ATLANTA -- The bone marrow drive was just weeks away. Asha Jennings was excited at the prospect of Spelman College
teaming with 4Sho4Kids -- a foundation started by rapper Nelly -- to bring attention to an important cause.
For months, the 21-year-old had been organizing the marrow drive. She and her friends were talking about it one day in March.
The conversation eventually turned to music videos -- one in particular.
"What's Tip Drill?" Jennings asked.
"A bunch of strippers shaking their butts," she was told.
"Who's the artist?"
"Your boy, Nelly," came the answer.
was Jennings' first step into an issue that has sparked several
protests at her school and has renewed discussion of the denigration of
black women in music videos.
The women leading the fight are barely 20. Many had not been born when hip-hop emerged but came of age listening to its music.
Later that morning in March, Jennings saw Nelly's Tip Drill for the first time. "I couldn't believe it," she recalled. "I just think of little girls watching it."
music video features dozens of women in thong bikinis dancing around a
swimming pool, in hot tubs and a pool hall. One of the scenes includes a
credit card swipe through a woman's buttocks.
Before that moment,
Jennings had thought of Nelly more as the celebrity who had launched
efforts to increase the number of African-American bone marrow donors --
in part because his sister suffers from leukemia.
"Nelly wants us to help his sister," Jennings said, "but he's degrading hundreds of us."
friends tried to convince her to take the video for what it was -- a
way to make money. But just thinking about it made her cry.
The Tip Drill video, shot in Atlanta, was released more than six months ago and has become popular on BET's late night Uncut show.
Harold Hardee, co-producer of Tip Drill,
said he was "a little" shocked when he saw the final product. "I don't
have a cut-and-dry answer to how I feel," said Hardee, 28, but people
need to realize the video "is not really reality."
The phrase "tip drill" is "a ghetto colloquialism for the proverbial ugly girl with a nice body," said Mark Anthony Neal, associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the context of the Nelly video, Neal said, such women are only good for one thing -- sex -- and crude sex at that.
Unknown to Jennings, Tip Drill already had driven another Spelman student to action. Moya Bailey, president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance,
said she stumbled across the music video during Christmas break. She
was home in Fayetteville, Ark., talking with a friend on the telephone.
"Oh my God," Bailey said, noticing the women's buttocks swirling about. "Wow."
Bailey returned to Spelman determined to deal with Tip Drill.
By February, the 20-year-old junior had gotten together a public forum:
Are these women exploiting themselves? Is it Nelly's fault? Can women
be sexual and have it not be negative?
There was no consensus
among the 40 or so students from Spelman and Morehouse colleges that
night -- but it was a good discussion, Bailey said.
On the morning
of March 17, Bailey ran into Jennings, who had seen the music video for
the first time two days earlier. "Moya, come look at this," Jennings
said. "I've got a dilemma."
Jennings showed Bailey fliers that advertised the upcoming bone marrow drive promoted by Nelly. Because of the Tip Drill video, Jennings told her fellow student, she wasn't sure she should move forward.
were in agreement that he shouldn't be invited," Bailey said. "That we
should draft a letter saying you're not welcome, but the foundation is."
From that moment, Jennings, a political science major, and Bailey, a pre-med student, became a team.
was one sticking point: Jennings had developed a good relationship with
Nelly's 4Sho4Kids Foundation over the past months and was less willing
to shun the star for pragmatic reasons.
Still, she couldn't excuse the artist's role in perpetuating misogynistic images.
With only days remaining before the charity drive, she called her parents, Rick and Cassandra Jennings, in Sacramento, Calif.
"Asha, it can't be that bad," her mother told her. "The cause is greater."
Then, with her parents still on the other end of the phone, they watched the music video together.
Cassandra Jennings had two words for her daughter: "Cancel it."
Jennings could follow through on her mother's advice, the foundation --
which had been alerted that students planned to confront Nelly at the
April 2 event -- withdrew.
Jennings and Bailey decided to go
forward with their protest, staging a rally to discuss hip-hop and what
had been loosely labeled the "Nelly controversy."
Every half-hour they showed Tip Drill on a video screen in the student center so people could see what was at issue.
Jennings and Bailey hope their stand has made a difference.
calls it the `Nelly controversy,' but this is bigger than
Nelly,"Jennings said. "It's about empowering our sisters who think this
is the only way to make it.
"We have to stop arguing that's the way it is and ask ourselves ... how do we change it?"