New Orleans Rock Camp Plays Host to Cis, Trans* and Gender Non-Conforming Teens While Serving Lessons in Self-Esteem ‹ The Visibility Project

Girls Rock Camp New Orleans (GRCNO) is a volunteer-run summer music camp for ‘individuals who self-identify as female and/or non-binary’ between the ages of 9 to 16. Each member learns to play an instrument, write a song and will star in a live musical performance at the culmination of the camp! This summer, GRCNO will take place at the Wardolf School of New Orleans from June 30 – July 4, with the musical showcase taking place on July 5.

New Orleans Rock Camp Plays Host to Cis, Trans* and Gender Non-Conforming Teens While Serving Lessons in Self-Esteem ‹ The Visibility Project.

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Charlamagne Tha God vs. Kanye West

Charlamagne Tha God had some words to say about Kanye West‘s latest performance on SNL, and the messages that seemed to reverberate throughout West’s new album, Yeezus.

[Charlamagne: Kanye’s A Walking Contradiction Now]

Charlamagne says, “I just think it’s b******t when you get on Saturday Night Live and you have a sign behind you that says ‘Not For Sale’… You can’t denounce corporations when you’re in business with corporations! You’re in business with Nike, and you’re helping them sell sneakers. You’re in business with Def Jam… What exactly isn’t for sale Kanye?”

I normally disregard what Charlamagne has to say about… well, anything, but this is an interesting argument (that I disagree with) because it’s way more complicated than Charlamagne is making it out to be.

Yes, Kanye sells sneakers and records and he’s in the media even more now that he and his girlfriend Kim Kardashian has had a baby girl. But who is to say that Kanye cannot criticize the culture we live in without actively being a part of it? Charlamagne’s argument reminds me of people who are trapped in their circumstance… like people who buy from Walmart, knowing the evils that Walmart perpetuates, but cannot shop at alternative places because of cost, gas, lack of transportation or what have you. The system of capitalism (which I won’t get into right now in detail) is so intricate, that you cannot really partake in something that isn’t at least slightly problematic.

Kanye West

Kanye West

Of course, Kanye could refuse to sell sneakers and not make records and be a starving artist like he originally intended, but let’s be clear here- Kanye West, the brand, and Kanye Omari West, the person, are two completely different things. And the brand, not the person, is what is for sale.

I had the privilege of reading a fantastic article on FlavorWire by Tom Hawking about how Kanye West’s persona can be read as a caricature of what is expected of him as an infamous, rich, Black rapper. I happen to agree with the author: One could easily surmise from listening to Kanye’s lyrics in each of his albums that he has opinions on culture, religion, politics, racism, self-discovery and self-love. Examples include:

“So here go my single, dog, radio needs this / They think they can rap about anything except for Jesus / that means sex, guns, lies, videotapes / but if I rap about God, my record won’t get played, huh?” – Jesus Walks, The College Dropout

“They want her to live, and she’s trying / I’m arguing what kind of doctor can we fly in? / you know the best medicine goes to people that’s paid / if Magic Johnson had a cure for AIDS / and all the broke mother*****s passed away / you’re telling me if my grandma was in the NBA / right now she would be okay?” – Roses, Late Registration

“The system’s broken / the school’s closed, the prison’s open / we ain’t got nothing to lose / mother****** we rollin.” – Power, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A huge flaw in Charlamagne’s thinking is that he doesn’t think Kanye can be critical and yet enjoy materialistic things. Kanye himself says he doesn’t come from the projects, but he didn’t always have money the way he does now. What exactly is the problem with enjoying the money you’ve earned yourself? Or enjoying a career that you’ve worked hard and consistently for, while also criticizing the industry and the things other people will do for said money? How come any musician that raps about women, money, nice cars and materialistic things have “sold out” cannot also rap about politics, racism or self?

