Five Reasons Why ‘Freedom’ is Impossible Today

a nostalgia-induced stupor the other day, I stumbled upon the song
"Freedom" while clicking around YouTube. I mean, I remember the song
itself but seeing the sheer number of successful black female rappers,
singers and musicians moved me. It struck me that one of the reasons I
was so moved is because even entertaining the thought of a similar
recording today was disheartening. So then I started thinking about
what has happened in the last thirteen years since "Freedom" was
released as the lead single for the Panther Original Soundtrack (1995). I compiled a short list (read: long entry) of five reasons why "Freedom" is impossible today.

To get into the right frame of mind, you first have to watch the video.

5. The negative effects of 'thuggification' on women artists of urban music.

It only stands to reason that the rise of the 'thug' to
dominance in urban music
would mark a decline in the visibility strong
women artists in its representative genres (namely hip-hop and
r&b). When "Freedom" was released in 1995, urban music had not yet
been completely mainstreamed. Subsequent years showed that record
labels would equate high sales with an increasingly hyper-masculinized
caricature of a 'thug' -- complete with all of the misogyny, violence
and excess possible. By early this decade it had gotten to the point
that the most visible women in urban music had been transformed into
accessories, regardless of musical talent; the predominant image of
women in urban music were hyper-feminine, negatively sexualized,
complimentary caricatures to the 'thug,' relegated to dancing,
stripping and singing hooks for him. Even though many of the women who
contributed to "Freedom" have continued to make great music, and there
are a number of women in recent years who have rejected the
thuggification trend and been successful, the larger impact would
likely hinder production and promotion of "Freedom" today.

4. Lack of a celebration of diversity in the representation of black women in music.

All of us here at SoulBounce know that there is a breadth of
diversity in the practitioners of urban and soul music. The producers
of "Freedom" knew it, too, and they managed to put together sixty of
its most popular and talented black women. Sixty. From TLC, to Vanessa Williams, to Joi, to Sweet Sable, to Aaliyah,
all of these women came from different genres, and reflected different
generations and levels of mainstream popularity. Today even though
there remains a lot of diversity it certainly isn't celebrated and
embraced outside of forums like SoulBounce, and it's definitely not
reflected in popular urban music media the way it was during the time
of "Freedom." Imagining a group that today theoretically would have to
include (remember sixty) Beyonce, Ciara, Jill Scott, Miss Jack Davey, 'Lil Mama, Muhsinah and Alicia Keys, feels as absurd as the original "Freedom" feels organic.

3. Solo divas and the lack of real singers.

together sixty black women from urban/soul music may be a struggle, but
it's vaguely doable. (Especially if you cheat and bring in some of the
original contributors which would undoubtedly happen even though it's
akin to Patti LaBelle and Diana Ross singing on the
original.) And let's not be mistaken, there were a few unknowns
contributing vocals to "Freedom," so it's not like a remake would have
to be made up of multi-platunum pop sensations. "Freedom" was recorded
after the American Music Awards in 1994. The logistics of pulling
together sixty mostly notable contemporary black women singers in the
same place, let alone after an awards show, and expecting them to sing
as a group is impossible today. There are some talented solo singers
making music, sure. There is also a slew of studio manufactured
"performers" who can't sing a harmony without being fed the notes
seconds before the track was recorded. Additionally, so few of them
have experience blending their voices (no, singing over backups does
not count) that getting them to tone down the excessive vocal
embellishments on site would be quite the task. Of course then you have
to assign the verses, and considering some egos that task might doom
the entire project.

2. The disappearance of the female emcee.


1. Empowerment, revolution, and politicized blackness are taboo.

for my body? Freedom for my mind? Propaganda? Lies? We have all the
goods on you? Just based on the lyrics alone this song would not be
recorded and released as the lead single for a major motion picture. Or
at all. The powerful concept of black women in music showing solidarity
by recording a song about black women rising up and taking back what's
ours is too aggressive, too black and too politically incorrect in
today's social climate. Possibly alienating or offending white
listeners is a risky move, as they are a major consumer base for urban
music. Singing a song with a group of other empowered, aware black
women that talks about making white folks run and hide from their
ancestors' transgressions, while bold, may not translate to increased
sales for the single or for each contributing artist's solo projects.
And it's certainly bound to offend a fair amount of industry executives
who fancy themselves progressive liberals because they promote music by
T-Pain and have a Teyana Taylor ringtone. Artistic and political merits of the song aside, "Freedom" was successful enough to break the Top 50 on Billboard's Pop Singles Chart, and push the Panther album into the Top 40.
Today "Freedom" would probably be leaked on the internet, be denounced
or apologized for by a large segment of its contributors, and get Robin Thicke all up in his feelings about it but then concede his respect for the song because he "lives with a black woman."

