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1879, you all need to read this (SWIPE)
Posted by Zorasmoon, Sat Apr-24-04 12:43 PM

In protest of the degrading images of black women in the video for Nelly's song "Tip-Drill," the women of Spelman college forced the rapper to cancel his appearance at a bone marrow drive on their campus.

By Mark Anthony Neal

I'll admit that I've only seen the video once, but the few minutes that I saw left an indelible image in my mind that of a young black male, running a credit card through the "crack" of a young black woman's behind as if it were a direct payment of some sort. The image is of course from the music video for Nelly's song "Tip-Drill," already a classic on BET's overnight pornographic showcase UnCut. I'll also admit that a few years ago I would have found such a brash depiction of the hip hop generation's male/female relations in an era of cash and carry sexual politics ironic. But taking seriously the world that my young daughters are charged with navigating, there was something disturbing and indeed frightening about the possibility of them being reduced to giant sexualized credit card machines (akin to Akinyele's "Six Foot Blow Job Machine"). Some of the young women at Spelman College, the historically black all-women's college in Atlanta, also found Nelly's "Tip Drill" video offensive and earlier this month mounted a demonstration to protest his planned appearance on their campus.
I know this is beating a dead horse or what we could call "Benzino-style" race politics but imagine if that had been Eminem or Justin Timberlake wielding that credit card?
Nelly was to appear on the Spelman campus on April 2nd in support of a bone marrow drive sponsored by his foundation 4Sho4Kids. Nelly began to raise consciousness about the need for more blood stem cell and bone marrow donors after his sister was diagnosed with leukemia last year. But for some of the women at Spelman College, no amount of good will by the rapper excused his role in circulating misogynistic images of black women. As Asha Jennings, the head of the college's Student Government Organization told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "We care about the cause, and we understand the need for bone marrow is so great within the minority community," but "We can't continue to support artists and images that exploit our women and put us out there as over-sexed, nonintelligent human beings." In response to the planned protest, Nelly and his foundation pulled out of the event. According to reports, the Student Government Organization at Spelman only agreed to host the event if Nelly agreed to also appear at a forum where he could address the implications of his "Tip-Drill" video.

For the uninitiated, "Tip-Drill" is a ghetto colloquialism for the proverbial "ugly girl with a nice body." In the context of Nelly's video, such women are only good for one thing - and even then, only from the back. "Tip-Drill" is representative of a world where young black men often view young black women as "chickenheads," "skeezers," "gold-diggers," "birds" and a host of other unsavory adjectives. The common denominators are that such women are viewed as being solely motivated by their desire for money and are only valued as sex objects, hence the highlighting of cash and carry sexual relationships. In many ways "Tip-Drill" is the logical follow-up to "You Owe Me," Nas's club hit from 2000. The song, which was produced by Timbaland and features vocals by Ginuwine, drops gems like "Shorty, say what's your price/Just to back it up/You can hold my ice/Now let's say you owe me something/Yeah, owe me back like you owe your tax/Owe me back like forty acres to blacks." The latter lyric incredibly equates Nas's "getting some ass" with reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans. On the recent DVD release of the Nas Video Anthology Volume 1, the artist quips that he simply wanted a "club hit."

Nelly was at the center of another controversy last year when his name was attached to a sports drink called "Pimp Juice." At the time many black political leaders and pundits, including Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, were very outspoken about how the product promoted a stereotypical portrayal of African American men. Noticeably these same figures have been virtually silent about the images of women featured in Nelly's "Tip Drill" and a host of other issues in which black men do physical or rhetorical harm to women and gays (still waiting on that R Kelly boycott). Their silence speaks to the fact that for many of these "race men", the race card is only put into play when it's in defense of or in support of said "race men." I know this is beating a dead horse or what we could call "Benzino-style" race politics but imagine if that had been Eminem or Justin Timberlake wielding that credit card? The fact that we so often fall back into protecting black men, even at the expense of black women, is the very reason why the efforts of the young women at Spelman (and quite a few of their brothers across the way at Morehouse) need to be affirmed.

On various bulletin boards critics of the Spelman protest have been quick to note that many of the women who appear in videos like "Tip Drill" do so on their own accord. Other detractors have argued that the young women at Spelman need to get their priorities straight, suggesting that the bone marrow drive was an issue more important than the portrayal of women in hip hop videos videos that many of the women at Spelman have supported in the past. Jennings is aware of such criticism, admitting that "Our stand is not a heartless attack against Nelly, but it's opposition to the hip hop culture we helped create by buying the music and supporting the videos." Jennings adds "I'm just happy that it's opening up dialogue for subjects that have been taboo in our community, including exploitation of women and the need for bone marrow donors. Hopefully this will get our people to talk about important issues that need to be addressed."

Notably the protest about Nelly's video comes from the most well known black women's college in the country. Spelman College is also the only HBCU that currently has a Women's Studies major. The program is headed by black feminist scholar Beverley Guy-Sheftall.

First published: April 14, 2004

About the Author

Mark Anthony Neal is the author of three books including the recent Songs in the Key of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (Routledge, 2003) and co-editor (with Murray Forman) of the forthcoming That's the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader (June 2004). Neal's next book NewBlackman will be published in the Spring of 2005. He teaches in the Department of American Studies and the Center for African and African-American Studies (CAAAS) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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