After watching two hip-hop music videos, I would like to talk about the different messages represented in both. I am going to look at ‘Lean Back’ by Terror Squad and ‘Jesus Walks’ by Kanye West. Although both videos are of the same genre they are quite different in the messages they send out.
‘Lean Back’ glamorizes the ghetto and portrays a negative message of empowerment and encourages materialism as the only way to success. Women are used as sex idols and treated as objects. ‘Jesus Walks’ on the other hand portrays the ghetto in its raw and natural state. It sends out a religious picture, stating religion is the best salvation and disapproves of the sexual manipulation of women.
There is no story behind ‘Lean Back’ instead just a message-using images, incessantly emphasizing that wealth and money give you authority and a high status.
There are a number of images used to show this, I would like to point out just three.
The first that caught my attention is that of lead singer ‘Fat Joe’ and a female dancer. The dancer is dressed in black leather underwear-quite revealing. Fat Joe not surprisingly, is wearing a different designer outfit almost every time this image appears and this is a frequent shot throughout this video. This is a medium and low angle shot suggesting that there is a relationship going on between Fat Joe and the dancer and highlighting his status. While Fat Joe is rapping away, the dancer is doing what I would call a ‘sexual ritual’ on and around him. I would consider this a mild sexual scene but evidence and feeling of a sexual nature is definitely there.
The second image is mainly of Fat Joe and is set at night in the ghetto. He is still wearing his designer garments and excessive amounts of jewellery and rapping away, but in the background is a black girl sitting on the bonnet of a very flash car owned by the squad. She is throwing money around as if it comes from nowhere. I believe the purpose of her sitting on the car, is an indication that she, as well as the car is property of ‘Terror Squad’. It would also appear that she is there for a sexual effect.
Another image is one set at the front of Fat Joe’s house. At the entrance there are metal detectors and one man is being checked before being allowe
to enter. This image is such one representing class, sending out the message that if you don’t dress, talk, have wealth or act like them- then you can’t participate in ‘Terror Squad’ activities. It also sends out that negative stereotypical interpretation of young black men, that they are thugs, carry offensive weapons and provoke trouble.
I think ‘Lean Back’ portrays materialistic, sexual and criminal lifestyles. With all the fancy cars, it would make you wonder, where all the money comes from to afford such luxuries. They use their luxuries to doll up the ghetto- cover it with inauthentic images of wealth, with all their flash cars patrolling the streets. This is the ‘ghetto-fabulous’ impression, which makes the ghetto appear to be what it actually isn’t. All the designer garments and jewellery, making you believe they are criminals, then throwing a young black girl here or there for that sexual finish. There is an off-putting connection between money and sex that men gain their status depending on their wealth and women gain theirs by flaunting their body in a sexual manner. This is such an unconstructive path to empowerment unlike ‘Jesus Walks’ message that Jesus (religion-Christianity) is the best way to positive and successful empowerment.
‘Jesus Walks’ however, depicts a storyline enhanced by religion, showing three sinners and how they can give power to themselves by receiving God into their lives. The characters are a prostitute, an alcoholic and a criminal.
The first image is of a young black girl who is wearing a tight black top and a very short pink skirt. She plays the role of a prostitute. She is climbing a fence-trying to grab hold the hands of angels, whose aim is to guide her away from her sin and lead her into the church where she can repent and be free. But below her on the ground are the obstacles holding her back from transforming herself.
The second image is of singer Kanye West himself. He is rapping about all the good things Jesus has done and can do. There is a choir behind him singing as he stands as a pastor. Kanye wears a suit like a usual pastor and he begins to undress. He is sweating non-stop and is jumping around preaching, as if he can really feel what he is rapping and means it sincerely. Kanye uses his character, religion and a gradually rising low angle shot to accentuate his status.
Last but not least is the third image, also set in the church. The three sinners who are followed throughout the video, stand in the aisle. They listen keenly to Kanye preaching as do the other church-goers, who are clapping and rejoicing. When feeling and really believing what is being said, the prostitute throws herself to the ground in repentance, the alcoholic throws down a bottle of alcohol and the criminal throws down a head band. In ‘Jesus Walks’ Kanye applies stereotypes for example: all young black men are criminals, and use them to teach valuable lessons. This encourages young people to turn from the bad they do. The lifestyles presented are everyday lifestyles and include the sinful things we all do, but Kanye shows how to break away from it all and lead a good life. This is a constructive point of empowerment and is rare in most hip-hop songs.
‘Lean Back’ is set in the ghetto and also in Fat Joe’s house which was transformed to look like a club. There is a panning shot of a range of extravagantly priced alcohols, for instance Cristal Champagne. But you can tell it is actually his house by the panning shot of his trainer collection and his portraits on the walls. It appears that Terror Squad grew up in the ghetto and maybe had a rough time growing up and now appreciates the ghetto for getting them where they are today. They’re famous now and probably believe the ghetto life is why they made it through. That’s probably why they give this counterfeit ‘ghetto fabulous’ portrayal of the ghetto and encourage it as the best route to empowerment. It is a dangerous message for the inner-city folks who live in these areas and can’t afford it, as they might turn to crime to be like ‘Terror Squad’ and to reach their status.
