Lupe Fiasco, the socially conscious Chicago rapper, marched on the pop culture radar six years ago with his meaningful lyrical conversations.
In Bitch Bad, his latest single and video — the latter directed by Miami’s Gil Green — the Grammy winner takes on gender politics, an antithesis to hip-hop’s often relentless loop of sexism, materialism and general posturing.
In the song, Fiasco challenges the unchecked use of the word bitch and explores the power of language as he narrates the chapters of a young girl and boy who are separately exposed to the term in different contexts. The single is off Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, due out Sept. 25.
The sparse chorus: Bitch bad, woman good, lady better, but Fiasco says he stops short of teaching lessons. Rather, he offers up the song as a think piece.
The accompanying three-act video, shot at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, is a fluid stream of images as girl becomes woman, boy becomes man and the two intersect as adults with vastly different interpretations of the term used so loosely in their childhoods. Snippets of the video also include blackface, the theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows to portray stereotypical black caricatures.
Predictably, both song and video have created an instant buzz on the Internet. Some are inspired by the social rapper’s courage to address one of hip-hop’s well-documented weaknesses, while critics contend Fiasco is just practicing an admittedly more palatable brand of sexism.
“I just wanted to have a conversation. It was more to just put it out in the world and see what happens,” Fiasco told MTV News. “Whether right or wrong, some things need to be said in order to start a conversation ... that’s all I try to do with my music.”
The Miami Herald chatted with Green, who has directed videos for a long list of hip-hop artists including Rick Ross, Akon, DJ Khaled and Lil Wayne. Q. What was your inspiration for the video?
First off, I was working with a song that goes against the grain of the normal songs that are submitted to me for videos. Most of the songs I deal with are anchored in the street culture of hustlers, gangers and pretty much women who are looked at in a sexual way. The nature of the lyrics that are in Lupe Fiasco’s song basically bring the debate to music about how children are impressionable and the effect that the word “bitch” can have, particularly in the hip-hop world, where you have images that reflect the culture but there doesn’t seem to be a balance. I wanted to bring that debate to the video level, and I wanted to do something different, something outside the box.Q. Where was the video produced?
It was shot at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, an old theater in Little Havana, on July 20. Q. What was the concept?
The concept is following two actors that have to play these roles in the video and showing how frustrated and conflicted they are. The actress can only get booked as a video hoochie. The guy can only get an acting job as a gangsta. It’s like [Robert Townsend’s] Hollywood Shuffle or [Spike Lee’s] Bamboozled again.
Q. Why did you employ blackface in the video?
The video is meant to parallel how the actors felt in the early 1900s, when they were expected to dress up in blackface and take roles as Sambo or the cool coon or the mammy. At the end of the video, I mention Paul Robeson, one of my favorite actors. I was moved by his stories about how he had to put on blackface because that was just the custom and how it made him feel demoralized and demeaned. I wanted the video to show the pain of the actor.Q. Your own body of videos has included some negative hip-hop images. How do you reconcile that with the balance you speak about?
That’s the point I am making. Only one in 20 or 30 videos that I work on allow me do to something different. That is what made working on this video so refreshing. My job is to represent the lyrics of the song. If I do a video for Get Crunk, then I have to represent the song, which is about club life. I do try to give the videos a creative edge, but the subject matter sometimes has its own box.