2018 BET Awards - Show 2018 BET Awards - Show
Getty Images

'Queen' And The Hypocrisy Of Nicki Minaj's Feminism

Through projecting and proclaiming her spot in the rap game while tearing others down, Nicki Minaj’s 'Queen' rollout and aftermath have been anything but royal.

Through projecting and proclaiming her spot in the rap game while tearing others down, Nicki Minaj’s 'Queen' rollout and aftermath have been anything but royal.

 

Webster’s Dictionary defines feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights based on the notion that both women and men can be equal in all aspects. A woman, man or whatever gender a person identifies with—who believes they are a feminist—not only fights for the political, social and economic equality of the sexes, but also does not discriminate, pass judgment on or belittle others—especially other women.

There’s comical irony in the fact that Nicki Minaj’s fourth studio album, Queen, appears to be rooted in the grounds of empowerment, despite the New York-bred rapper and her band of followers the Barbz throwing their fair share of ninja stars towards young women who dare critique her. Additionally and unsurprisingly, Minaj sends shots at her female rap contemporaries in an effort to secure her status on wax.

On the Swae Lee-accompanied “Chun Swae,” Nicki revealed that the album was called Queen not to uplift others, but to uplift herself, as she’s the self-proclaimed queen of the game. “You're in the middle of Queen right now, thinking ‘I see why she called this sh*t Queen, This b**ch is really the f**king Queen,’” she maniacally cackles.

While the latter declaration is probably true to her and her fans, it’s not surprising in the slightest that her album features numerous attempts to reclaim her title by berating other “b**ches,” “c***s” and “h**s” in the rap and hip-hop realm. Despite the high point of having a Foxy Brown feature on “Coco Chanel,” there are multiple songs and lyrics perceived as digs at fellow femcees like “LLC” and “Hard White” (plus, Foxy is likely the only female rapper Nicki hasn’t ever had a problem with).

More recently than ever, Minaj’s insecurities with herself and other women seem to be oozing out, likely due to the extreme onslaught of attention-grabbing female rappers emerging in conversations. Her public display of what she believes “Queendom” is seems to be compromised whenever these insecurities come into play.

Not only has she shown time and time again that she’s not above tearing women down when critiqued or questioned, she also encourages others to do the same. “Queen Radio”-Beats1-celebrity-empowerment-powwow-and-female-musical-guests be damned. This album could have stuck better had she attempted to uplift other women in some way instead of projecting and proclaiming the same “I’m the best” notion she always projects and proclaims as a means of validation.

"Every two years I get told about some new female rapper,” she told TIDAL’s Elliott Wilson during a recent CRWN interview. “To me, it's silly to compare me to women because there's no woman that can put up the stats that I've generated."

In May of this year, Minaj detailed on Twitter that the inspiration for her album was Princess Diana, whom she said she admires. “Queen THE ALBUM ~ It’s the strength that causes the confusion and fear,” she wrote of Diana, who in her lifetime displayed grace and courage in the eyes of adversity while helping many others. However, Nicki’s brash behavior on social media shows that feminism is the last thing on her mind.

We were forewarned by her Minajesty's rap world nemesis Remy Ma about her behavior. During a visit to The Wendy Williams Show last year, she explained that the musician was doing “behind-the-scenes” shady dealings to keep Remy out of the public eye shortly after the Bronx rapper dropped her scathing Nicki-pointed diss track “shETHER."

“When you’re trying to stop my bag, when you’re trying to stop me from taking care of my children, then I have a problem with that,” Remy revealed. Musicians such as Azealia Banks, Miley Cyrus, Lil Kim and more have also voiced their disdain with the femcee in the past.

“[Nicki] did what she did, and until she’s ready— hopefully God puts it on her mind to do the right thing, ’cause she knows what she did,” the Queen Bee said of Nicki in a recent interview with LA’s Real 92.3. "Once that happens, hopefully everybody would stop asking me [about her].”

As it’s been documented all-too-well in the news, culture writer Wanna Thompson tweeted a constructive critique regarding the desire for more mature music from Minaj back in June. Later on, Thompson notified the Twittersphere that she was sent a vicious DM from the rapper, and received a barrage of threats from her band of loyal followers.