‘Jesus Walks’ is set in various places- including the ghetto, a church and a prison. You can work out that it’s a church by the choir and the stained class windows. The prison is obvious and fairly easy to work out as well, the bars and jumpsuits are a giveaway.
I think in both videos the way women are represented is important. In Kanye’s video women are presented respectfully and as if in everyday life. Although one young black women is not presented courteously- and is portrayed as a prostitute, I believe she plays this role to be an inspiration, a teacher and a help and guide to other young women like herself. Throughout ‘Lean Back’ women are misrepresented. They are inappropriately dressed. They are treated as accessories. Not as human with feelings. They are dominated and paid to dance sexually and act quite seductively for the ‘Terror Squad’ guys. There is one low angle shot of one woman sitting on the bonnet of a car with her legs apart, money between her legs being thrown in the air rather aggressively as evidence.
The only female artist of the ‘Terror Squad’ clang Remy Martin is portrayed different to the other women in the video, she has a higher status than they do. She has not got the same status as the guys, but is not to far from them. Remy’s empowerment is through flaunting her body, but not really in a sexual manner, as she appears to be more like a sister to the ‘Terror Squad’ guys. But an advantage for her is that she also has empowerment through her wealth, just like Fat Joe and the gang. There is a low angle shot of Remy rapping with the ‘Terror Squad’ guys also thrusting money around like the other dancers. But the low angle states her authority.
The female dancers dancing around Fat Joe are encouraging his negative message of empowerment. They flaunt and throw themselves all over this fat, unattractive man shamelessly, letting material possession blind them from the truth. The female choir clapping around Kanye West is promoting and supporting Kanye’s positive message of how to empower yourself. They are dignified in the way they present themselves and are treated respectfully by Kanye.
But captivatingly in both videos, even ‘Jesus Walks’ the men give themselves the higher status, as if women are second class to them and inferior. They give the impression of a world run solely by the male population. Women would almost have no say in anything.
The presentation of men in ‘Lean Back’ is that they are ‘playas’ and pimps, who probably consider themselves to be great role-models for the younger generation. They probably regard themselves as successful people due to the brand, cost and quantity of their clothing. Maybe they think it is best path to follow in life but I wouldn’t agree.
Men in ‘Jesus Walks’ are presented casually, although one is presented with the stereotype: all young black men are criminals, but that is just an example of the paths in life not end up on. The other men play the roles of angels, and Kanye of course, acts the role of a pastor who just wants to preach God’s word.
Messages in both videos are quite clear and straight forward. Kanye’s video says a lot about religion- in particular Christianity. He shows the importance of religion and salvation and shows how you can be happy by just believing. He mentions the good Jesus has done and will carry on doing for those who put their faith in him. Most importantly he points out the consequences to the people who continue to sin and refuse to take the Bible’s words into account. He shows a range of flashing images: destruction to come, tornadoes, fighting and terrorism- as potential consequences.
‘Lean Back’ talks about money and possessions as if they are the most important thing after life itself. I believe ‘Terror Squad’ has a strong passion for money, which wouldn’t be a surprise with all the designer clothing and finest Cristal Champagne they like, which are paid for by money. The message they put across is that without money and possessions-including women- life is pointless and not worth living. Images that have made me come to this conclusion are the panning shots of his alcohol collection and trainers and unwarranted amounts of jewellery. The astonishing thing about Fat Joe is that he wears a large- sized diamond crusted crucifix around his neck, but that could be to show that money, jewellery and materials are his religion. And that is what he believes in. We can see that Fat Joe believes this to be the unsurpassed way to empowerment opposed to Kanye’s message that religion and salvation is not just the best way, but the only way.
I think ‘Jesus Walks’ is a truly inspiring video. The stereotypes are negative and the roles are sinful, but the messages and values to be learnt are essential to leading a respectful life. Whether you’re religious or not, the video acts as a real guide in the beginning of leading an immaculate life.
The video is not divided up into class or race. All races contain sinners and all are welcome to repent in the church. Race or class is not the issue or how many designer outfits you have- just sin. The journey to reach the church appears also to be a search for identity, which was found and recognized by the three sinners. ‘Lean Back’ shows a different aspect of the hip-hop culture, showing that where they (‘Terror Squad’) come from and all the stuff around them i.e. the champagne and money are part of their background- their identity.
I personally do not agree, neither do I respect the messages brought out in ‘Lean Back’. I believe they contain terrible influences for the youths of today.
I also think songs/videos like these are the motives behind crime and violence. Or at least one of the things that provoke it. These songs/videos deserve all the criticism they face by journalists and other media critics.