PA Vol. 25: On Erykah Badu and Empire

NSFW Warning/Disclaimer: 
PA (short for “Profound Assholes”) is a series on where I have a no-punches-pulled conversation with a friend about a hot-button issue (yay cliches!). That friend is usually none other than Drizzle Sez formerly of, who co-created the PA format (go check out his site. It’s still live and still kicks much ass to this day). Today, we discuss Erykah Badu and Empire.

Drizzle: So, you and I just got some new music from JusXJustice. Now, before we get into today’s main topic, this nigga has just elevated himself to SUPER BUMP status. Why? Because he went all nice-guy status with his responses to the review.

Speed: True that. I’m bumping the new tracks he provided. Dopeness. Told us the new album’s supposed to drop in a couple weeks. So, readers, expect a review of that when it drops.

Drizzle: Now, it’s too bad I’m about to say some asshole shit to contradict all that. I’m here to talk about the pros and cons of the real OG, Triple OG Erykah Badu.

Speed: I assume you watched the Soul Train Awards this week?

Drizzle: Just that. Because the Soul Train Awards have a history of being a shitshow–I mean, Biggie got killed after the ’97 joint–

Speed: RIP Big Poppa.

Drizzle: On top of that, there’s no more actual Soul Train. Kids don’t even know what a “Soul Train Line” is anymore. And, of course, RIP Don Cornelius. The way he went out offended me. But dammit, he made dance craze a thing. So, it’s all respect. But back to Erykah–

Speed: Ah hell…

Drizzle: She went straight asshole in dissing Iggy. And, as I said in a tweet, it was as if God sent a sign. But was it a “good” thing?

Speed: Perhaps? Maybe? Eh…I’m not sure–

Drizzle: No. Really consider it.

Speed: Well, it’s kind of not really a good thing. For one, Iggy is kind of already a dead horse at this time in terms of getting verbal asswhuppings from “real hip-hop heads” and whatnot.

Drizzle: Right?

Speed: Additionally, Badu straight-up stereotyped rap and hip-hop in her opening monologue. I mean, if no one else is gonna say it–

Drizzle: We’ll get to that later. First and foremost, the Badu is mad late on the Iggy train. Azealia Banks got her words in. Snoop got his words in. Nicki got her words in. Hell, WE got our words in. And she’s already been dropped by Grand Hustle. Never mind she had a top-grossing, garbage album. What the fuck do you have to do to get dropped by a record label with a top-grossing album?!

Speed: Do we really need to count the ways?

Drizzle: For argument’s sake, yes.

Speed: Fine. This, by the way, is a partial list:

Drizzle: You know it’s a lot for T.I. to stop clocking her paper.
Speed: Considering most of P$C is still getting money from T.I., even though most of ’em haven’t really done much in the way of music since before Lucious Lyon was still DJay? I’d say “yeah…”

Drizzle: Yeah…anyhow, Ms. Badu is late. Mad late. Which, you know, brings to question: how much doe she know about the “biz,” in its contemporary form?

Speed: To begin this, I wanna talk about the stereotypes of the hip-hop community she showcased last night.

Drizzle: Ok. Go on.

Speed: Alright. Now, bear with me. I’m about to go ham sandwich a bit.

Drizzle: Go. On.

Speed: So, in “banning” hip-hop from the Soul Train Awards, Badu, first, brought up the trope that, apparently, her sex makes rappers do crazy shit. Ok, that’s cool. That’s funny. I applauded her and the writers since they poked fun at Badu’s, well, Baduizm. Now, next, after the fun’s over, she prefaces her “ban” with the obligatory “Ok, now I love hip-hop.” That’s the first error. Next, she runs down the list of what won’t be at the Awards this year–pants sagging, gold grills, Young Thuggin’ lyrics, etc.

Now, I took offense to this. Why? Mainly this: in championing so-called “real music,” she used tropes of hip-hop usually reserved for out-of-touch white folks who only know about hip-hop because they get BET Jams in their cable package and they want to seem down with “the blacks” and out-of-touch black folks who think hip-hop is Satan’s music because it uses the word “fuck” liberally. Essentially, it showed Badu’s age, and not in a good way. Now, again, Erykah Badu is a genius. She’s a legend. But, even legends can become out-of-touch. Look at The Temptations’ use of Auto-Tune back in 2010.

On top of this “ban” of hip-hop, the genre still managed to pop up since some of the nominated artists performed hip-hop songs or had hip-hop influences, like Tyrese, Jeremih, and R. Kelly. So, it kind of felt like a giant “fuck you” to the genre that helped create some of the artists they honored last night. And, while I’m still not sold on Silento as an artist, he won an award, too.