“Eat a d**k you hatin’ a** h**,” wrote the “Barbie Tingz” musician in the DM, before listing songs in her catalogue with more adult vibes. “...Just say you jealous. I’m rich, famous, intelligent, pretty and go! But wait, leave my balls. Tired of you sucking on them,” she continued. The standom’s threats were reportedly so bad that Thompson was forced to put her Twitter profile on private.

Sure, the age-old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies to anyone who makes comments about someone else behind the shield of a computer screen. However, for someone as successful as Nicki Minaj is, what good comes from being immediately defensive once any sort of critique comes into play?

Among the Minaj-written clapbacks found under photos on her Instagram towards women who dare to make negative comments about her? “Must suck to be so jealous, miserable, insecure and ugly;” “you too pressed, too mad, too ugly & forehead too big;” and “you look like a raccoon with a receding hairline.”

The feminism she wants to portray seemingly becomes a facade when she resorts to childishly belittling other women based on their appearance and success as means to validate her fame, fortune and talents. A true feminist wouldn’t turn feminism on and off like a lightswitch when it fits a narrative.

Nicki’s issues with being critiqued don’t just come into play when other women criticize her. In a recent interview with Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex, Nicki stated that whenever she’s criticized for her work, she immediately jumps on defense, regardless of who is the critic.

"I'm never mad when people give me constructive criticism..I accept things like that," she told the host. "I have an issue when the criticism seems like it's personal or from a bad place, and since I know so many things that are going on behind the scenes that other people don't know. I know there's a lot of people getting paid to voice those opinions." Earlier this year, she also told fans in a now-deleted tweet to “Go beat dat ni**a like he stole smthn” in reference to a young man named Jerome Trammel who called her lyrics “hypocritical.”

Minaj resorting to being childish and cruel towards others when critiqued makes her seem incredibly phony, especially when she tries to promote empowerment from time to time. Because of her insecurities, she tears others down in order to build herself up, something that’s been occurring for quite some time, but has taken a head during the Queen era. Critiques and competition come with the territory of being in the industry you chose.

Earlier this year, Minaj announced a joint tour with Future to support the Queen album. It was later revealed that controversial Brooklyn musician Tekashi 6ix9ine would be joining the NickiHndrxx Tour as an opening act for select dates. Wouldn’t you think that if there’s an album coming out called Queen, that the musician attached to said album would want to bring another femcee on board, and not a young man convicted of and potentially awaiting sentencing for using an underage girl in a sexual performance?

“You can say whatever you wanna say about [Tekashi], I saw something in him that made me really like him,” she told Rob Markman in a Genius talk during the wee hours of Aug. 16. “I’m paying it forward...he’s not perfect, he’s not...the most lyrical person, but there’s stuff that’s dope about him.”

Despite his "talents and personality," this is a slap in the face.

It’s a slap in the face to female rappers like Maliibu Miitch, Asian Doll and Kash Doll, budding superstars who likely would have jumped at the chance to go on tour with a musician who has applauded each of them in the past.

It’s also a slap in the face towards her female fans as a whole. Tekashi is a pretty popular act (so I’ve heard), and by bringing him along, it proves that Nicki is more invested in money and publicity than she is about protecting young women, given his conviction of using a minor in a sex act. Granted, she’s had other women open up for her on tour in the past, such as Dej Loaf and Tinashe, but if she were to leave a seat at the table open for a female artist to join her on the road, this fall’s NickiHendrxx surely would have been the best opportunity.

While she hasn’t been the poster child for feminism, Minaj has had a few moments in the past where she’s made attempts to uplift other women. During her sit-down interview with Zane Lowe of Beats 1 at the top of this year, she praised the work of Azealia Banks and Cardi B. Then, of course, 2014 gave us her body-positivity anthem, "Anaconda."

“I wanted to say, ‘Hey ladies, you’re beautiful,’” Minaj told ABC News of her high-charting hit and its underlying meaning of body positivity amongst the voluptuous women of the world. “Hopefully, this changes things and maybe it won’t change things, but I love it.” Lastly, in 2015, Nicki spoke out against the media when she believed she was shut out of the MTV VMA category for “Video Of The Year” because of her undeniable thiccness.

