The other day I had a long conversation with someone extremely close to me about reputations. Growing up in the South Asian community, how you carried yourself and represented your family was everything. You’re expected to fulfill certain criteria that fit the Desi standard. As a result, a lot of kids lived double lives. I definitely pulled the classic ‘changing in the school bus’ trick or lied about hanging out with friends when I was going on a corny high school date to the movies. But once I reached a certain age, there was an unspoken understanding with my parents that I was now an adult. My life was in my own hands. I would always be their little girl, but I was also living on my own and going to house parties and bars. There were plenty of times that I made a fool out of myself, and it was always slightly more terrifying when other Indians were around to judge me. But my parents understood that I was learning, and if you ask them, they’ll admit to having their moments of less than perfection. They allowed me to embrace my reputation rather than fear it, which is a lot easier said than done. They would prefer I present my truest self to the world than put on a facade to be societally acceptable, and if I’m being honest, I’ll always compare myself to the checkboxes Indian women are expected to satisfy. It’s hard not to. 9 times out of 10, I’ll probably miss the mark. But at least I know I’m being me. In that same conversation with my friend, he expressed the importance of our name and the weight it carries, especially in our culture. The women, who are usually expected to go on and change their names to match their husbands are to be delicate and submissive. That’s not the case anymore, though. My name can be whatever I make it because it is significant. To an extent, reputations are important. Sometimes, they can make or break you. However, they’re also subjective rather than factual. So take it with a grain of salt, and live your fucking life how you see fit.
That doesn’t just exist in the South Asian community, though. Working in the entertainment industry, your name holds just as much importance. But what I’ve realized is that I can’t get away with things my male counterparts can get away with. If I’ve dated someone in the industry, I’ll be known for that. If I dress a certain way, people associate that with my professionalism. What do people think of me, that I’m a slut, a bitch, a tease? When would a man ever be referred to as those things, especially in a workplace setting? So I’ve realized that if people want to know me for things they wouldn’t pin on a man, I don’t give a flying fuck because that has nothing to do with my credentials. Someone else’s idea of me is only as real as I allow it to be. I know who I am, and that’s what matters. It’s difficult not to let it bother me because I’m a human being and quite a sensitive one at that. But at the end of the day, the one person I need to worry about being proud of me is myself. That’s who I’m living for.
The first example is a bit ironic because I’m not even a fan of his persona due to his antics. Kanye West’s reputation is notorious for multiple reasons, and he so generously lays out a few of them in “Bound 2.” He admits to knowing he “got a bad reputation. Walk-around-always-mad reputation. Leave-a-pretty-girl-sad reputation. Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation.” Sometimes our reputations can hold a degree of truth, but it’s also important to note that we don’t necessarily know all the facts when hearing stories about others. While Kanye’s outrageous actions contribute the most to his reputation, not only do mental health issues play a role but pent-up frustration as well. Others will always have input on situations they don’t know about, and it’s a human reaction to lash out and react.
The fact that Russ has so many songs about those who criticize him demonstrates that he’s built up quite a reputation. Personally, I think the amount of time and energy he puts into making songs about this doesn’t help much, but I understand the need to prove yourself when you work your ass off and people think otherwise. “Sore Losers” illustrates just what makes him so frustrated. In the song, he raps, “I pay ’em no mind, that’s a lie, I be snappin’. That’s my fault, I’m adjustin’ to people spreading lies about me.” That may be one of the most vulnerable lines I’ve heard in a song. The idea is that rappers are supposed to be hard all the time, and Russ has proven time and time again that what others have to say bothers him, making him look weak to the public eye. But in reality, a lot of other artists feel the same way but won’t admit to it. So although it paints him in a certain light, at least it’s honest. He also debunks misconceptions about his fame, emphasizing that he put in the work rather than just popping into the scene and using false methods like paying for plays. Despite all of the criticism he receives that feeds into the public’s perception of him, Russ truly doesn’t get enough credit for his diligence and work as an independent artist.
Mac Miller’s “People” exemplifies how impressions of one person can vary. For instance, “some tell you that you good, some say you doin’ great,” showing that while some may underestimate you, others will see your true potential. For every person who doesn’t see what you’re capable of, at least one other person will see your value differently. It’s why some may love you or want to hire you while others may not; it’s nearly impossible to please everybody. Furthermore, Mac raps, “I know people think they know me, like there’s a lame, untalented old me.” While your reputation may have fit at one point, it doesn’t mean that that is how you will always be known. We are dynamic; forever changing and developing and growing. Those willing to hold your past selves against you may have a good reason, or they may just not need to have you in their life no matter how much you have evolved. It’s okay. He continues on to rap, “I can’t complain that people know my name, and when I come home, not a damn thing change,” because while our name is our name, it holds different meanings for different people. To one person, a name may be the name of a lover, and to another, it may be their teacher or their coworker. Different relationships hold different levels of importance. We build various relationships, and it’s a beautiful thing to see just how many feelings our names can create.
