A young Sonia Sanchez. Yes Lawd. When I first met her in person at The Furious Flower conference in 2004, I was a few months out of my MFA program and sitting up in Tony Medina’s poetry class at Howard University sponging up my second education on what it means to be a black poet/Melinated poet/ poet who is black/Negro Poet. I was shook, star struck. I love her work and I also have a thing for women with prominent gaps. Call it ancestral memory. Anyway, once I got myself together, the poet Kelly Norman Ellis guided me over to Sonia Sanchez and I blurted out how much I admired her work and then let slip that I wished I had been born waaay earlier cause I felt like our love haiku would have eventually brought us together. She gave me this look that at first I mistook for irritation or anger. But then came the smile and she closed her eyes and shook her head and “tsk-tsk-tsked” a bit. Then she held my hands in hers and said “Very nice to meet you young brother’ before she moved on to greet the other folks waiting to just see her, talk to her and touch her. Kelly Norman Ellis led me away and quietly said, “Now you know, she likes herself some young men, remember that.” I think that I juuuust missed the cut.
Growing up with Hip-Hop as my soundtrack, and at times my official cliffnotes to exploring multiple books, philosophies and concepts from the smattering of jewels dropped between the boom bap; I have to say, in my own humble experience, Hip-Hop covered alot of bases in my growth as a socially coscious human being.
I could rant and rave about how the mainstream, corporate funded music that my students listen to, has no socially redeeming qualities whatsoever, and that they are being lead astray by horribly misogynistic and capitalistic ratchet anthems. But then I get a hold of my inner “surly old grown-up’ and recall that at their age, my parents and some of my elders felt the same way about the music I listened to as well (C. Delores Tucker, Rev. Calvin Butts anyone?).
Truth is, for every Tribe Called Quest song I blasted like an anthem from my Mom’s 1989 Mazda 626 factory speakers, i would equally blast Too-$hort and constantly rewind the WB(a)LLZ skit Snoop Dogg’s Doggy Style and laugh like shit when the unfortunate soul next to me would jerk thier head around and ice grill me at whatever red light we were stopped at. So like most of my late thirties, early forties heads, I still parrot the mantra of “There used to be balance” in the land of mainstream Hip-Hop.
But times have changed and so have my methods for finding the Hip-Hop that curves to my ear and feeds my need for lyrical acrobatics. In other words, you got to be like a bonafide DJ and dig for it. Sometimes that means digging “in the crates” , although in these digital days, the crates are now the cracked jewel CD cases and dusty 200 count CD sleeves that we used to carry around with us like extra ammo (ya’ll know who you are).
So how do we get to the SCOTUS and Digable Planets ( aka Butterly, Ladybug, and Doodlebug aka Ish, C- Knowledge and Mecca) connection? I’m gettin there. So earlier I posted my irritation at the recent ruling by the SCOTUS on Monday ” that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. It was, a dissent said, “a decision of startling breadth.” The 5-to-4 ruling, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to many challenges from corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty. (source: http://nyti.ms/TJPxK5)
What ever side you sit on the right of women having dominion over their reproductive health, this was a huge deal. If you want to know where sit on the SCOTUS decision, just scroll back a bit on my timeline and you’ll see why I ‘m as irritated as I am though I don’t posses a uterus or ovaries. SO as I watched the internets explode and read the disdain/anger/rage from my sister friends, colleagues, and fellow artists; the cynic in my head muttered. “You aint gonna hear nothing about this in anyone’s lyrics anytime soon.”
And then I was informed of another SCOTUS ruling concerning a law in Massachusetts that the SCOTUS overturned “that gave patients and clinic workers a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrance of clinics, allowing them a few seconds to get into the clinic without having to be harassed by anti-choice protesters. In a surprising unanimous decision, the court found in McCullen v. Coakley that the buffer zone is an unjustified infringement on freedom of speech and told the state of Massachusetts to find another way to keep the peace and allow women to get into abortion clinics without feeling like they have to mace a bunch of people to get free passage.” (http://slate.me/1j1VkX0)
At 38, I’m pretty darn sure that whenever there’s a debate concerning the reproductive health of women, you know that great white whale, Abortion, is somewhere submerged underneath all of the topical discussions and folks are scanning the waves waiting for it to rise.
But. Digable Planets? What gives?
Well. As I said before, the Hip-Hop era I grew up in gave me some of my first introductions into some pretty controversial and thought provoking subject matter. De La Soul’s ”Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” was about incest. The Boogie Monsters had a song called “Old Man Jacob’s Well” which was about a child predator, as told in the voice of the kidnapped child and the kidnapper, and of course Tupac’s “Brenda Got a Baby”. The Jugganots had “Clear Blue Skies” which was about interracial dating and then Digable Planets had the song called ”La Femme Fetal” which was more of an early spoken word style piece in the vein of The Last Poets. I remember Ish really dug Jalal Mansur Nuriddin .
