Last year I attended a Blackstar show and was genuinely overjoyed; not only because I was able to see one of my favorite hip-hop duos do it up on stage, but also because Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli stood before me with great poise, tailored blazers, and wedding bands- looking like the types of ‘full, grown men’ that have earned that title, and not just adopted it. At that same show an old friend, also heavy in the hip-hop scene of yesteryear, and I pulled out our iPhones to compare pictures of our growing daughters. They were moments of grown-ness that I desperately needed- as my love for the music, but not the culture, had begun to dwindle.
The genre of music that I assumed I would have to abandon as I became a mother, professor, and feminist, is looking mighty seasoned and sexy these days. Jay-Z who often rhymed about never settling down and keeping plenty of “girls, girls, girls, girls” is now a loving husband and doting father. His oft-captured wide smile and glow serves to welcome us into a new age of hip-hop; an age where one can focus on family and being settled in spaces outside of bottle popping and model hopping. And it’s okay; and it’s beautiful.
Even past those moments of love, togetherness, and devotion, we are also being shown how our favorite hip-hop artists handle breakups and life changes. I think one of the most profound examples of amicable endings can be witnessed in the way Nasir Jones and Kelis Rogers are now handling the dissolution of their marriage, the birth of a child during those trying times, and the rise from ashes that everyone has to brave in attempts to move forward.
When I first heard that Nas’ newest project would be called Life is Good, and would be compared to Marvin Gaye’s ode to heartache and his ex wife Hear My Dear, I became nervous- even more nervous than I usually am when a Nas project drops. I recognize that one of my favorite rappers sometimes makes bad choices in beats and subject matter, which meant that Life is Good might be a mess of good intentions coupled with too much smoke, drink and bitterness.
When the album art was made available, with Nas holding pieces of Kelis’ wedding gown while looking healed and triumphant, and smoking a cigar; the woman’s advocate in me immediately wondered if Kelis would be unfairly bashed on the project. Heaven knows there were all sorts of smear campaigns aimed at her when rumors began to circle about the couple’s impending breakup. At the same time, I was happy that Nas would vulnerably speak of how things fall apart, how we all hurt when things don’t go as we plan in romance, and hopefully provide his fans with a mature, Black male narrative. You see, we seem to always allow space for women to grieve their broken hearts and failed attempts at love, but we rarely allow men that same space, and wonder why that bottled up pain turns to rage.
I am pleased with Nas’ attempt at capturing the rise, fall, and rise of love. I am even happier that Kelis, in an interview where she was asked how she felt about her ex’s album (and album art), said that she respected his right to express his sentiments through his music:
At the end of the day, Nas is an artist, and for whatever it’s worth, he’s one of the greatest. For someone in hip-hop to be genuine and honest, whatever the honesty is about, I think it’s awesome.
Even better, Nas, during an interview with Funkmaster Flex (where Flex seems to be more angry about Nas’ breakup than Nas), defends his ex-wife and admits that they both behaved badly when their relationship ended. Nas says of Kelis:
“Honey’s a great girl, she caught a bad rap in the whole thing… It wasn’t fair… What we realized later was that we didn’t have to go at it like that… We’re in a much better place now, thank God.”
Parenting post divorce proves a challenge to the most mature, compassionate, level-headed folks. Seeing the way Nas and Kelis are admitting their mistakes, making peace with what was obviously an inevitable split, and behaving agreeably in public is one more reason I can continue my post as a B-girl. Look at hip-hop; look at us.