I once met a guy who said he hated socially-concious hip hop – or anything with a message. He just wanted to dance. For someone who counts Common, Mos Def, Tupac, Kanye and Lupe among my favorite MCs, the very notion sounds ridiculous to me. For me hip hop is all about the message.
One of my favorite tracks is Black Star‘s Brown Skin Lady.
I grew up in a community where the lighter you were, the better. Fair skin was considered the epitome of beauty. You’d never land a handsome man with dark skin. It was normal for someone to say, “oh she’s dark, but at least her features are pretty.” For a while I hated my brown skin. I wanted to be the coveted milky white complexion that was lusted after. I had to beg my mom to buy me creams that claimed to make you lighter, no matter how many times she told me my caramel colored skin was something that other people wanted as much as I wanted to be lighter.
So when I heard Black Star’s Brown Skin Lady for the first time, I felt like those words my mom would tell me repeatedly were true. One song helped to changed my dreams of lighter skin. When Kweli rhymed, “We’re not dealin’ with the European standard of beauty tonight/Turn off the TV and put the magazine away/In the mirror tell me what you see/See the evidence of divine presence.” it was empowering. Sure, I still heard people comment here and there about my skin being dark, and it still bothered me from time to time, but those lyrics empowered me.
That’s why hip hop with a message will always hold precedence for me. One song, one line, can change someone’s life. It can change their perception on something they had always considered to be right or “just the way things are.”
Thank you Mos Def and Talib Kweli, for making this Brown Skin Lady feel amazing in her own skin.