The Real Story of Black Women in Pop

A section that stuck out was about Diana Ross and the rumors of her being a “diva,” in part because she asked to be called Ms. Ross. That also persisted with Lauryn Hill for a very long time when she broke out solo from the Fugees–“she must only be addressed by Ms. Hill.” Now it’s part of [Ross’s] Instagram bio, and the idea of a diva is something that is embraced as part of the formation of a pop icon.

It’s so difficult for people to just hold Black women in esteem. Black women are on a continuous journey of trying to make it clear – I am who I am, and I said what I said – and the naming thing is a big part of it. I hate to take everything back to slavery and reconstruction, but Black women were rarely, if ever, called by their true honorific. They were called whatever anybody felt like calling them. My grandmother’s name is Lottie. A lot of times, people just called somebody Lottie, and they would call the next Black woman Lottie again. A lot of times, people just call people Auntie. White people just called every Black woman over a certain age Auntie. Hey, Auntie, bring me a lemonade. 

So pardon me If Diana Ross wants to be called Ms. Ross. Pardon me if Lauryn Hill wants to be called Ms. Hill.  I understand why people are resistant to it. But it’s time to stop. Hip-hop is problematic in a lot of ways, but it is wonderful in that it was a big huge renaming. I’m Dana Owens, but I am Queen Latifah. I am Nicki Minaj, I am Cardi B, I am Yo-Yo, I am J.J. Fad, I am Doja, I am whomever.

I find it preposterous that people are offended by that, but I know what it is. It’s because it’s a Black woman claiming herself.

Do you have any guidance for people who have a passion for music but want to also have a more studied perspective on it? 

Listen without fear, and listen widely. Don’t try to listen to it with your whole intellect but with your body and soul. Ask your older relatives–because they have them, believe me–for their back issues of VibeEbonyEssence. Get your fingers dirty and read. Read about what was said about the music in the time that the music was actually being listened to.

In my early days of writing about rap, I literally would stop talking to people about it because I always felt like it was some kind of knowledge contest. I like to know obscure things; I think Shine Bright is a collection of obscure things. [But] I’m not into it for like the contest of I know that Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” came out in 1973 on Buddha records, and not, in fact, Motown like people think. I just want to talk about music, and I want to see other people talking about music. When you’re with your friends at brunch or whatever, and you’re talking about music, just treasure that. That, to me, is the thing that makes life wonderful.