Many HBCU students still believed in Santa when Brandy sang about being “the kind of girl you that you could be down for.” Her music, along with others, demonstrated the cuteness and coyness of the 90s—a time which has been largely replaced with shock rap.
So, what does memory lane have to do with the here and now? Rapper Rocko recently performed his song “UOENO” at Tuskegee. UOENO gained infamy after backlash against Rick Ross’s verse about using “Molly” to date rape a woman.
Footage of Rocko’s performance showed that he was hype at Tuskegee, as was the crowd. Then Ross’s infamous rape-rap blared. Obviously, Ross was not there. However, his spirit lived on. The crowd bellowed along to the verse while Rocko hid his face under a towel. Many audience members were women. See why our elders say not to judge?
Controversy cuts checks. Rocko can still perform the song while including Ross’s verse. However, he can distance himself because Rocko didn’t rap it and has gone on record condemning rape.
Being conscious, relatable and part of hip-hop/rap culture is a balancing act. It gets particularly tricky for women. Almost a decade ago, Spelman College students challenged Nelly to a conversation about sexism following the release of his “Tip Drill” video. In the video, Nelly swiped a credit card down a video model’s posterior. He later reported that it was the model’s suggestion.
Nelly planned the Spelman trip for a bone marrow drive for his sister. As a result, many questioned the collegiate women’s reaction. After all, the music video had to be shown at Creepy O’Clock on a program called “Uncut.” (Yes, I stayed up to see what the cool kids’ lunchtime conversations were about.) Yet did the video warrant a boycott many asked? Regardless of public opinion, Spelman women drew a line in the sand.
Recently more lines have been drawn. Lil Wayne released a historically regressive and intellectually lazy rhyme about punishing a woman’s nether regions like Emmett Till. Thankfully, leaders and consumers took his label to task for its recklessness. We won’t even get on the fact that it was Black History Month.
Sidenote: Ross’s verse hit airwaves during Women’s History Month.
Both men likely learned that masses do believe in sacredness. Powerless people. Slain teens. Unconscious women.
But, back to Rocko’s performance. From video footage, a largely female audience is visible. Presumably, many of them rapped along to Ross’s verse. And that’s where it gets uncomfortable.
Yes, young women are sent mixed messages. But, there’s no gray area with rape. Maybe the distance of it’s-not-me-it’s-not-real-it’s-just-fun made the moment seem anti-climactic. Normal even.
Young women of color are often socialized to be balanced, but urban. Globally informed, but not of the world. High-falutin, but slightly hood. Have enough street smarts not to get got, but enough assimilationist tendencies to move up society’s hierarchy.
Institutions of higher learning ought to be equipped to deal with, and structure learning around, complex identities. For HBCUs this is oftentimes a familial feel, with business implications. We do want our degrees to be worth something.
Certainly somebody should sit the Tuskegee students down for a chat. But, the capitalistic culprit also matters. Corporate America rewards coonery and all kinds of stereotyping. It pushes buttons to see if they still work. Or if they exist. If Ross’s verse weren’t thought to be profitable it wouldn’t have come out.
Music is a microcosm, and women are still trying to make it. We don’t get equal pay for equal work. Our most personal decisions are routinely legislated and pontificated. Sometimes, it seems to be about battle-picking. And for many students who experience the thrills of dirt-cheap concert tickets, homecomings, spring fests, and access to peers who are also figuring this stuff out, the enemy isn’t always clear.
It is still way awkward that educated ladies and gents rapped along with rape rhymes. But, as many sorority and fraternity members at majority institutions learned after hosting “Mexican,” blackface and homeless themed parties, all the book smarts in the world only goes so far. Life, the true teacher, ain’t through with them yet.
Digest Columnist Imani Jackson is a FAMU College of Law student. A Grambling State University journalism graduate, she was editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite newspaper and a radio talk show host for KGRM 91.5. Her writing has been published in Politic365, Black College Wire, Clutch Magazine, and The Daily American in Somerset, Pa.