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Ten Business Tips From Kenyan Multi-Millionaire Chris Kirubi

Chris Kirubi with Richard Branson

Chris Kirubi with Richard Branson

Chris Kirubi is a complex man. One of Africa’s richest and most successful businessmen, he’s that rare blend of Donald Trump, Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Branson and American music star DJ Khaled, in African skin. In business, he’s got the cunning and clout of Trump, the economic intellect of Sachs, the rebellion of Branson, and the musical inclinations of hip-hop act DJ Khaled.

Here’s the reason why: In between running one of Africa’s largest privately held business conglomerates, delivering countless keynote lectures during frequent international economic gatherings, writing a weekly business column for a daily newspaper and mentoring young Kenyan entrepreneurs, Kirubi still finds time to make cameo appearances in Kenyan hip-hop videos, movies, and even hosts a rock show on Capital FM, a Nairobi radio station he owns. He’s the DJ!

Kirubi sits atop one of East Africa’s most successful business empires. His business interests are varied and far reaching. He is the chairman and founder of privately-held Haco Tiger Industries, East Africa’s largest manufacturers of some of the continent’s leading consumer brands in stationery, personal care and home care products. He also owns the International House, one of Nairobi’s landmark skyscrapers, and holds the largest stake in Centum Investments, a leading private equity firm listed both on the Nairobi and Uganda Stock Exchanges, among other holdings.

The Harvard-trained tycoon is one of the most tech-conscious and social media-savvy businessmen on the continent. He keeps a Twitter and Facebook account, blogs frequently, and was reportedly one of the first people in Kenya to own an iPad.

I actively follow the wealthy tycoon on his Twitter @ckirubi, where he gives his largely youthful followers tips on business, success and life.

Here are ten business success tweets in his own words, unedited:

One of the ways I believe you can find meaning of your life is by creating a strategy that you can use through your journey. You need to keep the purpose of your life, front and center as you decide how to spend your time, talents and energy. Remember that without a purpose, life can be hollow.

Visualize your past victories while visualizing and anticipating future victories. Planting the seeds of positive expectancy in your mind is the best way to reap.

One of the most important lessons that has made me be a better employer and businessman is pointing out people’s strengths. I have come to learn that the praise of others may be of use in teaching us, not what we are, but what we ought to be. Enjoy your afternoon.

If you understand an idea, you can express it so others can understand it. However, if you can’t explain it, you don’t really understand it; and you cannot invest in a business you don’t understand. So friends, do your research well and understand the idea or concept you want to execute before investingin it.

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day…but because I want to achieve my purpose and make a difference in society, I will stop focusing on the frightful things I see when I take my eyes off my goals and instead fix them there. With that said, I’m off to my meeting.

One of the most important lessons I have come to learn over the years is that you can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow. You must keep learning new methods and ways of doing things to keep abreast with the world’s ever changing trends.

Business is always a struggle. There are always obstacles and competitors. There is never an open road, except the wide road that leads to failure. Every great success has always been achieved by fight. Every winner has scars….The men who succeed are the efficient few. They are the few who have the ambition and will-power to develop themselves. So choose to be among the few today.

Whatever opportunity you decide to take should be in line with your vision. When I look at the opportunities that come my way, I often ask myself, will it add value to a business or individual? If I cannot add value or contribute to some sort of growth then I will not take it.

To prosper soundly in business, you must satisfy not only your customers, but you must lay yourself out to satisfy also the men who make your product and the men who sell it…So if your not doing too well in business, you should consider the above.

One of the most important lessons I have come to learn over the years is that you can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow. You must keep learning new methods and ways of doing things to keep abreast with the world’s ever changing trends.

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Ten Young African Millionaires To Watch

Vinny Lingham (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

South African entrepreneur Vinny Lingham (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

There’s no money like young money. While African millionaires and billionaires like Onsi SawirisRaymond AckermanAliko Dangote and Deinde Fernandez may have more money than most of us can ever dream of, there’s one thing they can never buy: Youth. Even money has its limits.

But there are a handful of young Africans in their 20s and 30s who have built businesses and amassed enviable million-dollar fortunes. Call them million-dollar babies. While some are corporate animals; others are empire builders- like Ladi Delano, the restless 30 year-old Nigerian entrepreneur who founded Solid XS, a hugely successful premium Vodka business in China when he was barely 23 years old. He subsequently flipped his vodka company for millions of dollars. Today, he is a co-founder and CEO of Bakrie Delano Africa, a $1 billion investment vehicle committed to making acquisitions in Nigeria’s mining, energy and agriculture sectors.