Not all rap music is going to be about coming from the projects and selling drugs, just the way not all rap music is not going to be about platinum chains and product endorsements. The problem comes in when you automatically categorize certain topics under “good music” and “bad music.” There is a pretentiousness in “conscious” hip-hop that argues that “gangsta” rap or rapping about partaking in materialism has “killed” hip-hop and every rapper is apparently supposed to be like Common or Talib Kweli. Not every rapper wants to stick to that formula, and people say they’ve “sold out”. People become very invested in person’s character, not realizing that people change and grow. Producer of Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” Kanye West is not the same as “808s and Heartbreak” Kanye West, who is not the same as “Yeezus” Kanye West. Rapping about the same thing all the time would eventually get boring, and I personally would argue one of the best things about Kanye West is his adaptability. Kanye’s albums all sound different, yet you can tell each one is Kanye West. His style and influence is undeniable.

Let me stop while I’m ahead… What are your thoughts on Charlamagne’s comments?

SONG OF THE DAY: Beyoncé – Grown Woman [Audio]

Beyoncé has something to say to the people out there waxing poetic on Black celebrity-hood and respectability politics.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Most of all, I love the small “But of course!” line thrown in there, delivered by a bitchy passive-aggressive white girl. “I’m a grown woman! I can do whatever I want!” Beyonce belts, and in the background, there’s that tiny valley girl voice: “But of course!” That’s gotta be intentional; this song is just as much a response to her (white feminist) critics as “Bow Down” was. What makes it extra delicious is that this is the only spiteful part of the song — “But of course!” — and it’s coming from some weird non-Beyonce character (a single character, with not a single echo, chorus effect, or call and response acknowledging her). Beyonce made the hater a part of her song. This is a trophy song, a song to celebrate her and all her achievements, and it’s topped with the head of her enemy.

Gowns pretty much summarizes how I feel in this quote above about the song. Read the lyrics here.

Claudeen Benoit!

Claudeen Benoit - Headshot

Claudeen Benoit

When I was in the fifth grade, this new girl came into my homeroom class. I remember looking at her and thinking, “this is the most amazing girl I have ever laid my eyes on.” She had star quality, I could recognize this at ten years old. She had big, bright eyes and smooth mocha skin, and a gorgeous smile. At some point that first day, I had volunteered to help clean out her desk for her- I don’t remember why, but I am assuming that she had the desk of someone else who had moved away and there was a hot mess in there.

I am not the best at cleaning, but I was focused for this girl. I cleaned that desk like nobody’s business. I bet if my mother were there to see it she would yell at me for not keeping my own personal spaces this neat. And when I finished, I left a note for her inside the desk asking if we could be friends. I remember when she opened it and saw the note, she laughed and said yes, and we smiled at each other.

Thirteen years later, this girl lives in New York City and I haven’t seen her in a while. Shame on me, we live so close to each other! But she’s quite busy herself, being an actress, singer, dancer, songwriter… just all around artist. Check the credentials. I’m still just as much in awe of her as I was when I first met her as a geeky bookworm with too much hair.

Her latest jam is ‘Retrograde (Remix)*,’ a Afro-futuristic song by James Blake featuring Benoit’s spoken word between syrup-sweet lyrics like, ‘We’re alone now / Can I be the girl you love?’ You can listen to it here:

Ms. Benoit has a show tonight at S.O.B’s at 8 pm. Sadly, I have a prior engagement and I cannot make it. But I figured I would share the info with all of you, because I am POSITIVE that the show will be simply fabulous. Go. Seriously, this is a freebie.

R.A.W.: Real Art Works

R.A.W.: Real Art Works
May 8 | 7:30pm | SOBs
Ari Lennox, Khari Mateen, Justina Soto, & Claudeen Benoit

I know you’ll see the futuristic diva she is in her songs and videos, but I hope you’ll also see the dazzling child I saw so many years ago.

[For reference, this is the original song by James Blake, from his album Overgrown.]*

SONG OF THE DAY: Janelle Monáe – Q.U.E.E.N. feat. Erykah Badu [Official Video]

[CLICK HERE TO READ THE LYRICS TO THE SONG]

Open Season on Mrs. Carter

ImageIs anyone else really sick of people ragging on Beyonce, or is it just me?

I’m not saying you have to like her music, or like her as a person, but let’s take a look at her accomplishments:

There’s plenty more where that came from, but even if there wasn’t I would say that Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter is a very accomplished, multi-talented, influential and admirable person.