Granted, it was for Best Dance Song, and…yeah, nah, “Watch Me Whip” wasn’t the best dance song of the year. It was infectious as hell, but still grating since it was pretty much him shouting out dances for four minutes without any actual lyrics. But, still! He won. And he shouted out the kids who blew him up in a way that reminded me, ever so slightly, of Andre 3000’s “The South’s Got Something To Say” moment.

The audience looked at this 17-year-old kid, gave him the polite claps, but still managed to turn their noses up at him. I mean, I even heard a smattering of groans when he said “shout out to the kids.” Now, is Silento the future of rap music? I’d have to err on the side of “hell, no.” But, the nose-turning and all that wasn’t necessary.

Drizzle: Tell ’em.

Speed: So, switching gears, now. Empire

Drizzle: Didn’t see the fall finale yet. No spoilers.

Speed: I meant the season in general. It’s been pretty polarizing. The fall finale, I’ll tell you this much, will probably add to that polarization.

Drizzle: It’s been pretty legit.

Speed: I’ve enjoyed it. Does it hit the same notes as Season One? Ehh…not exactly. That’s what makes Season Two a legit product and, sometimes, off-the-wall, batshit crazy.

Drizzle: You forget. I watch Game of Thrones. You know, “here’s a new guy. He’s awesome. Whoops. He’s dead?” The show which seems tethered to the philosophy of:

Speed: I watch GoT, too. So, you know, almost nothing phases me in terms of batshit craziness. I think that some of the folks who are disturbed/put off by Empire’s batshit craziness don’t really watch GoT.
Drizzle: They basic. Empire moves like real life. People have convictions, they get derided by bullshit emotions, they try to recoup.
Speed: So, again. Batshit crazy at some points, slow at others, and mentally sound and stable at others still–
Drizzle: That’s called life. And Empire, like Game of Thrones, isn’t out here insulting people’s intelligence.
Speed: Now, you’ll probably have a retort for this later. And, hopefully, you don’t start looking at me all weird and stuff. But, I like to compare Empire at points more to How to Get Away With Murder than Game of Thrones
Why? Well, instead of the “oh, crap. Let’s just kill everyone people love” philosophy GoT seems to utilize to fuck with people’s emotions from time to time, the plot twists in both HTGAWM and Empire are nonsensical in some way, but still deeply rooted in reality. 
So, Anika seemingly turning into crazy stalker chick post-Hakeem release and whatnot? That makes sense. Just like, in Murder, when Wes, in the fall finale, shoots Annalise in the stomach versus the leg after hearing about everything that went down with Rebecca? That makes sense. There was a:
  • Lead-up/build up of tension — Anika thinking that Hakeem was taking her back and Wes seemingly starting to further unravel over Rebecca’s disappearance (not to mention the Hapstall case going left about twenty times). 
  • There was a tipping point — Anika meeting with Rhonda and Rhonda advising her “you need to do whatever you can to get your ‘true love’ back” and whatnot and the Hapstall case unraveling before the Keating Five’s eyes and Annalise losing her mind trying to finagle some sort of last-ditch story together out of Emily Sinclair’s dead body, Asher losing his shit, and staging a botched double-murder. And finally? 
  • There was a resolution that, like in real-life, it raised more questions than answers — Since Anika’s craziness hasn’t fully manifested, I’ll just discuss the Murder resolution. Annalise, after begging the rest of the Keating Five to shoot her in the leg to stage a botched double-murder, turns to Wes, who’s gained the nickname “The Puppy” for several reasons. One of those is that he, like a puppy, defends Annalise. Wes, hesitant as all hell, doesn’t want to kill anyone else (he already murdered Annalise’s husband, Sam, who played a crucial point in Season One, in an effort of self-defense). Annalise hits his trigger–his disappeared girlfriend, Rebecca–by revealing that she’s long dead and that Annalise had something to do with it. He snaps and, instead of shooting her in the leg, takes aim at her abdomen. Before snapping out of his murderous trance, he is ready to take the kill shot–a point-blank range shot to the head.
Or, in another instance, removing the Shondaland connections, Andre finding God makes sense. Sometimes, you need some Jesus–or whoever you may pray to–since humanity and its fallacies can’t explain everything.
Drizzle: Oh, I’m sorry. You’re done? I was busy peeing standing up.
Speed: Ugh. Don’t be like that. Murder is actually a pretty well-written show. It doesn’t have the blunderous “let’s make this 24 in a skirt with an interracial couple, just because it’s provacative and progressive” angle that Scandal has at times–apologies for possible sexism and/or racism, but the Fitz/Olivia romance should’ve died a season or two ago. Nor does it have the “is it dead?” feeling that Grey’s Anatomy has had over the past couple seasons. Is it perfect? No, hells no. But, it’s still well-written.
Drizzle: Ok. So, as a man, the only thing I’m watching on Thursdays is FOOTBALL!