There are thousands of young and immensely successful entrepreneurs across the African continent.  There’s a growing number of Africans aged 40 and under who are legitimately amassing multi-million dollar fortunes. They don’t inherit stuff; they build it themselves.

Here are ten you need to know:

Mark Shuttleworth, South African

Age: 38

Founder, Knife Capital

When Shuttleworth was 22, he founded Thawte, a digital certificate and internet security company which he sold to VeriSign for $575 million in 1999, when he was 26. Shuttleworth used a fraction of his proceeds to start HBD Capital (now called Knife Capital), a Cape Town-based emerging markets investment fund. HBD has made a series of successful exits including Fundamo, a mobile financial services company which was acquired byVisa for $110 million in 2011; and csense, which was acquired by GE Intelligent Platforms the same year.  Shuttleworth also founded and funds Ubuntu, a computer operating system which he distributes as free open source software. Shuttleworth has a net worth north of $500 million.

Ashish Thakkar, Ugandan

Age: 29

Co-Founder and CEO, Mara Group

Thakkar, 29 is a co-founder and CEO of Mara Group – a Ugandan conglomerate with tentacles in financial services, hotels, renewable energy, technology and manufacturing. Annual revenues are approximately $100 million and the group has an active presence in 16 countries on four continents. Devoted philanthropist: Through his Mara Foundation, Thakkar provides mentorship and seed funding to young East African entrepreneurs. Also funds Next Generation Schools, an independent charity focused on improving education quality in disadvantaged secondary schools in Uganda. The Mara Group recently signed a $300 million deal with the Tanzanian government to develop a 3.5 million square foot state of the art mini-city.

Ladi Delano, Nigerian

Age: 30

Founder and CEO, Bakrie Delano Africa

The jet-setting Nigerian serial entrepreneur made his first millions as a liquor entrepreneur while living in China. In 2004, at age 22, he founded Solidarnosc Asia, a Chinese alcoholic beverage company that made Solid XS, a premium brand of vodka. Solid XS went on to achieve over 50% market share in China and was distributed across over 30 cities in China, and pulled in $20 million in annual revenue. Delano subsequently sold the company to a rival liquor company for over $15 million and ploughed his funds into his next venture-The Delano Reid Group, a real estate investment holding company focused on mainland China.  Today, Delano is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bakrie Delano Africa (BDA) – a $1 billion joint venture with the $15 billion (market cap) Bakrie Group of Indonesia. Bakrie Delano Africa serves as the investment partner of the Bakrie Group in Nigeria. The Indonesian conglomerate has provided over $900 million worth of funds to invest in Nigeria and Bakrie Delano Africa is responsible for identifying investment opportunities in mining, agriculture and oil & gas and executing them.

Justin Stanford, South African

Age: 28

Founder & CEO, 4Di Group

South African-born Stanford is a software entrepreneur and venture capitalist. After dropping out off high school, Stanford set out to launch an internet security company which flopped.  When he came across ESET, a Slovakian anti-virus software package, he negotiated with its manufacturers and cornered the exclusive, lucrative Southern African distribution for the product. Today, Stanford’s ESET Southern Africa operates the ESET brand in the region and sells ESET’s range of internet security products in about 20 sub-Saharan countries, leveraging on an extremely successful internet business platform and digital distribution model for online software sales and service. Today, Stanford’s ESET brand records over $10 million in annual turnover and controls 5% of the anti-virus market in Southern Africa. Stanford is also the founding partner of 4Di Capital, a Cape Town-based venture capital fund. Stanford is also a co-founder of theSilicon Cape Initiative, a non-profit movement that aims to turn the Cape into Africa’s own Silicon Valley.

Magatte Wade, Senegalese

Founder, Adina World Beat Beverages & Tiossan

In 2004 Magatte Wade founded Adina World Beat Beverages, a San Franciscobeverage company that manufactures coffee, tea and fruit juices using traditional beverage recipes across Africa and organic ingredients sourced from smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia. Within five years of launching, Adina raised over $30 million in venture capital from institutional investors and the products began being sold by Whole Foods and United Natural Foods. Magatte stepped down from her position as CEO to grow her second company,Tiossan, a manufacturer of luxury skin care products based on indigenous Senegalese recipes.