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14 Responses

  1. How did I miss this?!? I never heard the song or saw the video. what rock was I under?
    I found the Rhyme version of the track. It's HoTT!!

  2. Great article...good points. I would be vvery weird to get the sixty females for "Freedom" is 2008...But it would be even harder to recreate You Will Know, the all R&B male vocalist song, from the Jason's Lyric soundtrack...who would write it...The Dream...lmao

  3. It would impossible and painful and just shocking now to get females on a track because the industry changed.You got Ashanti selling and she BARELY could sing, but only has catchy hooks.Plus the egos of the women today are too the roof.It wouldn't even work.Keyshia Cole catching an attitude, Ciara want to pop lock, Ashanti wants to sing "baby baby baby" all day Beyonce' wants the song for herself, Solange would have a fit, it just be too many divas.I would just laugh because I know it would be "publicity" and not for a cause.
    And I remember You Will can't get these days.That would be a hard on despite how R&B just did two 360s.

  4. WOW. I had forgot all about this song. it was good to see the video again, great post. seeing faces like Tonya Blount, members of Jade, Brownstone, En Vogue, TLC, Zhane, Xscape etc. just made me miss the 90's THAT MUCH more. I mean talk about throwbacks with Miss Jones, Patra, Sweet Sable, Mona Lisa (I think I saw her), and Joi. Even Dana Owens getting her sing on before she starting being referred to as such. great memories of a time where women vocalists were truly shining....

  5. OK, this post was on point. Not only is there no way it could be done today, but I'm not sure I'd want to even hear the finished product. Especially if Ashanti, Cassie and Ciara were invited to participate. Blech. The original was solid gold, and for real for real, got me checking my iTunes for some music from all of these sistas.
    Every day I'm appreciating the musical era in which I grew up. It was golden. 🙂
    Good stuff, Ro.

  6. I think the saddest thing this brings to light is something that not only affects music, but fashion and film as well. "Black women aren't marketable." In all aspects of entertainment, our sisters are getting the short end. I see why Gina Macauley is so pissed all the time.

  7. I'm surprised you didn't compare this song with "Just Stand Up", the breast cancer awareness song recently released and soon to be performed live by most of pop music's divas. No they are not all Black but it does illustrate your point perfectly.
    The song is beautifully written and arranged HOWEVER getting all the Protools starlets and the dancing divas together just made for one chipmunk sounding mess. How in the sam hell do Mary J., Beyonce, Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Ciara, Ashanti, Rihanna, Natasha Bedingfield etc all end up sounding like one person? See all the reasons you just laid out in your post and add one...the absolute lack of talent!!! So the producers went in and "auto-tuned" everyone. The end result, a really nice song that coulda just been sung by one person since they all ended up sounding alike anyway.

  8. I am overwhelmed by this post and its responses. I don't have much to add other than to say that I agree with the writer on the points outlined and I agree with the commenters, namely Sho and Sharonda. Wow. Just wow. 60 artists? 60 female acts? DO WE EVEN HAVE THAT MANY FEMALE ACTS in the biz today? What in the world has happened to our music? Thanks so much for this wonderful post. I look forward to more discussion. I love this site so much 🙂

  9. they shouldnt remake "you will know" just put the original back into radio rotation!!!!!

  10. cosign with sho -- just saw this online and thought about how much I DON'T want to hear this all star song
    I already know what it'll sound like just by looking at the photo...

  11. just discovered your blog via afrobella, good stuff. while watching the video i was overcome with sadness that i had forgotten about so many of women. back when this video was out i could probably named them all. got me ready to go through my cd collection.

  12. Wow...I just had the illest 90's flashback...That was real talent. It makes me sad that my kids won't have anything like that. I mean come on, who would be the equivalent of me'shell?? is there even one??

  13. As I am an absolute stan of black movie soundtracks, this song has always been one of my faves. And I do agree that this kind of collaboration would be damn near impossible to do in today's industry. So very sad.