Don’t Be A Hard Rock When You Really Are A Gem

“Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like. So if you find one, I beg of you, hold her tight. Yes, if you spot one, good sir, treat her right.” -Andre 3000

A few months ago I attended a listening session for Ne-yo’s new album. There were about 40 industry professionals packed inside a tiny studio in North Hollywood rating each song between 1 and 5. I’m not big into R&B these days, but everything sounded pretty standard to me. He sang about sex, “love”, and money, and topped it off with a Juicy J feature to give it just the right amount of ratchet. It had everything 2000-something R&B albums are made of.

As we left, my girl Dominique asked me what I thought of the album. “It was cool,” I told her. “What about that song where he was trying to convince his girl to have a threesome?” she asked. “It was cool,” I replied for the second time. “Are you serious!?” she snapped back, “I thought it was disgusting. I mean seriously, who does he think he is?” I was confused and couldn’t understand why she was so upset. It wasn’t until I took a step back and really thought about it that I realized how valid her point was. I also realized how and why I had become so desensitized.

I have been around the “industry” in some way or another since I was 19. My first trip to Miami during BET’s Spring Bling Weekend was the first of many experiences into a world that most people will never witness firsthand. My love for hip hop, traveling, and for other cultures has landed me in the middle of a diverse array of environments and situations that have shaped the way I think and process the world today.

I’ve been in love with hip hop since the moment I first heard “Hypnotize” bumping out of my speakers in 97′ on the top 7 at 9. Even though back then hip hop was laced with misogyny, there were many other more prevalent themes. It was about rebellion, it was about hustle, and it was about having heart. Over the years, it’s transitioned into odes to money, drugs, and strippers. Having heart is now not nearly as important as having Instagram followers. Having respect is valued less than having naked girls shaking it for singles in videos. Creative content is less important than having a Tuesday night Supper Club smash. The music has transitioned, and subsequently, so have the women.

I recently saw a video Jada Pinkett Smith posted about human trafficking in America. A lot of the victims she spoke to had gotten their start in the strip club. This turned into other extracurricular activities with clients and before they knew it, many of these women were sold into the sex slave trade. She was shocked at how glorified stripping had become in our society, remarking that when she was a young girl, it was considered shameful. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the shift occurred, but some time in the last ten years, stripping became a glamorized and coveted profession. Mainstream music has become more and more disrespectful towards women and Instagram has become a breeding ground for aspiring models who take their clothes off daily to gain “likes.” Bar tending in thongs and hosting parties have become desirable career paths for many young women who value red soles on their shoes more than college degrees.

While I’ve never stripped or posted nudes on the Gram, I have definitely felt the effects of this cultural shift. I’m reminded of this often when I tell stories to my friends who have had very traditional or religious upbringings. Because of a lot of the things I’ve seen or been around, certain things are “normal” to me that would leave my more traditional friends with their jaws on the floor. While I don’t participate in many of these questionable activities, I don’t flinch when I see or hear about them. From seeing girls prostitute themselves out for a few hundred dollars, to seeing rappers getting top in public, to hearing famous men blatantly and publicly bragging about cheating on their equally as famous wives, not too many things shock me these days. Continue reading

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London, England, South of France, And All Points Between They Know About Your Man

I spent the Spring of 2007 living in Florence, Italy. Besides iced coffee and hot American guys, the thing I really missed was hip hop. With a shaky internet connection and little to no knowledge of/access to music steaming sites, I was left with the few hundred songs stacked in my iPod to get me through my four months there. The time lag between American hip hop culture and European hip hop culture was around 6 years, at the very least. Coolio frequently played in the club, and international travelers got as excited about it as we did when Kendrick dropped his “Control” verse. I have a distinct memory of getting in a local promoter’s Audi with some friends where he had Get Rich Or Die Trying videos looping on his dash cam. He was very proud and even pointed it out to us like it was the most exclusive shit he’d ever gotten his hands on.

Fast forward to 2013. I was attending a Chris Brown x Reebok shoe giveaway for work and my boss asked me to give her brother a ride to the event. He was 17 years old and visiting for the week from London. I agreed, not quite sure what I would have in common with a teenager from the other side of the pond. Two minutes into the hour long ride to Crenshaw High School, I got my answer. J. Cole, Jay-Z, and Kanye had all recently dropped albums and were in heavy rotation in my car. As song after song played, I heard him rapping verse after verse. I was shocked. “How do you know all this music,” I asked him. “It literally just came out.” “Uhhhhh, we get music the same way you do,” he replied. “I’ve been listening to these for weeks now.” I switched it up and put in a Meek Mill mixtape. Again, he knew every song. No matter what I played, he knew.

Continue reading