This is a guest post by Lauren Bruce, former Feministe blogger and obsessive superfan.
Hip Hop is For Lovers is a multimedia web experience dedicated to looking at love, sex and intimacy through the lens of hip hop culture. Its centerpiece is a weekly woman-centered, queer-friendly and justice-heavy podcast that features discussions about a variety of relationship topics punctuated with the best in rap. After months as a listener, I had the privilege of talking with podcast co-hosts Uche and Lenée about the making of the show, the tentative relationship between hip hop culture and mainstream feminism, and what we should be listening to next. After the interview, tune in live on Wednesday nights from 8-10 EST to hear Uche and Lenée in action.
LB: First off, I’m a huge fan of the show. As a listener, I am constantly delighted with the variety of messages that you both bring to the show. The treatment of the subject material — love and romantic relationships through the lens of hip hop culture — is a mixture of the intellectual, romantic, raunchy, informational and critical. What mission or experience do you bring to the discussion every week?
Uche: The mission that I bring to the show is to just have fun and educate.
Lenée: We like to have adult conversations. That is, not adult in that FCC way, but adult as in ‘this will not be sugar coated.’ We try hard not to pull any punches; and I know that the transparency with which Uche and I address the subject matter is valuable. I won’t say that everyday folk who are fans of the music and culture simply don’t get into critical affirmation, but it certainly feels that way sometimes, particularly when it comes to the ever-complicated subject of romantic dealings within the culture and in the music. We like to inform folks, play some dope music, laugh, and maybe expand our own knowledge through each live broadcast.
LB: I love that you really emphasize audience participation with Twitter and Facebook. This makes the live listening experience so fun because the audience is encouraged to share stories and comments about sex and relationships. You two also share quite a bit of your own personal experiences. Are you ever freaked out about sharing too much personal sexytimes information on the show? Like, does your grandma listen in?
Lenée: We make it a point to share exactly what we want, in the ways we see fit. We believe in healthy boundaries, and make sure we enforce them for ourselves. Nobody in my family listens, thank Trap Jesus. My family knows about the show but doesn’t participate in any way. I hope it stays that way. Forever.
Uche: Well, while I am sometimes self conscious about what I say after I have said it but that last only for a short time as it’s out there now and I can’t take it back. I just hope that it is useful to someone now that it’s out there. As far as family tuning in, I know my sisters tune in occasionally, but like Lenée, my family knows about the show but most don’t tune in.
LB: Sometimes the music and the scene are centered — as with “Groupie Love” — and sometimes you approach the topic with a more informational tone — as with “Dedicated to the Kinkster in You” — with the music being more of a side attraction. How do you come up with concepts for each show? Who chooses the playlists?
Uche: The playlists are joint collaborations, tied to the subject matter when possible. We come up with them together. Lenée and I are always bouncing ideas off of each other and sometimes people will ask us to talk about certain subjects or play certain songs. It’s different every time but always a collaborative effort.
Lenée: We have a list of potential topics that we sometimes refer to. Other times, we brainstorm in the days (sometimes the hours!) leading up to each episode. I like when we come up with subject matter that people don’t expect. When we did the “Love and Justice” episode (about Troy Davis’ eventual execution and the prison industrial complex), for instance, I don’t think folks expected us to do that. It was heavy, and kind of deep — but totally necessary. Social justice has a place just about everywhere, you know?
LB: I find that as a hip hop fan who also keeps some mainstream feminist company, I find myself defending the very existence of the genre among other feminists. Uche, I know you’ve addressed this before in prior interviews more generally, but what do the HH4L ladies have to say to feminists who accuse hip hop at large of too much sexual bravado and objectification of women?
Uche: When I first began discussing the concept of HH4L, I got mixed responses. People said everything from there is not enough music to support that to Hip Hop doesn’t talk about love and even expecting us to not deal with certain subjects or play certain songs. Sexual bravado and objectification of women happens in every culture. Hip Hop is not the only one. If you are not attuned to the culture of Hip Hop or anything remotely related to the experience of those that make or enjoy this varied and layered music, I would suggest you do some real investigation into it before labeling it as such. All hip hop music does not have sexual bravado and objectify women just like all feminists aren’t white man hating lesbians. Right?
Lenée: I’m taking a deep breath as I type this, because I have so very much to say. First, Hip Hop culture and music are the result of a colonial history: the history of Black folks in the US. Hip Hop culture exists as a mirror of larger US culture and also as a filter of that culture. As an agent of the culture, the music speaks to an array of experiences and perspectives. Yes, the primary media makers in the culture are heterosexual cisgender men of color (mostly black-identified). Yes, there is sexual bravado, and yes there’s objectification of women. I think that the tendency of people I identify as outsiders — usually academics, often white people, and way too often white cisgender women who ID as feminists — is to be outraged first and ask questions later.
LB: (Also, dear readers, there is about ten-plus years of womanist and feminist scholarship by women of color on hip hop, on women in hip hop, and hip hop feminism, so please google-fu if this is news.)