Mike Macharia, Kenyan

Age: 36

Founder & CEO, Seven Seas Technologies

When he was 25, Macharia, a Kenyan national, founded Seven Seas Technology, now easily East Africa’s most reputable IT services firm.  The $50 million (annual sales) company is a leading provider of integrated business and technology solutions across Africa in the telecom, financial, Real Estate, service industry and government. Seven Seas is gearing up to get listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange next year.

Vinny Lingham, South African

Age: 33

Founder, Yola Inc

Lingham, a South African national, is the founder ofYola Inc, a San Francisco-based Web 2.0 outfit that provides free website building, publishing and hosting services to over 3 million active users across the globe. Yola has attracted over $30 million in venture capital financing from institutional investors such as Columbus Venture Capital, a subsidiary of South African billionaire Johann Rupert’s Richemont Group. Prior to Yola, Lingham founded Click2Customers, a hugely successful search engine marketing company with offices in London, Cape Town, and Los Angeles.  Click2Customers rakes in about $100 million in annual revenues. Lingham is a co-founder of the Silicon Cape Initiative along with fellow South African entrepreneur Justin Stanford.

Kamal Budhabatti, Kenyan

Age: 36

CEO, Craft Silicon

Kamal is the founder and CEO of Craft Silicon, a $50 million (market value) Kenyan software company which provides software in core banking, microfinance, mobile, switch solutions and electronic payments for over 200 institutional clients in 40 countries spread across four continents.

Yolanda Cuba, South African

Age: 35

Executive Director, South African Breweries

One of just two women to make it to this list. When Yolanda Cuba was 29 she was appointed CEO of Mvelaphanda Holdings, a Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed investment holding company. She was awarded stock options worth over $10 millionwhich she exercised before stepping down as CEO last year. She subsequently took up a job as an Executive Director at South African Breweries.  Cuba still serves on the boards of South African blue chips such as Steinhoff International Holdings and Absa Group.

Jason Njoku, Nigerian

Age: 31

Founder & CEO Iroko TV

The maverick Nigerian Internet entrepreneur is founder of Iroko TV, the world’s largest digital distributor of African movies. Iroko TV has been dubbed the ‘Netflix of Africa’. Earlier this year, Iroko TV raised $8 million in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund run by billionaire Chase Coleman. IrokoTV enjoys lucrative content distribution deals with Dailymotion, iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo. Njoku is unwilling to divulge figures, but analysts believe IrokoTV could be worth as much as $30 million. Njoku is the company’s largest individual shareholder.

Follow me on Twitter @EmperorDIV

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Yolanda Cuba is not the only woman on the list, but one of two women. The other woman is Magatte Wade of Senegal.

Kenyan Entrepreneur Stands To Make Millions After Sale To L’Oreal

Paul Kinuthia, Founder of Interconsumer

Paul Kinuthia, Founder of Interconsumer

By Mfonobong Nsehe, Contributor

L’Oreal, the world’s leading cosmetic company has acquired the healthand beauty division ofInterconsumer Products, one ofKenya’s largest manufacturers of personal care and beauty products. The dealwas closed on Friday April 12 and was announced only today by Wang’ombe Kariuki, the Director General ofKenya’s Competition Authority. Meanwhile, the Kenyan founder of Interconsumer Products, Kenyan businessman Paul Kinuthia, is expected to earn tens of millions of dollars from the acquisition.

The entire details of the deal still remain sketchy, but according to a transaction adviser on the deal who spoke to Business Daily, Kenya’s largest business newspaper, the transaction is worth billions of shillings. The shilling currently trades at Ksh 84.5 to the dollar, so a deal in the multi-billion shilling bracket would be worth at the very least, Ksh 3billion ($35.3 million).

“We closed the deal on Friday at 11am and all I can a say for now is that the transaction is worth billions of shillings. All the details will be made public on Monday (today) and it’s a great Kenyan story for a man who started the business in Kariobangi and has now joined the billionaires’ club,” said the advisers in the transaction who asked for anonymity because L’ Oreal is yet to clear the acquisition with regulators in France and London where it is listed.

According to the terms of the deal, L’Oreal would acquire only the health and beauty business of Interconsumer Products from Paul Kinuthia. Kinuthia will still continue to own and run the non-health and beauty businesses of the group like the diapers and sanitary division.

