* Following recent provocative conversations, I have added some updates to this post since the original publishing date. They are indicated in green. ~Riddim Writer~
Just when I thought that football in France was the only way reggae’s girls were going to get some new critical attention on the island, Grace “Spice” Hamilton teased a “perfectly” bleached out image of herself on her social media accounts yesterday (see left) and released the music video for her new single “Black Hypocrisy” today. It is important to note that Spice did not actually bleach her skin — but the fact that so many viewers thought she did (still think that she did and want to know what magic she used to get such quick, even, and outstanding results) proves that the issue of bleaching is bigger than we want to admit in the African diaspora. Having once worked for a makeup conglomerate, I know that there are any number of professional-grade body foundations (like Dermablend, for example) that Spice could have used for the photo and video shoot, but that is not the point here. Or is it? So many people have been preoccupied with the possibility that Spice bleached her skin. Why? So many became convinced that Spice used potions and lotions to lighten her color as a symptom or response to living in the United States. Why? Well, the answer is as simple as it is complicated. To believe that Spice showing drastically lightened skin on IG was proof of her bleaching, is to admit that you believe that Spice needed to bleach her skin to achieve greater attention and success. To believe that the images of Spice showing dramatically lighter skin on IG was proof of her bleaching, is to confess that you believe that Spice believed that she needed to bleach in order to ascend in her personal and/or professional life. I hope my argument is clear. If not, let me try again. How the viewer responded to the initial images of Spice that were posted by the artiste on her own social media accounts prior to the release of her music video, is a testament to the very subject that Spice was tackling: a to-the-core belief in brown and white skin privilege, a to-the-core belief that darker skin is a stumbling block in life, and a to-the-core lack of awareness about black hypocrisy regarding colorism.
When we get over thee shock-value of the visuals we hear our girl Spice stepping into the reggae ring to drop “Black Hypocrisy.” And what a drop this is!
In my estimation, there hasn’t been a razor-sharp critique of a serious problem afflicting Jamaican society like this since Protoje’s 2017 tell-it-like-it-is anti-corruption single “Blood Money.” And, at the risk of hyperbole, there hasn’t been a proper disavowal of colorism since… since… Hmm? Is it since Bob Marley sang the words of Selassie I on “War” (1976): “Until the color of a man’s skin/ is of no more significance/ than the color of his eyes”? But forty years ago, Marley was not offering a specific examination of colorism in black communities, nor was Marley providing a critique of how it is that black people can shame black people who bleach their skin on the one hand, yet they can hypocritically uphold and praise white standards of beauty for themselves, on the other. This is what “Black Hypocrisy” does via sound and sight. And in this age of visual consumption, it is the coupling of audio and video that allows Spice to make her point crystal clear.
Spice rides a reggae riddim to deliver a timely message on skin bleaching, self-hate, and the legacy of colonialism that is imprinted on the minds and skins of too many in Jamaica. If you are unfamiliar with this color-coded hypocrisy, see this article from the Jamaica Observer (September 2018) where contributor Tony Robinson writes on the value of being brown (not white or black, but a highly desirable light brown complexion) in Jamaica:
…the browning effect is still pervasive. Brownings are sometimes held in higher esteem than people of different hues. And it’s not a race thing either, for men who prefer brown women would never choose a Caucasian, Chinese, Indian or any other woman to be in a relationship with. “Strickly browning me a defend, nutten else.”
Now, take in Spice’s message via her video below.
Scorn dem, Spice! Watch the lyrics of the second verse!
Dem seh mi black til mi shine, til mi look dirty
And it’s the only line in life that will ever hurt me
Cause it never come from a Caucasian, trust mi
Dis ya black colorism be hypocrisy
So if I wake up tomorrow look like a browning, oh!
Automatically mi would a carry di swing
Nuff a unnu nah go like di song yah mi sing
Cause nuff a unnu guilty fi di same damn thing
What’s your perception of a pretty woman?
Is it straight nose with her hair well long?
Black girls lose self confidence
Cause dey attatch the word “ugly” to our complexion.
Well, since yuh seh that I’m too black for you
I’ll please yuh, do I look how you want me to?
Now I’m gonna see if you gonna say I’m too brown for you
Or do I look pretty to you?
Ring the alarm! The reigning Queen of Dancehall has taken a sharp turn for the socio-political. And there is no doubt that “Black Hypocrisy” is and isn’t the Spice that we are used to.
Spice gained local, regional, diasporic fame after stirring up all-kinds of controversy for her “Romping Shop” duet with Vybz Kartel in 2009. But even before that Kartel boost, Spice, “a gyal who nuh fight ova man,” used to “scorn dem” with her sexually explosive lyrics. And in all the years that have followed, Spice has been recording and touring the world, showing the globe how she can shift her “bumpa” like a car indicator and she’s been letting fans know that she “smell good between di sheet.” Spice even became the first living Jamaican musical artiste to reach and surpass 1 million followers on Instagram. Indeed her dancehall look, her dancehall sound, and the culture of dancehall that she represents, are what landed her a role on the seventh season of VH1’s Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta. And now with a bigger, wider, increasingly more black American audience in tow, a more global audience in tow, Spice releases this new single about colorism. Yassss! But is it dancehall or is it reggae?
Maybe it’s both? Black racial uplift and reggae have always gone hand in hand. Social consciousness and reggae still go hand and hand. But when Spice calls out, “Black people hyprocisy/ leave the girls dem with low self-esteem/ I’m black and beautiful, I know I’m pretty/ Fuck the whole of dem dirty inequity,” she has a deliberate cadence and tone that is as much a reminder of one of the baddest lyricists ever — Tanya Stephens — as it is a rhythmic shift into the lane of reggae song-bird Etana. With “Black Hypocrisy,” Spice unexpectedly bridges reggae and dancehall . She seems to slow down her lyrics in order to give local and global black listeners time to digest her weighty, innuendo-free content. I mean, hey, it’s going to take time to undo all these centuries of self-hate, all these decades of believing that brownin is the only beautiful, and all these years of applying skin bleachers as a solution. Just as Spice changed her appearance for the visuals of this song — from pepper to salt, or whichever seasoning Jamaican Twitter has most recently and humorously gathered from the internet (see left) — Spice mixed up her vocal stylee, but still hits hard, bold, and distinctly Jamaican. However she looks, however she sounds, she is all Spice. Run the track again and again because the message is critical.
No more long talk. Let me close this post where it began: with the Reggae Girlz. In the video below, the Reggae Girlz celebrate securing a spot in the World Cup. We see green, gold, and black happiness upon a variety of complexions and hair textures. These young women carry a variety of given names and surnames that identify both ancestral pride and colonial spirits. So I beg you Jamaica, mind your tongues and think of Spice’s “Black Hypocrisy” when you cheer for them next year. I beg you Jamaica; all our girls are listening. All of our girls’ self-esteem is riding on it; so don’t be a hypocrite.
Wow, this is really important work you’re doing.