Popular among African Americans during the Black Nationalism movement was a strong desire for blacks to be economically and politically independent from the dominant power structure that had excluded them. Along with this separatist ideal came a call for every form of creative expression to reflect the political and social aims of the movement as author Larry Neal proclaimed in his essay titled, “The Black Arts Movement” published in 1968 that “the Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept” (Neal 2039). Neal’s usage of phallocentric language to describe the aims of the Black Art movement highlights the male-centered focus of black art which has either excluded the black female completely or has deemed the interpretations of the black woman from the viewpoint of males as sufficient and accurate representation of the black woman.
Feminist have long ago realized the potential dangers of the representation of women being controlled by men. However, little has been said about how hip hop illustrates the presumption made by many patriarchal males that the representation of women by the way of men is both accurate and sufficient portrayals of women. Hip hop, a creative field of expression that employs the use of rap and rhythmic music is one art form that is representative of these sexist attitudes because the black male voice is used to speak for black women Even with the popularity of black female rappers such as, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and the female rap duo, Salt and Pepper, the dominate representation of the black woman in Hip Hop has come from the opinion of black males. A song titled, “Illest Bitch Alive,” written by Wale, a 27 year old rapper from Washington, D.C. that appears on his sophomore album, Ambition is illustrious of the fact that black males in hip hop audaciously assume that they know the needs and struggles of the black woman and therefore can also take full reigns in the uplifting of her voice.
Even though the title of the song may not suggest it, the song is Wale’s version of a tribute to the black woman as he raps in the chorus of the song, “Illest bitch alive/ illest bitch alive!/ Yeah, that my sista and I’m so proud how she hold it down” (7-9). Wale’s view of the black woman’s position in society is made evident when he raps,
No one notice your plight
No one notice your struggle
No one know what it’s like
How you hold in emotion
While holding in life (18-22)
According to these lyrics of the song, the plight of the black woman often goes without recognition. Although Wale’s sentiment may appear to be a movement in the right direction toward making black women visible, Wale’s opinion of the black woman’s plight unaccompanied by the actual input of black women only uplifts the black woman from a male point of view and not her own. In other words, the black woman is still not being seen in her solidarity and is only visible when she is given visibility by the way of a black male.
Perhaps the most devastating way that Wale’s tribute to the black woman actually contradicts its goal of uplifting the black woman is Wale’s exertion of himself as the black woman’s savior. Wale’s position in the song as the black woman’s savior is made apparent when at the end of the song he raps, “And when you take off your jeans you get all the me that you need/ That you allow me to work it ’til you know what your actual worth mean/And for what it’s worth, I wrote a couple words to help you see. “
In the final lines of the song, Wale not only suggests that he can ease the pain of the black woman by satisfying her sexually, he is also suggesting that his sexual prowess and maleness is the way that the black woman will come to acknowledge and recognize her own worth. Although Wale’s song is only one representation of the patriarchal male within hip hop, his song is the epitome of the problematic nature of the representation of black women being dependent upon black males because many of these representations are shallow, sexists, and lack authenticity because they never come from the authorship of black women.
Neal, Larry. “The Black Arts Movement.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. McKay, Nellie Y., and Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.2039-2050. Print.
Wale. “Illest Bitch Alive.” Ambition. Warners Bros, 2011. CD.