I’m going to tell you a few things you probably already know. In 2013, Beyoncé’s eponymous album sold 430,000 digital copies within 24 hours. On December 16, Apple announced that Beyoncé was the fastest selling album in the history of the iTunes store. As of a few weeks ago, Beyoncé has sold more than 2 million albums and been declared double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Now I’m going to tell you something you may not know. Because, I did not know this until a friend brought it to my attention a few weeks ago.
In 2003, former New York Times journalist Kelefa Sanneh reviewed Beyoncé’s debut album “Dangerously In Love” under the headline: “The Solo Beyoncé: She’s No Ashanti.”
Sanneh’s review said that, “If Beyoncé has a mirror-image rival, it’s Ashanti.” I dropped $130 dollars on a ticket to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “On The Run” tour this summer. The last I saw Ashanti, she was doing a quick show on Good Morning America, belting out a song that has not yet seen the light of an airwave’s day.
The most holy shit moment in the piece is when Sanneh writes:
“Maybe this album is merely a misstep, and maybe Beyoncé has yet to record the brilliant solo album that people expected. Or maybe it’s proof that she isn’t quite as versatile as she seemed. She’s a strong and independent singer, no doubt, but maybe she seems strongest and most independent when she’s got a posse behind her.”
In that assumption, the former is clearly more accurate than the later. In 2003, Beyoncé had not yet recorded the brilliant solo album people expected. But, by 2013, Beyoncé was recording brilliant solo albums that people could not even begin to expect. By 2013, Beyoncé was single-handedly changing the way albums were unveiled, demanding that album releases remain hallmarks in a music artist’s history. By 2013, no one was thinking about Beyoncé’s posse and whether or not she needed them behind her. Destiny’s Who?
This is not another Beyoncé think piece. But, when I poured through that 2003 NYT review a few Fridays ago while waiting for my sister at dinner, I just thought “What if Beyoncé read that review and stopped there? What if she took these words to heart and truly believed that she could not be as strong or independent without a posse behind her? What would that mean for her, for music, for entertainment?” I read that piece and immediately realized everyone in life has their version of a Kelefa Sanneh.
I don’t write any of this to discredit Kelefa Sanneh’s journalistic prowess. After all, reviews are reviews. We can only write the present, not the future. In 2003, Kelefa Sanneh wrote what he knew. But, I’m a writer, and, you know…metaphors. We like them. Even Kelefa Sanneh has some Kelefa Sannehs in his life.
The Kelefa Sanneh in your life is that person who tries to short-circuit your future. It’s the person who tries to speak something into existence without the full understanding of your vision. It’s the naysayer. The cynic. The non-believer. The person who just can’t see it. The person who knew you way back when and tries to use that knowledge of your former self against you. The person who scoffs that you’ve become “brand new”. The person who wants to pull you back down into the mud with them. The person who can’t stomach that your world is bursting and bright and full of promise.
Who is your Kelefa Sanneh?
Every day, people speak things into our existence. It’s our choice what stays and what goes. When people say, “One day when you hit it big…” I let that stay. When people tell me I’m a naive fuck, I let that go. When people say they’re proud of me, I let that stay. When people say I’ll never feasibly make a living from writing, I let that go. When people say, “I can’t wait to read your book,” I let that stay. When people smile patronizingly if I mention that I have a blog, I let that go. When people say my words pushed them to keep writing, I let that stay. When people say writing about feminism isn’t original, I let that go.
I’ve learned I have to deliberately decide what stays and goes. Because what goes is often what’s most memorable and what stays is often what I want to laugh off. What stays is often times what I want to retreat from, my knee-jerk response being a self-deprecating comment as I cower away from stepping into my own strength. I’ve learned that deciding what energy stays and goes often times means deciding who stays and who goes. Positive people and positive vibes are rarely independent of one another. It’s hard to keep assholes around hoping they will wish you well. I’ve learned that I can’t let the words of my Kelefa Sannehs drive or wreck my journey. Barns don’t get to determine how high skyscrapers can rise. And, I’m the Rockefeller Center in this bitch.
So, I’ll ask again: Who is your Kelefa Sanneh?