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Nelly Is Still Defending “Tip Drill”; Says That It Was “Artistic” And Some People Just Took It The Wrong Way…
After all these years, Nelly is still trying to explain that damn “Tip Drill” video. In an interview with ESPN 2’s “Highly Questionable” (the same interview where he joked about Floyd Mayweather’s education when speaking on their alleged beef), he was asked about what that day of filming “Tip Drill” was like and the controversy behind it. He still didn’t see the problem with the video, which made its debut in 2003 on the infamous “BET Uncut” show. In fact, Nelly thought it was actually artistic.
Nelly: “That was a very, very very interesting day. I’ll say that. Very, very fun day. It was a video. I never regret it as far as being an artist. Being an artist, your responsibility is to create. It’s to be artistic. I didn’t do anything illegal. I put it on a show that was for adults at an adult time. Maybe some people mistook it the wrong way.
Bomani Jones: “What was artistic about sliding that credit card down a woman’s body?”
Nelly: “That had never been done before. I thought that was very, very, very artistic [laughs]. The first time you saw a naked statue did you think, ‘Oh man I’m looking at something or…you know?'”
Nope, I don’t know, sir.
While he might have thought it was harmless and artistic, we all know that the video caused quite a stir, as many thought the women in the video were objectified and treated as just parts (the focus was mostly on their backsides, which went along with the song’s lyrics). Women at Spelman University even protested Nelly’s visit to the school to throw a bone marrow drive to help find his sister, who was suffering from leukemia and eventually passed from it, a donor. Nelly would say much later in a Huffington Post Live chat with Marc Lamont Hill that having to cancel the drive over the uproar over the video enraged him:
“The Spelman thing, the only thing I feel I woulda did different is kick somebody’s A$$. That’s just how it felt to me, Pimp. I don’t have my sister. You robbed me of an opportunity, unfairly my brother. That was unfairly because we could have still had your conversation after I got my opportunity. It could have been somebody that was coming to that bone marrow drive that day that was possibly a match for my sister that didn’t come because of that.”
After all these years, what were your thoughts on the video and the reaction to it back then?
Yesterday, I wrote about Nelly’s Huff Post interview with Marc Lamont Hill. Though he talked about a variety of things, the conversation didn’t get juicy until Hill brought up the Spelman/”Tip Drill” controversy. Naturally, since it concerned his sister Jacqueline’s life, Nelly was still very passionate about that event. I noticed that some of you said Nelly should be over this by now. Umm… his sister died. That’s not something you don’t ever fully get over. But I digress. Yesterday, after watching Nelly’s interview I understood his point. I understood his frustrations and outrage, (with the exception of wanting to kick someone’s, presumably a woman’s, a$$), over the perception that the women of Spelman’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance were putting their protest over the life of Nelly’s sister. It seemed that the women of this group were so hellbent on calling out a black man that they were less concerned about the life of this black woman. And if Nelly’s interview were the only account of the incident, I would be happy to stand by that stance, my original stance.
But yesterday, one of our commenters let me know that the women of Spelman did indeed conduct another bone marrow drive. And when I asked her for a link to corroborate that statement, she directed me to an open letter written by Moya Bailey, one of the members of the feminist group, addressed to Nelly. In the letter, which was published on the Black Youth Project she answered all of the questions I had about the incident, after Nelly’s interview, and exposed some of the holes in his argument. Here are the highlights from the letter below and you can read the entire thing on the next page.
What the organization originally hoped to do
My group raised questions about the misogynoir in the video and lyrics, and when we heard that you were invited to campus by our Student Government Association, it seemed fair to us that we could ask you about the dehumanizing treatment of black women while you were asking us for our help. You declined our offer to talk about your music and lyrics. Instead, you chose to go to the press, which made our alleged threat of a protest an international news story.
Who canceled the bone marrow drive
Let’s be clear: No student or faculty member of Spelman College canceled your bone marrow registration drive. In fact, we held our own drive after you and your people chose to cancel the bone marrow registration drive for fear that there might have been a protest.
People railed against censorship as if our efforts were an attempt to get you banned from the airwaves, when all we really wanted was to have a conversation about the representations you produce and their potential impact on our communities.
Often Black feminists are represented as advocates for censorship. People often portray us as sex-hating, stick-in-the-mud conservatives concerned with respectability. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, we like sex so much (NSFW) we dare to think that women should enjoy it and not be subjugated to images that define our sexuality in limited ways. Music videos and lyrics, including yours, often portray women as silent partners and objects of male attention. This silence, Nelly, is not unlike the silence you expected from us regarding your visit.
On Nelly blaming Spelman’s feminist group for his sister’s death
You continue to not so subtly blame us for the transition of your sister even though Spelman still had a bone marrow registration drive–one that actually had more attendees than were initially signed up for your event. All of the “protesters” made the decision to register to ensure that the goals of the drive were honored. A few of us were already on the registry. If after all this we are still to blame for your sister’s passing, can we blame you then for the misogynoir that we face daily?
What she did agree with…
I will say that I did find something compelling in your interview. You are right: We should protest strip clubs, but not for the reasons you think. Any strip club or business that doesn’t provide benefits, unions, safe working conditions, paid sick leave, child care, etc., deserves our collective outrage.
I’m still a little fuzzy about a few things.
What is the distinction between strippers in the club and strippers in the video?
Is the degradation lessened, or does it even exist, if the women sign up and sign on?
And when exactly these women host their own bone marrow drive?
But all that being said, I do agree, like I mentioned yesterday, Nelly’s lyrics and the treatment for the video are demeaning. And whether the women agreed to be a part of this or not, we have to ask why Nelly himself thought this was ok. And not so much why he thought it was ok, because we know patriarchy is real, but why he was so hesitant to admit that he’d made a mistake.
