Bahamadia is arguably the most underrated female hip-hop artist of all time. I’m not just saying this because she happens to be from my neck of the woods, but because she is truly a gifted and authentic lyricist who could drop a solid 16 bars without trading on narrowly defined definitions of what femininity is suppose to be. But no song captures the spirit of Bahamadia more than “Commonwealth (aka Cheap Chicks),” which pays homage to “ordinary females around the way, so-called cornballs, commonwealth broads, broke broads who still want to get their little shine on with short dockets who ain’t frontin’…” In that grossly underrated song, Bahamadia manages to flip the script and remind us that style isn’t just for those who can afford it, but rather those who have the attitude and are creative enough to make something work out of nothing.
Yet in the blogosphere, there are sites that, instead of marveling at the creativity of these commonwealth chicks, often slap them with labels of being ghetto or acting raunchy. It seems to be acceptable to make fun of black girls and women with the skittles “taste the rainbow” weaves and the homemade designer label, knock-off prom dresses. Through our constant ridicule and condemnation of these “stricken by poverty chicks,” we send the message that their creations and creative contributions have no value – other than to shame the black race – and should be shunned from the larger black community.
That is, until a white girl does it. Then it becomes cute and hip. Case in point: Kreayshawn (pronounced Cri-shon), an overhyped white female rapper, who has become a viral sensation. She appears to represent a new wave of hipsterism, which has been infiltrating the hip-hop scene as of late. In her latest video, “Gucci, Gucci,” she, along with her White Girl Mob, swaggers through Cali streets with an asymmetrical haircut, big door knockers and a troupe of young black men bouncing around in the background – for color of course. There is plenty of talk about stealing basic bitches, smoking blunts, and keeping her hand on the pump.
However, what are notably absent from her video are black girls. It’s as if they don’t exist in this swag-out world. Writer Moya Bailey points out on the blog, “The Crunk Feminist Collective,” that “The objectification of black women as a lyrical trope is what makes Kreayshawn interesting. Look at this white girl who talks like a black man! Isn’t she awesome?” Taking Bailey’s point further, what Kreayshawn is doing is taking what is probably the most debatable image of the black woman – one that we have yet to fully accept – and co-opting it for what she calls “white girl swag.” By any standards, this called is cultural appropriation, the act of adopting some specific element of another culture, including religious, language, and forms of dress and social behavior.
In many instances of cultural appropriation, these acts of co-option adopt the colorblind ideology, which not only justifies the presence of the non-member of the culture, but it also aids them in removing whatever racial, social and culturally-coded meaning that happen to be embedded in that cultural element they are using. In other words, it’s all fun without the social commentary or context. We’ve seen it with Bo Derek and her golden blonde cornrows, Gewn Stefani and her Harajuku girls and Madonna with just about everything she does. Now, we may just be witnessing it again with Kreayshawn.
According to her bio, Kreayshawn, born Natassia Zolot, is a native of East Oakland and was raised by her single mother, a former member of a Garage punk rock band, The Trashwoman. Though she paints this hard knock story of being one of the few white girls in an urban environment, she delivers nothing on wax that actually challenges the perception of being white in such an environment, nor does she bring anything new to the table. In fact, she regurgitates the same tired images that we’ve seen millions of times on television. Usually, one might be grateful that a pop artist seeks inspiration from elements that are usually associated with the African American community. I may have felt that way about Kreayshawn had it not been for the inauthenticity of her image, and if her performance didn’t reek of a modern day minstrel show.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.