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The Complexity of Complexion: Colorism in Pop Culture

 

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The field of entertainment has a dark history (no pun intended) as it pertains to perceptions of beauty. The issue of Colorism has found its way into pop culture.  According to the documentary “Dark Girls”, colorism isprejudice or discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of the skin and generally a phenomenon occurring within one’s own ethnic group.”

This phenomenon is illustrated in the song, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Rapsody on his recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly. The song is a narrative that follows the relationship between two slaves, one who works in the field picking cotton and the other who works in the house. This dynamic is relative to the issue of colorism because it often times reflects the intent of divisiveness between darker and lighter skin tones, where the latter is sometimes the offspring of the slave master themselves. Lamar emphasizes in the second verse:

Dark as the midnight hour, I’m bright as the mornin’ Sun
Brown skinned but your blue eyes tell me your mama can’t run
Sneak me through the back window I’m a good field ni**a
I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you
You know I’d go the distance, you know I’m ten toes down
Even if master’s listenin’, I got the world’s attention
So I’ma say somethin’ that’s vital and critical for survival
Of mankind, if he lyin’, color should never rival
Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken
By different shades of faces
Then wit told me, “You’re womanless, women love the creation”
It all came from God, then you were my confirmation
I came to where you reside
And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes
Let the Willie Lynch theory reverse a million times

The Willie Lynch Theory that Kendrick Lamar mentions in the verse refers to a speech that was said to have been delivered by Willie Lynch, a British slave owner in the West Indies, to slave owners in Virginia in 1712. Supposedly, this speech, “The Making of a Slave” teaches the slave owners several methods to “control the slaves.” While it is highly debatable that such a letter or speech ever really existed, the content of the alleged speech has some merit. For instance, one of the lines from the speech reads,

“You must use the DARK skin slaves vs. the LIGHT skin slaves, and the LIGHT skin slaves vs. the DARK skin slaves.”

Recently, people on the internet took issue with Kendrick Lamar’s recent engagement to his fiancée, Whitney Alford. Kendrick’s life imitated his art in demonstrating, true to his words, that complexion doesn’t “mean a thing”. Kendrick chooses to see the beauty in his partner, revealing that we “all come from God”. Unfortunately, this mentality was not shared by others who still, to this day, believe that one skin tone is superior to others.

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I guess the people who have an issue with Lamar’s fiancée is unaware of his support for dark-skinned women. In an interview with Miss Info, he gives reason as to why he chose a dark-skinned model for the video, “Poetic Justice”. He states, “We had another girl for the lead but I had an idea where I just wanted a little bit of a darker tone [girl] in the video. It’s almost like a color blind industry where there’s only one type of appeal to the camera. ….. I always kept in the back of my mind like ‘you don’t ever see this tone of a woman in videos.  No disrespect, I love all women, period. But at the same time, I still feels like it needs that balance.” 

 

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I tend to agree wholeheartedly! We should embrace all colors, for the real beauty lies within the diversity of our skin tones. Like Rapsody so eloquently put it:

“Black as brown, hazelnut cinnamon tea
And it’s all beautiful to me
Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens
We all on the same team, blues and pirus, no colours ain’t a thing”

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The Complexity of Complexion: Colorism in Pop Culture

The field of entertainment has a dark history (no pun intended) as it pertains to perceptions of beauty. The issue of Colorism has found its way into pop culture.  According to the documentary “Dark Girls”, colorism is “prejudice or discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of the skin and generally a phenomenon occurring within one’s own ethnic group.”

This phenomenon is illustrated in the song, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Rapsody on his recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly. The song is a narrative that follows the relationship between two slaves, one who works in the field picking cotton and the other who works in the house. This dynamic is relative to the issue of colorism because it often times reflects the intent of divisiveness between darker and lighter skin tones, where the latter is sometimes the offspring of the slave master themselves. Lamar emphasizes in the second verse:

Dark as the midnight hour, I’m bright as the mornin’ Sun
Brown skinned but your blue eyes tell me your mama can’t run
Sneak me through the back window I’m a good field ni**a
I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you
You know I’d go the distance, you know I’m ten toes down
Even if master’s listenin’, I got the world’s attention
So I’ma say somethin’ that’s vital and critical for survival
Of mankind, if he lyin’, color should never rival
Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken
By different shades of faces
Then wit told me, “You’re womanless, women love the creation”
It all came from God, then you were my confirmation
I came to where you reside
And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes
Let the Willie Lynch theory reverse a million times