“If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year,” she tweeted. Given her platform, it’s fine for Nicki to be empowering through body positivity and to speak out about issues that black women in particular face in many industries. However, it’s not okay to pick and choose what type of feminist to be when it’s convenient, and it’s especially not okay to tear down someone less successful (or someone you don’t know) whenever you feel threatened.

Being as transcendent and important an artist as she is, Nicki Minaj should be above the petty social media nonsense by this point in her career. However, no superstar, regardless of the success they’ve accumulated, should be above uplifting and supporting women to be their very best. There’s far more to feminism than empowering others to embrace their sexuality, and if she’s going to base an entire album on the power of “queendom,” she ought to practice what she preaches.

READ MORE: Is Nicki Minaj Being Held To A Different Standard Of Artistic Growth?

From the Web

More on Vibe

Burna Boy poses for a portrait during the BET Awards 2019 at Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

The Crossover: How Burna Boy’s Grammy Nod Proves The Power of Consistency

The moment I knew Burna Boy had that star factor was the moment I heard a track that wasn’t even his. It was, rather, his featured vocals on DJ Spinall’s first, March 2014 single “Gba Gbe E.” Produced by Spellz, the afrofusion artist rides the wave of the uptempo, high energy instrumental, where he gifts our ears with a praise song bigging up veteran Nigerian reggae (galala) artist, Daddy Showkey. The tone and texture in his voice are distinct while he delivers his lyrics effortlessly. I would soon realize that the African Giant is serious about his craft.

Five years later, Burna Boy, born Damini Ogulu, released his fourth studio album and landed his first Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album last week. For those who’ve been following the 28-year-old’s career from its inception, this nod comes as no surprise. If anything, it’s about time.

A native of Port Harcourt, Nigeria and the grandson of Benson Idonije—Fela Kuti’s former manager—it seems that legacy and connection points to Burna’s destiny of being a rockstar for the people. He’s steadfast in paying homage to the afrobeat legend seamlessly throughout his repertoire, even pre-African Giant.

He first made a statement with his debut studio album, L.I.F.E (Leaving an Impact for Eternity), which dropped in 2013 and peaked at No.7 on Billboard‘s Reggae Albums chart. That LP holds his hits “Like to Party,” “Tonight,” and “Yawa Dey.” His 2015 sophomore album, On A Spaceship, introduced us to “Soke,” a reflective, critical track on the current state of Nigeria that ironically was (and still is) in heavy rotation at African parties. He also took this project as an opportunity to address the controversies that surrounded him and the “bad boy” image critics claimed he emanated. Burna’s 2016 EP Redemption took it a step further, giving us another poignant, introspective single with “Pree Me.” Then the shift happened in his favor.

Outside, Burna Boy’s third studio album, which also peaked on the same reggae chart at No. 3 in 2018, was his afrofusion manifesto. It was his mined diamond that showed us his range. Tapping the likes of Lily Allen, J Hus and Mabel as features, sampling Fabolous and Tamia’s “So Into You” in “Giddem,” as well as giving us a replacement Nigerian national anthem with “Ye,” Burna Boy exists on a genre-less plane. Intentionally pulling from a plethora of sounds on the album including afrobeat, pop, R&B, dancehall, grime—he had something for everyone in this project and it oozed with replay value. His most recent project African Giant was, in short, a mic drop and an extension of his brand's global takeover; it solidified what would be his crossover moment.

Over the past decade, African pop acts from across the continent, and Nigeria especially, have been working above and beyond to widen their reach, step on the world’s stage and aspire for mainstream nods like a Grammy nomination. Attaining and reaching towards those goals involves the inevitable crossover. Although Burna Boy has said he’s continuing to be himself, to be an ambassador of Africa and not concern himself with the typical workings of a crossover, it’s clear that this Grammy nod is a result of a successful one.

Let’s take a closer look at the three factors of Burna Boy’s success and what rising African pop acts can learn from his journey to-date.

Branding

It pays for an artist to act on being their own brand and use moments of visibility to their advantage. Being meticulous with the details is key. For example, in celebration of selling out the O2 Brixton Academy in London, Burna Boy held a pop-up event and sold limited-edition boxes of Space Puffs cereal and more custom merch the day before the show in October 2018. Just that week, he was Spotify’s Afro Hub Takeover Artist and was also named Youtube’s Artist on the Rise. The lucky ones who were able to snag an item from that pop-up have something tangible that memorializes these markers of the come-up in Burna’s career.

