Love Letter to Transform Hip-Hop

October 31, 2008 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

This letter was written by Nia McLean, a member of The Saartjie Project, in response to a Hip Hop song called “Hot N Tot” by Sir Will. To listen to the song and watch the performance, click here: “Hot N Tot”

This letter was written by Nia Mclean in response to a Hip Hop song called “Hot N Tot” by Sir Will. To listen to the song and watch the performance, click here: “Hot N Tot”

The Saartjie Project is an artist collective that is exploring the fascination with the black female form.
Open Letter to Sir Will and the producers of “Hot N Tot”

Dear Sir Will,

Your MySpace page has a banner that says “Stop Whack Hip Hop”. As a lover of hip hop I totally agree with you. I often question “why is Hip Hop in such a dismal state?” At any given time I can’t listen to the radio for 15 minutes without feeling like I’m nothing more than my sex and more specifically how good I am at it. Misogyny and objectification of women – particularly black women, has run amuck within the culture that you and I care about.

Your MySpace page initially caught my attention because of your song “Hot N Tot”. Sir Will there is a LOT of painful history behind that term, much like the word Nigger. I am hoping that you and your producers are just ignorant about its history and not just ignoring it.  I am a part of The Saartjie Project, an artist collective that is exploring the fascination with the black female form and bringing dignity and light to the legacy of Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, more popularly known as the Hottentot Venus, the same term you reference in your song.

In the early 1800’s as a young South African woman, Saartjie Baartman was paraded around Europe like a freak of nature by a white man, Dunlap to show off her “Hottentot”, her “Jungle Booty” as you put it in your song. People were so fascinated with her behind that they paid money, not just to stare and gawk, but also poke and prod w/their hands, umbrellas, or whatever they had available. Upon her death, her “Hottentot” was dissected in public, put in a jar of formaldehyde and displayed in the Musee de Paris, as if it were a medical oddity – up until the 1970’s! All because she was seen as erotic and exotic, which denied her (in the eyes of those who exploited her) the ability to be anything else (ex. Smart, loving, maternal, strong).

Sir Will, please don’t dismiss this letter by thinking that Saartjie’s story is one in a million. Her tragic legacy is alive. Today, almost 200 years later we are still being exploited and reduced to nothing more than body parts. You and I both know this. We also know that much of hip hop profits from expressing tired myths about black male and female sexuality.

Know that I write out of frustration, but also out of love. Love for myself, Saartjie, all the sisters I am writing on behalf of and for artists like you.  Sir Will you clearly have talent; yet you are taking the easy way out by rhyming sexist lyrics over catchy beats.  There is a consequence to this. The demand to demonize the black female body is what gave Saartjie her unfortunate career and it killed her. The next time you perform “Hot N Tot” think about Saartjie Baartman. Learn more about the woman your song is named after. Consider the “video vixens”- the ladies dancing on your YouTube video – who are presumed to the interchangeable with cars and other material trappings of success. Who can say for sure why these women have chosen such a station? Perhaps to validate their beauty and the prospect of living the “good life”? Consider the young black girls who misguidedly look to these vixens for cues on who to dress, act, and present themselves in the world. Saartjie was also mislead, she began her journey believing that it would bring her a better life, not lead to her private parts swimming around in a jar of formaldehyde.

My point is, there has to be more. You can do better. Instead of condemning you, I am challenging you to do just that. I challenge you to make good music that responsibly speaks of women, glorifying the whole being, not just parts of her.

So if you really care about hip hop (and I hope, Black women) dare to be different. Dare to break out of the cookie-cutter mold of entertaining at the sake of your sisters, your mother or your partner.

Words are so powerful. Use yours wisely.

Thank you for reading, Sir Will. The Saartjie Project would love to hear your thoughts.

Nia Mclean

The Saartjie Project

www.thesaartjieproject.org

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bell hooks says

Fierce critical interrogation is sometimes the only practice that can pierce the wall of denial consumers of images construct so as not to face that the real world of image-making is political - that politics of domination inform the way the vast majority of images we consume are constructed and marketed.

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