This is one of the reasons why I get particularly annoyed when I happen to come across things like this letter that Rakhi Kumar has written to Michelle Obama about Beyonce not being a good role model for her daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama.

Rakhi Kumar’s complaint starts with her objection to one of Beyonce’s outfits at the Mrs. Carter World Tour, which apparently consists of a sheer bodysuit with the nipples showing. Because I haven’t been to the show, and because there are people commenting saying that her nipples were not showing, I won’t comment on that. But I will say that it’s a bit ironic that Kumar was so bothered by the costume and the ‘misogynistic implications’ that it represented, because the fact that Beyonce’s performance was belittled to what she was wearing can be read as misogynistic as well.

Also, a sidenote: Why do people have such a problem with nipples? Last time I checked, all humans, regardless of gender, had nipples? What about them makes them overtly sexual? They are used FOR FEEDING CHILDREN. As soon as nipples are revealed, they are instantly assumed to be there for a man’s gratification, and if they are revealed for breastfeeding, it’s ‘indecent’. Feeding infants naturally is indecent now?

But I digress. My point is, automatically rendering any woman’s body parts overtly sexual… sexualizes women. And apparently, women aren’t supposed to be sexy in order to be good role models. Or at least that is the case according to Rakhi Kumar.

At one point in the letter, Kumar says:

Beyonce, performing in sheer body suits, nipples displayed, mouth open, high heels and sheer tights, shaking her butt on stage, can no longer be held by world leaders as an icon of female success.

Because for as long as she is, we are feeding a demonic myth that women must make themselves sexually available to enjoy ultimate success.

This is a debate that comes up a lot in discussions about rape culture. There is an idea that women who wear revealing clothing are ‘asking to be raped’ or ‘asking for sex.’ Because apparently women don’t dress for themselves- they dress to attract or repulse men. So by wearing clothing that is revealing, Beyonce is making herself ‘sexually available.’ I wish it was obvious to people why that is an extremely flawed philosophy, but apparently not. So just to make it clear: women are people. People should have the right to wear what they want and not be judged for it. As far as I’m concerned, a woman should be able to walk down the street naked and not have someone touch her without her permission. If a man can walk down the street shirtless and we can just assume he’s hot, and a woman can’t because that’s indecent exposure and she’s inviting rape, that says more about our assumptions and who we are than it does about the man and woman in question.

Kumar also says later on in the letter:

And it’s time that young girls were sent a different message. A more refined, intelligent message. A message that engaged them at the level of their intellect and potential because implicit in our message to them should be the acknowledgement that they are naturally brilliant and that we believe that they are capable of everything -without ever having to undress to achieve their success.

I’m sorry, since when is someone’s intellect based on their appearance? Because Beyonce isn’t wearing enough clothing for your standards, she isn’t smart or strong or capable? Beyonce won every single award she has because you could see her nipples through her bodysuit?

Kumar even points out that Beyonce is the one who chooses to do it! You don’t have to agree with Beyonce’s choice, you don’t have to like it. But to tell the First Lady of the United States that she is not choosing the right role models for her children because you don’t like Beyonce’s clothing is absurd. The fact that Kumar refuses to acknowledge Beyonce’s talent as an artist and musician because of a sheer bodysuit is playing right into the idea that a woman can be defined by what she wears. And the fact that Kumar feels the need to criticize an aspect of Michelle Obama’s child-rearing reminds me of Jaclyn Friedman’s piece last year on GOOD, telling Beyonce and Jay-Z how to raise Blue Ivy Carter.

In a broader scope, I tend to feel icky when people feel the need to tell influential, successful Black people how to raise their children. I also don’t like the idea of Beyonce being judged by her outfits, because I feel like Black women are simultaneously oversexualized and desexualized, and that there is another anti-Black political message in judging what Black women wear and what effect that has on their body and their sexuality. But that’s another post for another day.

I conclude this by saying: Leave Beyonce alone! Let her live her life and celebrate her accomplishments the way she wants to, please stop overcriticizing every little thing she does. No one is a perfect human being- that includes celebrities, and that includes her. Before Kumar judges someone else for not being a good role model, she should make sure she is one too- and so far, I’m not feeling the messages she has for young women.