Anywho here’s an excerpt of the lyrics of the song from their debut album
Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
…A juice I bought and rolled on down to her spot
Seeing bros I know slapping fives I arrived and pressed G-5
And there was NikkiLookin’ some kind of sad with tears fallin’ from her eyes
She sat me down, and dug my frown and began to run it down
"You remember my boyfriend Sid, that fly kid who I love
Well our love was often a verb and spontaneity has brought a third
But due to our youth an economic state, we wish to terminate
About this we don’t feel great, but baby, that’s how it is
But the feds have dissed me They ignore and dismiss me
The pro-lifers harass me outside the clinic And call me a murderer,
now that’s hate So needless to say, we’re in a mental state of debate
""Hey, beautiful bird" I said, digging her somber mood"
The fascists are some heavy dudes
They don’t really give a damn about life
They just don’t want a woman to control her body
Or have the right to choose
But baby that ain’t nothin’They just want a male finger on the button
Because if you say war, they will send them to die by the score
Aborting mission should be your volition
But if Souter and Thomas have their way
You’ll be standing in line unable to get Welfare
while they’ll be outHunting and fishing
It has always been around, it will always have a niche
But they’ll make it a privilege, not a right Accessible only to the rich
Hey, Pro-lifers should dig themselves Because life doesn’t stop after birth
And to a child born to the unprepared It might even just get worse
The situation would surely change if they were to find themselves in it
Supporters of the H-Bomb, and fire-bombing clinics
What type of shit is that? Orwellian, in fact If Roe v. Wade was overturned,
would not the desire remain intact Leaving young girls to risk their healths
And doctors to botch, and watch as they kill themselves
I don’t want to sound macabre But hey,
isn’t it my jobTo lay it on the masses
and get them off their asses
To fight against these fascists
So, whatever you decide,
make that move with pride
Sid will be there and so will I
An insect ‘til I die
So. I’m blown away, I had never heard anyone in Hip Hop at that time speak directly to abortion or even speak on the struggle that women face everyday regarding their own reproductive health. Ish spoke on class, poverty, facism, Roe v. Wade and on a later track “The Examination of What” , Ladybug Mecca chimes in:
"Peace, this is Mecca the Ladybug and I’m saying though
What is really what if I can’t even get comfortable
Because the Supreme Court is like, all in my uterus.”
Up until 1992, I had never heard uterus mentioned in Hip-Hop up until that point, and in most scenarios of the songs I heard, if the girl in the song was pregnant and tried to break the news to her boyfriend/man/ boo etc, he was Audi 5000. I remember an early Outkast song where they joked about hanging up on a girl if they ever got an “I’m pregnant and you’re the father” phone call.
All I knew at sixteen, after that song pinballed around my brain, was that I really needed to read up on Facism, Roe V. Wade, and find out who Justice Souter was. I already knew waaaaay too much about “that” Justice Thomas than I wanted to know (Anita Hill anyone).
What also intruiged me was the fact that the song was pretty positive in the midst of the subject matter. The men stayed. Support for Nikki was, at least in this particular song, a no-brainier. Plus, the song left the decision of Nikki and Sid open ended, whereas in most of the other songs, death was imminent and absolute: Brenda dies, Millie kills her father.
What Digable Planets left me with was options. I was left to consider relationships and what they mean beyond sex and holding hands. I got a glimpse into the decisions two people in, what I hoped was a positive and loving partnership, had to make once the thought of another life entered the world. I would also say that that song scared me enough about the thought of being a teen dad that I didn’t lose my virginity until my junior year of college.
Talk about contraception and abstinence!!!
So here I am twenty two years later, twenty two years older, reflecting on a time in which a lone Hip-Hop song helped nudge me into a socially conscious state of mind about the struggle that women have faced not only in the the USA but around the world, in regards to controling their destiny in regards to not only their reproductive health, but mental and spiritual health as well, while others work their damdest to wrestle away that human right out of their hands.
You used to find a Bug in a box with fade
Now he boogies up your stage plaits twist or braids
And I’m peace like dat…I’m out.
Derrick Weston Brown
* “Any duplication of this one is fatal” -C.L. Smooth
Derrick reading poems from his Sweet Home series
Here’s part one of my reading from last Sunday April 6th at the Writer’s center in Bethesda. Wanna hear and see what I’ve been up too? Here you go.
Derrick’s Reading at The Writer’s Center Pt.2:
This is me y’all. Enjoy