By Jarvon Carson
For those leaning towards defending a rap star seemingly singled out by the media and society at large for cultural crimes being committed by virtually all other entertainers in his sector of the industry, to answer the question of is Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges being targeted in this article — the answer is Yes. Absolutely. Those are my motives precisely, because in this present day of all of the rappers, ‘hood stars, street pharmacists, urban entrepreneurs and their suit wearing board room counterparts profiting from hip hop’s exponentially excessive, misogynistic and in other ways self deprecating standards, no other face of the genre is living the hypocrisy and self (individual, community, universal) hate more than he. With the release of his fifth and latest album, ironically entitled “Release Therapy” though the content of his tracks tend to conflict, it is almost farcical — an argument that can be all too easily applied to the State of the Hip Hop Nation these last ten years — the lack of accountability for the messages in his music, respectability for the fans that look like him and have experienced the same things, visibility of those whose only glances into his community are through sales of his records and so who digest the illustrations the he depicts literally or without considering the underbelly, and lastly, the disproportion of vanity (although the paradox of the Human Ego is that it can, by definition, never be too big) for one man whose mantra, not unlike those of his peers, is to “keep it real” while “giving back [to the ‘hood]” by “showin’ love.” Whatever the hell that means.
There was a time when I too would crank up the radio dial — and then later, the scroll click wheel on a new mp3 player — whenever one of his almost twenty Top 100 singles to sit on the popular charts since his emergence in 2000, was on play, but in the past years as I have grown while to some extent the genre has not — let’s not confuse corporate employment of hotrightnow artists to sell anything from detergent to scarves while failing to direct those same funds to the school districts, say, of those same targeted kids as Power. To use a rapper’s new favorite word, it’s called being “pimped,” as in turning tricks (endorsements) into treats (disinvested profit) — never before has the degradation of women (mostly of color for now, but if the trend continues to grow then it won’t be long before White Women are shoved out of the safety zone) been so nonchalantly, colorfully trumped about by those spreading the poison verse to hook to chorus, or blindly accepted and ignorantly rewarded with “success,” both in the immediate community and by the general public at large. You must think I’m a damn fool if you’re expecting a response to the same song packaged twenty different ways.
No doubt there are skeptics in die hard fans or music columnists that would argue the innovation of recording techniques and technologies employed by the likes of Ludacris, Kanye West, or any other highly visible rap star. The indiscrepancy though, at times condoned/ encouraged/ selective, you take your pick of adjective, lies within that which has made Hip Hop such a force since the beginning. As an initially independent medium for American Blacks and eventually other fans of the music, with its accompanying culture of acrobatic dance, casually cocky trinkets, language and fashions, all notoriously coined as the “Black man’s CNN” by Chuck D. of the politically angled early rap troupe Public Enemy, Ludacris and his peers can now proudly claim to be all that that is not. Instead of constructive criticism, or any damn criticism, the complacency to literally “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” is so inherently institutionalized and self inhibiting that anyone eager to criticize my stance or that of others who have of late argued the state of affairs in this segment of the industry as too easy, too down- on- the- Black- Man, or too whatever other twist they may want to push, is hard pressed to downplay the systematically patriarchal and racist undertones of a payroll that would let a talented lyricist, let’s say, lease all the new cars of his dreams, drip all kinds of diamonds wonderful, and see the country and world at large as long as he stays true to the same subject matter of objectifying the women who struggled to raise him, romanticizing the men lured out of free schooling and scholarships to chase the sale of illegal drugs or pursue fanstastical odds of playing professional anything, and talking shit about other artists that he hardly even knows even though they are playing the same game and have in actuality coped with the same grief. While you are imagining such a hypothetical, keep in mind this next part, the real ringer — the production part, the lyrics and baselines that make it that much more alluring and sellable to a public aware or not of such manipulation — is completely voluntary. These negligent, redundant, nondescript and negative ideologies are being served up on a plate of their own volition; of the artists, that is. (Which explains the open armed reception of alternative rappers and lyricists, even as they struggle to chart out new strategies to reach an audience as bored and weary as I because the money doesn’t come pouring in quite the same when you try to elevate the masses be they Black, White, rich, poor, anyone who has ever been told “No” on illegitimate grounds. Talent like Kanye West, Jill Scott, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Lupe Fiasco, etcetera.)