Interconsumer Products is a Kenyan persona care and beauty products company, which manufactures everything from baby lotions to powder, Shampoos, Hair gels, body and facial creams and relaxers. The company was founded in 1995 as a sole proprietorship by Paul Kinuthia, a relatively unknown Kenyan businessman.

Kinuthia has a remarkable story. In 1995, he started off manufacturing shampoos and conditioners from a makeshift apartment in Nairobi with start-up capital of Ksh 3,000 ($40). He made these products manually using plastic drums and a huge mixing stick and heating oils, delivering his products by handcart to local salons and hairdressers. In the beginning, commercial banks refused to fund his venture while mainstream salons, beauty parlours and large retail outlets refused to stock his product because it was too native.

As the demand for his products grew, Kinuthia moved the business into bigger premises in downtown Nairobi and expanded his product range to include hair gels and pomades. While the bigger, sophisticated salons and supermarkets snubbed his products, they were very popular with street side local hairdressers because of their availability and significantly lower prices in comparison to the products on the shelves of the big retail outlets. As the products became more popular with local hairdressers, Kinuthia ploughed back his profits into moving into an even bigger place, financing growth, increasing his production capacity and extending his product range. In 1996, he incorporated a limited liability company and went on to produce body lotions and hair treatments. The new company set up better operational strategies, laying emphasis on quality and improving its packaging. By the late 90s, the company’s products were commercially available across Kenya’s mainstream retail and wholesale chains and were already commanding a sizable market share. By 2001, the company was already exporting its products to neighbouring Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

As revenues shot through the roof, Kinuthia and his team continued to innovate, diversifying their product range to include diapers, soaps and baby jelly. It is now East Africa’s dominant manufacturer of personal care and beauty products and owns some of Kenya’s most revered brands like Nice & Lovely, Queen Elizabeth, Clarion and Bouncy. In Kenya, Interconsumer Brands is rivalled only by Tiger Haco Industries, a leading manufacturer of body lotions, hair products, ballpoint pens and food products.

In 2011, L’Oreal opened up a regional office in Nairobi to get a slice of the country’s burgeoning low-end cosmetic market. Analysts believe the French cosmetics giant has faced stiff competition from local players like Interconsumer Products and that it had targeted Interconsumer for a takeover since 2011.

Speaking on the deal, Patricia Ithau, L’Oreal East Africa’s managing director said to Kenya’s Business Daily: “A big opportunity presented itself and we cannot ignore it. There is a developed personal care market here that we are looking to further tap into. We have been in the market mainly through traders and a structured distribution network had been lacking.”

The writer put a call through to Interconsumer to speak to Paul Kinuthia. He was not available.

 

fORBES Magazine.

