There’s this thing I’ve been doing for the past few months. At parties, I tell people that Migos is better than the Beatles. When they call my statement blasphemous, I respond: “The Beatles never made ‘Handsome & Wealthy.’”
The phrase and its response are in no way my own. The Internet started the campaign and I am merely spreading its message. Yesterday morning, writer Gary Suarez presented the idea that the Atlanta trio’s own fans mostly speak in jest about Migos, and have turned them into a punchline. I was immediately enraged but took a second to make coffee before I responded.
All three examples that Gary cited in his argument—Kanye West, Young Thug and Migos—are black men who were initially seen as oddities in rap when they appeared. The jokes were a direct result. When Kanye dropped, he was a black dude who wore pink polos and no one believed could rap. Thugga was a dude in jegging-tight jeans and, eventually, dresses—he was quickly declared gay. Migos dropped a fantastic song where they repeated the word Versace and, as a result, were branded minstrel morons. It should be noted that all three had debut tracks that were absolute, long-lasting hits—so why the initial rejection from the public?
When you’re black and male in America, you adhere to a subconscious code of manliness that comes from years of oppression and white patriarchy. The learned behaviors from systemic racism in America force you to follow a set of rules as to how you must act to exist. When something that represents you doesn't fit that mold it causes discomfort because the white man got you all fucked up. Humor has always been a way to deal with tragedy and anger. “Getting these jokes off,” as we say, is not only a way to make yourself comfortable with an uncomfortable image; it's a way to get out your thoughts about that image. Humor also provides a way to be included in the conversation and to say things in a way that won’t make people—white people, really—defensive.
Migos jokes stem from the fact that EVERYONE thought the group was a fad
What’s the opposite of getting jokes off: Kanye on TV. No matter what uncomfortable truth he touches upon, he’s dismissed as ranting. Kanye jokes always assume him to be arrogant or acting like a “brat” because he’s unafraid to speak out against the privileged entities of this country. The funny thing is, he does this in his music, too; but because he’s a humorous rapper, people enjoy his opinions in verse.
With Thugga, the jokes come from men who have yet to become comfortable with the fact that a young dude who wears dresses and nail polish can rap. They see him on the BET stage, reppin’ a gang while wearing a poncho and with a blonde dread bun, and it doesn’t compute. The jokes make it ok. They say, “We like him but don’t think that means we want to be like him.” “He’s my friend but I’m not gay.” It's all protective separation.
Migos jokes stem from the fact that EVERYONE thought the group was a fad. There's a fantastic hashtag called #Migossaid and one of my favorite tweets speaks to the absurd repetition of their first hit:
The very humor that we have come to love from the group was behind our original dismissal. They kept making us laugh and dance but, more importantly, they kept getting better and soon we found ourselves fans.
However, by then, our teasing had been well documented—how do you make something you wrote off matter once you change your mind? Get these jokes off. Suddenly Migos are better than the Beatles not just because they are that great but because they made us believe in them despite our cynicism. Many black people described Migos as “coons” in the beginning because they were yelling their absurd metaphors and wearing tons of gold jewelry. People barely noticed that they were speaking truthfully about their experience as black men and their newfound fiscal independence by legal means. We jump to this conclusion quite often as black people because we want to present the oppressor with one unified look. We cannot afford to deviate from this stance when we are already thought of as shiftless, violent, and uneducated. But we are individual people with powerful stories. We do ourselves a disservice to force another stereotype upon ourselves, though this behavior is learned and longstanding among us. In blackness, deviation requires bravery.
Another rapper people love to make a punchline is Drake. When Aubrey dropped, black men led the charge in calling him a sissy. When he told us that he started from the bottom, we declared him privileged. The ironic thing about Drake is that white people also declared him privileged and middle class. They love to pull up the video of him asking for a tuna sandwich as if being dissatisfied with your deli order is the snootiest of habits. Some even reference that he’s Jewish. Drake is a black man, who has always been a black man and will always be a black man. He has probably never been mistaken for white man in his life, so all that you feel about Kanye's blackness applies to Drake’s blackness as well. The jokes are because he's a black man talking about his feelings. If Drake was a white rapper spittin’ his emotions he'd be Macklemore and win a Grammy.
When I peruse my timeline, the people who don't get the Migos/Beatles jokes are usually white. The Beatles are a foregone conclusion, a fixture in the pantheon of music; your computer knows to auto-correct the group’s name. Many black folks—not all—understand that the joke is a means to say: Migos is relevant and need to be noticed. The truth is, Migos is relevant to everyone in 2014. We were born in a world where the Beatles were already revered, but we’re all here to evaluate (and champion) “Fight Night” for ourselves. It’s also worth noting that The Beatles do not speak for a universal experience. I'm a NEGRO in AMERIKKKA. I am not afforded the luxury to "IMAGINE." I live within the STRUGGLE.
We roast many rappers we love; the behavior comes from black folks being unsure about change. You laugh to deal with tragedy and discomfort. All of these "different" dudes in rap will help decolonize our minds, black and white. Seeing them stand apart and still be accepted on a large stage challenges the accepted notions about how we must act to be accounted for in the black spectrum. It affirms the value of our actual, individual stories. That's the very first step. Gary does raise a good a point, though. If we always make fun of “weird” things we like, we’ll never get comfortable with the idea that we can unironically like artists that fall outside the norm, and it undermines our argument that they be taken seriously.
Migos may mean more to our generation than the Beatles, and that’s right. That doesn’t invalidate Sgt. Pepper's but I do know that three talented young black men could use the boost of being compared to the most revered white men in music, even in jest.
Ya'll listening now, right? Okay, then.
Judnick Mayard is a writer living in New York. Follow her @Judnikki