Can we take a minute to acknowledge the awesomeness that is Missy Elliott? Can we pause, and breathe in the magnificence of her auditory alchemy? Can we bow, in humble collective reverence, to her otherworldly beats, her alien bass wobs and her lyrical acrobatics? To the fact that she is an artistic innovator in every sense of the word, and quite possibly the most powerful visionary force in hip-hop history?
Which brings us to her latest release: “WTF (Where They From?)”.
Yeah, it’s really that good. So good it’s scary. Kind of like the best sex you’ve ever had, only less sticky, and still totally better because you can have the experience of listening to it over and over again, even in public, even if you’re on your period; and it never falls out, or shuts down after it climaxes, or unsubscribes from your Facebook feed because it has shitty self-esteem and jealous tendencies.
I was hooked about two seconds in, when that very first descending synth gliss slithered its way up my spine – that one that goes on to anchor the ensuing three(ish) minutes of head-bobbing, booty-shaking, lower lip biting, next-level auditory bliss. Straight out the gate, “WTF” grabbed me with its catchy/dance-y beats, and Missy’s long, languid, protracted lyrics wherein she croons about someone’s dumb dance, and someone’s outstretched tongue – someone’s who’sway too young, and who, according to the Internet, might very well be Miley Cyrus; but really, who can be bothered to deconstruct lyrics with insane sounds like this thumping in my ears and my uterus?
Then come the drums, and the cymbals, stomping and high-kicking up a veritable sonic storm while Missy does some Olympic-level lyrical gymnastics shit with her tongue, which seems to have an invisible though definitive physiological link to my hips, which haven’t stopped gyrating since the second I pressed (okay, clicked) play. And so it is that Missy’s throwing a party in my ears, and I’m shaking my every possible it to those extradimensional sliding bass-y things, bouncing and whooping along with the festivities, when Pharrell Williams comes leaping into the fray, sounding like Flavor Flav’s doppelganger, and dropping esoteric Hermetic references with albeit dubious pronunciation.
Okay, I think, nodding my head, squinting my eyes, arms outstretched over head while my legs move of their own dance-a-rific accord, so Pharrell’s dabbling in secret societies and Thelemic magick. Whatever floats his boat…
Another synth gliss drags its tongue across the backside of my neck, as my womb expands and a soft moan slips forth from my lips, while Pharrell launches into his next verse, at which point my gut contracts, my breath gets caught in my throat, and I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face.
Et tu, Pharrell?
It’s hard, being viscerally attuned to the energetic frequencies of words, while also being a lover of really good dance music, because so often the awesomeness of a super bangin’ track is perved by the lyrics’ fucked-up frequencies; and so, while my body loves the beat, the bass and the melody, subtler parts of me contract in defense, rushing to protect my consciousness from the words that would otherwise program it with fear, lack and/or limitation.
I rewind the track (okay, move the cursor a centimeter to the left), praying I heard him wrong. But, there it is again, those stupid, stupid words:
I am so different than ya’ll
So far apart
It seems so innocuous, right? Like, what’s the big deal? It’s not like he’s cursing, or disparaging women, or vaguely threatening violence the way M.I.A. did on Missy’s “Bad Man”. All Pharrell is doing is telling us that he is infinitely more special than the rest of us, which I suppose isn’t all that far-fetched, if we’re equating records sold with human differentiation. Except that’s the problem. Pharrell is mistaking his success, possibly his talent and maybe even his charisma, with being special. Different. Somehow separate from everyone else.
So what? you ask, still not entirely clear as to why I’ve got my panties in a such a proverbial bunch. Who cares? Maybe Pharrell has an extra toe, or a heart-shaped colon. Maybe he’s a Grand Wizard in a Thelemic Mystery School, or the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. Maybe he is so different from us. Maybe he is so far apart.
Except he’s not. None of us are. We’re not different, and we’re not far apart, like, at all. We are, each of us, individual expressions of one human species – a singular collective organism that shares the same atoms and the same DNA codons; that is sustained by the same sunlight, the same water, and the same oxygen; and that experiences the same batch of emotions everyone else does – fear, pain, loss, grief, love, lust, joy, inspiration, all of it. And now, more than ever, it’s pretty crucial that we grok this. We can no longer confuse our individuality with separation, or fundamental “difference,” because when we do, bad shit happens. Like, really bad shit. Like, that terrible thing that just went down in Paris. And no, I’m not blaming the terrorist attacks on Missy Elliott, or Pharrell Williams. I’m not fucking retarded. But, what I am saying is that this sort of mass-marketed lyrical, pop music programming is inadvertently contributing to the illusion of our separateness, which absolutely is the number one problem plaguing our planet and our species right this very now.
The problem with Pharrell’s seemingly harmless declaration is that it is divisive. The mere uttering of these words, to say nothing of their recording, and widespread playing and replaying, creates millions of tiny fissures throughout our human community, while sinking into the minds and self-esteem of every single person listening to these words, which – if YouTube views are any indication – is a lot. Like, fourteen million a lot.
The problem is that these lyrics create a massive conceptual divide between Pharrell and the listener – a towering energetic wall topped with jagged glass shards and cootie-riddled pus that necessarily carves out a ginormous, un-crossable chasm between us. It’s toxic on multiple planes: In the immediate sense, it’s a way of telling every young would-be rap star that they’re not likely to make it, because Pharrell is an alien species unto himself. And so, at the grassroots level, it keeps the community down, and squelches big/likeminded dreams, dissuading others from taking the journey to pop stardom themselves. From a more macrocosmic perspective, it feeds separation stories the world over, subconsciously alleging that there are actual fundamental differences that render individual humans “so far apart;” and this is where it gets really, super caustic, because the more we sign onto narratives that paint us as separate, the easier it is to do harm to one another, because we are backed by a story that has us believing we aren’t actually doing this harm to ourselves, which – of course – we are.