Lenée: If a straight man makes a song about someone he’s attracted to, we know it sure as shit isn’t gonna be a song about one of his homeboys. So, objectification of women is gonna happen. It cannot be avoided. The extent to which it goes is my concern. As far as the sexual bravado goes, I’d like to direct any and everyone with this critique to study stereotypes about black men — namely the construct of the big black buck. Sometimes rappers reinforce the constructs, sometimes they build their own identities in the shadow of those constructs… And other times, nobody’s paying attention to what doesn’t fit what they’re looking for. Just so they can be outraged first and ask questions later. Also: Lady (“Yankin’”) is just as full of braggadocio as any song by a man that we’ve played on the show, if not more. I’m certain that different ideas apply because she’s a woman and the decency police feel differently about her. But that’s probably a blog post in and of itself.
LB: No kidding. I was googling Lady out of curiosity and saw that she gets a lot of blowback about that song. (I can’t even begin to dissect the video.) Sure it’s sexually explicit, but it’s not meant to be a deep song. What it is is an affirmative, body-positive song about getting laid. The narrator has agency, she’s enjoying herself, it’s consensual. There’s a place for that and it’s a worthwhile narrative, so I think the real problem — and there is considerable scholarship on the “acceptable” roles for women in hip hop — is when the only available slots for women in the mainstream are the super-sexy Trinas or the crunchier Lauryn Hills.
Uche: The song “Yankin’” and those like it have its place in Hip Hop. The whole social construct that it’s taboo for women to speak on their sexual prowess is really outdated (to me anyway).
Lenée: I agree. It’s really simple to me: dudes rap about the presence of alcohol and/ or drugs in sexual encounters. They talk about being great in bed, good in bed, the king of cunnilingus or whatever. A lot. T.I. (he calls himself the pussy pumper!), for instance, talks about handing out bottles of Grey Goose and ecstasy pills as he has multiple partner sex. In more than one song. I’ve heard the most harsh criticism about Lady from “real Hip Hop heads,” people who actively and vocally ask for the return of Leaders of the New School, DAS Efx, and LL Cool J’s first nose. I think Lady’s song is epic. It’s fun. It’s got a good beat. And at the end of the day she’s not hurting anyone. Lots of folks seem to have gone out of their way in online spaces to decry “Yankin’” and act like it’s The Sole Reason Black People Can’t Have Nice Things. As if it isn’t R. Kelly. (Jokes.)
LB: What’s your favorite hip hop love story right now? I’m partial to Curren$y’s “She Don’t Want A Man” at the moment, which you featured on “Missed Connections.” It paints a clear picture of an affair with an unhappy “kept” wife, but despite the clear chemistry and the rush of the affair, they end it due to her crisis of conscience. Something about the emotional restraint in that song is really sexy. I also like “You” by Q-Tip, because I’ve been in that point in a failing relationship where I worried and worried over where I went wrong, just to realize my partner was screwing me over and lying the whole time.
Lenée: I love “Insomnia” by Big K.R.I.T.! It’s a dope narrative of what happens when the narrator is on his way to see his lady, as they haven’t been intimate in a while. It also doesn’t hurt that there are some adult sound effects at the end of the song. My perpetual favorite is “Ms Fat Booty” by Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def). We included it in our list of love songs posted Ebony Magazine’s website. It’s a great narrative and I more or less love that man as a rapper. And, a long-standing favorite of mine, Jean Grae’s “Love Song” from Attack of the Attacking Things. Jean knows how to tell a story.
Uche: “Insomnia” is one of my favorites. Listening to the whole mixtape you realize that song is a part of a bigger story in between him and the woman addressed. Another song I am enjoying that we included on our list for Ebony was the Jean Grae song, “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”
LB: I loved the show you did where you talked about the believability of rappers, “Anatomy of a Hip Hop Love Song.” What did you think of Too $hort’s apology after the controversy over his “fatherly advice” column in XXL which basically provided a primer for sexual assault? On your show, you guys had him pegged as one of the least believable rappers when it comes to his sexual bravado, and after this controversy he claimed that he’d just adopted this persona for the last twenty years and hadn’t really thought about whether it had any consequences before.
Uche: I honestly believe that he (along with a few other folks) has been allowed the luxury of ignoring/ not knowing any of the direct consequences of their rhymes. Too Short doesn’t have his own offspring and I think that’s one of the contributing factors of his disillusionment. I can’t recall any mention of anything like this happening in his career before. It’s a sobering experience to have someone give you feedback but imagine a social media movement to tell you hey like that is wrong.
Lenée: I agree with Uche. Too $hort was not ready to be told that what he’s built a career on — seemingly for shits and giggles — has real consequences in day to day life for women and girls all over. I think it’s fair to say that he’s had the opportunity to revisit his thought process. I doubt that he’ll change his persona, though. I don’t believe him; he needs more people.
LB: You often feature female artists and a female perspective on your show. Your show introduced me to Lady and Jasmine Solano, for which I am eternally grateful. Who are the lady rappers to whom we should be paying closer attention?
Uche: Women MC’s are stronger than ever and I personally think people should be paying attention to Nitty Scott, Azealia Banks, Josie Stingray, Likwuid, Jean Grae, Boog Brown, Narubi Selah. I could go on and on. There are a lot of Women MC’s making noise in every lane of Hip Hop right now.
Lenée: What Uche said. Stop waiting on Lauryn Hill to come back. Hell, Trina and Khia are still making music. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Queen Latifah will come back into the fold. Eve is planning something for this year — and I really hope she comes back. I miss her. The future, though, is bright for women in hip hop music. The present is, as well.
Check out Hip Hop is For Lovers live every Wednesday from 8-10 EST. Check out the archives on Spreaker and Podomatic.