The Willie Lynch Theory that Kendrick Lamar mentions in the verse refers to a speech that was said to have been delivered by Willie Lynch, a British slave owner in the West Indies, to slave owners in Virginia in 1712. Supposedly, this speech, “The Making of a Slave” teaches the slave owners several methods to “control the slaves.” While it is highly debatable that such a letter or speech ever really existed, the content of the alleged speech has some merit. For instance, one of the lines from the speech reads,

“You must use the DARK skin slaves vs. the LIGHT skin slaves, and the LIGHT skin slaves vs. the DARK skin slaves.”

Recently, people on the internet took issue with Kendrick Lamar’s recent engagement to his fiancée, Whitney Alford. Kendrick’s life imitated his art in demonstrating, true to his words, that complexion doesn’t “mean a thing”. Kendrick chooses to see the beauty in his partner, revealing that we “all come from God”. Unfortunately, this mentality was not shared by others who still, to this day, believe that one skin tone is superior to others.

I guess the people who have an issue with Lamar’s fiancée is unaware of his support for dark-skinned women. In an interview with Miss Info, he gives reason as to why he chose a dark-skinned model for the video, “Poetic Justice”. He states, “We had another girl for the lead but I had an idea where I just wanted a little bit of a darker tone [girl] in the video. It’s almost like a color blind industry where there’s only one type of appeal to the camera. ….. I always kept in the back of my mind like ‘you don’t ever see this tone of a woman in videos.  No disrespect, I love all women, period. But at the same time, I still feels like it needs that balance.” 

I tend to agree wholeheartedly! We should embrace all colors, for the real beauty lies within the diversity of our skin tones. Like Rapsody so eloquently put it:

“Black as brown, hazelnut cinnamon tea
And it’s all beautiful to me
Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens
We all on the same team, blues and pirus, no colours ain’t a thing”

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Suicide Squad is a Modern Day Bohemian Rhapsody

 

Bohemian Rhapsody is a song composed by Freddy Mercury, and recorded by the rock band, Queen.  It was released in 1975, and has stood the test of time, becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. More recently it has come back into the public’s attention through the new Suicide Squad trailer. So what exactly is the meaning behind the lyrics and its connection to this band of delinquents?

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The word “Bohemian” can either refer to a native or inhabitant of Bohemia or “a person who has informal or unconventional social habits, especially an artist or writer.” The second meaning applies here, and has some bearing on the overall message of both the song and film.

This song is a very emotional tale, and tells the story of someone who usually just goes with the flow and has lived a simple life. However, he has done something terribly wrong and owns up to his crime. He faces jail time (or a death sentence).  He struggles with the realities before him in an epic battle between good and evil in his mind, and ultimately accepts his fate and returns to his past way of thinking that he, must again, go with the way the wind blows.

 

The crime, the confession

The song begins with someone who is disillusioned, confused, and seemingly in shock.  The subject also explains that he’s just a simple boy, and lived life modestly, and usually doesn’t care about life’s ups and downs.  But, now he’s wondering why something so bad has happened to him.

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.  I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, because I’m easy come, easy go, a little high, a little low. Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.”

Then, comes the explanation for his feelings.  A confession. Just pure truth.

Mama, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun, but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

This can be connected to Deadshot’s dilemma, an assassin by trade but a family man at heart who will do anything to keep his daughter safe. Not sure if she’ll show up in the film but she plays a major role in his life in the DC Comic Universe.

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The boy now explains that he has to go face the music for his crime. Probably a jail cell. Maybe the executioner.

Mama, ooo, didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters. Too late, my time has come, sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time. Goodbye, everybody I’ve got to go, gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.  Mama, ooo (anyway the wind blows). I don’t want to die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

 

It’s not over till the fat lady sings

After a moving guitar solo, that further iterates the despair he is feeling, things get a bit crazy. Facing imminent death can do that to people.  This section depicts the struggle between symbols of good and evil within his mind. The song proceeds with the operatic section.

