Em-URGE-ing Voices

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What do Rick Ross and Miley Cyrus have in common?

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September 6, 2013

It’s been less than two weeks since Miley Cyrus’ “twerking” at the VMA’s started a social justice firestorm. She was highly criticized for her appropriation of black women, but commended for her promotion of sex positivity. On stage and in her music videos, she casts black women as sexualized props and background for her interpretation of “hood music.” Miley claims she is “’bout that life.” Are you really Miley? Really?

You get a faint clap for owning your body and sexuality, but you don’t get to do it at the expense of black women through music. Rapping, its roots from West Africa, transcended into blues and eventually jazz poetry. Our modern interpretation of rap is racialized, sexualized, and is assumed to often deal with sex, drugs, and alcohol.

However, underground rapper Angel Haze who is infamous for beef wars with Azealia Banks has had a track titled “Cleaning Out My Closet” addressing her childhood experience of being raped and sexually abused. She holds nothing back spitting verse after verse of raw truth and emotion cutting at comfort. She really wants to “let that feeling ring through your gut.”


The message and use of music has potential to be a powerful medium. Miley may just being Miley, but she is clearly failing miserably on this front. Not only does Miley’s recent work perpetuate cultural appropriation of black women like Angel Haze, but it overshadows rising artists that do have a meaningful message in their work. Meanwhile, Miley is “trying to get a line in the bathroom” portraying drug use as a glorified act while genuine communities of low-income and color have to deal with these issues everyday. She is definitely not “bout that life.”

Earlier this year, rapper Rick Ross found himself in hot water over his lyrics as well. Though Miley is appropriating a culture, Rick Ross does a pretty good job at reversing any message Haze would ever hope to accomplish. Recently, Ross was under fire when he released a verse on  Rocko’s new song, “U.O.E.N.O.”. His lyrics caught attention for promoting date rape:

“Put molly all up in her champagne, she ain’t even know it.

I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”

After outrage from many, Rick Ross was dropped from Reebok as a spokesperson.

Music has such potential to be a gateway for activism, awareness, and critical analysis of social ills. Instead, we have Miley “twerking” on stages and Rick Ross making music that condones date rape. Music can promote healthy sexuality, condemn sexual violence, and put an end to treating bodies of color as objects to be used – whether as sex objects or props in the background of a music video.

Music can be a platform for voices and stories aren’t shared in many other places, like experiences of sexual violence. Miley Cyrus and Rick Ross both seemed to have missed the message that the potential for music can be much deeper than sex, drugs, alcohol, and of course, “twerking.”

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