Hotline Bling, #Drakealwaysonbeat, & the need for joy

i want to start off by expressing a few things so we can get this outta the way, & i can get on to discussing the need for joy….and my unapologetic love for Aubrey (yeah you know, i call him Aubrey…i imagine we  close like that)… so a list of things i acknowledge: A) Hotline Bling is lyrically hella problematic…Aubrey sounds like a creepy ex at best and fuckboy at worst….(but its Aubrey, so thats kinda his MO…its not like he is a nice dude) B) A few friends have brought the colorism in the video* (i’m going to come back to this one), C) D.R.A.M. and music jacking…..(please read this Fader article for a more nuanced conversation….i will simply leave it at this….the idea of versioning, or many artists toasting over the same riddim, takes us back to dancehall and Afrodiasporic sounds outta the Caribbean, which is one of the strongest roots of current Hip Hop, and remix culture helped create so much of the joy i was able to experience after the release of the video). so let’s keep it moving……

being a cultural producer/worker who is deeply imbedded in Black and Brown struggles for liberation and justice, means that most of my days are filled with heartbreak. its the heartbreak of knowing that our children are not considered children only threats, of witnessing my people criminalized and pathologized for existing, of feeling like we are surviving, never thriving…of seeing the way my city is gentrifying communities and pushing us further to the margins. as a creator, i process violences on a very visceral and empathic level, so there are days that can easily turn into weeks, and weeks into months where i feel much more pain than joy. it begins to stifle my flow, and my production work grinds to a halt, i am still able to teach and facilitate creative spaces as an educator, but the work that feeds me, that allows me to communicate most effectively my vision of liberation, is often stolen from me by these constant conditions and feelings of crisis. i know at this point you are thinking… what does this have to do with Aubrey and joy?

within “the movement”, we often hear people espouse platitudes for the need for self care…..typically there is checklist of thing that people will run through, things like have you had food in the last few hours or when was the last time you had water? and these things are essential, right? the things we need for our bodies to continue, food, water, rest……but what about the things we need in order to feel inspire, invigorated, and motivated to continue living in a world that creates so much violence on our bodies and minds. A few months ago CarmenLeah Ascencio with Black Girl Dangerous, created the video below, and it resonated deeply with me…..the question becomes what are we doing in our practice to make ourselves feel happy and nurtured? Where is our joy?

here is my disclaimer to all you backpackers that are going to get caught up on the fact that i’m talking about Drake, instead of what you consider to be “real” Hip Hop……authenticity within Hip Hop is a complex space, and something to be discussed at a later time….. [i’m reminded of something Brother Ali once said in a talk, he broke down Hip Hop and more specifically rap as a meal, he said, most of what you want is deep nourishment, he continued this analogy by talking about how there are certain artist who are like dessert, they taste good, but too much of them can make us sick. I am unapologetic that Drake’s music is my dessert, its the kind of music you listen to when you are in your feelins, when you need to shake your ass with your friends, when you need to be on that braggadocious, i’m the trillest type shit….and let’s be all the way honest he is aided by some of the best production in the game right now, sonically his tracks are infectious….]

so a few days ago when Drake released his Hotline Bling video, i was excited….i needed a five minute break from all the pressure of my day (if you know me irl, you know that we been going through it lately)….and Drizzy did not disappoint, i barely made it 50 seconds into the video before i was smiling….the sheer ridiculousness of the visual aesthetics gave me inexplicable joy….like lol, but for really real….but the end of viewing it i was laughing with the #partnerincreation on the couch….. asking continuously…what was that dance move?  my feed on twitter was full of the best commentary on his moves. But let’s be real people love the video because he gives zero fucks, dances dorky as hell and looks like he’s having fun doing it. Unfortunately we have to ask ourselves why is it so rare to see this from of Black masculine expression? Wasn’t one of Hip Hop’s core principles “havin’ fun”? i went to sleep that night thinking, how great it was to have a ten minute reprieve from all the conditions that make life so hard…(thats right ten minutes cuz you already know i watched it back to back). little did i know that the internet was not letting go of Hotline Bling that quickly….:)

The next morning i woke up to find one of the things that invigorates me the most as a cultural producer….REMIXES….meme and remixes of the video were everywhere….followed by the hashtag #Drakealwaysonbeat, proving that his dancing transgresses genres and styles of music. i saw video of Aubrey dancing to the Cosby theme, Selena, the Rugrats theme, merengue, soca, bachata, afrobeat, other Hip Hop, as a jedi, battling with his Pokemon, he danced all the way through pop culture. over the course of Wednesday, i watched way too many videos….i laughed, i shared with my friends, and we enjoyed things simply for their silly factor, i felt like we all lightweight engaged in a competition of who could find the most ridiculous and simultaneously perfect video…..

during Wednesday, i had an experience that affirmed for me that joy is a potent and strong antidote to the trauma whiteness inflicts on Black and Brown bodies in space. i got a facebook message from a WM, asking me to unlink my twitter from my fb because “while he likes being able to use my fb to see critical analysis and keep up with the intellectual things i’m doing, he doesn’t want his feed flooded with all this low culture i was sharing today…..” And by all accounts this WM and I should be on the same side, he is involved in food justice struggles, he and his brother are heavily involved in immigrant rights work ( I’m not gonna call him out by name cuz we live in a small city and that would be petty), he ended his email with one of the most couched ways in which whiteness continues to uphold oppression and antiBlack rhetoric…”in my opinion“, like all of the dominance and violence you just tried to perpetrate can be absolved with a single phrase…just a heads up b….if you finish a sentence that is blatantly soaked in white privilege with “in my opinion” it’s on par with beginning phases with “not to sound racist but…” this is exactly what is so threatening about joy, why joy in Black and Brown people is so destabilizing to white notions of our social conditions. This man expected that my labor, my use of social media was there solely for his consumption, and that i should only be discussing things like the suffering of my people, G-d forbid I share things that make me smile. His whiteness was offended by Black and Brownness taking up so much space in a way that wasn’t predicated on the pain of our bodies. He unconsciously alluded to something that i think comes up a lot with white folks who use progressive and social justice rhetoric, their allyship only extends as far as Black and Brownness being useful to them, its one of the lowkey ways whiteness operates…..but lemme be very clear to everyone, we are down for the ratchet and the revolutionary, i am not here for consumption or co-optation…..yes i will continue to speak out and make commentary on systemic and colonial oppressions, while building low within my community hoping to heal some of the trauma inflicted upon us, however i am refocusing on finding joy and sustaining happiness with my people…..

i’m going to leave you with three of my favorite Hotline Bling remixes

Aubrey to afrobeat

The force

Anything for Selenas…..

*in addressing the claim that colorism exists in the video, i do not deny it. this video has a greater representation of light skinned women. however, i will say that Aubrey unapologetically loves Black women. one of the most frank, honest, and enjoyable conversations about Drizzy can be found here.….


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