First, he explains that he feels like a clown, just a fool before his “court” or his mental judgement. A Scaramouch is a clown-like character from classical Italian comedy, often depicted as a coward. I think we can all figure out who the clown is in this bunch.

I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light? Wait, wrong movie.

Then, he feels fear, and thinks on Gallileo Galilei – the famous scientist who played a major role in the scientific revolution during the Renaissance in the 1600s.  Perhaps he thinks on him because Galileo was deemed a heretic and had to live under house arrest for the a good portion of his life. Wishful thinking?

Do we know any crazy doctors that had to be kept in confinement? Why yes, yes we do.

Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me. Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo, Gallileo Figaro – magnifico.  But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me. He’s just a poor boy from a poor family. Spare him his life from this monstrosity.  Easy come easy go will you let me go?

Bismillah is Arabic for “In the name of God” or “In the name of Allah,” so in this section it would appear he is having an inner battle, portraying his persecutors and saviors at the same time.

Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let him go. Bismillah! We will not let you go. Let me go. Will not let you go. Let me go (never). Never let you go. Let me go. Never let me go ooo. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go.

Then, this section indicates he is prepared for the worst, and assumes he will be facing the devil for his crime.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me. For me. For me.

If there is any character dealing with an internal battle of good and evil, it’s the Enchantress. It is believed that the Enchantress is possessed by a separate evil entity controlling her powers and she goes to desperate measures to eliminate the demonic force within her.

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After insanity, comes anger, then acceptance

Now, comes the anger.  It would appear that the boy who normally doesn’t seem to care about anything and goes anywhere the wind blows has become angered, perhaps thinking of the emotions that inspired his crime?

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye? So you think you can love me and leave me to die? Oh baby, can’t do this to me baby, Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here.

But, after the anger, comes the passivity again, returning to his usual state of mind.  Maybe it’s a way of not letting the pain become too much to bear.

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah. Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters. Nothing really matters to me. Anyway the wind blows

Each member of the crew carries a burden to bear and a deep darkness within them, but they’re not called the Suicide Squad for nothing. Whether by choice or by the orders of Amanda Waller, they all face certain death and none seem to care about what awaits them.

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Other interpretations

Mercury himself has refused to explain the composition of this song, other than saying it was about relationships. Could the entire song represent the highs and lows of loving someone and then losing that person?  Maybe a jealous rage caused the fictional crime? Or perhaps, it was about Mercury’s own inner turmoil and confusion since it was written after he understood his own orientation in his life, ending his relationship with women.

Brian May, the guitarist for Queen, supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal traumas. He recalls “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.” May, though, says the band had agreed that the core of the lyrics was a private issue for the composer.

The song ended up being a huge commercial success, despite it being an unconventional 5 minutes 55 seconds long. It has become one of the best selling singles of all time, all around the world.  It is definitely one of the most memorable songs I’ll ever hear, and will surely add a new layer of meaning to this year’s blockbuster film about a misfit band of lost souls.

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The RLL Podcast: Ep. 4 – Learning Prince and Deconstructing Genius with Jason King and Terrance Thomas

 

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This was the definitive music episode of the RLL Podcast. We nerd out with music experts Jason King and Terrance Thomas to discuss Prince and what students can learn from his legacy. Prince’s genius is deconstructed and we explore whether Kanye, Bieber or Hamilton’s Lin Manuel fit the mold. Beyonce got us slow sippin’ Lemonade and we look for hints of vulnerability and self-expression or plain old marketing genius. And what has Hamilton taught us about history, theatre culture and masculinity? Jason King is a musician, journalist, radio host and professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU. Terrance Thomas provides creative direction and artist development for many recording artists today and lived a former life performing on Broadway and in theatres around the country.

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Ep. 4 – Show Notes:

Check out all of the great work mentioned in this episode:

Prince Was a Genius No Matter How you Define It – Vice Magazine by Jason King

Jason King organizes panel on Prince at NYU featuring Questlove, Spike Lee, Kimbra, Anthony Hamilton and others.

NuSkool x HOT 97 Summer Jam Essay Contest

Examining Beyonce Compared to the most Powerful Women in History

Terrance Thomas – @ITerryTommy

Jason King – @JasonKingSays

Jason King’s band – The Company Freak