The following are the contrasting lyrics, two from the same album, of separate singles released by Ludacris this year. One set comes from the lead single of a female rap act protégée of his; on her track the overarching theme is men who talk more than walk and how she wants a man who can take control. On Shareefa’s “I Need A Boss,” while she sing- raps about how she “needs a boss like ‘hey!’ /who’s flossin’ like ‘hey!’ / tossin’ dough ‘hey!’ / you know that he’ll pay” which is already borderline asking to be taken for granted or put in a position to be labeled another favorite term, “the gold digger,” which is a whole other issue because it can either be a completely valid call or that of a man too selfish or frugal to spend money on his supposed partner. Then comes the host’s rap, which if one were to hear on the radio, the oddest line of all the flow sticks out without apology: “now to infinity/ grown women be feelin’ me/and they ain’t got nothin’ to lose/ but they virginity,” a call to arms for any woman not too foolish to let her starstruck state stop her from givin’ it up to any rapper that crosses her path. No judgment calls being made, if as he states, these are completely consenting, mature women, but did you miss the part about how Luda has a young daughter of his own to raise? And what do you think Daddy would think if his sixteen year old high schooler met her favorite rapper backstage at a show and misinterpreted such a line, which I thankfully broke down for you just now, just in case you were in fact jailbait. Then there’s his first single from “Release Therapy,” entitled “Money Maker” with a futuristic beat supplied by the Neptunes, a Virginia based beat factory led by hip hop personality Pharrell Williams (Ludacris himself “represents” for Atlanta, Georgia). “Shake your money maker/ like somebody ‘bout to pay ya/ I see you on my radar/ don’t you act like you afraid- a,” again, the encouraging of female fans at the clubs or at large to warm up to any man with cash to spend, apparently in anticipation of their arrival, but more on grounds parallel to the throwing of money at the star of the local strip club. No doubt that strippers are people too, and the disposable tone here further accessorizes the listener, her experiences, and her person in just as demeaning a way as the objectification of adult entertainers as parts more than sum. From there, dismissal is all of a sudden this grandiose spiritual revelation with the help of — and disappointingly so — veteran down- in- love R&B chanteuse Mary J. Blige of “I’m Going Down,” “No More Drama,” “Be Without U” fame. In “Runaway Love,” replete with a music video that features girls at various stages of disenfranchisement and without haven but loaded with candles, hence the title, he goes on to rap about Lisa, Nicole and Erica respectively. “Little Erica is eleven years old/ she’s steady trynna figure why the world is so cold/ so she pops “x” [the rave drug, Ecstasy, potent enough to kill a user on the first try] to get rid of all the pain/ ’cause she’s having sex with a boy who’s sixteen/ emotions run deep and she thinks she’s in love/ so there’s no protection he’s using no glove/ never thinking ’bout the consequences of her actions/ livin’ for today and not tomorrow’s satisfaction.” Oh, man, this is too good. Well, Luda, if Erica enjoys popular radio and has caught a sample of your repertoire and that of artists like yourself, maybe her favorite song is the one about how to make a guy want you, because who doesn’t love that which is sexy, accessible and shaking, and so she “runs away” to be sexually active as a means of dealing with what you describe in this self- love/patience anthem as sexual abuse, alcoholism, and addicted parents. Not at all that Ludacris is the sole bearer of the Torch of Sexuality; popular music has always been relevant to popular sex, and the blueprint for drawing in female fans and jealous male competitors alike has reached its zenith with the likes of Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones into infinite age, and basically any megasuccess of a rock star. Regardless of race, to reach the most commercial audience there has to be push and pull, and what do people love to hate, hate to love, more than sex; their own, somebody else’s, you name it. Except here, fully in acknowledgement of the troubling circumstances that these three girls are forced to leave home for, he employs the voice of mature, Black female America with MJB and is flipping the script to the same female (and male) audience that he usually inundates with casual wordplay on living in the moment, be it sexually, financially, with drugs or alcohol. But let me let the ladies know that I care too, so give a dog a bone and then they’ll see my more introspective, sensitive side. (Isn’t the sensitive guy supposed to be the one that gets into the pants first, anyway?)
Many rappers like to raise the point that Black men don’t own the market on misogyny, but they sure do seem to be keeping shop by relentlessly — in the continuous vane of trying to emulate the White man’s dominance and earn respectability amongst their peers — throwing around terminology like “bitch,” “hoe,” “slut,” “chickenhead” and myriad other terms to better justify their profiting from stepping on the toes of their fans who maybe like their style or delivery or charisma more than lyrics about how ignorant, ugly, temporary or inconsequential they are, and who no doubt are the mothers, sisters, nieces and cousins of the young men that also consume and emulate these “ground rules” in a tragically obvious cycle that is still leaving otherwise educated individuals scratching their heads.
In a move so cheesy that it goes from the funny part and passes again into the corny zone, the founder of the Christopher Bridges Foundation that helps young and disenfranchised fans of his with donations, escorts, and other arranged community service, throws over the last minute of the single, “Ladies, I can only imagine what you’re goin’ through/ sometimes I feel like runnin’ away myself.” That was so poetic, I forgot to be moved. With this half baked, empty compassion, Luda has magically erased the years of destructive content that may just have contributed to whatever internal turmoil has been eating at these young girls both from his hands and those of a lopsided society on the whole. Of course Pepsi looked bigoted when at the negative press of Bill O’Reilly, they dropped Ludacris as spokesperson for its soda brands and then hired the equally controversial Ozzy Osbourne clan, but to help put the pieces together, Luda, we can start with how the Osbournes never encouraged addicts to abuse drugs and then released a single with Betty Ford the next week on how they could break the habit and be the change that they want in their lives. They never called a fan a piece of ass and then wondered down the road why they felt worthless. For someone so keen on circumstances, consequences, satisfaction and resolution, — perhaps because you’ve been through hardship yourself, — you sure as hell don’t seem invested in those people who, for whatever reason, continue to buy your “art” and are tying to overcome like you one day did (at least in some sense…). And are you enjoying the wiggle room that you now have to turn a blind eye, to be irresponsible and proudly smirk as you co host on Saturday Night Live, or even better, a thousand times better, as you accomplish your great theatrical “breakthrough” in 2004’s “Crash,” the very film based on the taking of lives, faces, and experiences for granted in this convoluted world of ours? Which box, Luda, and all of your rapping peers, do you check — problem or solution? And for how much longer is this grand charade going to last?