the mask and be herself. We celebrate women of this nature but we also put pressure on them to do things we don't expect people to do. She becomes the voice of the voiceless and is expected to constantly live her life in this regard. We will judge her every move and grasp onto every word she utters with the expectancy that she is always being the most profound person she can be. In other words, we expect her to be a superhuman role model. Unfortunately we judge female rap artists on a much harsher scoring card.
The lines of respect are often blurred and creativity is often sacrificed in the name of marketability. More times than not, there is only enough room in this industry for one type of female artist. The same thing happens in regards to male artists in this industry, but for women the margin of error in the music business leaves zero room for mistakes. Several artists from our very own city have experienced major label success, but for the women that have made it to this level from a bird's eye view it seems like the industry met them with an unkind aura. Women like Ebony Eyez and Penelope Jones have both fought this at the highest form. Release dates are pushed back as women are asked to do things that don't necessarily match their persona and image. Once again, males are asked to do the same but the industry shows even less compassion to the women.
In an industry completely driven by image the exploitation of sex is a regular practice. Many have claimed men are not as responsible as women would like us to believe. I refer back to the Dead Prez skit about the hunter and the wolf. The hunter sticks a bloody blade in the wolf's mouth. The wolf licks the blade and tastes the blood. The wolf has no idea he is cutting his own tongue and licking his own blood. He dying slowly yet has no idea this actually happening to him.
This is how racism works in America and this same concept can once again be applied to sexism.
The woman consumer is the most valuable consumer in the marketplace in my opinion, because she often dictates where the male consumer should spend his money. Men search for the approval of women so the female consumer has the slight advantage in these circumstances. Rappers have changed their entire persona to meet the needs of female fans and persuade them to buy albums, singles, ringtones, T-shirts, and more. Often when an A&R questions the marketability of an artist they are simply finding a glorified way of asking, "will women buy the album?" This process is a cycle and we all feed into it blindly without fear of the repercussions.
As a hip-hop artist with a growing fan base, I have often pondered on the role I may possibly play in these activities. I am a proud advocate of anything concerning the general progression of the hip-hop culture. I believe hip-hop is one of the world's most powerful musical genres. I live it, eat it, sleep it and breathe it every single day of my life. We watch music videos with images of half dressed exotic females dancing and performing. It has become the norm for us to objectify women through popular music videos and websites. (Side note: For the record, this is not just hip-hop. Almost forms of popular American music do the same thing. Hip-hop actually stole this maneuver from Rock & Roll. And of course in the long haul Rock & Roll was stolen from black people but we'll come back to that in another article.)
A woman's sexuality is one of her pride and joys, so I personally feel that we as men don't ultimately have the right to tell them how to use it. I remember a popular quote from Flavor Flav stating "They're going to call you a N-bomb behind your back regardless to anything you do so you might as well take advantage of their ignorance and get them for everything you can". I feel like this might also apply to male sexism aimed at women in the entertainment industry. So I personally understand it when a woman chooses to capitalize on such activities in the name of taking advantage situations for herself. We are humans and sexuality is a huge part of our existence. Our society is evolving, and we are learning to showcase human sexuality without disrespecting each other. The problem is we live in a control-based society that is fueled by people having the desire to control others. We feel as if we have the right to belittle others with our false sense of self-entitlement. I believe in wrong and right. This is the simplest way to define my personal moral beliefs. I have challenged myself to not allow my views of morality to be defined by reality. Morality versus reality: when they both collide, things can become confusing. I believe in tons of different things but the truth is that my beliefs can be just as wrong as the next person's. Believing in something doesn't make it right and that's the growing problem with sexism.
Men believe they are right because they were taught to believe in more than a few very foolish ideas. We all have the right to be what we desire to be. If a young lady decides it's her life calling to be an exotic dancer then she has the right to be that. Life is all about basic freedoms, and when we challenge these freedoms we are choosing to play God. I believe the female gender must put the power back into her very own hands. Similar to every other minority group in this country she must manifest her very own destiny and decide her very own fate. This won't be totally possible until we as men learn to respect women on a level which we've never done before. The world can't completely change itself overnight, but we have to start somewhere. In the past, I have recorded records with derogatory language towards women in the songs lyrics. When I made my latest project War Machine 2, I said would attempt to make a commitment to stray from using this type of language. While I am not perfect, occasionally I speak my mind and run with the first thought I made an attempt to be considerate towards the feelings of others this time around. Rappers like Tupac Shakur made classic records like "Dear Mama" and "Hold Your Head Up".
These songs cued in and sent a positive message to the women of the hip-hop culture. The message was often simple but effective. We as men care for you and we will do whatever it takes to offer you protection and security from the woes of this world. We are also sorry for the foul treatment you have received on our behalf. The world is complicated and cruel but keep your head up because you are loved. These types of songs show compassion and vulnerability on a level that many men are afraid to show. Hip-hop is an art form that is deeply centered in the belief that respect is everything. Large rap feuds have turned into wars due to this specific theory. Respect rules the world and that's the bottom line. With this being said, I must admit we have done a horrible job of showcasing our respect for women.
We have to find a way to start respecting each other on a heightened level. Once we get to this point, things will start to change regarding the way we view and also treat each other. I am bothered by the way so many of live in medieval times. People like Rush Limbaugh are viewed as champions for saying ridiculous things about women concerning birth control. We live in a world where women have to fight over time for every ounce of respect they receive. The playing field is not even and we ourselves zero justice by not acknowledging this.
For the record, since this is the Tef Poe column, let me tell you Rush Limbaugh is an idiot and Don Imus deserves to burn in hell for his "nappy headed hoes" comment. These types of men probably go home and rely on their wives for everything under the sun. They'd say, "Hey honey can you please come in here and wipe my fat nasty trifling anus? While you're at it can you clean the lint from between my toes and wax my acne induced back?"
These are the type of men that believe they are the world's leading authority on the commonwealth of women in our current society structure. This is what happens when uneducated morons listen to educated morons. Morons teaching morons how to be even greater morons. You see, a few hundred years ago it was socially acceptable to think of women as our personal slaves and sex kittens. They had no public opinions that mattered much. They could not speak unless they were spoken to. They were robbed of educational opportunities that were gifted to men who were less talented and also less intelligent. These women were not allowed to vote.
They were one of America's truly voiceless communities. Imagine living a life where you aren't allowed to invest in yourself and the betterment of your personal future. Imagine living in a world that found ways to limit you and your core potential for every single day of your life. The only way out of this pitiful life was death or total complete submission. I wrote this blog to the let the women who follow me know that I honor your struggle. You have an ally and friend indeed with me. I cannot say that I wholeheartedly identify with your pain.
We don't have the right to dictate what you do with your body. You are a human, and I respect you. In the future I hope all hip-hop artists do our part to let women all across the world know that we are the voice of the people, not just the men.
This is one of the most radical forms of music ever created and as long as I am alive, we will do our part to help liberate you. You deserve to be respected and cherished. Your accomplishments deserve to be acknowledged and promoted. Your story is unsung and often unheard but one day the tables will turn and your voices will be heard. Hip-hop was created in the ghettos of North America, so the music itself is actually a product of American culture. The true question in this scenario is not does Hip-hop respect women, but does America respect women?