There’s a song that says every story is a love story. You best believe no rapper wrote that shit.
Last year when no one knew Malik and I were on the brink of divorce, Complex placed us on its list of best couples in hip hop. Obviously, Bey-Z ranked at the top. Malik and I landed squarely in the middle at number five because Kimye should never have qualified. I don’t know what pissed off Malik more – that someone devoted thirty words trying to argue that the Kardashians were hip-hop or that Papoose and Remy Ma ranked before us.
“Who would be checking for them as a couple if they weren’t the best thing on a reality TV show filled with has-beens and wannabes geared towards females on Twitter?” Malik said as he chucked his iPad across our sofa.
“What I told you about calling women females?” I said although his whole statement stung. “The show is called Love and Hip Hop. Remy has a phenomenal comeback story, and Pap waited six years to be a part of it.” Their love rings true I kept to myself.
“I can’t believe I’ma say this, but maybe…” Malik jumped up and began to pace. “…we should try to get on the show, too.”
This from the man who understood how obsessively private I was and all the reasons why. Malik had said it was one of the things he loved most about me. I’m the only active MC who doesn’t have a Twitter or Instagram account. In more blissful times, he would serenade me with Papoose’s lyrics. Too real for Twitter, check her timeline, you won’t see no tweets. Then again, I didn’t have shit to promote.
Perhaps if Malik had argued that appearing on the show might revive our marriage, I would have considered it. I never failed to reciprocate my husband’s humility with my own. However, he kept it strictly business so I said, “We don’t need to be on some reality show. We need for you to be in the studio making an album.” I needed to do the same but kept that to myself, too. Malik’s falloff was hurting my label and our relationship, and that was impacting my own creative output in a vicious cycle with no end in sight. “Not performing being in the studio for a three-camera setup only to release one song over three months.”
Malik dropped back on the sofa. “How the fuck am I supposed to make a comeback without a… a….”
“Yeah, a nigga gotta endure a tragedy or scandal or some shit that gets him all kind of attention. Then he drops something, it sells itself. Doesn’t even matter if the shit’s any fucking good.”
Whether he intended to or not, Malik was plunking all my strings that afternoon. Even Leila wasn’t aware of the deep-seated insecurity I still harbored about the launch of my career. Given the role she played in that saga, we never discussed it. To this day I question whether my first album was genuine fire or only went platinum on the heels of the Explicit Content controversy. Only Malik knew that sometimes I sat in my office playing songs I recorded when people still bought CDs listening for the things my champions praised in their reviews and not being able to hear them. The first time I told him that was the first time he kissed me.
Instead of asking Malik what he meant and starting a fight, I said, “The solution is to double down on who you are.” At the time I couldn’t explain why I knew it to be true and just attributed it to my creative instincts. In retrospect it was my stubborn ego.
“You mean more conscious shit that people say they like but don’t buy?”
“Your next joint can’t just be a string of tracks no matter how profound, lit or whatever. It has to be a concept album that elevates you beyond the Conscious MC archetype.” I swung my legs off the sofa and planted my feet on the floor. “Your next album has to be the soundtrack of a movement. A movement that you create lead.”
Malik’s eyes widen. “You mean like I’m a prophet.” Then he laughs. “Negrodamus has already been done, Bri.” But when we’re talking art or business, and my husband calls me Bri, I know he’s listening to me. Cassandra is his wife, but Bri is his producer. “Besides you don’t think the prophet thing is kind of cliche?”
He was right. Not only was prophecy trite, it was too late. When the totalitarian tangerine became president, his minions wasted no time bucking up in the so-called sanctuary of New York City. White boys from Throggs Neck to Stapleton were wildin’ out on any melanated body in their path. The NYCHA cop who choked a mentally ill Black man to death in the South Jamaica Houses had just asked for a bench trial which meant that he’d be back on the beat by month’s end. Meanwhile, a Latina girl lost seven months on Rikers Island after being falsely accused by some granola chick who castrated her hipster boyfriend in a jealous rage that was the stuff of a Lifetime movie. The Big Apple had always been infested with worms, and now they were eating their way to the peel.
