Monday, October 21, 2013

MM2: Zebra F***ing Katz-- "Ima Read"

This video was brought to my attention in my literary theory course, of all places. It's the video for the song "Ima Read" by underground rapper/performance artist Zebra Katz:
In that class, we were talking about it in the context of how it uses repetition, but I think there is a ton of interesting stuff in here regarding gender, as well--but before one can truly ascertain what's going on, some context is needed to clarify some things. According to this article on the New York Times website, "reading" is a reference to Ball culture, which (according to our good friend Wikipedia) is a subculture in the LGBT community where people walk (i.e. compete) for prizes. To "read" someone in this context it to "insult them in the bitchiest way imaginable," which certainly fits with a lot of the lyrics, including the opening hook ("Ima take that bitch to college/Ima give that bitch some knowledge"). Indeed, the word "bitch" is used 87 times over the song's four minutes.

In an interview he did with The Guardian, Katz (whose name offstage is Ojay Morgan), admits to attempting to reclaim the word, trying to 'numb' its effect. "Being different yourself gives you the power to make other people think differently," said Katz/Morgan, who's openly gay and identifies as "black, queer, and other."

As an outsider to ball culture, I worry that the song's message could be (and perhaps already is) misconstrued; what Katz means to be empowering could be seen as misogynist and what he intends as a celebration of a certain culture could be lost in the mainstream. Hell, even my professor admitted that at first, he took it as "just another one of those danceable, misogynist tunes." As of writing this, "Ima Read" has generated over 1.5 million views on YouTube. How many of those viewers will be satisfied with thinking it's only that, when there's a lot more going on here?

What are your impressions of the song? Do you think it succeeds in transforming the word "bitch?" Also, I'd love to hear about your semiotic interpretations of the video--even though I haven't addressed them at all in this writing I think it warrants its own discussion (we have black people in whiteface, androgynous twins, odd professor garb, and a black-and-white presentation, for starters).

No comments:

Post a Comment