There’s A Lot Black Men Can Learn From Listening To Black Women Sing About Pain

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In an ideal world, a black woman would be able to eat her vegetables, drink her water, co-wash her hair and mind her business in peace. Unfortunately in the real and often not so ideal world, things aren’t that simple. EVERYBODY plays a role in some way shape or form in blocking Black women from being able to lay in the shade and take pictures with a glass of lemonade. If it’s not white men at work intentionally mispronouncing your name, it’s white women wanting you to bifurcate your blackness and your gender to advance a brand of feminism that leaves you out of the conversation daily. And black men? Hold that thought.

Sometimes it seems as though the only consistent ally black women have are themselves. While black women are on the front lines fighting for the rights and lives of everyone else, often, the personal struggles, plight and pain endured by black women are at the very hands of those she supports and liberates. Yet, that pain goes unnoticed by many and black women have to fight and use creative avenues to release that tension.

Black women have always used art to express themselves, especially music.  Music, created by black women helps the world to understand that they are more than just mothers or “little girls”. Nor are they only on Earth to be footnotes to the main story of the rest of our lives.

Apparently, it has taken some of my brothas a little longer to come to this realization.

Aside from selling essential oils and fake Timberland boots on Harlem’s 125th Street, the walking pack of unchamped wood tip Black and Milds, more commonly known as J. Holiday is best known for his 2007 hit “Bed.”

That was 10 years ago.

However, recently J. Wood Tip emerged from the ashtray of a 1997 Toyota Tercel to give his two puffs that nobody asked him to pass about the current state of black women in R&B music.

“So apparently the Black men are still losing to the women — I get it,” he said in a since deleted video posted to his Instagram. “No disrespect, I was raised by a woman, I have two older sisters, man, I have absolute all respect for Black women. But with that being said, understand this, man: Black men, African-American men, men from the hood, we go through everything to make sure that who we care about are taken care of.”

Holiday Inn then goes on to put the rest of his career to bed by criticizing numerous top Black female artists he believes profits from pain and putting down “the black man.”

“Beyoncé, Cardi B, SZA—all y’all motherf**kers—stop using that f**king pain to make it OK to say some bullsh** on your record, and get nominated for a Grammy for going through some bullsh**. Because so have I as a Black motherf**king man.”

EVERYBODY plays a role in some way shape or form in blocking Black women from being able to lay up in the shade and take pictures with a glass of lemonade.

After sifting through the bluntville wrappers and condescension of this illogical rant, we are able to ascertain a few things.

One, Holiday Heart is obviously still in his feelings about losing to Mary J. Blige, the black woman pain whisperer emeritus at the 2008 Grammy Awards, so there’s that. Two, J. Hyundai is a hypocrite who doesn’t listen to black women when they try to tell us what they are going through. Unfortunately, there are many men who like J. Zzzzz are graduates of the Tyrese Gibson School of Huh? and also ignore the stories of pain black women seek to convey.

Aside from Holiday’s entire career being built upon crafting music about love, heartache and emotions, black men across the spectrum of music have used music to express their feelings about relationship woes, street struggles and pain and have been awarded for it with zero backlash.

In fact, one of 2017’s most critically acclaimed albums was Jay-Z’s 4:44. Garnering eight Grammy nominations, including Album and Song of the year. The album is considered Jay’s most introspective album to date that draws its sole inspiration from issues in his personal life, his marital infidelities, fatherhood and you guessed it…personal pain stemming from a relationship with a black woman.

So why is it that when a black woman uses the art form to express the exact same feelings, instead of being embraced and heard, there’s a campaign to suppress and silence her voice?

Here’s a novel idea: perhaps if we stopped working to silence black women and police their pain and instead listen to the art that is born of that pain, we as black men could learn how to foster better relationships with black women. We also learn to not only empathize with the struggles they go through in their quest for love, but also learn to become accountable for often being the catalyst of their pain.

If it’s not white men at work intentionally mispronouncing your name, it’s white women wanting you to bifurcate your blackness and your gender to advance a brand of feminism that leaves you out of the conversation daily.

Black women will always tell us what’s going on, if we choose to listen. The following are five albums created by black women centering around pain, soul searching and identity that can help black men learn not only how to navigate and understand the emotions of black women, but also better understand ourselves.

1.     My Life- Mary J. Blige

Residing in a confusing place wedged between joy and depression, dwelled the incomparable Mary J. Blige. In 1994, the songstress released, My Life, her sophomore effort, which augmented her in place in the R&B landscape as the Queen of Hip Hop Soul. It’s no secret during the recording of this album, Mary was suffering from the pains of substance abuse, a violently tumultuous relationship and the questioning of her own self-worth. Songs like “You Gotta Believe,” “My Life,” and “Be Happy” find Blige at her most vulnerable. Her lyrics resound as cries for help, while simultaneously acting as pleas with the man in her life to listen to her story, understand her pain, love her and accept her. It is this constant struggle played out track after track that causes this album to resonate with millions of women worldwide and that can help us as black men understand the struggle that many women go through in life navigating the space between happy and the downward spiral. As men, this emotionally raw album should serve as a handbook on how we can help the women we love get to happy instead of aiding in her downfall.

