Lupe Fiasco’s “B—- Bad” and the ongoing fight to protect the B-word

Lupe Fiasco - Bitch Bad on Vimeo.

When Lupe Fiasco’s controversial “B—- Bad” video premiered last week, the criticism was swift and fierce. The song and its video trace society’s misogynistic roots, grapples with black self-hatred and provides a much-needed contribution to contemporary hip-hop culture.

Yet, white male critics like Spin Magazine’s Marc Hogan and Brandon Soderberg have accused Lupe of mansplaining, over your head self-righteousness, “reducing rap to a game of preaching to the converted,” and “replacing one type of misogyny with another.”

But it hasn’t stopped there. Black women have also joined in on the criticism, particularly on Twitter, by accusing Lupe of “benevolent patriarchy” and sexism. This left me wondering why so many women are joining in on the fight to protect the B-word’s place in our society, especially after I wrote an article two weeks ago that resulted in several debates with men about the B-word’s evolution and reappropriation by masses of women.

“B—- Bad” got trashed for what some saw as a hierarchy for womanhood with motherhood placed on top at the song’s conclusion (”B—- bad, woman good, lady better, greatest motherhood”). The video’s emphasis on women who wear provocative clothing was also a point of criticism.

I agree that Lupe’s privileging of motherhood and conception of ideal femininity is problematic because patriarchal sentiments will inevitably cloud any effort to combat misogyny. But those shortcomings do not invalidate his message. Lupe gives voice to hard-to-swallow truths about the destructive hold that the B-word has on society despite our best efforts to overcome it. I often see the reality of those truths play out in my own life.

The upside is that I’m a 31-year-old black woman with a lot to say and years of education and professional experience to back it up. Perhaps the same factors that shape the “I’m a bad b—-” mother in Act 1 of the video. The downside is that an outspoken and accomplished woman often gets branded as being an intimidating man-hater. You couple that with the “angry black woman” stigma and my independence can quickly land me in vicious B-word territory.

Another upside is that I love me some Jesus and do my best to hold the men in my life accountable to treating me like a child of God. The downside is that “Jesus freaks” often get accused of having unrealistic expectations and standards that are too high. You couple that with the “black women are never satisfied” stigma and I’m right back in B-word territory.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is in the realm of sexuality. I have no problem wearing a form-fitting, short dress one day and a conservative business suit the next. While I refuse to be defined by what I wear, I’m absolutely clear that assumptions about female hypersexuality are often (ignorantly) rooted in a woman’s fashion choices. The same age-old assumptions that led to “the fruit of the confusion” in Act 3 of the video.

My point is that the B-word box is inescapable for women. No matter who we are, we’re likely to find ourselves in it at some point. But I’m not going to try to break my way out of it by calling myself a bad, boss, dime or dope b—-. I haven’t worked this hard to be reduced to a female dog (regardless of the adjective that proceeds it). I think Beyonce made a critical mistake by allowing Jay-Z’s “That’s My B—-” verse on the “Watch the Throne” album to see the light of day, and Kim Kardashian publicly played herself by calling Kanye West’s “Perfect B—-” dedication an honor.

I find it hard to put a positive spin on a term as hateful as the b-word, but can understand how and why other women do. Yet, it’s the difference between what “bad b—-” means when said by mature-aged women and how it’s heard by young girls and boys that I can’t overlook. That’s why I appreciate the emphasis that Lupe is placing on children and their inability to examine the words and imagery critically. I’m not mad at him for wanting to put an end to rampant usage of the b-word by adults for the sake of young people.

Lupe could have certainly responded to the video’s criticism in a more mature fashion than the #BoycottSpinMagazine Twitter rants about being “publicly disrespected.” But that shouldn’t prevent us from seeing the bigger picture — a young, influential rapper brought a critical conversation to the forefront of hip-hop discourse and did so in an intelligent, thoughtful way. His generational parenting continues to challenge young people on issues of race, class, gender and American imperialism. Lupe doesn’t always get it right (no artist ever has and ever will), but I appreciate his meaningful, politically charged contributions to hip-hop.

I appreciate the presence of “B—- Bad” at a time when Nicki Minaj’s “Pound the Alarm (”If you need a bad b—–/ Let me call a few/ Pumps on and them little mini skirts is out / I see some good girls, I’mma turn ‘em out”) and Meek Mill’s “Amen” (”And I lay back, she go cray, (expletive) me good, but she no stay/ Murder on that (expletive); let her boyfriend get that DOA”) are the types of songs that dominate urban airwaves.

Where was the mass editorial outcry from hip-hop aficionados when Tyga’s “Rack City” and LoveRance’s “Beat That (expletive) Up” were released? Why didn’t 50 Cent get tongue lashings for “Be My B—” which camouflages the sexual objectification of a woman in a lyrical love letter?

In the same way Lupe needs to better pick his battles, I believe we (feminist voices) do as well. Why be silent about the machines that mass produce our disrespect but speak out against a male artist challenging his rap peers to step up their game? We have more to lose when we support men in perpetuating their usage of the B-word than we do to gain. This debate is bigger than song titles. It’s about whether or not we can deconstruct the master’s house by using the master’s tools, which is why the minstrelsy theme in the video is both valid and prolific.

Hear me when I say — I don’t want anything to do with a man who seeks to be my master nor do I want to have to use his tools, the B-word included, to break free from him.

 

Rahiel Tesfamariam is a public theologian, social activist, writer and speaker. She is also a former columnist for The Washington Post and founder/ publisher of UrbanCusp.com, a cutting-edge online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Visit Rahiel.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RahielT.