Burna Boy also made his way through the festival circuit in full-force this year, starting with Coachella. There was quite a bit of buzz around the announcement at the top of this year, where he felt a way that he was billed in small font on the line-up. “Coachella I really appreciate you. But I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill,” he said in a deleted Instagram Story. “I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please.” Music editors and tastemakers soon received a revised Coachella poster signed by Burna Boy, with just himself, in large and small fonts, as the billed artist. This was yet another clever way to maximize a moment to the artist’s advantage that would otherwise put a dent in their reputation.

Burna then dropped six singles accompanied by stunning music videos, half of which were helmed by director to watch Meji Alabi, leading up to the release of his fourth studio album, African Giant, this past July. If this project did two things, it first silenced the naysayers. Second, it showed he’s at the level where the respect he expects from mainstream players in the industry—and the bravado that comes with it—is warranted. The receipts are all there just in the music alone.

Collaboration

In and around his latest body of work, Burna Boy has always been intentional about who he collaborates with. It’s a reflection of the diverse music genres he consumes as well as an indicator of range—including working with Fall Out Boy, L.A.-based electronic duo DJDS on their joint EP Steel & Copper, Future, YG, Jorja Smith and more.

He’s also the epitome of one who respects the greats who came before him. This can be seen with his eventual collaboration with Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo. Even before sampling her in “Anybody” (word to Sample Chief), Burna tapped Kidjo’s “Wombo Lombo” in a track with the same name in 2013. Joining Burna alongside Damian Marley on “Different,” the track closes with Kidjo—giving her the breathing room to envelop our ears with her piercing vocals that becomes a transitional interlude to “Gbona.” With African Giant, he shows us these greats also approve of his artistry, which is frankly the one co-sign that an artist vies for, as it reassures them that they’re doing it right.

Authenticity

Burna Boy is fully aware of who he is and his purpose as an artist. We’ve yet to see him step outside of himself, especially through his music. What’s great about Outside and African Giant is that both projects are the ideal entry points for new fans who aren’t familiar with his take on afrobeats. However, Burna has kept that same versatile energy from the beginning. He also has maintained Fela’s message and music as his throughline, delivering similar sentiments to a whole new generation. Burna’s also about his business. Reflecting on the moments I’ve shared the same space as him, where he was being taped performing his singles from African Giant for different media platforms, he enters, politely greets everyone, does his brief set in one take and leaves to his next engagement. He truly comes alive when he’s on stage engaging with his fans—you can tell it’s his true happy place and his delivery show after show.

His fervent authenticity has led him to more opportunities for him to shine, from him being the only guest artist with their own track on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift, to landing an original on the soundtrack for Queen & Slim an impending blockbuster on black love.

--

The undeniable thread that ties these three factors together is consistency. Artists who give the people excellence—with a consistent message on every track, in every music video, and at every live show—will reap the fruits of a successful crossover. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the foundation an artist needs to execute such: a solid team who gets the vision and has the best interest of the artist in mind—a team that can convince and show their artist that following the formula will be worthwhile. From his manager mother (who’s also a living icon) Bose Ogulu, to his sister and stylist Ronami Ogulu, to his core collaborators at Atlantic Records, Burna’s team is rock solid. The rollouts for his projects released over the past three years have been deliberate and executed so well that pop artists from the continent have already taken notes and applied what has worked to their strategy.

Burna Boy has achieved much leading up to this Grammy nod from the Recording Academy. Whether he takes home a gold gramophone or not in 2020, he’ll walk away a winner all the same.

-

Antoinette Isama is a dynamic writer, editor and media multihyphenate with expertise in the intersection of African youth culture, arts, and the diaspora.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Tyler Perry, Popeye’s Chicken, And Who We Call ‘Coon’

Black shame has been something of an online talking point in recent weeks. From a chicken sandwich’s bemusing popularity to a movie mogul opening a major studio on the back of a controversial cinematic legacy, big headlines have led to heated conversations about who or what embarrasses us as Black folks. This is an ongoing discussion – about “coonery” and how it affects Black America and Black Americans’ perception of themselves. Filmmaker Tyler Perry’s successes, a stabbing at a Popeye’s chicken, and the resurrection of a blaxploitation cult classic have all offered interesting peeks into how we see the more polarizing aspects of Black popular culture.

