Ha Ya is Hard
Ha Ya means Life….
I’ll come out and say it.
I ain’t shit.
Honestly. I don’t know if I’ve ever been shit. I don’t know if anyone I know is shit. I don’t know.
When ads started popping up for 4:44 with the Tidal logo underneath, I didn’t know what it was but I knew I’d have the exclusive. A Tidal member since Jay Z and crew took it over, I’ve been enjoying the exclusive perks and musical access to some of my favorite artists (#RIPPrince). When I found out it was a new Jay Z album my interest piqued. When I found out it was a Jay Z apologia, it plummeted. You see, I’m a certified, card-carrying member of the BeyHive and played Lemonade on repeat for weeks on end when it dropped.* Though I used to be enamored with Jay Z, he couldn’t override my loyalty to Black women and myself nor the way Lemonade spoke to my soul and the souls of so many other Black women. The intimate and deep pain we felt and feel at the hands of Black men as voiced by Lemonade and countless articles and songs seemed too sacred for apology, too deep. I didn’t need Jay Z to apologize on a track, I needed him to just be better. Do better. I needed other dudes like him to leave their sorries at the door cause we don’t use em anymore! Because that’s all I saw initially, apologies. Empty, performative, and useless apologies. “Bey can take him back but that’s not my struggle.” “Nope!” Indeed, over here we ain’t sorry and we laugh in the face of Beckys and men who step out of bounds. 4:44 seemed like a project no one asked for for a time no one had. Yet, we still pressed play. We still pressed play.
What’s up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth/To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z
4:44 had ended an hour earlier but I couldn’t sleep. Kill Jay Z. Family Feud. Smile. The Story of O.J. 4:44. They each sat on me, asking me and begging questions of me that I hadn’t thought before to ask. Who was this Jay Z and did I know him? No. We both seemed a long way from the east coast we both knew as home, laid up in Los Angeles with new rules and expectations. Play again. Is this eulogy or praise? Is this condemnation or contemplation? Play again. He who throws the first stone…Play again. Amen. Play again. I rotated through the songs and the social media one after another. And then as the week progressed, footnotes arrived. Visuals to help us go deeper in the lessons. Footnotes for 4:44 seemed apropos as I grappled with that song the most. “What more can he say?” I wondered. What more do I need to hear?
In the past few months, I had been engaging my own journey of self-healing as propelled by Lemonade. Growing up with a distant father and few male relatives, my recognition of Black men was always slightly tilted toward the perspective of lack. “In the tradition of men in my blood” weighed on me like a brick because I, too, knew what it felt like to have to kill your father and honor your mother. Pain, a generational curse, seemed to be all that men were good for. Life had confirmed that for me. Time had confirmed that for me. Men themselves had confirmed that for me. And in the tradition of women in my blood, I protected, shielded, blocked and solidered on toward Freedom. Or so I thought. 4:44 rested heavy on my chest that night as I thought about the men in my blood and in my life. Did they suck at love? Was it all just that simple? That we all screwed ’cause we never had the tools? As I slept, for the first time since Lemonade, something in my stirred with questioning and longing. I wanted to go back and listen to Lemonade. I wanted to go back and read bell hooks. I wanted to call my father. I wanted. As I fell asleep, I thought of Beyoncé’s harmonies on “Family Feud” as a praise and redemption. If the doors to the sanctuary were open, where would I go?
God Show Me All My Dirt
An 11 minute mini-doc, I was shocked at the level of star-power crammed into a small snippet. Men I adored, Arthur Jaffa, Omari Hardwick, Jesse Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Michael B. Jordan, Anthony Anderson, Will Smith, Chris Paul, and, yes, Jay himself among others, laid themselves bare talking about the difficulties and lessons they faced in learning how to love. Almost like a master demonstration in emotional processing, each man told a brief tale that sought not to apologize or explain away but simply just to be. It was beautiful, touching, and uncomfortable all in one. I replayed the video, each time, feeling more and more uneasy. These men who I had idolized at one point or another were doing The Work (TM). They were showing a deep commitment (at least among each other) to doing better. They were uneasy and unsure and unsteady but present. This vulnerability, so longingly wished for and prescribed in feminist circles as the cure and salve, was offputting and strange the more I viewed. To see not fire and passion in their eyes but instead sadness or pensiveness seemed to color them all blue, casting shadow on the mythic proportions each man held. I replayed over and over, looking at men who I had on my walls in college become smaller and smaller until eye to eye they became painfully human. Painfully real. Painfully flawed. I turned it off. I didn’t want to watch anymore.
We all lose when the family feuds
The second half of Lemonade is about forgiveness and redemption. By now, that’s old news. But after the hype of the album release died down I found myself only listening up through “6 Inch” before switching to something else. Just as I had grown tired of sorry, I had grown tired of forgiveness. All of my life, I’ve had to forgive something or someone with little left for me. I couldn’t get to All Night because 6 Inch tasted so good. Sandcastles was just a thing at the beach and Love Drought was an understatement; try desert. Even Freedom tasted bitter in my mouth and in the face of misogynoir. Forgiveness was as foreign as the men’s vulnerability in Footnotes. But there they were. There we were. So what now?
I realized I wasn’t shit when I didn’t know.
Because in all my years, few as they may be, I’ve received only 2 true apologies from men and resented them both. Because vulnerable and Black men have been fantasy for so long and forever separated by space, time, and predilection in my mind that the sight broke me down. Dissonance. Because anger is warm and feels more compelling than quiet. Because disappointment had become a welcome friend who knew where to go in my own home.
Because daddy’s girls rarely stay that way and first loves rarely end that way.
Because I wasn’t ready to receive any of them in my past. Because violence is cyclical and especially because love seems elusive (all I know is no one I know has it.)
Because I’d never imagined a time where we killed Jay Z, and Omari, and Will, and Jesse, and fathers, and brothers, and maybe even ourselves. Because I didn’t know how to hold their gaze, even when I pleaded with them to see me.
Because ego had told me I’d never been wrong.
Because I’ve been very wrong.
If We’re Going To Heal, Let It Be Glorious
I listened to 4:44 and Lemonade again and realized that Beyoncé and Jay broke the curse. And like the invisible audience, I applaud. But more than that, I realize through their art that I have a lot more growing to do before I can receive someone else. Before I can hold their gaze and their heart and vulnerability and understand it to be just a sweet as my own. I need more healing and more work and more life and more. I realize that I, too, need to learn how to love someone beyond myself and my sisters. That I need to love even when it’s work and even when I don’t want to. I realized that my Lemonade was too sour, too bitter. But because it was cool, I kept on sipping. I need honey, natural sugar. More time and more ice. I need grace and favor. I need life itself.
4:44 brought the the orchestra and the synchronized swimmers. Pulled me together after being cut in half. It’s far from perfect and far from over, but it is real. And like everything real, it can’t be threatened.