You ain't my daddy!!
I'ma call yo mama!!
Call my mama!!
I'ma tell yo mama!!
Tell my mama!!
You so bad!!
I'm so bad!! You just mad cuz you ain't my daddy!
Scenes from two music videos. In the first, a man in a tanktop and chains gestures angrily in his living room, shaking his fist as a mob of rambunctious children dance around him and keep him from leisure. In the second, another man, this one on an enormous cell phone, demands that his girlfriend identify an unknown male voice he hears on her end of the line. Exasperated, she repeatedly exclaims; “That’s just my baby daddy!.. T-Bird it ain't like that, it's far off my mind!”
Both music videos: “Baby Daddy” by B Rock and the Bizz and “Stepdaddy” by Hitman Sammy Sam (released in 1997 and 2003 respectively) portray troubling stereotypes of deadbeat father figures and ambiguous paternity. Contentious subject matter, combined with an all-black cast, suggests stereotypes of familial and sexual irresponsibility in black communities. But in spite of their serious subject matter, there is no doubt that both the songs and their music videos are meant to be humorous. Their farcical renditions of relationships and family life provide an opportunity for re-presenting oppressive representations.Ludicrous camera angles, ridiculous costumes and outlandish dancing declare each video as a parody that assumes a critical and reflexive gaze on its genre and larger cultural narratives. Parody has historically functioned as a means of taking back representation to suggest new versions of outdated stories: a comedic retelling and transformation of a text, it is used to draw attention to cultural absurdities, drawing the attention of audiences to the powers and limits of constructed representations¹.
The ascent of hip-hop and the peak of post-modernism occurred at the same time. The post-modernist agenda of questioning absolute and assumed narratives closely shared values with the musical genre described as the “voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty.”² Born in crime-ridden neighbourhoods in the Bronx in the 70’s, rap was a way for black youth to speak out against oppression and "living in a post-industrial, Reagan-molded, increasingly racist, anti-immigrant, less tolerant, more sexist, Jesse-dissing, King-beating, Quayle-spelling, Clarence Thomas-serving America,” where too many young blacks found too little hope³. Following in a tradition of oral storytelling in African culture, rap music provided a description and means of coping with the social and political oppression that black Americans faced in the United States⁴. Clarence Lusane, journalist for the American journal The Black Scholar wrote that "from the moment Harriet Tubman sang 'steal away' to signal runaway slaves that it was time to flee, music has been not only a weapon of African American resistance to racism, but part of the African American strategic arsenal of group consciousness."⁵
Though a primary function of rap was to fight assumed stereotypes, particular music and lyrics perpetuated a perception among audiences of the educational failure, economic hardships, crime and drugs of its subjects. (“Me and my brother never made it out school/she prayed on me passing that BAR/It's way different ma/you see I'm' passing out in bars.”)⁶ In his dissertation titled “How One-Dimensional Representation of Hip Hop Music Has Influenced White Racial Attitudes,” Cultural scholar Walter E. Hart suggested that “the culture industry would not yield as much influence over racial perceptions if the hip-hop artists did not accept the demands of the culture industry and reflect negative images of Blackness through hip hop music.” The acceptance of stereotypes is cyclical, he said: “The culture industry would not continue to perpetuate negative images of Blackness through hip hop music if the White audience did not accept the representations as authentic Blackness.”⁷ Recent research by academics at DePaul University in Chicago has found that stereotypes associated with rap music and hip-hop culture are often used to blame black Americans for their economic plights, influence anti-Black attitudes and justify discrimination through personal and political behaviours. The study suggested that anti-rap attitudes are used to reinforce beliefs that Blacks do not deserve social benefits in American society due to their “laziness,”⁸ resulting in recycled prejudices and misperceptions. These stereotypes are not limited to music: reflected in film of the time as well, with “slacker movies” such as Friday starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker depicting lazy, immoral and foolish black drug dealers.
You said your baby daddy was locked up, but why?
The Bird say y'all was at the mall
(You a liar)
You a liar
OK, then what his name?
Yesterday you said his name was Jay, so it ain't the same..
- “My Baby Daddy”⁹
B Rock and the Bizz was an early hip-hop group best known for their single, "My Baby Daddy", which peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1997¹⁰. The song was the group's only hit. In 1997, the female Miami-based hip-hop group Anquette, released an answer song to "My Baby Daddy" entitled "My Baby Mama”: “It's my baby mama/(yeanknow)/I want child support/She get welfare checks, but I stay in court/It's my baby mama/(yeanknow)/she be ridin' Cady/And she always lookin' for sugar daddies.” The video for “My Baby Daddy” features an overweight black man watching daytime talk shows on television while eating potato chips, dance club scenes with camera angles from below the (presumably amateur) actors’ chins, outlandish costumes and ridiculous dance moves.
⁹The Bizz, B. Rock
At two in the mornin, kids be sleep
It's two in the mornin, go back to sleep!
Now me and my baby won't get to creep
Bebe and her kids gettin' the best of me
[Teen Girl] This ain't yo house no way!
[HMSS] Shut Up!
[Teen Girl] You ain't my dad!
[HMSS] Okay, that's enough..
