SMOKE: Email To Justin Timberlake
Originally published: 2 April 2004
Just like Martin Luther King before him, Justin Timberlake has arisen from the ashes of his burned childhood dreams to stake his claim as the mouthpiece for black America.
In a remarkably Michael Jackson-like metapmorphosis changed from a white person into a black person overnight one night, and now he walks around like anybody's dear old homeboy.
I don't care how nicely he sings or how fab his botty looks in Levis - that pisses me off. By all means be an irritating, manufactured, even talented idol, but lay off the ghetto-wise and street smarts, for crying out loud in a bucket brimming with vomit.
I sent him an email with some thoughts.
Me an' my niggaz is chillin' down south in da big Afric of A, and woz wonderin' what our brudder up north woz doin' - is you chillin' wid da beeyatches, or is you hangin' wid da brudders like only a brudder could?
Respek, homeboy. Respek. Big up for Jah. Yooz da bomb, mah brudder. Yooz da bomb.
And that's as far as I'll go with that particular mix of Harlem, Brixton and Port of Spain homeboy-jargon - I know you people (African-Americans) understand all that but me - I have to suck it out of my thumb. But then - I've never suffered like your people have I, Justin, so I guess I wouldn't understand.
So - it must be tough living on the streets, hey? I bet you see all the evils of the projects - the kids ripping off the elderly and the gangstahs collecting their blood money from good, honest Americans and the poverty which forces so many black Americans to struggle against their situation rather than rise above it.
But you overcame slavery, racism (which no doubt still abounds - bet you've got a few stories to tell!) and the bigotry of many who believed your race inferior, and I see more black Americans reaching positions of authority and influence with each passing year. So things are looking up.
I guess you use the pain of your childhood experiences in the Bronx - fighting against an education system that didn't want you - in your music today, which would explain why you have such a deep understanding of the finer subtleties and unanswered questions of your people.
I quote you, from your MTV hit Senorita:
I wanna try some right now
See they don't do this anymore
I'ma sing something
And I want the guys to sing with me
"It feels like something's heating up, can I leave witchoo?"
And then the ladies go
"I don't know what I'm thinking bout, really leaving witchoo"
Shows a definite sensitivity towards the plight of the black man in America and drives a stake deep into the hearts of those that would oppose and destroy your brothers.
Your lyrics - to me - reflect a lifetime as a student in the school of hard knocks, and I can rationalise and picture what it must have been like for you growing up, even though I can never really understand it.
I want to understand it, but privileged white kids like me have no concept of what it's truly like to grow up in a world that hates you for something as superficial as the colour of your skin.
I can see all the stories of your struggles in life - I bet you've had a friend die in your arms on the sidewalk, riddled with bullets just like that kid in Boyz In Da Hood. I bet your heroes are Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and any other man who has sacrificed his life to free his people from the bonds of oppression.
I just want you to know that I admire you for rising above the petty things that entrap so many others like yourself - pimping, drug-running, gangsterism and drugs - and for turning your life into a crusade (with your voice instead of a sword) to give something back to those hard, hard streets.
Your massive international profile has done incalculable good in raising the profile of black Americans and each record sold is a dollar in the pocket of the man on the street, and a smile on the face of every sistah from New Orleans to New Jersey.
It's interesting, because we've also got a guy who looks white but is actually black - his name is Herschelle Gibbs and he's a cricket player who only got into our national side because he was needed to fill a racial quota.
A lot of folks seem convinced that he's actually white, but he's not, and I know you've had a similar thing.
So don't worry about those who would claim that once you were white - I, and many others, know deep down that you are black, and we're immensely, immensely proud of you for it. Never lose sight of who and what you are - be strong.
Finally - are you ever going to go into rap? Maybe you could hook up with my man Snoop Dogg, only you'd have to change your name to something like Papa T, or Justin-X.
I just feel rap is probably your natural progression, because for me you can't express quite the same amount of anger at injustice in R&B as you can in rap, which is much more hood-wise.
And you obviously have a lot of pent-up rage inside which needs to come out - I see you truly expressing yourself through gangster lyrics and hardcore licks.
Give it a thought, won't you?
PS - So? Hey??! Is it true? You know what they say about gentlemen of African origin. So? Is it? Maybe not, or I guess Britney wouldn't have dumped you. Speaking of whom - hasn't she turned out alright or what? Boy. Yeah. Listen - if you've still got her number won't you drop it in a mail back to me, because if it's size she's after then I'm her man, baby. Thanks a bunch.
I sent off my mail last night, and this morning a reply was waiting in my inbox:
Big up for da glory, man. Nice to know my fans 'preciate my struggles and I promise you dis, homeboy - I's gonna pull down da walls of prejudice and hatred and fear and violence, and build a new one crafted from lurve.
But to you I say peace, my white brother in Africa.
Seems like a nice enough bloke.
All Smoked Out,