Ever since Lioness released her fierce single ‘DBT’, and it’s equally hard-hitting remix featuring artist’s Shystie, Queenie, Stush, Lady Leshurr and Little Simz; which laid bare the social hardships within the black community and urban music industries regarding, colourism, sexism and misogynoir, I celebrated the releases, relieved that I wasn’t the only one publically vocalizing the issue , I had ‘back up’ to add weight to my claims that the outcome of colourist comments, were potentially toxic and psychologically damaging to those on the receiving end. I had relentlessly tried to convey, being termed, ‘cockroach’, ‘shadow’ or ‘Dead black ting’ could have an irreversible effect on someone’s self-worth, along with other slurs designed to make brown and dark-skinned black women feel undesirable and humiliated. To feel stamped upon at the bottom of the ‘peng pyramid’, by those eager to climb to the summit to bask in the perceived glory of lighter skin tones is demoralising. If it were not for Lioness’ brave decision to unapologetically blow the lid wide open on such a poisonous problem, I would not have gathered the strength to write my brutally honest piece on colourism last year. Lioness’ ‘DBT’ singles provided a mass female voice to an insidious problem, triggering much-needed discussion. I noticed women were now comfortable to openly share their own stories with one another, which in turn empowered those who had suffered emotionally and mentally, we no longer felt alone because we had each other. We didn’t feel delusional, as I had been led to believe by the men I had tried to seek understanding from, when I tried to explain the emotional bruising felt from years of derogatory comments.
As well as women showing solidarity towards each other and stepping up to soothe each other’s scars as stories of shadeism tumbled out from the now unlocked chambers of taboos, I noticed an increase in debates between black men and women on social media. “What’s wrong with having a preference?” mandem queried exasperated. “But why do you have to drag us to applaud your preferences” we clapped back. It was clear to me there was a gender divide when it came to understanding this complex and nuanced issue, despite Lioness’ best efforts, her single fell on deaf ears, evidenced by our brothers resistance to understand the unique and intricate factors of this particular ‘ism.’ Lioness’ ‘DBT’ had succeeded in unifying women and prompting us to get in formation to ensure our voices would be heard, but there was a void which allowed room for this double-edged blade* to bury itself that little bit deeper – The majority of men within our community could not identify with our stories and would not try to empathise with our pain. It was at this point I begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact our men wouldn’t get it until another brother said it. I concluded that it would be a case of waiting it out. I knew one of the mandem would address the issue as honestly as Lioness had, but what I didn’t know was when or WHO??
Thursday 30th August, I got the answer to the question – Step up to this winners podium and take a bow, oh glorious one – Ghetts! On this day Ghetts came to bless us with a different kind of gospel truth, from the Ghetto, Yes! Ghetts had decided to drag the subject of colourism to the surface, between the cracks appearing within our race and the music industry. It was always going to take a fearless artist to tackle the formerly hidden issue of colourism, someone who was capable of viewing the world from differing perspectives and could deliver the message in a sensitive way. It was going to take someone ahead of his time, who was a “A Shepherd not a sheep” (as Ghetts told us, on the 2014 track ‘Man like me’)
Looking at Ghetts back catalogue ‘Rebel with a cause’ (2014), and ‘Ghetto Gospel’ (2007) tells us that Ghetts’ is an artist who is emboldened with blatant truths and introspection. Ghetts also has a hair-trigger execution on the mic as evidenced on 2008’s ‘Freedom of Speech.’ On the ‘Freedom of Speech’ album, Ghetts’ spits with a dizzying intensity and brought bars which spun us more than the dub plates at an Eski dance rave! Back in the day Ghetts was causing a movement, literally, he screamed ‘Artillery’ leading his boys (Devlin, Scorcher, Wretch 32, Mercston, Lightening and DJ Unique) into battle to fire off his ammunition over enemy lines. In present day, Ghetts still displays the relentlessly boisterous energy harnessed from Grime’s heyday, on tracks such as the epic ‘One take’, ‘ You Dun Know Already’, and his villainous bars on Wiley’s ‘Bang’; in the past we have heard an emotional Ghetts’ process his personal responsibilities as a father, on the ‘Rebel With a Cause’ cut, ‘Fatherhood’, but we haven’t heard Ghetts tackle such a painful social sickness, exclusively, the way he does on the poignant track ‘Black Rose.’
Ghetts pulls back the veil on ‘Black Rose’ to expose the villain lurking beneath, which keeps many black men and black women divided. From the first 10 seconds of ‘Black Rose’ you know you are about to hear something heavy; as Ghetts’ daughter opens the track asking her daddy “Daddy, how come there are no dolls that look like me in the shop?” Before the first bar or instrument make themselves heard, I was blown away because I can’t recall a time a grime artist featured their child’s vocals on a track, and her question transported me right back to my own childhood as I had often wondered the exact same thing. Ghetts’ decision to include his daughter’s vocals and have her feature in the equally stunning video to ‘Black Rose’, takes Ghetts’ sentiments from merely preaching to us about how harmful colourism is, and gives his concerns emotional depth and a focal point. Seeing and hearing Ghetts daughter hits you in your chest, as you realise this is a real issue and not just an urban myth, unfortunately it is an urban truth. Looking at the innocence of Ghetts’ daughter in the video, as he lovingly dotes on her, makes men and women everywhere connect with Ghetts’ lyrics on a deeper level, making it an issue doubters are forced to face, as Ghetts words are brought to life in all their 3D glory, making colourism a problem which can no longer be avoided.