2.     CTRL-SZA

A scattered yet cohesive collection of musings on love, sex and identity created one of the most important album releases of 2017, SZA’s debut, CTRL. Told from the point of view of a 20 something black woman, SZA provides a voice to the young women questioning and experimenting with how to be in control of her body, emotions and heart while addressing the abandonment, heart ache and even pleasure the games of noncommittal men can bring. On tracks like “Broken Clocks”, “Supermodel” and “The Weekend”, we hear a young woman break herself down and build herself back up over and over again, all while questioning her self-worth, understanding the power in her sexuality, overcoming body image issues and arriving to realization that at this stage in her life SHE should be her number one priority. This album gives men a view into how our words and actions can affect a woman’s self-esteem. Further, the album dispels the myth that we as men are at the center of all of women’s actions. Women have full autonomy over their sexual freedoms and identity and as men we have to learn to respect that.

 

However, recently J. Wood Tip emerged from the ashtray of a 1997 Toyota Tercel to give his two puffs that nobody asked him to pass about the current state of black women in R&B music.

 

3.     The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill- Lauryn Hill

Although there had been other female rappers before Lauryn Hill, never had there been an album that resonated with audiences like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Unlike any other artist, male or female, Hill navigated the realms of vocalist and lyricist effortlessly. As a musician, Hill delved deeply into spirituality, public scrutiny, love and self-worth while occupying a space that was distinctly carved out as a safe zone for black women but that also defied the boundaries of gender relatability.  Her voice was urgent and honest and you listened not out of obligation but out of necessity. On “To Zion,” Hill tackles the balancing act between the unwavering love that motherhood brings and the sacrifices she made in the midst of her burgeoning career. While on “Ex-Factor,” Hill dived head first into the duality that is loving yourself enough to know when to let someone you love go. Because of this album, we as men should begin to look at women differently, beyond solely being matriarchal figures, but as full beings who seek and give love and fight for a completely different type of feminism than women of other races. We should gain a greater understanding of the consequences of oppressive patriarchy and why women seek validation from us. It is incumbent upon us to provide a space for black women to express that pain and not internalize it as so many black women are too often forced to do.

4.     Lemonade-Beyoncé

Lemonade is a candid account of one woman’s journey to self-awareness and healing that all women can relate to on some level. What makes Lemonade so unique however is that this journey belongs to one of the most celebrated women of all time, Beyoncé, and the journey was brought on by the infidelity of her husband, Jay-Z. Easily Beyoncé’s most personal release to date, the album takes the listener on a roller coaster ride of relationship resuscitation  a ride that is exacerbated by involving two of the most recognizable people in the world. Tracks like “Hold Up”, “Don’t Play Yourself” and “Pray You Catch Me”, relay the message that no matter who you are, your status in society or how perfect your life looks from the outside looking in, when you walk into your home at night and close the door behind you, we all go through the same things. None of us our impervious to trust issues and infidelity. It is the journey that women go through unfortunately that proves the resiliency of black women…even when they don’t ask to be, and solidifies self-worth and value. As men, this album is important because it forces us to come to terms with the high stakes that infidelity brings. We run the risk of not only publicly embarrassing the women we love, but also losing that woman and even our entire families. The album further drives home that when you lose a woman’s trust, you have to work to gain it back and also give women the space to dictate when, where and how that trust is earned.

5.     A Seat at The Table –Solange Knowles

A Seat at The Table is an audio soul cleanse. It burns like lyrical sage and lathers your spirit like an emotional coconut oil.  Released near the end of the 2016 election cycle that brought out the worst in America, the album’s soothing dulcet sounds served as an ode to black identity, feminism and the importance of self-preservation. On “Don’t Touch My Hair”, Solange declares to the world that Black women have agency over their own bodies. A black woman’s hair is a crown and though the rest of the world may not understand it’s glory, like the black woman, it is not here for you to touch or disrespect at your will.

 

An important message for Black women in a time where blackness and otherness is denigrated on a daily basis.  While on “Cranes in the Sky” Solange informs the listener of all of the methods in which she tried to mask and rid herself of the pain, heart ache and rejection that black women experience to no avail. She tried to smoke it away, drink it away, even sex it away but in the end sometimes those feelings are inescapable and will continuously hang over your head like metal cranes. As black men, this album should help us understand that racism and sexism affect Black women in a manner that is distinctly different from other women. Because of this, the necessity to support black women on their journey of mental health and providing a place for solace and peace to black women is a message that should never not be relevant to black men.

And brothas, you’re welcome.