A few days ago, Khaligraph appeared on NTV’s weekly show, The Trend, looking dapper and a little lighter skinned than usual, and his explanation was just ludicrous:
“Right now I am living a different life compared to the life I used to live. You know I am drinking clean water, I am driving my own cars, and I am not walking in the sun getting burned. My shawty introduced me to this thing when you go to the salon they scrub your face”
The streets started talking. Here was a chink in his armour. It was only a matter of time before other rappers ran to their social media profiles to fire the shots. Most were low level fire, most anti-fans, thousands of chiding Facebook comments. Octopizzo was the loudest of these voices, calling him ndugu Omollo out and inviting him for a talk on self-esteem when he jets back in America. Black Lives Matter. It was expected. He had given his contemporaries a free pass. He was going to be roasted if he didn’t bury the allegations in a big way. So he began by throwing a blame on NTV studio lighting, accompanied by new images of an un-bleached Khaligraph on Facebook.
Away from the general arguments against bleaching, hip hop has a special hell for artists who try to challenge “black pride”, “black is beautiful” norm. Allegations of bleaching, worse still for a hip hop artist, can completely destroy their career. To avoid any form of feminization, rap artists have always, almost en masse, embraced hypermasculinity – exaggerated male stereotypical behavior that emphasizes physical strength, aggression and sexuality. The result is that rappers, almost unconsciously, go for images, lyrics, and music that are manifestly violent and misogynist.
In the documentary film, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt explains that in hip hop you have to fit into a metaphorical box to be considered masculine; “you have to be strong, tough, have a lot of girls, you have to have money, be a playa or pimp, be in control, dominate other men, other people.” These are the behaviours hip hop considers masculine, authentic, and those who deviate lose the street cred, “people call you soft or weak, pussy, chump, faggot” so everybody tries to remain in the metaphorical box. Weakness is associated with femaleness and homosexuality. It is deeply entrenched that even female rappers have to adopt the toughness of hypermasculinity.
To borrow Leonard Glass analysis of the contractions in hypermasculinity: the hypermasculine must be a “man’s man” – strong, dependable, rough, rigid, unemotional, dirty, mystified by women, but he must at the same time be a “ladies man” – smooth, stylish, sly, seductive, sexually predatory, knowledgeable about women, and emotionally counterfeit. This toxic masculinity is what gets a hip hop artist money because toxic black masculinity has been commodified.
Artists, who do not want to be cocooned in this hypermasculine box must find other ways to remain legit, but they must not, at all times, challenge blackness/maleness, their manhood must never be in question. Everyone tries not to be a bitch nigga. That is where Khaligraph Jones comes in.
I imagine him trying to figure out the options available for him. How to beat down the critics and pulp the small potatoes on the timelines. Rap music isn’t always simple. Or literal. One has to think fast, and well, or end up bazookaing oneself on the foot. So when I woke up to Khaligraph Jones Toa Tint (Mask Off) – a rebuttal of bleaching allegations, I was more than interested in the how, the style he has used to cut everything back to normal, and I was more than impressed.
Self-deprecation is an old and useful style in hip hop. The very use of the N-word by black artists, if we are now to be more politically correct, is a self-deprecation. I have written about it before here, on reclaiming of words to serve a purpose other than the one initially intended.
Rappers, in the past, have from time to time deserted the high table of hypermasculinity for the crumbs on the masculine floor, in the sense of accepting that which is deemed undesirable and unacceptable within the culture, or turning it on it’s head by laughing at oneself, making oneself the butt of a joke through self-deprecating humour. Take for example, Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” (1995) and how it deals with the inability to measure up to the “ladies man” in hypermasculinity. Fatlip’s “Whats Up Fat Lip? (2005) comes to mind, in his openness about his inadequacy. Among the biggest rappers, perhaps Nas- Drunk by Myself (2002) comes to mind. They are many.
The master of self-deprecation is Eminem. He has used it over and over again. We can go back in time, to one of the most self-deprecating verses ever, in 8 Mile – Eminem Freestyle, the Final Battle vs Papa Doc. Eminem goes like:
This guy ain’t no motherfucking MC,
I know everything he’s got to say against me,
I am white, I am a fucking bum,
I do live in a trailer with my mom,
My boy Future is an Uncle Tom.
I do got a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob
Who shoots himself in his leg with his own gun,
I did get jumped by all 6 of you chumps
And Wink did fuck my girl,
I’m still standing here screaming, “Fuck the free world!”
Don’t ever try to judge me, dude
You don’t know what the fuck I’ve been through
I’m a piece of fucking white trash, I say it proudly
And fuck this battle, I don’t wanna win, I’m outty,
Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me.
How do you get back at someone who has completely deracinated themselves? Who has presented themselves before you as worthless? Even if you did, the disses would not be half as effective. This is what Khaligraph has done. He has collected all the disses and ridicules from the interwebs, exaggerated them and mashed them into a track. Nimebleach hadi ngoma natoa… /nimebleach hadi cladi navaa // hata naweza change sex na bado hamwezi nichallenge…// nimebleach hadi haga, nimebleach hadi balls..// Lol! He has made himself the butt of a joke, the ridicule, the chiding. And because he did it before any rapper in Kenya threw one on You Tube, he has killed the hopes of any other rapper sweating in the trenches, penning a diss worth a beat. He wins. Again.
On the look out for Kenyan hip hop artists who have used this style before.
He is more like Drake becoming the meme, singing his way through hip hop’s manly obsession, challenging hip hop’s black machismo, and having a good laugh while at it. Or like Lil B.
I’m waiting to see how many will meme “Toa Tint (Mask Off)”, but like Drake, the ultimate outcome of all this will be in Khali’s favour.