The instrumental to ‘Black Rose’ is sparse, which allows Ghetts thoughts to shine. There is only an acoustic guitar, a haughty, monk like chant by singer Kojey Radical, as he exclaims with weary disappointment “Have mercy on my brothers, yeah.” As though he is on his knees in church asking for forgiveness on behalf of his lost brothers, who perpetuate colourism, in turn denying their roots. There are mournful violins, as though they are bemoaning the rift that colourism has caused within ethnic communities across the globe. Interestingly there is a muffled female vocal underscoring Ghetts lyrics, which I interpret as a representation of how our hurt was ignored when trying to express our upset, making our cries for compassion from our brothers, muffled and eventually muted.
Ghetts pulls no punches as his opening bars state, “My daughter, she a princess, the world ain’t slaughtering her skin yet, these Kanye’s ain’t important to the Kim’s yet” In naming Kim (Kardashian) and Kanye (West) in his very first sentence, he draws attention to the extremely complex dynamic of colourism, society and the media in current times; as brown and dark skin women in Kanye’s world are seemingly ignored or traded for lighter skinned women once status and fame is attained. Kim and members of her family appear to lust after and some might say fetishize black men, whilst simultaneously appropriating black culture and disrespecting their black female friends, who belong to the same culture they are heavily influenced by, it opens up a myriad of serious food for thought.
It’s clear that Ghetts fears his daughter may have to face this imbalanced dynamic when she is older, as he looks at the world through her eyes. Ghetts then casts his gaze beyond his immediate family and observes that there are “rivals in his own race” as he expresses his frustrations, that some black men diss black women who have the same or similar complexions as themselves. Ghetts cannot understand how some men can say the acidic things they do, when these same men were raised by black women. From the tone of his voice, he’s ashamed and angry that it has come to this. Ghetts recognises the significance of the black women in his life who raised him, and lets us know he views black as beautiful, as he had Ashanti on his wall as a teenager.
Ghetts also does a great job of highlighting the irony of colourism, as he points out that whilst the black community are busy dividing themselves by way of skin tone, which then determines our social placement in society, which then affects how we are treated; those outside of our race view us as one race – black. The people who choose to be racist would not suddenly refrain from hurling racist abuse, because one black person is lighter than another black person, in these instances we are all, as Ghetts puts it; “In the same boat.” Ghetts also reminds us that the problem is not confined to the UK, but some of our relatives and friends in Jamaica, are using the ever popular cake soap to lighten their skin, in a bid for acceptance, in a society which demands you must conform to one universal beauty standard.
One thing Ghetts addresses which I admittedly had not given a lot of thought to, as I healed from the colourist comments I had received, was the insecurities some black men feel within their skin, but are expected to firm it in the face of adversity. I suddenly realised, the majority of black men who make vile comments about dark-skinned women, have themselves been victims of racial abuse in their younger years, which is the reason these men retaliate later in life against the people closest to them – us, black women. Ghetts dropping the lyric “Ewwwwww he’s black and he’s ugly, naaaahhh I’m black and I’m lovely” stopped me in my tracks as I pondered how it must have felt, for a black man to hear that as a young boy on the come up, and have their confidence crushed at such a young age; that lyric alone gave me a deeper understanding as to why some men indulge in the self-hating practice of colourism. Ghetts lets the mandem know he understands their struggle as he has been there himself, and has felt lonely trying to find his place and purpose in the world; which to me is just as important that Ghetts addresses male insecurities, especially coming from such a hyper masculine and hard faced genre such as grime.
I was moved by his vulnerability in contrast to the edgy persona we usually hear on his tracks. Lastly Ghetts touches upon the diaspora and displacement felt by many second and third generation Caribbean, African and Asian migrants (like myself), when our grandparents came to the UK decades ago, ensuring to instil the traditions of their culture and homeland within us; whilst we absorbed British traditions in conjunction with our heritage running deep within our DNA. This can create the strange feeling of being home, but never quite belonging, or experiencing Britain’s reluctance to clutch us to the bosom of its motherland. Ghetts sums this up perfectly by telling us he’s a “Lost man” and states he’s aware his roots are African, but cannot pinpoint the exact location he hails from on the continent, I don’t think the majority of us could.
This final and powerful point Ghetts makes, affects every person albeit to differing degrees whose grandparents migrated to the UK, but most importantly, it is a circumstance both men and women can relate to and therefore the very reason we should unite; not divide. Throughout the track Kojey Radical serenades our spirits by crooning, “Babe you’re golden…I can’t cry these tears for you, but just know that I’ll be here for you, to keep you golden, black rose.” Listening to the track with tears in my eyes, I felt sheer relief and vindication that what I’d been trying to express for years, was at last at the forefront of discussion and debate, ‘Now I won’t be accused of movin’ mad or be disregarded as bitter, jealous or paranoid. Mandem actually listen to Ghetts!’ I thought to myself.
From the personal messages of praise Ghetts and Kojey Radical have received from black women, I know that many of us feel that both artists’ have given credence to our plight to erase colourism from our communities once and for all. I can only hope that the thorns of ‘Black Rose’s’ truths sting our brothers (and some sisters) just enough to prompt them to hear and understand me, Lioness, Shystie, their sisters, auntie’s, cousins, friends, daughters, ALL of us, when we reach out for their support, instead of questioning the integrity of our lived experiences with suspicion. Perhaps in answer to Ghetts’ question “So who’s fighting for the sisters then?” we will now be offered comfort when we cry.
When we unite as one, we empower each other,
When we let ourselves be divided, our communities fracture and falter.
The temptation to hate you must resist,
Aim to have empathy for others and seek to uplift.
*Double edged blade – I often refer to colourism as a double-edged blade because it comes with a sense of deep betrayal, that your own people would verbally abuse you.
*WATCH* The stunning and vital ‘Black Rose’ video below
Photo Credits: Grime musik, Isaac West, Itch FM, GRM Daily, Genius, BBC, Mixtape Madness, Artists’ own