This article originally appeared on thembwatson.wordpress.com
About a week ago, as I enjoyed abnormally slow Starbucks Wi-Fi, two young women walked up to my friends and me. They had a question that I did not expect until after it was asked. It was a cultural question composed of so many layers that I doubt they understood. I’m sure they failed to understand ONLY through lack of trying. That one question opened my already ponderous mind to a sea of worrisome thoughts. What was this awful question?
“Hey, can you guys teach us the Shmoney dance?”
Now, before (or after) you chuckle at how ridiculous my predicament was, understand that the song “Hot Nigga” had been on my mind for awhile. Not only because of how catchy it was or how infectious the featured Schmoney dance is. See, the song had plagued my thoughts because I couldn’t help but view it differently that most of the 8,000,000+ other viewers of it at the time. A fun song to a hot beat with a smooth dance. A terrible display of poor lyricism. A sign of Hip-Hop’s decline. However it was viewed by most, I’m sure my view was largely different. I saw, and continue to see, the song as a tragedy. It arouses the same emotions as Mufasa’s death in The Lion King or the moment Jack succumbs to the cold Atlantic waters in Titanic. When I first saw the dance and heard the song in a viral Vine video, I expected to criticize the song as idiocy, while simultaneously dancing along to the ignorance. In fact, I did just that. I naturally flowed into the Shmoney Dance and hit it all throughout the song. That is, until I opened my ears as I sometimes do when I listen to this type of music.
I was struck with sadness when I realized that Bobby Shmurda, the originator of the song, in his attempt to create a blazing end-of-summer hit song had actually written one of the saddest songs I had heard in quite awhile. Don’t believe me? Cut the beat and remove the dance. Change the tone a bit and tell me that I’m wrong…
The first eight lines recount how a 20-year old and his friends routinely kill others. I understand the bravado and machismo praised in hip-hop, so I let these lines slide off my conscience. I’ll get back to them later. What I did find frustrating were the last three lines. The abrupt transition from “murder” to money and sex. No need to even transition or relate these lines to what was said before. Imagining someone writing these lines puzzled me and, in an odd way, invited me into Shmurda’s mind. I wanted to empathize with this dude. The very next line was actually the first line that I really listened to.
“I been selling crack since like the 5th grade.” That’s 10, maybe 11 years old. I stopped my Shmoney Dance and just said “Damn.” I thought to myself: “If you turned the beat off and just listened to these words, you would see the tragedy in them.” Whether or not this is HIS reality, I don’t know. But I’m sure that it is someone’s reality. I thought of an article titled “10 Things Your 10 Year-Old Shouldn’t Be Doing” on the site iMom. It made me think about how drastically different Shmurda’s world (or his character’s world) is than what most would consider possible or acceptable (by acceptable, I mean allowed to persist) in America. 10 Year-olds shouldn’t “be drinking sugary drinks” or “have unrestricted access to social media.” This 10 Year-old was selling drugs. To blame a 10 Year-old for his environment would miss the point, which I will get to in a minute.
It’s amazing how intimate these lyrics are when you actually ingest them rather than dance them away. Incarceration is a reality in Shmurda’s life. In fact, he’s no stranger to it, having been placed in juvenile detention before. Prison and Jail were not abstract oddities to me growing up either, but the tone with which he recounts loss of a father and friends to the prison system moves me to sadness.
The rest of the song is a visceral narration of the violence that he and his team gleefully inflict upon their enemies. The upfront nature with which these activities are conveyed show that they are simply a part of his story and not some metaphorical example of machismo and toughness that is integral to hip-hop. I make this distinction because it is often used to dismiss the positive power of hip-hop in teaching literary techniques and, in turn, utilized to condemn the art as nothing more than glorification of real violence. Thus, Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” is both a problem and a chance to see the road to solutions. It is both garbage rap and a tragedy over catchy beats and an irresistible dance.
If only my view were more popular. If only more people wanted to understand “Hot Nigga” and not just the dance that made the song so popular. Maybe then, we’d cry for Bobby and the thousands of youngsters like him as we cried for Simba when he lost his father. Maybe then, we’d root for them to become Kings, of sort, rather than condemn them for simply being lost on a dirty and damaged world that they didn’t create.
If only the dance could tell that story, since the words fell upon deaf ears.
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