POETIC JUSTICE: DRAKE & EAST AFRICAN GIRLS

By Safy-Hallan Farah
I am an East African Girl. A couple years ago, one of my friends told me that being an East African meant I’m not really black. A visibly mixed-race girl with a “high yellow” complexion and sandy brown hair telling me I’m not black didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to tell the girl, in the words of CB4, I’m black y’all. I’m black like the back of Forrest Whitaker’s neck. I’m black like Snoop Dogg’s lungs. I’m black like some Helvetica font against a white backdrop trying to sell you stuff.
I’m a black woman. But my nose, my loosely coiled curls and my fivehead make me black in a way that extends the colorism debate, creating this hierarchy of aesthetic value where I’m not just black, I’m also acceptably black.
Back in the day, white people went to East Africa to find Iman, their acceptable black girl. When white people did this, former Essence Editor-in-Chief Marcia Gillespie called East African model Iman Abdulmajid “a white woman dipped in chocolate,” highlighting Iman’s acceptable blackness while also lamenting the fact that black women’s beauty is often measured in their proximity to whiteness.
Two decades later, Bill Cosby in his “Ask the Ethiopian” speech said African Americans should aim higher than menial jobs because menial jobs are for “Ethiopians,” i.e. immigrants, i.e. The Other. Marcia and Bill emphasized the otherness of East Africans like we’re not black, too, which is why I’d like to tell Bill: please let us, East Africans, have all the menial jobs. But in accordance with Marcia Gillepsie’s criticism, make sure those shitty jobs aren’t jobs where the way we look will inspire racists to pat us on the back and deem us more respectable or better than other black people. This is what the fashion industry notably did with Iman.
East African Girls, Iman included, take part in a system that marginalizes and limits other forms of aesthetic blackness. Every image of Iman or Yasmine Warsame or Liya Kebede reinscribes white beauty through black beauty. Reinscribing white beauty through black beauty has always been with us, but in recent years it has inspired rappers to reference East African Girls like we’re the 49th Law of Power, predictably denigrating black women who lack acceptable blackness in the same tired ways.
The first rapper I remember rhyming about East African Girls was Nas. In “The Set Up,” a song from Nas’ “It Was Written” album, Nas raps, “They thought the hoes were Somalian.” The “hoes” in question are “two fly bitches, Venus and Vicious.” On his latest album, “Life Is Good,” Nas references East African Girls again, in a party song called “Summer” ft. Miguel and Swizz Beats.
East African Girls have been referenced in several other songs: Wale’s “No One Be Like You” (“Somalian women, Ethiopian queens/Never could tell the difference, I just know that you mean”) and “Hold Yuh Remix” (“I’m lookin’ for an Ethi-Somali here beside me”); Tinie Tempeh’s remix of Drake’s “The Motto” (“My bitch booty bigger than a fucking Eritrean”); Common’s “Celebrate” (“Exotic broads lobbyin’/Spanish, Somalian”); Drake’s “Where To Now” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice” ft. Drake.
In “Where To Now,” a track off Homecoming Season, Drake’s second mixtape, Drake spits sweet nothings about an East African Girl, over a J. Dilla beat. Drake desires the East African Girl (perhaps as much as he desires getting ghost head from Aaliyah): “Ethiopian girl, Ethiopian girl, with yo long curly hair and yo big ass bootay.”
In “Poetic Justice” by Kendrick Lamar ft. Drake (music video above), Drake does it again: “I was trying to put you on game, put you on a plane/Take you and your mama to the motherland/I could do it, maybe one day/When you figure out you’re gonna need someone/When you figure out it’s all right here in the city/And you don’t run from where we come from.” But couched between another lazy description of a faceless, nameless East African Girl, and Drake’s assertion that that East African Girl is busy ignoring him for another man, is a story of afrodiasporic identity, which is what sets Drake apart, narratively, from other rappers.
While Drake’s definition of black beauty may seem limited, his definition of black identity is what Touré would call “post-black,” and Michelle Wright would call “postwar diasporic black.” Drake’s flow in “Poetic Justice” facilitates a broader discussion of black identity and black authenticity, a discussion that implicitly critiques Marcia Gillespie’s “white woman dipped in chocolate” statement, positing that East African Girls “come from” the same city Drake does, Toronto. The underlying message is that Drake considers us black like him. Drake, as a black Jewish man whose Degrassi character Jimmy Brooks dated a fake East African Girl, occupies a similarly hybrid space like East African Girls. For many East African Girls, that feels like poetic justice because the definition of ‘authentically black’— descendants of Africans brought here as slaves— is a limited definition that doesn’t even include Barack Obama, much less East African Girls.
When one does a cursory Twitter search of Drake’s “East African Girl” lyrics, fetishistic things are tweeted by Drake fans, most notably East African Girls themselves. “Poetic Justice” functions, on some level, as a false empowerment anthem,a song For East African Girls. There is a pleasure many East African Girls I know derive from hearing men, particularly Drake, talk about us to a larger supposedly authentically black population. A pleasure teenage me would no doubt indulge in, too. It’s a reiteration of our own myth that when God created humanity, he started with the Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans first— borne out of us is whiteness and blackness. It’s unscientific but when you’re a teenage girl, especially a young East African Girl, there’s no science needed to justify supremacy or fetish, and where those two things interplay.