But there’s still no clear answer to the question: who, or what, exactly, is a “coon?”

The opening of Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta has been hailed as a major event for Black Hollywood; a moment where Black ambition and individuality broke new ground for Black storytelling and ownership of that storytelling. But no Tyler Perry success is an easy thumbs-up; from the moment the writer/director/actor broke through with Diary Of A Mad Black Woman back in 2005, Perry has been a polarizing figure for Black critics and audiences. While beloved by his fanbase, Perry, with his broad folksy comedy characters and church fan messaging, has been blasted as a purveyor of “coonery” for years. Notables like Oprah Winfrey have remained staunchly pro-Perry, while fellow filmmaker Spike Lee was once one of his harshest detractors.

"Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors,” Lee said in an interview with Black Enterprise in 2009. “But I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is 'coonery buffoonery'."

Perry responded to Lee in a 2009 60 Minutes interview. "I would love to read that [criticism] to my fanbase. ... That pisses me off. It is so insulting. It's attitudes like that that make Hollywood think that these people do not exist, and that is why there is no material speaking to them, speaking to us."

The idea that what Perry does is “coonery” is complicated and has always raised questions. Perry’s brand of screwball humor (particular in his Madea films and former sitcoms) isn’t all that different from slapstick and over-the-top characters that we’ve seen from the likes of Martin Lawrence and Marlon Wayans. Lawrence’s beloved 90s sitcom Martin had its detractors during its heyday (and now), but there doesn’t appear to be the same level of contempt as compared to Perry; judging from how popular his old show has remained, its fair to suggest that Lawrence is beloved by many of the same people who have seen Perry’s Madea movies as embarrassing. As Perry himself mentioned in his rebuttal to Spike Lee, he speaks to his fanbase—a base that largely goes ignored by many of the more critically-acclaimed Black storytellers in cinema. While auteurs like Lee or Barry Jenkins may speak to a specific type of urban experience, Perry has always been most connected to a sensibility that’s more southern, rural and Black Christian-leaning. The fact that his brand of more countrified broad humor is so unsettling for some Black folks indicates an ever-present sense of shame for country Black-isms--particularly when they’re presented in slapstick comedy. Perry has built his empire on Black audiences, yet certain Black critics have always acted as though that audience doesn’t matter. Who gets the final say on Blackness in entertainment?

There are other reasons people criticize Tyler Perry: a penchant for heavy-handed moralizing in his movies, a tendency towards colorism, questionable labor policies – that’s all valid. It’s just as valid as calling out Spike for the choices he’s made regarding female characters in his films or addressing the colorism of Martin’s Pam jokes. But those specific criticisms aren’t inherently connected to “coonery” and what that uniquely damning insult signifies.

Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite Is My Name premiered on Netflix in October to widespread acclaim, with the Rudy Ray Moore biopic earning Murphy his best reviews in a decade. The film focuses on Moore’s determination to make his Dolemite comedy character a movie star, independently using family, friends, and associates to get his movie off the ground. Hustling his way up from standup through hit comedy records to actually seeing his movie on the big screen, Moore is portrayed as a symbol of Black individuality and self-actualization. As I was watching his story unfold, I was reminded of the parallels to Perry. Like Perry, Moore and his team wouldn’t really be considered great filmmakers, but also like Perry, Dolemite’s appeal doesn’t really lie in craft or execution—Moore simply told stories that resonated with his particular audience. In one scene in ...My Name, when Moore watches an Indianapolis crowd guffawing at his low-budget blaxploitation spectacle, the sense of pride he feels isn’t just in what he’s accomplished, it's in who he’s doing it for: an audience that wanted Dolemite humor and camp—an audience that existed even within the broader blaxploitation fanbase.

With so many raving about Dolemite Is My Name and Murphy, there’s a question of hindsight being 20/20 and how Black art is often policed through a sense of shame. How many of those applauding this 2019 biopic would have cringed seeing Dolemite in 1975, a jive-talking, pudgy quasi-pimp at the center of a shoddily made flick? Now, that story is being told with reverence and heart, and it speaks to how, once you can put some distance between time and place, it’s easy to see a bigger picture and celebrate the spirit—even when the end result may not be to your taste.

