TAKE #2: Why Are All the Black Folks Standing in the Back of the Hip Hop Concert?

At the ripe age of 23, I’ve been to a bunch of concerts. A lot of them happened while I was in college, a few more once I graduated and was forced to choose between a slightly fuller bank account or seeing Tyler the Creator on my birthday this past September. There’s always a rush that flows through my body once I’ve made it to a concert venue. The moment that I’ve been waiting for for weeks or months is finally here, and your girl is obviously excited. But the one thing that holds me back from enjoying that excitement to the fullest is knowing that white folks (read: white mens predominately) are going to make up the majority of the audience, and I’m right every time.

I remember seeing Tyler the Creator last year during his Flower Boy tour with Vince Staples. I had seen Tyler in 2014 and made it a goal in life for me to see him whenever I could, so I eagerly bought tickets and found a friend to go with. The concert went smoothly at first. We sweatily worked our way through Taco’s opening DJ set and Vince’s follow-up opener and into the beginning of Tyler’s performance. Working his way through the songs from Flower Boy (2017), Tyler made a pit stop in the earlier parts of his discography, choosing to perform songs like “Yonkers” from Goblin (2011) and “IFHY” from Wolf (2013), before moving on to the rest of Flower Boy. It was during his performance of “Tamale” from Wolf, during that pit stop, that put the good feelings on a momentary hold. Tyler has the following couple lines in the song:

Wait turn this up, bitch, this my jam (Where the drums at?)
Here, take a goddamn picture
And tell Spike Lee he’s a goddamn nigger
And while you’re at it, pass the lotion
And fapping and Xbox Live, that fun

Tyler the Creator “Tamale” (via Genius)

And while this song has a BUNCH of super cringey moments, it was the mention of the n-word that I was hoping that I would be able to avoid needing to worry about during the concert. Of course, a bunch of “niggas” had escaped the mouths of the white folk around me and my friend during the entirety of the concert, but somewhere deep in my heart, I was confident that the “er” would be censored – at least out of consideration. lol I was wrong. And it came from the white guy standing next to me.

The word came out of his mouth confidently. Slid off of his tongue and through his lips so fluidly, that you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention. However, the blackness of my skin keeps me on high alert, especially in situations like this. So I heard very clearly when the word came out of his mouth, and I saw clearly that no part of his body showed signs of that utterance having been a foreign experience for him. It was clear that he practiced it many times in his room before coming to the concert.

So when Noname says that she doesn’t want to perform in front of predominately-white audiences anymore, I understand. While performing blackness in front of white folks is an experience within itself, being in a crowd of white bodies at a rap concert and attempting to enjoy it as a black body is also an experience. It’s the going to a concert to share an intimate experience with folks that you share things in common with, and then being forced to reckon with the thing you don’t. It’s having non-black folks ask me to move over so they have more space to stand. It’s being stuck in the back, less expensive seats while seeing white folks moshing at the front of the crowd, arms-length away from the blackness they so hope to grasp. It’s needing to constantly be aware of my body in a space where I’m supposed to feel my freest, while others get to completely immerse themselves in it.

“When I went to see Tyler the Creator, Vince Staples, Chance the Rapper, or Kanye West, all of the black people were subjected to standing in the back, while the audience closest to the front of the stage was a predominately-white male one that sang lyrics that talked about black experiences as if those experiences were theirs. They sing references to “me and my niggas;” they brag about “shaking down you niggas’ pockets” and the blackness of their skin, and they do it in ways that make the unfamiliar seem familiar to them. It was going to be an attempt to understand how white-ownership of blackness and black bodies is a history that dates all the way back to chattel slavery, worked its way into blackface minstrelsy, and found a new home in contemporary hip hop culture.”

Tamar Ballard, I Hope Y’all Hear Me: Chicago Hip Hop and Counter-narrative

See, the relationship that white (and other nonblack) folks have with hip hop and rap isn’t a mutual one. I won’t go so far as to call it parasitic but…..¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Non-black folks get to immerse themselves in black music, black culture, black people, and the black experience, without being expected to give anything to it. Even non-black folks who make rap and other genres/descendants of black music (I’m including K-Pop in here, y’all ain’t ready to talk about that, though) are coopting an art form that was pioneered by black folks to tell their stories. It’s a relationship that is necessarily selfish, in ways that black folks are not allowed to be. If someone wants something from us, they are allowed to take it. Including the things we create.

However, as Noname offers, a lot of black artists know this, but won’t risk the bag to say anything about it (lol I can’t find the tweet to cite it, but if I can I’ll add). Instead, they call their audiences “diverse,” and “from everywhere,” as they rap songs that are made up exclusively of black experiences. And that doesn’t mean that the blame is placed on those artists, but there does have to be a realizing and an acknowledgment of this by these artists, because people will only do what you allow them to do. Of course, there are probably black artists who don’t care about having white folks be the ones they have to trust enough to crowd surf and not drop them, and there are probably black artists who don’t care about white folks saying “nigga” to them at their concerts. But that does not negate the importance of listening to an artist like Noname and others when they express their concern about the same. Just because one of us is cool with it, it doesn’t mean that we’re all cool with it. Just like white folks saying “nigga;” see how things come full circle?? We love to see it.

A couple weeks ago while in line to see IDK, I had another one of these experiences. But, thankfully, less severe. I bought a meet and greet ticket, so I was in line earlier, per the email we received a couple days before the concert. As the line filled up, I found myself surrounded by white men speaking loudly (I could hear them through my earphones) about who their favorite rapper was at the time. They threw out names like A$AP Ferg and DaBaby and had the quintessential white male “[insert artist] is the Nas of this generation, bro” conversation. Part of me felt bad that I didn’t know as much about those artists as them; there was a flash of shame and guilt that went through my body because I was too poor to afford tickets to see some of the folks they mentioned. And I was too stuck in my little bubble of the same 12 songs everyday, to really out much, as far was music goes. I felt like I had betrayed my blackness, by allowing them to know more about my people than me. I felt like an imposter to my own race. I stood for what seemed like hours, surrounded by their bodies and voices, feeling small and invisible despite my bright yellow jacket and afro puffs, until one of them seemed finally realize I was there, and complimented my new tattoo of Tyler the Creator’s golf le fleur logo.

I offered up my “thanks,” and went back to doing my crossword puzzle.

Here are a couple articles from folks talking about Noname’s tweets in a much more refined way than me; some super good reads:

“On Noname and the Policing of Black Women in Music” by Clarissa Brooks

“Beyond Noname: Why Performing Black Art For White Audiences Is So Challenging” by Aaron Williams

Featured Photo Credit: https://studybreaks.com/news-politics/noname-a-rising-chicago-rapper-does-gender-her-way/

here’s something else you may like:

3 thoughts on “TAKE #2: Why Are All the Black Folks Standing in the Back of the Hip Hop Concert?

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