“No, not a prophet exactly.” I scooted across the sofa and reached for his iPad to search for the definition. Seer. Soothsayer. Fortune teller. “If you position yourself as a prophet, people expect you to predict the future. When you’re wrong – and you will be wrong – you lose credibility.”
Malik saw where I was headed. “More like a philosopher.” Still he didn’t sound enthused, and I couldn’t blame him.
“Closer but not quite. At least philosophers are associated with original ideas, and they’ve been known to cultivate followings. But I’m thinking bigger than that.” The algorithm based on Malik’s recent searches popped up an ad for The Ashacre. Called the comeback of the year, Cryciss had created an over-the-top persona named Petey Posturepedic who he described as “the Fuckboy Extraordinaire.” Track after track, Petey owned up to his aintshitness. The album cover was a closeup of two ashy Black hands texting Hi wats gud??? Those three “words” were in reply to five texts from over the course of a week, each angrier then the last wanting to know if they were gonna hang out or what. Women ate it up like Badu’s Tyrone, believing a man was acknowledging their pain by clowning the type of guy who caused it. Men copped it like an aural protein shake that made them more alpha with every rotation. The Ashacre was filled with quotable comedic genius hip hop hadn’t heard since MF DOOM, and I was a hate club of one. Only I could hear the Cryciss beneath the character and the subtext where the butt of the joke was not fuckboys but the women who gave them play and deserved everything Petey Posturepedic dished out.
“What I mean, Malik, is that most conscious artists aren’t saying something new, right? They say know your history, read this book, follow this person…”
Malik rhymes, “Farrakhan’s a prophet that I think you oughta listen to…”
“Exactly! They promote ideas that already conceived by somebody else.” Now I’m back on my feet and walking toward him. “We need to create a persona where you’re the one with the original ideas. Kind of like a new religion the way L. Ron Hubbard did with Scientology.” I got hype. “Malik, you could create anything you want! Combine Afrocentrism with the right amount of science and whatever’s popular…”
“The Law of Attraction…”
“Whatever so long as you can manipulate it into a coherent whole…”
“Well, it’s not like I got to explain everything ‘cause what religion really does that,” said Malik walking past me to the couch and reaching for his iPad. “Some mystique is good.” He sat down and launched the app he used to draft bars.
I sat beside him on the couch and was almost overcome by that feeling of the first time we realized our chemistry was more than artistic. I had just signed him to the Coven, and we were in the studio alone working on his first album.On loveseat behind the boards, we sat thigh to thigh with a MacBook propped on our knees and were wired together by that simple touch. “Best of all, you let the audience shape it. What is it that they already believe? What beliefs scare them that they’re hoping are untrue? What questions do they want answers to? You invent it all based on what people need to hear, and you got built-in buy-in.”
At first Malik nods his head but then raises a finger in the air. “Some of it should be a little controversial though. Maybe even a little painful. At least, cause for debate.”
I knew what he meant and why it was a brilliant idea, but I feigned otherwise because it had been forever since I saw Malik this excited to create. For months we hadn’t been that couple who wrote together on that very sofa, he on one end with his iPad and I on the other with my Moleskin, our legs entangled, in comforting silence. “Give me an example. What do you have in mind?”
“Gimme a topic.” He smiled at me like he hadn’t in a long time. Like the music was the means to the end that was us.
At first, Malik and I developed Ankhanetics together understanding that it was a gimmick. The project was challenging, fun and even sexy, and his most absurd positions on things like Black feminism, homosexuality and interracial relationships were my best concoctions. Then inspired by the Umar-Seti Beef of 2016, Malik decided to take Ankhanetics to YouTube as a way to promote the album before its release.
Auspicious for business but apocalyptic for romance.
(©) Sofia Quintero