In Jack Harlow’s “Halfway Home,” he opens up each verse with the line, “okay these people think they know me and they might,” and then struggles internally to figure out who the real him is. To an extent, perception is based on reality. So when a person has a reputation, it stems from what one person thinks. Now, as the owners of our own identity, it’s fair to argue whether that view is true or false. But to that person, oftentimes they’ve created that image of who a person is through interactions and experiences. Credibility dwindles when it’s based solely on hearsay, but how we present ourselves impacts how others see us. How they choose to interpret that is up to them. He expresses that he’s “overwhelmed” and that people “prolly don’t know [him] well/frontin’ like [he’s] somethin’ but it’s honestly show and tell,” proving that even when a reputation is based on our own actions, those actions could be stemming from a place other than authenticity. What we choose to reveal is what others see, and sometimes we don’t want others to have access to our vulnerabilities and our insecurities.
In the heartwrenching track, “Soul Cry,” Ab-Soul reminisces on his life before becoming his rap persona, illustrating that just because he may appear differently, he still considers that to be a more accurate representation of himself. In the hook, he reiterates the idea that “things ain’t always what they seem, if you look close you can see. What’s your perception of me? Is it good? I wish it was. Cause I ain’t shit. You may think I’m eating, but I ain’t shit.” Despite his fame and respect earned as a rapper, Ab-Soul still views himself for all of his fuck-ups and mistakes rather than his accomplishments. As our own biggest critics, it’s easy to harp on the things we’ve done wrong. And sometimes it’s necessary to acknowledge them to better ourselves and the reputations we’ve earned to see improvement. But we also deserve to celebrate the things we’ve done right and just accept the compliments for once.
August Alsina’s “Still Don’t Know” takes a similar approach to Ab-Soul’s track as he reminds the listener that despite whatever they think they know or might have heard, they still don’t know what is going through August’s mind. He sings the lines, “they don’t know what I go through/got me so confused. So many strangers that think they know me,” showing that not only do people have a misconception of his character, but he’s not even entirely sure who has good intentions. It’s challenging to decipher whose opinion matters when everyone has something to say about the small pieces that you choose to reveal. While people think they know a person based off of what they project to the public eye, a lot of the time it’s meant to guide away from the truth. But it’s important to remember that our collective experiences make us who we are, and that includes the way we react and internalize our feelings. Unfortunately, we don’t get to distinguish that from everyone we come to contact with, and they tend to make their own judgments without any context.
It’s only right that I end this post on a high note: Missy Elliot’s “She’s A Bitch.” As I mentioned above, I’m sure some people who have worked with me would say is I’m a bitch. And let’s clear the air. I’m a sweetheart (in my humble opinion). In my personal life, that is. However, when it comes to work? I’m a raging c u next Tuesday (sorry momma!) I don’t take anyone’s shit, especially when I’m working with grown men who expect me to treat them like I’m their mom. I don’t play with my work and I don’t play with my money. So if I’ve gained the reputation that I’m a bitch? Perfect. Don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours 🙂 That’s why I aspire to have Missy’s “She’s A Bitch” as the soundtrack to my life. I used to be so scared of being thought of as a bitch until songs like this reminded me that it is our title to be reclaimed. It means I’m strong and powerful and intimidating (especially to men) and why the hell wouldn’t I desire to be that in life? Missy is like a damn superhero in this song, getting charged up every time someone calls her a bitch. We’re bad bitches, we’re boss bitches, we’re straight up bitches, and we’re everything in between. If that’s the reputation I’ve earned, then I’m proud as hell of it.
It’s easier said than done to not worry about how others see you. I’m constantly adjusting my outfits, fixing my hair, remaining cognisant of every word I speak at the volumes that I speak at because I’m hyperaware of how others perceive me. You may have one idea of the type of person that I am through my writing, and you may have a completely different one if you know me in real life. Neither one of these perceptions is more me than the other. They’re all small fragments that contribute to who I am, and that’s why it is so difficult to gauge a person based on how the public views them. Those reputations could stem from a 5-minute conversation or a 10-year friendship. Either way, it’s all personal and it’s all a small part of who we are. We choose to share different sides of ourselves with different people, but it’s still who we are at the end of the day. And no one knows who you are better than yourself. That’s far more important than any reputation.
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I dig your hip hop playlist of how others make assumptions on someone without actually knowing. But hey, haters aren’t always a bad thing. Keep up the great work!
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Thank you so so much! But yes, you are so right!
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