Not So Plain Jane

Being Mary Jane Movie Poster

When the BET hit show Being Mary Jane first hit the air, many women found her character relatable. However, with season 2 coming to a close, some people argue that the show perpetuates a stereotypical image of black women.

The show features Mary Jane Paul, a single, 30-something, successful news anchor, who is family-oriented. Viewers watch as Paul struggles to maintain a healthy balance between her career, family, and love life.

When we were first introduced to the Paul, many commented that she represented many powerful black women in the world. Now, the racy drama receives a lot of heat for inadequately representing black powerful women. In her article, “Negative Depictions of Black Power Women: Enough is Enough”, Janell Hazelwood rips the drama apart. She claims that she can look past many flawed aspects of the show such as, Paul deciding to be involved with an “emotionally unavailable ex and a married man.”

But she has had enough. She claims the BMJ “add to that age-old stereotype that black women in general are objects not of a man’s highest devotion and respect, but only worthy of lust and love’s table scraps.”

I recognize that many shows and movies alike portray black women having a wrecked love-life. However, BMJ does address real issues that face some women of color. At the beginning of the show the creator sends a message to all viewers. Before the show continue the screen read “Forty-two percent of black women never get married This is one black woman’s story….not meant to represent all black women.”

The disclaimer should be enough to dismiss all discussion about the television show representing women of color in a negative light. People fail to realize that with any character, it isn’t possible for them to represent an entire population of people. Characters are meant to be relatable, however, it is unrealistic to say that the show will be able to represent every type of person.

Instead of focusing on the Paul’s flaws, more people should acknowledge how she is a black woman who is shown as successful and taking care of her family. Paul has entered the hearts of many women with her style and wit. Let’s not forget the show’s purpose is to bring entertainment and not meant to be a representation of black women around the world.

Dead or Alive?

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Nas, one of the most iconic names in the rap and hip hop business, once made an album called Hip Hop is Dead in 2006. As you can imagine, there was much backlash from a statement like that, and Nas eventually wanted to address his claim through numerous interviews, one of which was in a MTV interview during the same year. Nas stated that, “There is no political voice. Music is dead. B2K is not New Edition. Chris Brown is great, I love Chris Brown, we need that, but Bobby Brown sticks in my heart. Our way of thinking is dead, our commerce is dead. Everything in this society has been done. I don’t wanna lose nobody with this, but what I mean by ‘hip-hop is dead’ is we’re at a vulnerable state. If we don’t change, we gonna disappear like Rome. (Shaheem Reid, 2006) That was in 2006. Here we are nine years later, and the question is still being asked as to whether Hip Hop is dead. Some would argue that hip hop and rap have died. Last year, up and coming rapper Childish Gambino stated in a Hip hop DX interview that “Rap is done. Rap is done. I love Hip Hop. I love rap, but the thing it was supposed to do it doesn’t do anymore. Like I love it as a music. It’s the same thing as like jazz. Jazz when it was doing what it was supposed to do. And people still listen to jazz now, but it doesn’t have—It’s not doing the social work it’s supposed to do anymore. And that’s not because it’s gotten bad…It’s just a different movement.”(Danielle Harling, 2014)   Some might agree with Nas and Gambino to say that rap and Hip Hop are dead; however, different may not necessarily mean dead. Is it safe to say that Hip hop is dead, or is it just branching into different styles?

There was a time where hip hop touched highly on political issues, by means of race, politics, gender, police brutality, and more. Fans of hip hop that cared more about it having a greater purpose than turning up parties enjoy rappers like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who have deep lyrical messages and a unique flow in storytelling. And yet, the way in which hip hop and rap has expanded its fan base to a much younger audience than back in the 80’s and 90’s, the lyrics are more hyped and parallel with lots of bass in the background, like Chief Keef and Rae Sremmurd. Looking at the spectrum from both sides, I would say that hip hop and rap aren’t dead, but the needs of its audience have expanded, which causes it to expand. Think back to 2Pac, who is arguably the greatest rapper of all time. He was one of the first to rap about real situations that African Americans go through, and he truly embodied the lifestyle of “thug life”. His audience was, and still is, vast, and his style can never be replaced. His audience loved what he put out because his messages in some of his songs were exactly what need to be heard in the world he lived in. It was soulful and full of heart, and that is something that never goes out of style. However, in today’s age we turn up when we hear songs like Big Sean’s’ I don’t F*** with You, which between January 3rd and February 7th of 2015 was at the top of the Billiard charts. Why is that? Why do we turn up with artist like Lil John, and yet, we hate on artist like Drake? They both have different styles, yet the end result is still the same. Drake’s beats and flow is unique, and some people who aren’t even drake fans turn up with some of his songs. Lil John, an artist whose style is aggressive and loud, but message isn’t sophisticated, is all about getting crunk and having a good time and the younger generations truly cater to that. I’m not saying that Drake and Lil John are the same by means of style or popularity, but I am saying that they are both artist in their own right, and their music has/will live on for quite some time considering the audience they cater to.

Rappers are focused on what the audience wants, and since the audience’s tastes is diverse, the styles of hip hop have to be diverse, even if the stigmatization happens to be “rachet” or “trap music”. In a recent article titled Will Kendrick Lamar save Hip Hop, hip hop enthusiast Allegra Geller comments, “The strength of HipHop comes from the diversity of rappers in style, flow and subject matter. From the beginning Hip-Hop was clearly defined by the endless variety of MC’s all doing something different and pushing the boundaries of the genre. The need to either claim a crown or a rap messiah is one of the main problems with the current rap game.” It certainly is a matter of opinion, but I would agree to say that hip hop and rap cannot be defined, or “saved”, by one rapper’s style and lyrical ability. We can’t forget that Hip hop/rap is all an art, and art is subjective. Its purpose is based on the artist intentions, which is what makes music, especially an art that comes from the streets, so diverse. The question may not be about if whether hip hop is dead or not, but rather, how and why is the audiences’ need expanding in hip hop. On the opposite end, maybe we shouldn’t question hip hop at all. It is an art in its own respect, and because art draws from life, it will never die.

New Show on the Block

Timbaland Empire Fox

Fox’s Empire leaves people begging for more every Wednesday night. From discussion about ALS to homosexuality in the African-American community, Empire touches on topics that once were taboo. If you haven’t heard of the freshman show, it’s clear that you temporarily checked out of society. Ten million people tuned in to watch the premiere of the show and it has continued to gain viewers every Wednesday, which defies the rules of television.

With such success, Empire leaves people wondering what’s the secret behind this bonafide hit.  The show tells the story of Lucious Lyon, who looks to groom one of his three sons to take over the music business he built from the ground up.

Eric Deggans, a writer for NPR, attributes the success of the show to catering to the African-American community. Fox reported 62 percent of Empire’s audience aged 18-49, the group network television advertisers target most heavily, are African-Americans. While Deggans recognizes the unique storyline, he focuses too much on the support of African-American households. He states “Empire seems to be working because it is telling stories that resonate with black viewers.”

However, Empire tells the story of a father struggling to accept his gay son, siblings’ rivalries, a couple separated when one partner ended up in jail. It explores what happens when women fight for equality with men, and a family dealing with sickness. These are all topics that are relatable to people of all backgrounds.

Every Wednesday night, Empire attracts thousands of new viewers and this does not include the viewers that tune in later on Hulu or OnDemand. People need to give credit where credit is due. Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created a phenomenal show that allows for viewers to connect with at least one character.