Mary J. Blige: the harbinger of death
By Earnest Crim III
Contributing writer for End the Lie
For a hip hop fan who previously expressed fandom for the likes of Three 6 Mafia and Mike Jones while in high school, Lupe Fiasco was a breath of fresh air as I began to discover my intellectual, Black nationalistic self in college.
He embodied musically and poetically what my upbringing consisted of on the south side of Chicago. The lyrical dexterity of his music had seemed to usher in a renaissance of the classic hip hop era.
I remember rushing to the local Best Buy in Champaign, IL after my last class on Tuesday in 2006 to purchase the CD.
I was in enthralled and, needless to say, I was not disappointed by Wasalu Muhammad Jaco’s display of art in the form of music.
However, what I would really admire Lupe for was not his penchant for multisyllabic rhyme schemes or metaphoric songs that would take an infinite number of listens to capture every message. I would admire his audacity to take a firm stand for what he believed in.
Sure, many will pinpoint Lupe’s recent (controversial?) remarks about President Barack Obama being the world’s most eminent terrorist.
However, those same people will look past the political stance Lupe took before his moniker became the equivalent of socially conscious commercial success.
Without the promise of reaching the plateau he is at today, Lupe took a bold stance against an extremely successful and infamous global company: McDonalds.
Lupe, not swayed by the monetary gain that could have come from advertising with such a gargantuan company, decided to place his morals and religious beliefs above any sort of avariciousness to attain the ostentatious allure that is erroneously linked with commercial successful hip hop artists currently.
He told McDonalds that he would not advertise their product because in the advertisement, he was scheduled to promote pork, which is absolutely intolerable for human consumption according to Islamic beliefs.
Now, I can think of a million other reasons why McDonalds (who should be on everyone’s top 5 public enemy lists) should not be promoted by anyone of significance, much less eaten, but I’ll save that for another post and I’ll let them handle it.
I didn’t realize it at the moment, but this political stance would have a profound effect on me. It reiterates a belief that I have always had that seemed to be more widespread during the Civil Rights Era amongst entertainers than the present day.
That belief being taken from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben (Spider Man fans whatup?): “With great power comes great responsibility.”
I’d even take that quote a step further and rephrase it as, “With great power, influence, or money comes great responsibility to the people who are responsible for your success.”
Whether Lupe was able to influence others with this solitary moment of activism will probably never be known. However, what is known is that on that day, a rapper with a tremendous amount of influence took a stance that not many in his position would have.
He valued his morals, religion, pride and supporters more than a temporary influx in his bank account, and that his commendable in more ways than one.
But why was it so admirable? Whether Lupe knew it or not, he took a stance against a corporation that is arguably the most noticeable culprit behind the obesity epidemic in our country.
We live in a fast food age, where the rates of obesity and heart disease have increased dramatically nearly in concurrence with the heightened success of McDonalds and other unhealthy fast food chains.
Two thirds of all Americans are now obese or overweight, and it goes without saying that obesity has been linked to a plethora of illnesses, disorders and conditions.
[Editor’s note: for more on obesity, read Crim’s earlier article “The conspiracy to make us fat”]
Do you know how disturbing of a statistic that is? That means that in a room full of 100 Americans, you are likely to encounter 67 people (rounded up) who would become short winded while walking up one flight of stairs.
In a country that claims prominence from its GDP and technological innovations, the number more Americans should be concerned with is their BMI (Body Mass Index).
As we have known for hundreds of years now in this oxymoronic country of supposed freedom and equality, whenever mainstream (White) America has a problem, what this really means is, it is doubled or tripled for ethnic minorities.
A recession in America (9% unemployment) means a depression in Black America (18% or more unemployed).
So, if America has a health crisis, imagine the disastrous effects it is having on Black America as a whole, where you can find more liquor stores and friend chicken shacks than grocery stores (ironically Lupe touched on this topic on his first album).
[Editor’s note: even when one can find a grocery store, they are filled with much more junk food, high fructose corn syrup-laden processed foods, genetically modified foods and otherwise unhealthy items than produce and other healthy, nutritious foods.]
There should be no surprise then that the average life expectancy for Black men is 66 years old, 74 for Black women and 78 for mainstream America.
It is because of these startling statistics that Lupe’s stance is that much more meaningful. He didn’t just protect his religious beliefs, he stood firm against a conglomerate that is partly responsible for clogging our arteries and slowly killing Americans.
This leads me to the recent controversy surrounding Mary J. Blige’s recent Burger King commercial where she is crooning/cooning about the delectable taste of a crispy chicken wrap.
This commercial is disturbing for a variety of reasons. In fact, a dissertation length essay would probably be needed to dissect every component of the commercial that is damaging to the Black psyche in regards to the Jim Crow era stereotypes it reinforces.
However, the stance I choose to take is one from a health conscious perspective. By choosing to do this commercial for a large sum of money (reportedly 2 million dollars) Ms. Blige basically chose money over morals.
Now, I do not know enough about Ms. Blige’s personal life to know of her eating habits and religious affiliations, but I do know what she stands (stood?) for symbolically as an artist.
Additionally, Ms. Blige has the economic flexibility to shop at establishments with healthier options or even hire a chef while most of her supporters probably do not.
We can reluctantly say that celebrity product placement does not matter but subconsciously it affects us all. Nike can attribute much of their success to Michael Jordan and his line of shoes, for example.
So, if I’m an impressionable child or adult that blindly follows celebrities, I am more likely to eat hazardous foods at fast food establishments if someone I admire does too, especially if they sing about it gleefully.
I’d probably believe that this food couldn’t possibly lead me to a hospital bed with clogged arteries or damage my intellectually capability by destroying my brain cells since someone who I admire deems it permissible.
Ms. Blige, I’m not disappointed in you because of your coonish antics (well, just a little).
I am disappointed in you because as an extremely influential Black woman who has overcome a tremendous amount of obstacles (health obstacles included) you chose to use your power of influence to lead my people astray.
That is the most disappointing aspect of this whole ordeal.
You exchanged 2 million dollars for the possibility of leading 2 million more Blacks to their early demise with diabetes, clogged arteries, heart attacks and cancer.
“With great power, influence, or money comes great responsibility to the people who are responsible for your success.”
[Editor's note: Mary J. Blige now claims that the the version released was incomplete and she would not have approved of such an advertisement knowing that it would come out as it did. In an official statement posted on the blog "Straight from the A" Blige reportedly said, "I agreed to be a part of a fun and creative campaign that was supposed to feature a dream sequence. Unfortunately, that’s not what was happening in that clip. I understand my fans being upset by what they saw. But, if you’re a Mary fan, you have to know I would never allow an unfinished spot like the one you saw go out."]
Ernest Crim III is a high school social studies teacher on the south side of Chicago. He is passionate about encouraging (and participating in) social, political and intellectual activism in and outside the classroom while concurrently devising innovative ways to inspire the youth through relevant historical narratives. Additionally, he is a self-educated wellness advocate and an aspiring personal trainer. He can be reached at [email protected] and/or on Twitter at TwoPercent_EC
Edited by Madison Ruppert