There is constant debate over reality television – VH1’s line-up in particular – and widespread belief that it’s awful, especially for Black people. It may be hard to spot redeeming qualities in a show largely benefitting from its audiences’ insatiable appetite for slap fights and snatched tracks, but not impossible. There are gems to be found. You just have to look – without pretense.
During the first season of Love & Hip Hop, Chrissy Lampkin said this about her boyfriend, rapper Jim Jones: “He’s got … a really soft side. He would kill me for saying that.” The reality personality and aspiring bride was referring to Jim crying on air, a sight that’s since become commonplace on the popular VH1 series.
We’ve seen the Dipset emcee shed tears in response to his mother’s love, the adoration he has for his lady and the frustration he’s been caused by strife between the two. We even witnessed a few teardrops as Jones managed his confliction over settling down and marrying Chrissy. Viewers tuned in this season to see him finally propose to his longtime love, complete with a two-minute monologue which played alongside a dramatic montage of images: Jones looking pensive, moments from the couple’s relationship and a shower scene that we won’t discuss. Based on his catalog, it’s more than a bit surprising to see Jim express his feelings the way he has on the show.
Some have taken it better than others. On one Hip-Hop message board, one viewer wrote in response to the sight of Jim Jones’ crying, “Hope this doesn’t air in Harlem, or Jim’s never gonna be able to walk the streets.” Meanwhile, those of us with post-puberty maturity levels have welcomed the show adding a nuance to Jim Jones’ character that isn’t readily found in his music.
Another popular rapper-turned-reality star has shown us a side of him that stands in an even more jarring contrast to his on-stage persona. T.I.’s lengthy jail record may keep him out of “father of the year” contests, but you can’t say he’s not a great family man. On T.I. and Tiny: A Family Hustle, we see a doting dad prioritizing the needs of his children and his wife. It’s heartening to see Tip cooking Tiny a romantic dinner, watching his kids play sports, encouraging their musical aspirations and being a firm disciplinarian when the time calls for it.
It should also be noted that T.I. and Tiny’s family is a blended one. The willingness to both love and parent each other’s children from past relationships says a lot about the couple’s bond. That in concert with the constant displays of affection between the two has presented T.I. to viewers in a way we rarely see our men depicted in the media: loving, sensitive, nurturing…that’s kind of a big deal, folks.
Quiet as it’s kept, a rapper being emotional isn’t exactly a new concept. Drake is but one in a long, long line of emo rappers. Yet these watching these two men manage life and love in such a way is a welcome break from the machismo and chauvinism typically found in rap music.
Perhaps some of you wouldn’t anoint either show as a love letter to Blacks, we shouldn’t write them off as hate mail either. Black men being emotionally available, in love, and in healthy parenting relationships...we have to at least clap for that. The packaging might may leave much to be desired, but isn’t it time that these brothers get some acknowledgment for what they bring to the often ratchet reality TV show landscape?
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer currently based in Los Angeles. You can read more of his work on his site, thecynicalones.com. Follow him on Twitter.