The legendary singer had to contend with her abuser’s name being kept alive in an almost reverent fashion in hip-hop
Two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Tina Turner died at age 83 on Wednesday, leaving behind an enormous musical legacy. She’s celebrated as the godmother of rock & roll, with more than 100 million albums sold, eight Grammys, and an incalculable impact on popular music. Her vibrant live shows laid the blueprint for generations of leading women to follow. The road of every pop singer’s feverish onstage dance routine leads back to her.
And while there is so much to celebrate from her legacy, others are recalling how some in pop culture callously flattened her legacy into being a survivor of Ike Turner’s abuse. Their dysfunctional relationship was depicted in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It, which chronicled Ike’s abuse during their 16-year-long marriage. Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishburne put on rousing, unforgettable performances as Tina and Ike Turner, but some drew the wrong conclusion.
Ike Turner’s music career never recovered, but far too many rappers made him a beacon of domineering idolatry. Fishburne’s depiction of Ike made him ripe to be referenced as a representation of force, despite his violence being aimed at a Black woman. But with hip-hop’s inability to reckon with Tory Lanez, Chris Brown, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, or any of the community’s other beloved, festival headliners with multiple abuse accusations, one wonders if rappers spit bars like Quavo’s “Ike Turner with the left hand” in spite of him violating a Black woman, or because of it.
The Ike Turner lines are seemingly endless: Ye rhymed “Before I beat myself up like Ike” on “Diamonds Are Forever.” The Notorious B.I.G. rhymed “Beatin’ motherfuckers like Ike beat Tina“ on “Machine Gun Funk.” Lloyd Banks spat “We fight, wake up and fuck like Ike and Tina Turner” on “I’m So Fly.” Fabolous said “She call me Ike Turner because I beat her in the car” on “Got That Work.” And though he was referring to sex, it’s arguable that the masculine obsession with phallicism as violence fuses the double meaning.
One of the most egregious Ike Turner bars is Jay-Z uttering “Eat the cake Anna Mae” on “Drunk in Love.” The line references a What’s Love scene where Ike Turner forces Tina, then still going by her given name Anna Mae Bullock, to eat a piece of cake in a diner. The line was no mere deep cut, and wasn’t spouted by a reckless twentysomething seeking shock value. “Drunk in Love” is a canonical song by two of the music world’s biggest artists, forever blighted. Beyoncé has lauded Tina Turner as an idol, but still allowed that line in the song. One could ponder that the line came during an album cycle before Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44, two LPs that reflect frayed love. Beyoncé is culling through frustration from an unsatisfactory marriage on Lemonade, and on 4:44, Jay-Z looks in the mirror and seeks answers for his inability to be a good husband.
On the track “4:44” Jay-Z rhymes “took for my child to be born, see through a woman’s eyes.” It’s only when he’s tasked with nurturing a girl does he see a woman’s humanity. That dehumanizing mindset is all too common in a society that doesn’t treat women whole, and it speaks to why men find it too easy to draw humor from domestic violence, and too hard to honor survivors. At best, we romanticize abuse because we know no better, and at worst, it’s because we’re guilty of it ourselves. Violence seeps through every cog of Western society, and it’s little surprise that some people believe it has a place in love.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” hinges on an all-too-relatable question: “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” It’s a call to so many love seekers battered in their pursuit of love from people too depraved or broken to offer or receive it. But after seeing the decades of torment Tina faced from the music world she foundationally shaped, one wonders whether that quandary was solely a statement on romantic love or a lament on how society broke her heart all over again by lionizing her abuser.
Unfortunately, the factors that cause domestic violence, and the trivialization of domestic violence, didn’t end in her 83 years. And they may not end in the next 83. There is no mercy amid capitalism, machismo, patriarchy, and every other violent force that creates dysfunctional men like Ike Turner. There can only be peace of mind while navigating it all, and Tina appeared to have found it in her later years. She left the U.S. and moved to Switzerland in 1995, and as recently as 2019, told CBS’ Gayle King that she’d found happiness in her life there. Still, as Rob Sheffield brilliantly noted, her fiery voice “carried the whole story of American music in it.” But at the root of that fire is the Black woman’s experience. Within the embers of her stage presence lay the abuse, mistreatment, exploitation, and ridicule she sought to exorcise through her craft. Her ascendant voice resounded above it all. But it shouldn’t have had to.