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Jenny from the Block
[January 25, 2003]

By Nicholas Provenzo

There is this song that has been on the airwaves for the past month where Jennifer Lopez, the current femme-fatale of the entertainment world sings the following chorus:

“Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got
I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the block
Used to have a little now I have a lot
No matter where I go I know where I came from”

I’ll spare you the rest of the song, but the lyrics more or less expand upon the theme, “don’t hate me because I’m glamorous, talented and rich, for I genuinely respect the slum from which I was born.”

What an irritating song. Whatever you think of Lopez’s talents, you have to acknowledge that unlike those too lazy to earn so much as a GED, Lopez has earned her fame. She went from dancer, to singer, to actress, to multi-million dollar celebrity with her own apparel line through nothing less than her own drive and determination. Lopez is perhaps the most “un-block” thing to come out of the Bronx in years.

So why then the homage to the slums that Lopez left long ago? In rap parlance, it’s about “keeping it real,” that is, remembering that success is but an illusion and that the lifestyle of the slum-dwellers must ultimately remain the focus of one’s life (at least if one desires to maintain credibility with slum-dwellers.) For all the little girls who listen to Lopez’s music, it’s important that Lopez maintain her connection with their lives even as she lives a lifestyle beyond their wildest fantasies. As an entertainer, Lopez may be one in a million, but at the end of the day, she’s still “Jenny from the block.”

How tedious. I’m sure Lopez sells records this way, but on such a peasant level. Since Lopez has become a role model for young girls, it would be nice if she would emphasize the importance of effort in achieving one’s goals. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a successful woman sing, “I earned it because I worked for it and I’m proud of my effort” rather than sing yet another mawkish pine for slum-dwellers? Since Lopez has impressive wealth, imagine if she invested in “J Lo” talent schools and competitions targeted at the demographic that listens to her music, linking street-culture with hard work and perseverance. I think the cross-marketing potential would make any accountant drool.

But by stressing her "block' credentials, it seems as if Lopez is ashamed of her success. I wonder if this has something to do with the art form itself. When a person says that their success is a matter of luck, I’m inclined to believe them. Pop music is not opera. There are enough members of 80’s hair bands installing drywall with the perennial comeback album in the works to make one realize that pop fame often has little to do with talent.

And sure, Lopez does a lot of things that come off as talentless. Typically, any music video in which a woman appears with a rapper does little to establish the woman in a positive light, i.e., not a whore. Lopez has appeared in several. And it’s not a stretch to imagine her saying “Puffy, get rid of the gun—what, are you stuuuupid!” during the infamous New York nightclub fiasco with her ex-boyfriend, Sean “P Diddy” “Puff Daddy” Combs.

But I think Lopez is not without genuine creative ability. She has succeeded in too many different venues to be a mere fluke. I think she is a businesswoman and entertainer who has become a culturally attuned master of her career. Although she often performs in a genre that doesn't particularly move me, one would have to be an idiot to miss that she has an appeal that transcends traditional boundaries. Lopez is the star of tomorrow.

The trouble is that Lopez’s star has taken the form of the “girl from the block” persona and life on the block is a pointless, brutal hustle. Dreams fail because of sloth and ignorance. The block is no place for a person to stay—the worthwhile world lies elsewhere and it takes effort to reach it. I wish women like Lopez could make money transmitting that message. For its grammatical shortcomings, I think “I’m Jenny and I earned what I got” has a much nicer ring to it.


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