Generally, Bailey’s letter explains her version of what happened during that time and I’m inclined to believe her. Her arguments illustrate that Nelly essentially just didn’t feel like answering questions about the video when he was attempting to do something noble for his sister. And because the women of Spelman’s feminist group were not willing to adhere to his terms, he decided not to show up. Which is certainly his right. But then he should stop presenting the story as if these women were the ones who prevented him from saving his sister’s life. If there is any blame to be placed for his sister’s life, and I don’t believe there is, it’s not unreasonable to assume Nelly’s pride and unwillingness to have a discussion may have been more to blame– if these women could have potentially saved her in the first place. After reading her letter, I certainly stand corrected.
You can read the full letter on the next page.
Most of us remember Nelly’s controversial “Tip Drill” video. I remember the first time I saw it. I was a sophomore in high school, watching it on BET’s now defunct “Uncut” series on the television my parents allowed me to have in my bedroom. (Side eye to my parents.) I would be lying if I said my first reaction was not awe. I was in awe of the way these women’s bodies moved. And as I laid in bed, I couldn’t help but bounce to the beat. “Where she at… dere she gooooo!” It was entertaining but I also knew it was a hot mess. Exploitative, degrading, entirely too much. Never outside of an adult video had I straight up seen a woman’s labia as she bent over.
And then there was the credit card swipe that single handedly ended “Uncut”…forever. And though I’m sure strip clubs across the country and the world feature scenes all too similar to the ones depicted in “Tip Drill,” the fact that Nelly brought that to the masses was too disrespectful and frankly, too embarrassing for the black women who felt they had enough sense to be embarrassed for the women who bounced, popped, dry humped and wiggled in the video.
Folks were outraged. The most expressive, were the women of the Spelman Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. Ironically, right at the time where Nelly had black women bending over booty clapping, he was also attempting to get their help in a bone marrow drive for his sister, Jacqueline “Jackie” Donahue, who was battling leukemia. But word quickly spread that Spelman students were going to protest. And according to Spelman, Nelly’s foundation refused to hold the drive unless the university promised that students wouldn’t confront him about the song or video. But in a recent interview with Marc Lamont Hill for Huff Post Live, Nelly explains why he’s still angered by that whole controversy especially since his Jacqueline passed away just a year later.
“You approach me with this conversation while I’m doing that drive. Why do you want to talk about that now when I’m trying to save lives? That was my whole issue with that”
“And don’t get it twisted it wasn’t all of Spelman. It was a group of young ladies that decided the this was the time that they picked to make this move. And it just felt so wrong to me because here I am losing time trying to save someone special to me and you want to talk about a video. You spent hours and hours playing my video when we could have spent those hours getting people signed up on bone marrow registries and finding donors for people who needed these stem cell transplants.”
Then Marc Lamont Hill asks why Nelly just didn’t have the conversation first and then continue on with the bone marrow drive.
“So how can you compare that? You’re trying to tell me that I got to have a conversation about a video before we take care of bone marrow? What’s more important here? If anything you should have did it the other way around. What’s more important and I say that because you protested, are you still protesting that right now? Cuz I don’t have my sister now.
“So it don’t weigh. You’re not even probably protesting right now. And half of ya’ll that was protesting is probably in them clubs dancing to them songs on the weekend that you’re ‘protesting’ about.”
The conversation veers off and Nelly explains how rappers and Hip Hop takes so much heat for being immoral and then Marc Lamont Hill chimes in with a statistic that rappers are the artists that give back the most. Then he asks Nelly if there were anything he would do differently in his career, but specifically the Spelman incident.
“The Spelman thing the only thing I feel I woulda did different is kick somebody’s A$$. That’s just how it felt to me, Pimp. I don’t have my sister. You robbed me of an opportunity, unfairly my brother. That was unfairly because we could have still had your conversation after I got my opportunity. It could have been somebody that was coming to that bone marrow drive that day that was possibly a match for my sister that didn’t come because of that.”
Marc Lamont suggests Nelly and Spelman still have the conversation in the near future.
“Aww man that conversation is easy. They don’t want to have that conversation because the truth of the matter is, Spelman is within a six block ratio of about 3 or 4 strip clubs that I don’t see them protesting at one time.”
Then Marc Lamont Hill countered by saying that the women of Spelman would probably argue that the strip clubs down the street weren’t asking for these women’s bone marrow. Nelly counters and Lamont Hill moves on, saying that the two agree to disagree.
At the end of the conversation my only thought was umph. I can see both men’s arguments. Like Lamont- Hill said, it really is time out for black men publicly disrespecting black women and then running back to us when they need us. It’s played out. We’re tired. And most of all it hurts. And while I would love for black men to really get that. I agree with Nelly in the sense that this bone marrow drive wasn’t the right time to deliver that message.
I know black women are always told to hold our rage, be patient, this is not the time. And it ain’t right. But in this instance, the women of that Spelman group sought to highlight the inequities and injustices of life instead of save one. And I can’t support that.
I know that these feminist issues are more than just “issues,” “talking points” or gripes. They really affect our everyday lives in very real, very tangible very painful ways. But getting Nelly, a black man, to understand that should not have come at the expense of the life of a black woman.
What do you think about Nelly’s arguments and Marc Lamont Hill’s?
You can watch Nelly’s whole interview on the next page.
Ever watch a music video and think to yourself “Whoa, what was that about?” or how about “Hmm, a crap video to go with an even crappier song.” Don’t worry, so have we. We’re sure some of these video’s directors and artists in front of the camera meant well, but some things just weren’t adding up–or they were just plain ‘ol terrible. Check out our list of video visions gone completely wrong.