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TARA ROBERTS & EISA NEFERTARI ULEN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY TRUE
that early summer night in SoHo when we went
to a Bad Boy party at Spy Bar? I felt the
bass-line pump beats out of the dark club
and into my heart just as the doorman lifted
the velvet rope for us. Hip-hop and I grew
up together. I've been partying like that
with my girls since the Cherry Hill discos
back in Baltimore when we thought we were
cute in designer jeans pressed as crisp and
straight as our mushroom-styled hair. Even
now, at age 30, that rhythm gets me all excited.
Something primal is awakened, some deep ancestral
code, memory of the drum.
there was a lot goin' on at Spy Bar that
night: sistahs dressed like they'd stepped
out of a high-tech fantasy video; men high
or on their way, shooting the gangsta gaze
at said sistahs; occasional couples laid
back on each other--a big-booty back fitting
just so along a muscled front. That night
I felt horrified, brutalized, when I listened
to the uncut lyrics. I'm not crazy about
all the testosterone thumping my way at
the jimmie-jams these days.
neeeeed to get out and dance, though--with our peeps,
to our sounds. I feel the grip of sistah love most potently
when the dance sets us free. That configuration of accumulated
power, that cipher--hip-hop's sacred space, where freestyling
rhymes bounce bodies bending over breakbeats--lets an
entire generation move through sound.
was feeling the circles of women I saw dancing together
that night, tight, like me and my girls were back in
the day. No man could have penetrated those ciphers,
and no man tried. Watching them was like watching myself.
Rhythm transported their crew to some place beyond the
confines of the club, liberating a communal soul-force.
I felt the estrogen then, Sis, and it beat as loudly
as a million African drums. I saw the sistah cipher
as a microcosm of our might. Imagine young black song
pulsating a people forward.
have released hip-hop music. It just ain't
that deep for me anymore. Oh yeah, I may
nod my head once or twice, even when idiotic
music like Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up"
(meaning, by the way, your ass, so he can
get a taste of it pump-pumping against his
crotch) blasts over the airwaves. But whatever.
I just don't think it matters. For one thing,
everybody's acting out and flipping the
script, and journalists like us are getting
the brunt of the stick, Eis. Hip-hop's rage
and confusion has turned inward on itself
and is now killing the messenger. Remember
Jesse Washington, the former editor in chief
of Blaze--my homeboy from college and yours
from the 'hood, no less--getting a vicious
beat-down by a rapper who nicknames himself
me, rap music is like Spam. It may always
be there on the shelf, but at some point
you just outgrow it. You no longer reach
for it, even if you can wax nostalgic about
those days sitting on the porch eating Spam
sandwiches with mayo dripping down your
arm. You move on.
too, used to love the power of
the bass booming on speakers at house parties and clubs
around the way. I would smile seductively at the brothers
in jazzed up VW bugs who passed me on the corner, though
I knew what was blaring on their systems was in no way
good for women.
am tired of being conflicted, girl.
you are a woman in hip-hop, you are either a hard
bitch who will kill for her man, or you're a fly bitch
who can sex up her man, or you're a fucked-up lesbian.
There is no fullness of womanhood. I asked my girls
from Atlanta recently what they thought of Lil' Kim,
and you know what one sistah said that made me stop
and think? She said she loves Lil' Kim because Lil'
Kim is the ho' she always wanted to be. The conversation
among sistahs around sex is so two-dimensional--either
you keep your legs closed and your dress down or you're
a freak, a nasty ho'. But when do you get to be real?
concocted a fantasy world of Gucci shoes, diamond
bracelets, Lexus SUVs, and sex, with no spiritual
consciousness, Baby. It's a modern day Babylon that
we are feeding, and I can't get down like that no