Sunday, October 22, 2006

Real Shit?

VIDEO: "On Some Real Shit" Daz feat. Rick Ross

The most vital strand of hip-hop ideology is founded in the need to express unity and uniqueness in the same breath. While on one hand the corners that held revolutionary rappers, break-dancers and graffiti artists where reacting against the prevailing racially and socially discriminative society, they where also bringing together the neighborhood; the “block.” There was an urge to not only separate from and defeat the oppressive powers, but to also keep families and culture alive. In today’s hip-hop scene there is less of a distinct fight against the inequities of society (though that’s not to say they’ve disappeared), instead what remains is the obsession with differentiating one’s “hood” in hopes of elevating one’s own unique talent. What may be lost in the shuffle though, is the urge to unify.

The idea of “hood pride” can be extrapolated to represent entire sections of America, and artists intentionally ascribe to different styles and movements in order to explain where they are from. The video for “On Some Real Shit“ is like many modern hip-hop videos in that it is attempting to define a particular locality through types of music and types of images.

Former Deathrow MC Daz arrives in Miami, greeted by the newest “king of Miami” Rick Ross, by saying “it’s just like California.” Presumably the rest of the video is an attempt to repute that claim by showing the unique quality of Rick Ross’ Miami. Everything from the purple cars decorated with vibrant designs (a continuation of graffiti art) to the particular locales at which these rappers party is meant to define Miami as different, and perhaps more fun than wherever you come from.

And yet while this aspect of the video captures some of the cultural importance of hip-hop, in that it gives voice to disenfranchised groups from places all over the country, it also falls prey to an all too common practice. Miami is defined not only by its car designs, tropical destinations and blue skies – but its particular “types” of women as well. And perhaps the idea of beauty centering on locality is an automatic function of comparative discussion on the topic (probably not), but it definitely doesn’t need to be as objectifying as it is here.

The word “objectification” is thrown out a lot in relation to hip-hop videos, so much so that in many circles it may have lost its value as valid criticism. Regardless, it’s clear that it isn’t taken very seriously. The problem here is not just that the image of scantily clad women dancing about and succumbing to “powerful” rich men reinforces stereotypes and standards of sexual relations that have plagued society for centuries, but more importantly it’s the fact that these women are blatantly associated with objects. They dance in front and around those very cars that define Miami, they are of certain ethnic descent – meant to depict the variety of women in the area and they are dressed in colors meant to further that differentiation. But its that image of girls and cars that stinks the most, as the woman in front of the black car is dressed in all black and the one in front of the purple car is dressed more colorfully; these women are literally just extensions of the objects themselves.

This is a song about one group of men showing off their individuality and skill to another group of men. Everything from the fresh fun sound of the beat to the riding cinematography of the opening sequence is meant to both recall and then improve upon the traditional coastal rap image, i.e. that of the west coast. The women in the video are just an expansion of this bravado, further "proof" that Miami is better than L.A. It’s not just that they are sexual objects, meant simply to please men, but they are also just plain objects, like a baseball trophy you show to your friends to signify “manhood.”

It’s a significantly dehumanizing concept, and more than the words in the song, the blatant imagery of this video brings this increasingly popular idea to the forefront. It’s neither unique nor unifying. In fact, the individual voice is almost lost amongst the rubble of misogyny in hip-hop – it’s hard to focus on the uniqueness of the music when the imagery is all the same (Lloyd Banks "Hands Up" is another recent example of the same theme). And it’s definitely not unifying when an entire sex is regarded merely as graffiti art on the side of a cool car.

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