East African girls are generally not mixed race, yet this idea that we are is deeply embedded in the minds of white racialists, leading some to believe we’re an entirely different, special, exotic breed of people. This goes back to the pseudoscience of Carleton S. Coon’s “The Races of Europe.” Anthropologists and white racialists, which are often one in the same, have been claiming we are of majority Arab or white or “Afro-Asiatic” descent for years. And while that isn’t the sentiment of Drake or Nas’s lyrics, our alleged mixedness underpins their lyrics by virtue of the sheer selectiveness of the East African Girls shouted out in hip-hop lyrics. When Drake or Nas reference East African Girls, it can be easily inferred that they mean Cushites representing the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia). “Cushite,” a term derived from “Cush” of the Hebrew Bible and Quran, is in reference to our shared “Afro-Asiatic” language classification, which is often mistakenly typified as a shared racial identity. This little mistake triggers a big mistake: the conflation of biology and genetics with race and ethnicity as a social fact, which reifies the racial categories.
One of the most popular threads on Niketalk.com, a sneakerhead forum, is called, “African Women Appreciation Thread: ‘Young East African Girl/Thoroughbreds.” A commenter in the forum who goes by Macc E-Money claims he was deprived of “beautiful African women,” and wasn’t able to procure a Somali “thoroughbred” until he left his home state of Michigan. Macc E-Money references Drake’s “Young East African Girl” lyric, presenting black beauty in a limited way and privileging East Africans over other Africans while passing it off as an appreciation of African beauty.
The lines between acceptance, fetishism and exoticism are blurry. It would seem that the primary distinction between black (North American) men, East African men and white men exoticizing East African Girls is that for many white men and even some East African men, the exoticism is firmly rooted in a belief in the racial categories—a belief that race is biological when it is in fact social, and a fetishization and romanticism of our Arab World ties and colonial past. For a lot of black men like Drake, it’s way less insidious. At best, it’s a misguided reinscription of the white standard of beauty through acceptably black women. At worst it’s intra-racial discrimination. Usually, it’s a combination of all these things but if representing, hyping and esteeming women with acceptable blackness is good for all girls—Trickle Down Acceptability, if you will— then we’d probably live in a post-racial world where fairies and dragons and Tupac populated the earth.
Sadly, we live in a racist, sexist world where black men and white people can hurt black women in the same ways. Black women hurt black women, too, but differently: we don’t have each other’s back. Those that see themselves represented in the lyrics and the videos, accept it without questioning it. And those who lament the overrepresentation of East African Girls, frequently fail to realize that the “Young East African Girl(s)” of Drake’s lyrics are like all women of color; they are objectified and male-gazed upon in hip-hop. These women are mythic, “exotic” generalized by rappers as theambASSadors of their ethnicity or nationality. We are an idea rooted in a scant and skewed example— a token— from Drake’s own lived experience, mixed in with a little bit of mainstream imagery and a history that isn’t even our own.
Perhaps my own cousin, Leyla who Drake once bought lunch for, is Drake’s East African Girl. Maybe his East African Girl is my friend Ayan, who Drake met while clubbing. Maybe his East African Girl is like Helen Gedlu or Lola Monroe. Drake’s East African girl, whoever she is, does not account for of all of us. Our varied hip-to-waist ratios and hair textures and booties (or lack thereof) and cultures make us more nuanced than whatever Drake or anyone else needs to believe.
The over-representation of East African Girls cannot be separated from broader media representations of acceptable blackness. Broader representations that, in the 90s, brought us acceptable black women like Tatyana Ali, Stacey Dash, Chilly of TLC, etc.; the biggest face today being Scandal’s Kerry Washington. It’s no wonder Kendrick Lamar believes there is a balance issue. Kendrick cast Brittany Sky, a black woman, as his love interest in the video for “Poetic Justice.” Brittany Sky is a black woman who is neither East African or light-skinned, however she is every bit as acceptably black as Iman. It’s Drake’s love interest—or rather, sex interest— who is actually balancing representation. But she is who Drake is having sexually for that night, not who, as the video and the lyrics suggest, Drake wants; Drake wants the East African Girl he’s talking to on the phone. Drake is talking on the phone with the East African Girl while his sex interest is splayed across the bed, naked. Thus, even within the video there is a hierarchy. There’s a specific depersonalization and objecthood of the non-acceptable black woman’s body. The non-acceptable black woman is granted zero agency, and rendered the least desirable in a video that is supposedly progressive.
There is nothing progressive about acceptable blackness. There is, however, something progressive about Drake and the internal conversation he seems to be having in his music. When Drake raps about this East African Girl as he is talking to this East African Girl on the phone, he is also talking with other black people. He is having a conversation with Marcia Gillepsie and Bill Cosby and me and that girl I used to be friends with who said I wasn’t black. This conversation requires context that can’t be reproduced for an American audience with limited knowledge of the nuances of blackness. This conversation cannot translate externally, hence the phone. The video begs for the consistency of our transmuted presence but the direct presence of an East African Girl wouldn’t make sense to an audience that doesn’t understand Drake’s specific location in the diaspora, what diaspora is, or who East Africans are.
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