When Popeye’s now-mythic Spicy Chicken Sandwich made its return last week, the online jokes and customer enthusiasm was met with criticism and handwringing from those who obviously felt Black folks were falling into a stereotype over fried chicken. When a news report revealed that someone had died violently at a Popeye’s over an argument while in line, many bemoaned how embarrassing Black folks had supposedly gotten over this sandwich. Of course, there wasn’t a widespread epidemic of chicken sandwich-related violence, it was just an incident that happened at a restaurant. But because the shame was already boiling over in some Black folks, this became a chance to finger-wag the culture for everything from poor eating habits to not supporting Black business to voter apathy. In a society that teaches us racism from the moment we are aware of race, it’s imperative that Black folks un-learn Black shame. And it’s time to stop running to “coon” any time you believe someone fits a stereotype racism taught you to be embarrassed by.

Black folks could stand to be a lot less embarrassed by Black folks.

Who “fits the stereotype” isn’t really what’s most damaging to Black people in America – it’s the fact that these stereotypes exist in the first place. Tyler Perry’s characters weren’t created by some outsider and foisted upon Black audiences from a place of derision; they’re affectionate parodies of his own family, written by and for someone who knows that churchy, southern voice and isn’t so ashamed by it that they can’t have a little fun with it. In the same spirit that we now applaud figures like Moore and southern rap impresarios like Master P (who built an empire with a No Limit Records label that catered to its audience while often being criticized for mediocrity by rap “purists” of the mid-90s). The shame in Popeye’s popularity, the shame in a Madea character, the shame in so much of what we see in Black people—is only there because racism put it there. Before deciding to speak against a Black creator as a “coon,” shouldn’t we be sure to not marginalize an audience? Black art is still Black art even when it doesn’t necessarily speak to your specific Black experience.

And beyond even art, maybe it’s past time that we just stop being so ashamed of Black people.

“Coon” has merit, no doubt. But when it’s tethered to a sense of embarrassment, it can become a weapon of respectability. Being who you are, telling your story, maintaining your voice—those things shouldn’t make you a “coon.” Even if your voice is loud and country, even if your voice is problematic in certain areas, even if your voice doesn’t match my own—you aren’t a “coon” until you begin shucking and jiving for the status quo; not just because you’re being you, regardless of whether they’re watching or not. That’s an important distinction that often gets lost in the haze of embarrassment. Using descriptors like “country” and “ghetto” as pejoratives is an indication that something taught us that these types of Black folks “make us look bad.” Believing that would mean that we’re buying into the lens of other folks. Do we really think Black experiences, Black voices should be shaped by how racism sees us? Because if so, that’s the real shame. 

--

Todd “Stereo” Williams is a writer/editor/media producer based in New York City. An outspoken veteran entertainment journalist, his work has been featured in The Daily Beast, XXL, Ebony and The Undefeated. He's also an accomplished screenwriter and documentarian who's co-produced films such as Exubia and Beautiful Skin.

Continue Reading
John Witherspoon arrives on the red carpet at the world premiere of Columbia Pictures' "Hancock," June 30, 2008 at Grauman?s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

A Word On John Witherspoon: The Black Voice Of Reason And Unfiltered Comedic Joy

You gotta be a real one to be called “Pops” where I'm from. Anybody with a little snow on the roof and a story to tell can be an “old head” but “Pops” is somebody who you actually want to listen to. With a smile and a wink, Pops will instruct you to heed the angel on your shoulder but leave a little room for what the devil has to say too.

John Witherspoon was was all of those things.

He was “Pops.”

John Witherspoon neé Weatherspoon was born in Detroit, Michigan–the northern soul of Black folks. The comedian, writer, and part-time model exuded Black cool without trying. There’s a select ring of respect for performers who were able to guest star on both TV shows like Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because he could make all of us laugh. In those moments, he managed to inspire many of the comedians shining on the stage and on the screen.

“Everyone young and old had a reason to love John Witherspoon and his self-awareness to remain connected to the community that loved him,” says The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr. "The loyalty to his roots was reflected in his material which remained as relevant now as it was when he started his career.”

