On a recent Sunday in November, Jersey City artist and educator Ibn Sharif Shakoor dropped the video for the cypher “Protect Black Women,” a hip-hop collaboration with Toney Perkins, Lorenzo Pickett, and Chris Gadsden, principal of Lincoln High School and former Jersey City councilman.
In a press release, Shakoor said, “The very Black woman that we derive from, we often disrespect in hip hop music. I am determined to use hip hop as a tool instead of it using me.”
Also featuring Eric B.A.S.I.C. Williams, the video is co-directed by Darryl PressureOnline Sanford.
Shakoor, Perkins, and Gadsden all talked by phone last week about the song and the not so subtle subliminal messages in mainstream hip-hop they’re trying to counteract.
When asked if he thought mainstream hip hop had failed black women, Shakoor responded in the affirmative.
“I think that hip hop doesn’t necessarily represent Black culture, per se,” Shakoor said. “I think that Black culture is a part of hip hop, so it’s usually a reflection of what’s going on currently in the moment and the times that we live in.
“It’s just that hip hop has such a platform that the mistreatment of Black women gets exploited for profit, for gain, selling sex, etc. And I’m not speaking from a place of criticism, because I didn’t always have the wisdom that I have now.”
This doesn’t hold true to all hip hop.
Shakoor noted that alternative hip hop has a bevy of artists “who speak positivity to women and to the craft, but it’s the mainstream that brings the attention — that brings the top revenue, or what’s in front of us most of the time, the youth especially.”
A 2016 article from Homeboy Sandman on raprehab.com posited that some companies who profit from mainstream hip hop also profit off prison privatization. With very few companies not part of a relatively small number of giant corporate conglomerates, the article makes a point that echoes Shakoor’s words about not being used by hip hop.
For educator Toney Perkins, hip hop’s disregard for Black women is part of a generational shift helped along by a lack of discipline.
Studies have shown the harshest kinds of discipline can contribute to mental health issues, but providing the kind of discipline that provides a healthy structure is still something that has to compete with a culture of disrespect Perkins isn’t a fan of.
“It’s all generational. We just have to make up for it. We can’t talk directly to a lot of youth, because they don’t really grasp what we’re saying and most of the time, they might not want to hear it. You put it in music form. They love music, most of them. Sometimes they might get a little irritated because the music they listen to is totally different from what we listen to.”
As an educator, Perkins sees firsthand how central Black women are to most iterations of Black family.
“The struggle that Black women go through – a lot of times the father is not home, so that leaves a burden on the woman,” Perkins said. “She has to be the mother and the father at the same time. You know it’s hard for women to raise a growing young boy to be a man. It’s a challenge for a woman, but they’re doing it.
“A lot of times men that do disrespect women are just insecure with themselves,” Perkins added. “I just think as soon as we get back to the essence, I think the world can become a better place and we can move forward.”
Like Shakoor and Pickett, Gadsden has daughters he wants to feel valued and respected by all of society.
“I think that we in the Black community sometimes we take that imagery and we just run with it like that’s the norm,” Gadsden said. “Our norm, sometimes ‘keeping it real’… it kind of gets us in a bad position, because sometimes when we’re acting that way, people will say that it’s the culture acts this way. Sometimes people look at rap as being the mirror of Black culture, when in essence you should just look at is an entertainment.
Gadsden mentioned Megan Thee Stallion as an example.
“She’s probably a great person behind closed doors, if you talk to her one on one, but Meg Stallion is perceived as an object. She’s promoting her body. … I think sometimes a young Black woman would look at that imagery and think, I should aspire to look like that, I should talk that way. But that’s not who you’re supposed to be. As a father, I have to tell my daughters the image of the beauty is the one that you’re beholding to. Don’t confine or restrict it to that version of beauty when you are your own version of beauty. You should embrace yourself. Don’t let that be your guide.”
Overtly sexy character or not, Meg Thee Stallion is obviously still worthy of respect. But there’s a level of literacy where respect is inherent, and it’s often not proffered in mainstream hip-hop or its international counterparts.
On a local level, Gadsden thinks these cyphers can compete with the large tide of what is.
“… It can touch other people’s sensibilities to say, ‘Oh, look at these men, how they’re esteeming us and look at how they’re esteeming the role of a woman and her position inside the community.’
“The older crowd they definitely appreciate it. The younger folks they’re like, what is Ibn talking about now? Or, what is the principal of Lincoln High school discussing? Like, ‘what is he saying?’ and it forces them to listen.”
Gadsden mentioned something he said Shakoor would say, “changing the narrative.”
“And that’s locally. Now if hip hop could do that internationally we’d be in a better condition as a human culture. …. I grew up in age where we had that balance, You could talk about the sort of things that would be outlandish but then you had a conscious track that talked about society and life. I think we have to bring that back. Bring back balance.”
Check out “Protect Black Women” on Ibn Sharif Shakoor’s YouTube channel.
The song’s audio engineers were Frankie Metalz and Henry Perez.
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