The year is 2003. I laid stretched out on the floor anxiously awaiting "106 & Park" to return from commercial break. AJ & Free's distinct voices, adorned with the purest chemistry even scientists envied, pierced my eardrums as they got ready to introduce the new joint of the day. The video in question? "Frontin'" by Pharrell featuring Jay-Z. Little did I know, this seemingly ordinary practice orchestrated by the world's top VJ's would change my life forever.Lauren London approached the door, real lax and cool as the woman she's with uttered the password: "Neptunes Presents The Clones". Suddenly, my heart skipped a beat, I became flustered, my palms were sweaty as I'm captivated by Lanisha Cole's vibrancy, donning an orange trucker hat, dark skin, relaxed denim and a tee that reads: "Florida Style". She was perfect. She was the video girl I'd been waiting for.
Growing up, representations of women with darker skin in Rap/Hip Hop and R&B videos were reduced to background roles and only occupied brief moments of camera time when oiled up excessively, scantily clad or aggressively shaking their ass. My impressionable eyes over indulged in the "red bones" that have been flawlessly paraded in music videos and lip synced lyrics that cater(ed) to their existence since the inception of the genre. While my brain translated that I wasn't pretty enough due to possessing deep, rich black skin that most boys couldn't appreciate due to colourism.
However, Lanisha Cole's presence in "Frontin'" changed my life all within four minutes and eleven seconds. While the video showcased notable people like Pusha T, Lenny Kravitz, Chad Hugo and Shae, Lanisha stole the show. The camera followed her almost obsessively, documenting her infectious smile that pulled you magnetically to the screen. When Pharrell exchanged glances with Lanisha, he was starstruck. He left his company almost immediately to be in her presence while serenading her effortlessly with his signature, eclectic croon that reeked of audible honey. Pharrell lead Lanisha and co., around the crib, almost like a housewarming of some sorts, until they found themselves alone, softly caressing each other and exchanging kissy faces on the giant skateboard ramp in the living room. His treatment towards her was beautiful and delicate. He wasn't harsh or called her out her name. His affection was intentional, it became a real life #goal.[embed]https://youtu.be/LOtkH5amC7s[/embed]Moments later we were graced with a Jay-Z verse, showing off his melodic flow that ties in the song titles namesake swimmingly. A minor detail often overlooked by many is that Jay-Z, too, is serenading a dark skin woman in the video between 2:42-3:03, while the woman in question snaps candid photos of Shawn Carter, up close and personal. This moment lead me to believe the casting of dark skin women was intentional. Pharrell knew what he was doing.The video ended with Lauren London, Lanisha Cole and the infamous Mimi Faust from "Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta" taking turns on Pharrell's bed. A huge projector displayed orange and pink cotton candy skies that faded into a serene blue with lightning bolts as the artist shimmied in a white, tuxedo jacket. However, at the end of the video only Lanisha Cole remains.
A year later, Cole returns to share the screen with Pharell William's in "Maybe" by N.E.R.D, which was featured on the bands album, "Fly or Die", where she plays Williams' girlfriend in the flick. Whether it was a subconscious or conscious decision to display dark skinned women (in lead roles), who are often overlooked in Rap/Hip Hop and R&B videos, it was an important one. In a video posted by Lanisha Cole earlier last year on her Snapchat, she reunited with Williams and stated the following:
"Do you know what it's like putting a dark skin girl in a video like that? Do you know what you did? Do you know? Do you know what you did for life?"With Pharrell replying: "Umm.. Darkskin girls are everything."While "Frontin'" has remained a staple for dark skin girls alike. In a post-Frontin' era, rap, hip hop and R&B still have work to do. The genres have not steered clear of derogatory lyrics towards dark skinned women and continue to exclude us and reduce our roles in music videos all together on a large scale.A few videos that I've watched recently by Wale, 2 Chainz and Bryson Tiller beautifully highlight dark skinned women in all our their glory throughout the visual in lead roles and/or represent our being in a positive light.
However, while trying to formulate a substantial list of rappers/singers who have featured dark skinned women in lead roles throughout their music videos, the findings were scarce. While this may not seem like a significant feat, implementing woman of darker tones is an ode to female Rap/Hip Hop fans who don't feel represented and want to see their likeness being celebrated.I want to thank Pharrell Williams from the bottom of my heart for blessing us with the "Frontin'" video 14 years ago and selecting Lanisha Cole to be in the video that changed my life for the better, forever.