Spoon’s work speaks for itself. The man worked as a cast member on The Richard Pryor Show, played the ill-tempered boss in Hollywood Shuffle and guest-starred on Good Times, 227 and Amen (look it up). Basically, if it was Black and funny, you had to have Witherspoon and his specialized brand of comedy come through and make a sitcom writing staff look like geniuses.

His star turns on those legendary shows pale in comparison to what he gave us on June 28, 1992– the day Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang debuted in theaters.

In only 3 minutes and twenty seconds of screentime, he gave us “COOOOOrdinate” “Don’t be p***y whipped, whip dat p***y!” and the phrase that would be his calling card, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” I don’t give a damn how funny, original, or scene-stealing you call yourself, if you claim to have never quoted Willie Jones from Boomerang, I’ll call you a liar.

”John Witherspoon was the guy who felt like family and you could always depend on making you laugh,” says comedian Yamaneika Saunders. "Put it this way, the man stood toe to toe with Eddie in his own damn movie, using only a guest spot. There’s no such thing as small roles. If they give you one line, make it the one line everybody remembers. But Pops tripled up on it."

Legend is a word overused when we talk about our greats who have moved on to that leisure suit in the sky, but Spoon gifted us with over five generations of comedy.

His relevance was staked in his ability to reinvent. Comedian Aminah Imani recently opened for him at the DC Improv, making her dreams a bigger reality. “The one thing that gives me peace of mind is the fact that he was loved and adored by his fans,” she says. “I was introduced to him in Boomerang, I grew up with him on Friday and The Wayans Bros., and I learned about how the world works through Grandpa, Huey, and Riley on The Boondocks."

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Thank you @dcimprov and @johnnywitherspoon for a weekend of sold out shows!!! This was definitely one for the books💎 #standupcomedy #dcimrpov #hosting #standup #live #laugh #love

A post shared by www.AminahImani.com (@aminahimani) on Aug 14, 2019 at 5:11am PDT

When he convinces Ice Cube’s character, Craig in Friday how our generation is so quick to pick up a gun because we're “too scared to take an ass whoopin” ...we felt that. So many Black men in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, and many other cities across the country avoided a fatal outcome because Pops told us to use the only two weapons God gave us. “You win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.” Those thirteen words granted many of us to have another day to fight for.

While “America’s Dad” may have gone on a couple of years ago, Pops was right there all along. Always working.  Always there for us.

I can’t even fully open a new pair of sneakers without crooning “new shoes, neeeew shooo-ooes,” like his Granddad character from The Boondocks. Inside of every Black man exists a mix of a conscious-outthink-your-enemy like Huey and a chest-out-in-ignorance Riley-like character that are dually at odds.

Witherspoon’s Grandad was the voice of reason we'd aspire to mature into. It’s a holy trinity of our daily battle against making the wrong decisions. You win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.

Legacy is not appreciated as much as it should be in Black entertainment. We like to differentiate between generations and downplay anyone not doing as better as yesterday's icons. But John Witherspoon was a direct plug between Pryor and the many young up-and-coming comedians he was gracious enough to let open for him.

Comedian Lil Rel had plans to showcase some of that legacy soon with Witherspoon in mind. “The crazy thing was how I was talking to my publicist last week about creating a real show or special or something that celebrated our Black superstars that don’t necessarily get the Hollywood legend tap until they pass away,” he reflects. “I only thought more about that after watching John Witherspoon on the DL Hughley Show. This dude is a damn legend and we haven’t for honored him for that.”

He wasn’t too cool to do an Instagram video of him cooking with no shirt, while still headlining clubs and colleges all over the country well into his 70s. My condolences pour out to his wife of 31 years Angela, and sons Alexander and John David. We just say thank you for sharing him with us.

They remain the same for any black comedian who has done the following:

Needed a line from a movie to make everyone laugh. Understood the importance of Witherspoon’s business decisions in the world of comedy. Who needed a word from Pops to simply tell us what to do.

Bang, Bang, Bang.

Clark Jones is a comedian who starred in shows like Crashing and Night Train With Wyatt Cenac. He's also the host of the Classic Black Dude podcast. Get a laugh or two in from his socials @theeclarkjones. 

Continue Reading

Top Stories