[Teen Girl] I wish my dad wouldn've never left!!
“Stepdaddy” was released in 2003 and was wildly popular in the South, especially in Sammy Sam’s native city of Atlanta. The lyrics describe a stepfather attempt to assert authority and order to make his step-children behave so he can relax, eat, sleep, have sex. The chorus consists of a call-and-answer between Hitman Sammy Sam and the children singing “You just mad ‘cause you ain’t my dad.” One teen girl shouts: “I wish my dad woulda never left!”
Both artists gained their fame and success mostly from these songs which were catchy, melodic and humorous, humor having the benefit of appealing to a large audience that need not be conscious of the discourse into which they enter. The irony of the commercial success of both songs is in pointed contrast to the unglamorous, working class lifestyle that they present. The songs and music videos are excessively absurd; the camera angles, the costumes, the wide angle shots all point to comedic intention. Both songs utilize callback methods akin to children’s music, asserting its “unseriousness”. In her 1989 essay "The Politics of Parody", Canadian cultural theorist Linda Hutcheon suggested that parody is
“..used as a self-reflexive technique that points to art as art, but also to art as inescapably bound to its aesthetic and even social past. Its ironic reprise also offers an internalized sign of a certain self-consciousness about our culture's means of ideological legitimation... Postmodern parody is not ahistorical or de-historicizing, but signals how present representations come from past ones and that ideological consequences derive from both continuity and difference.”¹³
Just as rap was a way to draw attention to the adversity faced by black Americans, parodies of black culture through the lens of rap music draw attention to unjust assumptions by challenging the notion that oppressive texts or beliefs were legitimate or fixed in the first place. Hutcheon suggested that parody not only rewrites another work, but suggests another one within itself, reminding the reader of the relativism of any narrative.¹⁴ Parody must also allow for a critique of itself by “suggesting its own potential as a model or target, a work to be rewritten, transformed, even parodied in its turn.”¹⁵ Hip-hop has always been confronted with reflexivity. Artist, journalist and critic Kembrew McLeod has acknowledged this threat of assimilation and suggested that hip-hop artists and fans found themselves in a contradictory situation that other groups confronted with widespread acceptance previously faced: “being ‘inside’ a mainstream culture they had, in part, defined themselves as being against. By selling millions of albums to white teens and appearing on MTV, hip hop artists (and their fans) have had to struggle to maintain a “pure” identity… by invoking the concept of authenticity in attempting to draw clearly demarcated boundaries around their culture.”¹⁶ These boundaries, however, have often resulted in a closed circle, easy to look at with disdain from the outside, implying inferiority from other the classes looking in.
T-Bird, I need some money for my baby
I ain't giving you no money, that ain't my baby
(Yes T-Bird, it was)
That ain't my kid
(Yes it is your daughter)
I got one son
(You got a daughter, too)
I got a son named Chris and that's it
(T-bird, you trippin')
- “My Baby Daddy”¹⁷
Both songs are comments on cultural presumptions about the domestic sphere. They addresss an absent father and estranged families; “Stepdaddy” implies a biological father who has left the home (“I wish my daddy never left”¹⁸) and the failures of his inadequate replacement, while “My Baby Daddy” discusses a single mother who is vague and coquettish about the ambiguous paternity of her child. The families in the songs are presented as the opposite of the post-war ideal of nuclear American families, a predominantly white model. During the 1980’s and 90’s talk shows such as Maury, Jerry Springer, Divorce Court, and other programs dramatizing the legal and familial troubles of its participants rose dramatically in popularity. By a zoo-like showcasing of troubled teens, unconventional relationships and exaggeratedly “trashy” characters, the talk shows made entertainment from poor, uneducated (and often black) communities that struggled with adhering to traditional family systems, implying sexual irresponsibility and deficient parenting. This is reflected in Hitman Sammy Sam`s careless attitude towards his stepchildren:
Better be sleeptalkin!
Who the hell is that in the refrigerator?
Kids don't eat 'til later!
In 2008, former member of B-Rock and the Bizz Paul Costict appeared on an episode of the television show Divorce Court, seeking the return of his gold album from his estranged romantic partner.²⁰
Other negative stereotypes are explored in the work of Canadian academic Kimberly Tavares; her PhD dissertation examined difficulties experienced by black male students in the public school system. She found that black male teachers attributed their success to a female role model. She concluded that both credit and blame for educational standing relied on the family, most often the woman, which has resulted in systemic oppression. By putting the problem back on the (black) family, the educational system is absolved of its role and responsibility and there is no pedagogical reform²¹. One out of four American children live in a single-parent home, a statistic independent of ethnicity or geography²².
By presenting the music videos and songs comedic, they B Rock and the Bizz and Hitman Sammy Sam appealed to a wide and diverse audience. Their parodic qualities function as reflexive tools, rinsing themselves to expose destructive presumptions that have become naturalized into culture. The absurdity of the songs and their accompanying videos make transparent flawed cultural narratives; they are examples of hip-hop artist’s refusals to be the stereotyped “stepchildren of society” by taking back their negative representations and re-presenting them as caricatural constructions.
¹¹Sammy Sam, Hitman
¹⁷The Bizz, B-Rock.
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