Azealia Banks got your heart. If you didn’t see her Hot 97 interview, watch it. If you didn’t see her twitter takedown of Action Bronson, read it. If you didn’t understand her general case for cultural appropriation then you are part of the problem; the problem being there are those who acknowledge that denial, pardon, I mean the Nile is a river but fail to see Egypt as part of Africa.
I’m a huge Ghostface Killah fan so it’s been very difficult for me to accept Action Bronson as anything other than a knock off, who happens to be white. Awhile back, I started to write a piece entitled, “Is It Racist If I Don’t Like Action Bronson?” It was originally to counter an article in Complex called “Action Bronson Is My Favorite Rapper of All Time.” I scrapped it for many reasons, but the answer is not about race, it’s about reward.
I had hardly heard of Bronson when I saw him on Last Call with Carson Daly. When I listened to his music I threw up just like the time I ate at a Soul food restaurant in Harlem that was run by Chinese people (true story). I can’t blame him for his vocal chords sounding like somebody. But I can blame him for taking Ghost’s blue and cream style.
but you’re nothing more than a greasy-fat white man from queens who’s impersonating Ghostface killa. You’re a tribute band @ActionBronson
— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) December 19, 2014
When it came to sounding like B.I.G., I gave Shyne a pass but made the same case for Guerilla Black. I even wrote a letter to Hot 97 and Miss Jones (the morning show host at the time) read the whole thing on the air. That is why it is NOT racist. People said even Ghostface co-signed Bronson – shut the f—k up. As a sign of the time, Ghost made a business decision, just like Puff made a business decision to co-sign Guerilla Black (possibly as a favor to Jimmy Henchmen). Eminem made a decision to name Redman as his favorite emcee and list other great lyricists in his Grammy speech. Since Bronson has enough of his career in front of him to win a Grammy, we’ll just have to wait and see how Ghostface will be acknowledged in the shadow of white glory. This brings us back to another decision. Around the same time Bronson was making noise, DJ Baauer, a guy not from New York, made a decision not to include a girl from Harlem on the remix of his song entitled “Harlem Shake.” That girl was Azealia Banks.
Let me tell you where I’m from – Harlem, home of the original Mixtape DJ; the place where you had to pass the Stephanie Mills blend test blindfolded to even be considered worthy. Red Alert, Ron G, Kid Capri, Craig G, S&S, and the list goes on. DJ Baauer? I never hear of him; until he committed grand larceny in my neighborhood. DJ Baauer claimed Azealia didn’t meet his standards, but who the f–k is he? He said he wanted Juicy J, but he ain’t from round here. You didn’t name it “Memphis Shake.” It’s also ironic that he took issue with Azealia putting out her version regardless of his request not to; meanwhile, he didn’t even clear the samples when he originally released it. That is the moment where appropriation shifts.
On February 22, 2013 Billboard Magazine incorporated YouTube views into its charting formula. That formula boosted the “Harlem Shake” to the number one spot. The dance song also started a user generated dance craze that look nothing like the original. Twelve years prior, G. Dep, Black Rob and Puffy ushered in the millennium with their single “Let’s Get It.” All artists, rooted from Harlem, introduced a wildfire dance craze called the “Harlem Shake.” It was mastered by pre-teens who would be Azealia’s peers. Despite Bad Boy Records being a legitimate fixture on MTV, the dance was only popular in black communities; frankly, for no other reason than polar bears not being able to swing on vines. Don’t take umbrage, it’s the truth (btw-twerkin was out then too). At the time I shared Diddy’s “no harm, no foul” co-sign mainly because the song was good and the uploads were fun. Still, the reoccurring question remains – who profits?
History is studied in scores. One hundred years from now there will be little difference between 2001, when the Harlem Shake was in Harlem and 2013 when it charted on Billboard. I know being white in rap doesn’t automatically mean breakthrough success and for every Iggy (I won’t write her last name) there’s a Kreayshawn. While I don’t blame Iggy for benefiting from the pale popularity that’s existed since the invention of the drum, I do think she (and her pimp) has a responsibility to the culture of Hip-Hop to help regulate the distorted privilege (tip of the hat to Macklemore). While I think Bronson is truer to the art, like most imitations, he doesn’t see it as stolen identity. I like Droog (a lot) but he’s just another example of how easy it was for Greek philosophers to plagiarize in the Library of Alexandria. In these modern times we have so much proof that we created the “Harlem Shake” still it’s being “smudged” right before our eyes. Look at the architects of DJ-ing versus today’s top professionals. Ten years from now, when you enter “DJ” or “Harlem Shake” in a Google search, will any black people be on the first page? So you can imagine how easy it was to change history back in ancient times. It’s all part of the traditional Western way of life that’s as American as Thanksgiving. You show some white people a trade and the come back with a trademark. Capitalism is the justification of unethical business.
This is like an exorcism.. all demons residing in the bodies of white people who appropriate black culture are just SCREAMING for survival
— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) December 19, 2014
I don’t know the race of Catherine Crump but I know that she applied to patent the phrase “I Can’t Breathe.” Maybe she plans to give the proceeds to Eric Garner’s family. I don’t know the race of the owners of the Harlem Shake restaurant. They seem to make an effort to integrate the community – which is nice gesture but I don’t know their political views. What I do know is that black people tend to get the short end of profit shares when it comes to the blood and sweat of our cultural copyrights.
DJ Baauer only had one certified hit. He went multi-platinum by selling his product under the already established “Blue Magic” brand name. Therefore, there can never be reverse appropriation when I classify Azealia Banks as a pure heroine.
T. Better Baldwin is an ethical lobbyist and creative mercenary who was born, raised and resides in New York City. #HarlemOnMyMind #WabbitPrivilege