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison…
– Albert Einstein
Everything is frequency. Frequency is the fundamental material of our third-dimensional reality. And it’s not just stuff that exists by way of vibrational frequency (i.e. trees, cars and marshmallows), it’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs, as well. Music is an especially efficient frequency transmitter because it’s rhythmic and it’s visceral; we can actually feel the frequencies in our bodies, which, on multiple levels, are entraining to the sounds we hear. We are extremely sensitive beings, unequivocally influenced by our every shred of environmental input, whether we are conscious of this influence, or not; and yes, this absolutely includes the words we hear, and the lyrics we sing/dance to. It’s subtle, this separation frequency, and it takes a trained ear to hear it. I’ve listened to “WTF” at least a hundred times already, because – as we’ve already established – it’s that good, and because this is (one of) the downside(s) to the app situation, and the 24/7-All-tech-all-the-time culture it’s spawning – we can ruin a song by overplaying it less than a week after it’s been released. Yay, high-speed broadband and gluttony! But, I digress. My point is simply that upon hearing this song and these lyrics over and over (and over) again, I’ve honed in on some of the subtler vibrational effects of its components. And so, it’s not like someone is going to casually listen to “WTF”, dub themselves a hopeless loser, and promptly give up their every dream, whilst thrusting Pharrell upon an exalted pedestal of rarified distinctiveness. The programming I’m talking about is happening on extremely nuanced levels of our subconsciousness. And yet, it is absolutely happening – influencing invisible fields that shape our feelings, our thoughts, and our beliefs, which themselves affect the collective field of consciousness in which we all exist, despite how “different” we claim to be.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that hip-hop inspires terrorism, or that separation-speak necessarily leads to bloodshed (even though it so often does). But, there are myriad subtle ways allegations of separation seep into our consciousness and inform our behaviors, thereby making it infinitely easier to stiff our waitress, park in that handicap spot, and wipe boogers in our library books, because we have marginalized these “others” who bear the affronts of our actions with words, thoughts and internal narratives that paint them as distinctly different from us; and that perceived difference is what allows us to disassociate from the consequences of our actions, because we think we aren’t ourselves affected, even though we absolutely are.
I doubt Pharrell has even a shred of ill intent, let alone the slightest inclination that his lyrics are at all damaging to his listeners’ psyches. Then again, web-spread rumors of Illuminati conspiracy plots suggest that reptilian overlords disguised as corporate fat cats encourage rock stars to write lyrics that are purposely corrosive. Perhaps. I can’t speak to that with any degree of knowledge or authority. All I know is that most people don’t realize how damaging their words are to themselves and to their community, and that when it comes to pop stars who’ve got millions of people listening to their songs, well, that damage is exponentially amplified. Obviously.
And sure, this particular lyric is but a mild example of the divisive languaging plaguing pop music, and hip-hop, specifically, where posturing and competition have always been part of the culture. I’m not here to challenge the dozens, or the traditions upon which this sound is based. What I am doing is inviting it to evolve, because it is totally possible to puff oneself up without putting others down, or pushing them away, or making them separate – without inadvertently telling one of your eight-year old fans with gold record dreams that she hasn’t a shot because she’s not special/different enough. Heck, it’s even possible to make a song wherein one isn’t puffing themselves up at all, and not a single “Benjamin” reference is made, but that’s another article, for another time.
So, what’s the fix? I mean, hip-hop artists aren’t therapists; and music isn’t self-help. Pharrell and Missy and all the rest of the superstars whose lyrics reflect similar separation themes aren’t responsible for the psychological well-being of the planet, and I’m certainly not in favor of legislating self-esteem building lyrics for radio play, if for no other reason than I’m not in favor of legislating much of anything for any reason whatsoever. Art is all about free expression, which we must honor and protect – ferociously – even when it comes to a couple throw-away lines tossed in between otherwise cryptic Masonic references in someone else’s song that’s all about differences in expression forged and anchored by background and place anyway. I’m not lobbying for a revolution (yet). I’m just pointing our collective attention towards the effects our words have on our world and our species. I’m inviting us to be aware, and – dare to dream – be inclusive. I’m inviting us to be mindful of the words we use, and especially to the words we use a lot, and to the songs we sing along to, again and again. I’m inviting us to be discerning – with what words we allow into our consciousness, and which ones we send out into the world.
As for Missy, and even Pharrell, I got no beef. How can I, what with that synth gliss still slithering its way up my spine, and those drums – oh my, those drums – verily demanding a wide, low squat, and a lot of booty shaking, all while Missy makes magical sounds with her mouth, animated by the kind of speed, stamina and dexterity normally ascribed to Olympic athletes, or advanced robotics? No, this song’s too good to not listen to, unconsciously divisive lyrics, and all. And still, to she who is absolutely tapped-in to subtle and not-so-subtle vibrational frequencies, should her eyes find her way to these words, I invite you (and your collaborators) to be responsible with your lyrics and your über badass expression, because you have the planet’s attention, and humanity’s ear, and we’re kinda struggling right now, and could use a little less toxicity, and a lot less separation; and Missy, I can’t think of anyone better suited to lead us back to the truth of our unity. I mean, you are so futuristic, and all…