Non-black people, stop telling black people who is ‘relevant’
Just because someone isn’t mainstream doesn’t make them irrelevant
Update on April 21, 2020: If you ever need to see a live example of why it is extremely annoying when people who are not of the culture want to dictate what’s hot, see how painfully annoying Peter Rosenberg is during this Babyface versus Teddy Riley Instagram battle. He needed to just call off work — in social isolation. I loved Laura Stylez’s reaction to everything though. She and Shani Kulture (and occasionally Ebro, DJ Kast One and DJ Juanyto) were into it and understood it. Ask Gary Owen to take Rosenberg’s place. He is the exception to this post.
The first time I read the Medium post, I breathed a deep sigh and kept saying to myself, “Don’t act like one of those crazies in the Beyhive again. Just leave it alone.” I kept thinking of a time I checked a Hispanic girl for saying, “Beyonce can’t sing for shit” to her friend in a cafeteria during my first few weeks of a new job. Her snarky comment was in regard to the 2013 Inauguration Day lip synching controversy. When I pointed out her a capella performance during a press conference shortly after, she shrugged and said, “I really don’t care.” I responded, “If you really didn’t care, you wouldn’t have said it.” She mumbled something under her breath in Spanish to her friend. I laughed because what she didn’t know is I’d taken eight years of Spanish, and it was my minor in college. I was dusty, but I understood the insult directed my way. For the rest of that cafeteria break, she talked in Spanish. We saw each other often and glared at each other more.
You have a right to not like their music. But when it comes to relevancy and rating talent, it would serve you better by acting like you’re in a library: Be quiet.
I was trying not to be one of those fanatic Beyhivers, or an over-the-top fan of anybody. But this was the second time I showed my (grudging) Beyhive tendencies. A Medium writer (white woman) recently wrote, “Beyonce has been overrated since she left Destiny’s Child.” And all I kept thinking was, “Even if we ignore the mountain of solo hits she’s had, how in the world do you call the first black woman to ever headline Coachella with an HBCU as her dancers ‘overrated’? Netflix didn’t pay $60 million for a subpar artist.”
I’d already gotten into it with this same writer for ridiculing all Medium publications and other writers who’d been curated more than her, so I simply asked one question, “What do you gain from being so negative?” She blocked me soon after, and I lose no sleep over it.
In round three, there was a recent debate from Hot 97’s Old Man Ebro Twitter timeline, who asked about the rumored Instagram song battle between Ja Rule and 50 Cent. While another non-black woman, who self-described herself as a “brand ambassador” said Ja Rule was “not relevant,” I pointed out the obvious: “You’ve got 315 followers. He’s got 233.4K followers. You don’t even have to like the man, but don’t act like Billboard lied about this laundry list of hits that STILL slap now.” Her response was to say I was “petty” and instantly block me. While I was working with facts, she was weighing in with an opinion, which is her right. But don’t then call someone “petty” for pointing out his success in spite of her music taste.
But the fourth time around was what really set me off. It was from another user (white guy from the looks of it) who weighed in on the Ja Rule versus 50 Cent rumored Instagram battle. In his opinion, number one hits mattered more. Again, my issue was people dismissing an artist’s success altogether as “not relevant” or “overrated” because they don’t like them, not who has the most Billboard hits specifically at number one.
As I usually do when discussing hip-hop, I wanted to check in on who I was talking to in order to fully understand his taste in music. Instead I ran up on this tweet that he retweeted from comedian Katt Williams, “RT @KattWillliams: Niggas will spend $200 on shoes but got no car. . Guess them feet gotta be comfy while you walkin.” Hahaha soo true.” And this is when I finally have to admit that it’s not just that I’m irritated by people dismissing one’s success. My bigger issue is non-black people downplaying the success of someone because they’re not hot in their communities.
The latter person was my final straw because this was someone who clearly felt he was so “in” that he could continuously get away with insulting black people comfortably and publicly, racial slurs and all. I don’t care how much you listen or don’t listen to another African-American artist. You have a right to not like their music. But when it comes to relevancy and rating talent, it would serve you better by acting like you’re in a library: Be quiet.
Why shouldn’t non-black people tell black people about relevancy?
I am fully aware that hip-hop has brought about a diverse group of fans, regardless of the Golden Age mainly focused on artists who were largely African-American. Hispanics were also a sizable part of hip-hop’s early demographics, especially when it came to three of the other four elements of hip-hop. But it’s not just about who was involved in the early stages of hip-hop, R&B or other forms of entertainment.
The more significant problem is that Mainstream America is so far behind on what black folks are listening to and are fans of in the first place. By the time these people hit Mainstream America, black people collectively have a blank stare on their faces that express, “You’re late. We been on.”
Miley Cyrus “inventing twerking” like 2 Live Crew wasn’t giving us these same dance tutorials in the ’90s: You’re late. We been on.
Big butts being embraced in music and culture: You’re late. We been on (and before Jennifer Lopez).
Plus-sized models being attractive: You’re late. We been on (before Ashley Graham, who knows it).
Tiffany Haddish being funny enough to star in a comedy: You’re late. We been on.
Quiet as it’s kept, we even liked Robin Thicke (the “newer” version of Jon B.) a decade before Mainstream America started blasting “Blurred Lines.” (Marvin Gaye’s estate let us know how they felt about that song, but the timeline still stands.)
Reverting back to comedy — although I still say people are sleeping on Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina Hall, the latter of which held her own with Kevin Hart in the remake of “About Last Night”— Haddish was a close third of my unsolicited tweets and suggestions for SNL long before “Girl’s Trip” released. She seemed like the obvious answer (to me anyway) when, in 2013, Kenan Thompson protested wearing another dress instead of SNL hiring black women for the show. (“Girl’s Trip” didn’t come out until four years later.) Now that “Girl’s Trip” released, I cringe when I hear non-black people talk about this “new” comedian or “new” actor — as though Haddish’s performance in “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and Arsenio Hall inviting her on his show was a figment of our imagination.
I can go down a laundry list of African-American actors, singers, models, comedians, writers (almost got expelled from college over this one) and even business professionals who should be getting their shine. And the list continues.
Entertainment is subjective, and I often shy away from debates about whose top five is best. Pick who you want. Like who you want. But black people have had to jump through hoops in every single industry you can imagine to be able to make it into their respective success circles. So dismissing their talents, pitting them against one another and regarding them as insignificant will never fly with me. Your opinion, for me, is far less relevant than ours — because we keep seeing the potential in each other long before Mainstream America does.
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