Speed: (slightly exasperated sigh) Fine. I tend to only watch the sportball on Thursdays if I’ve got money on ’em, to be honest. And that’s usually only for Ravens games. Add in the fact that, for me, many of this seasons TNF games have been kind of “meh,” you can see why I’ve been more Team TGIT. Plus, you know, womenfolk. They love them some Olivia Pope. And I love me some womenfolk. 
Anyways…back to Empire. 

Drizzle: Alright.

Speed: Now, I’m about to go full rant mode, so standby. 
This season has fans and critics divided into two camps. One, including people like you and I, see the ridiculousness as a reflection of real human interaction and situations. It’s not perfect or always tied up in a nice little bow for people to scarf down. The second camp has folks saying “oh, this is stupid. Why is anything and everything happening in this show?” 
Now, Season Two of Empire hasn’t been perfect by any means. Pacing issues have been plentiful and some of the dialogue has sounded overly stilted and unrealistic. But, that’s life and this is a FOX show versus something on HBO or Starz. Hokeyness in the script will make it in because of legit constraints–seriously, don’t you think that Lee Daniels and company want Cookie to call someone something other than a “bitch” at times? But, the show still works around the constraints of being a network television show about hip-hop and family and still delivers a pretty compelling, entertaining series.
People, for whatever reason, like to draw comparisons between Empire and Glee
I guess it’s because they’re both FOX-grown musical dramas. But, no. Fuck that. Glee was horrible, story-wise, for most of its run. Yes, you can say Glee “paved the way” for Empire, but that doesn’t automatically absolve Glee for its sins. The writing usually consisted of zinger after zinger and the plot was either loosely or hamfistedly tied together through the musical numbers. Empire, at least, tries to tell a story that isn’t just “oh, hey guys! Sue Sylvester hates the Glee Club because many reasons. Let’s see how she’ll try to fuck up their days this year only to ultimately admit that ‘hey, that band of progressive Glee geeks are alright.'”
Finally, to speak on another “critique,” let’s talk how Jamal is portrayed as a musical wunderkind. 
Uh…why the fuck shouldn’t he/can’t he be? He’s got a story to tell and it’s a story that’s pretty involved. If I was a young, black, LBGT male who: 
  • had a drug-dealing father…
  • had that same drug-dealing father throw out in the trash for trying to figure out who I was…
  • had a mother get locked up for most of my life…
  • had to constantly battle my brothers for my father’s attention, only for him to still just think of me as a “sissy”…
  • had my boyfriend cheat on me…
  • and so on?

You can bet your ass that I’d write my ass off. You can bet the bank that I’d push harder and try to tell my story. I’d try everything to persevere in spite of the bullshit, even if it, at times, simply meant me saying, through music, “hey dad. You fucked up. I’m more than a gay stereotype. I’m a human, goddammit.” 

And, for real? That’s not even his only motivation in the show. That’s probably seventh on the list most episodes. Some people, like in real life, are just musically talented. Some, like Hakeem, produce “Drip Drop” and coast on name recognition.
Now, can the scripted circle jerk over Jamal’s talents be outlandish and over-the-top? Yeah. But, let’s look at some of the most popular artists of the past–and even today! There have been people championing them as the greatest thing since sliced bread off the strength of one song! Now, I love Michael Jackson. But, if I heard the song “Thriller” and only “Thriller,” I wouldn’t think he was a musical genius. I’d think he had some sick dance moves and was capable of making Halloween sound gangsta–and not in the “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me” sort of way, either. But, there are people who championed MJ off of only “Thriller.” So, yeah. That’s realism for that ass. 
In short, I hate to sound like a fanboy of the series. I see its flaws like anyone. However, to just say “oh, this is unrealistic eye candy with a pro-Black agenda” and that’s it? Get all the way the fuck outta here. Hell, I’d love for more shows to be pro-Black in the way that Empire has been. The BLM stuff has been, for the most part, gracefully and well-written into the show; it’s not just there to say “yo viewers. We know Black Lives Matter, so we’re gonna throw a reference to the movement in to show how ‘down with tha brothaz’ we are.”
Speed on the Beat

Whatever you need to know about me, you can find out on Dad of two, cat dad (of two), mental health advocate, Team Support Dope Music in All Its Forms.

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