Death and Rihanna

Two very different topics for this post. The first topic is, I think, cool and important. The second is an otherwise pointless rant I need to get out of my mind by committing it to this blog. No, seriously, it is an incredibly pointless rant.

1. There is a project (with Kickstarter), called the Urban Death Project, about using our bodies after we die. I think it is a neat idea, and I wanted to share.

2. There is a post at HuffPo exploring if Rihanna’s new song Bitch Better Have My Money (aka #BBHMM) is a song about Reparations. You can find the lyrics to the song here.

Although my taste in music is relatively broad, it is mostly stuck in the 80’s and 90’s. As such, I will readily admit that I may be under-informed on the possible meanings of various lines in the song. However, I am baffled as to how someone could consider this a song about reparations.

If you read the piece at HuffPo, the author offers not a single line or quote from Rihanna making such a connection. The only people quoted actually talking about reparations are Azealia Banks and Ta-Nehisi Coates, neither of whom have any connection to the song. The connection #BBHMM has to reparations appears to be as tenuous as having a similar tone to the one Azealia Banks had in her recent interview with Playboy Magazine in which she discusses reparations.

If I prime you with a suggestion of reparations, lines like “Bitch better have my money” and “Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot” could be seen as connected to reparations. However, if you just read the lyrics without prompt, it is hard to find such a commentary. Again, I am open to being corrected, but the song seems pretty straightforwardly about Rihanna asserting her position as a top female performer, demanding her money (respect and recognition) and warning other artists hoping to displace her in the pantheon of top female artists that they need to check themselves.

Such a reading of her song makes much more sense and seemingly better accommodates lines like “Ballin’ bigger than LaBron” and “Louis XIII and it’s all on me, n***a you just bought a shot/ Kamikaze if you think that you gon’ knock me off the top.” Or consider this line: “Every time I drive by, I’m the only thing you’re playin'”. Again, please correct me/inform me if I am missing something, but I do not see how these lines have anything to do with reparations.

Why has this article been bugging me so much today? Because the author sets the stage with these lines:

“I also think this song is a powerful and politically charged anthem calling for reparations owed by white America for the wrongs and the legacy of slavery. …I haven’t been able to listen to the track without considering the powerful implications it has for this particular moment in popular culture. We are living in a time where it is impossible to dismiss the legacies of colonialism, slavery and violence, which shape lives and worlds in the present.”

That’s some pretty highfalutin talk. I agree that the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and violence have shaped the world in ways that justify considering radical forms of reparation. I agree that popular culture can have an important role in larger social discussion of such topics. I just don’t see how #BBHMM fits this billing. To describe the song as “powerful” and “politically charged” does a disservice to songs that are actually, you know, “powerful” and “politically charged.” And let me be clear, I’m not trying to pass judgment on the quality of the song nor Rihanna’s ability as a singer. I’m just passing judgment on the author of the post for suggesting that this song is about reparations.

You know, as I’ve typed this, I’ve been thinking about the text the author received from her “close friend and hip hop scholar”: “Can we think of bbhmm as a reparations song?” Perhaps the author of the text has something completely different in mind. For example, if I got myself worked up while giving an impassioned defense of reparations, I could see how this song may be a bit cathartic, even if it didn’t quite capture my feelings. Perhaps this is what the author of the text meant by it being a “reparations song”. But, is this song “about” reparation? I just don’t see it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.


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