Following the mental excursion of the Civil and Human Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, black people wanted to reshape a cultural identity, and part of that identity spawned into hip-hop.
When hip-hop was first introduced in the late ’70s, it was widely considered an artistic rebellion for creative freedom. It was established within urban communities to help deter young black men and women from the violence and criminality that infected the ghettos.
Author Jason Hayes wrote in his book “Political-Cultural Exodus: Movement of the People!” that this creative freedom developed into “clothing, jargon, DJing, dancing, and visual art, that have carved out a place in almost every society on the plane.” Time has elapsed since the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight,” and rap has matured and evolved into many directions.
Beyond records referring to sex, drugs and money, there have always been artists whose music and brand have propelled above such futile topics. During the 1980s artists like Public Enemy, Dead Prez, N.W.A. and The Native Tongues created music that addressed racial, social and economic discrimination of blacks. Today, artists such as Talib Kweli, Common, Nas, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar carry on these important messages.
These artists and the artists before them have been fighting a monster that has plagued America for hundreds of years, yet it seems nothing has changed. Prejudice, black-on-black crime, degradation of women and police brutality still linger within our society, 40 years after hip-hop came into the households across the country.
Has hip-hop done all it is capable of as a cultural mouthpiece for the voiceless?
I argue that most of these revolutionary artists have not yet dented the armor of racial, social or political issues seeded in America, despite the fact that they are capable of this achievement.
If hip hop was established for urban youth to refrain from violence, why is black-on-black crime still so prevalent today? Black-on-black crime has been a controversial issue within our urban communities, especially now with the recent emergence of the “Chiraq” movement.
The term “Chiraq” refers to the current criminal rate and violence in the city of Chicago. The movement is driven by enigmatic young artists who incite this violent behavior in their music and lives outside of rap. The biggest catalyst is 20-year-old rapper Chief Keef, who often raps about guns, drugs and acts of brutality. Keef, along with various artists linked to his collective, have developed a genre of rap called “Drill.”
Unfortunately, due to its success and popularity, Drill music is a big influence on not only the impressionable youth of Chicago, but children and teenagers across the nation who feel they’re connected to the movement.
“Drill rap remains the most predominant strain of hip-hop in high schools around Chicago. With 532 murders in the city last year, violence has paved the way for a new movement that teens find immensely appealing; a movement made by inner city youth for inner city youth,” states Steven Goldstein of the Chicago Bureau states in his piece “Chicago’s ‘Drill Rap’ Movement: Expressions of Struggle or a Glorifying of Violence?”
I am not blaming Chief Keef for issues that relate to black-on-black crime entirely. Historically, there have always been negative influences within the hip-hop culture. However, it seems as though this negativity is being glamorized and swallowed up by the hungered children.
“The reality for many of the hip-hop generation is that gun homicide has been the leading cause of death of black men ages 15-34 since 1969 and for ages 18-24 gun homicide increased 79% between 1980 and 1995,” said Walter E. Hart, writer for the University of Texas at Arlington.
When is hip-hop going to take a stand? Band together? Help to create a positive environment for the future of our people?
Despite the uproar of the 1990s L.A. riots, police harassment, brutality and killings are still seemingly dismissed in our society today.
In March of 1991, Rodney King was involved in a high speed chase with the Los Angeles Police Department. Once he stopped, the police drug him out of his car and almost beat him to death.
This incident was caught on camera and was broadcast across the entire nation. This recording was used as evidence in the court of law to indict these officers, however, all the officers involved in the incident were acquitted and the L.A. riots ensued.
At the time of the riots, mainstream America was shocked to see such an uproar. History.com posted an article from 1992, documenting the public eruption that took place in result of the verdict. “Hours after the verdicts were announced, outrage and protest turned to violence, as rioters in south-central Los Angeles blocked freeway traffic and beat motorists, wrecked and looted numerous downtown stores and buildings, and set more than 100 fires.”
Although this situation may have been a surprise to the masses, it was no secret to artists and fans of hip hop. Artists and groups such as N.W.A. often noted the credence of many vigilant police officers that beat or harassed many blacks, particularly within Los Angeles. Their song “F *** Tha Police” sparked the conscious of many Americans, and at the time helped to create a powerful revolution, driven by the vehicle of rap music and its modern depictions of racial discrimination.
Twenty years after the riots, police are still capable of brutally beating or killing young black men with very little consequence. The trials of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are examples of the hypocrisy within our judicial system. When is the cycle going to end?
Women are a part of the hip-hop dialogue as well. For decades, rap has been heavily criticized for its misogynistic lyrics and sexist attitude towards women, both on the inside and outside of the industry.
Women have been negatively portrayed, exploited and sexualized in songs and music videos. One example is Nelly’s infamous music video for the song “Tip Drill,” shown on the former program “BET Uncut.”
The video depicts women dancing in bikinis while money is being thrown at them. The most distasteful moment was when Nelly himself swiped a credit card along a woman’s backside.
Those who saw the video were extremely offended, including the young women of Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Before the students’ knowledge of the video, the university and Nelly’s foundations were merging to service a bone marrow drive on campus.
After the students saw the video, they decided they would only continue the drive if Nelly explained the idea behind both the song and the visuals. Nelly refused, and in turn the students cancelled the drive and began to protest.
Even those we consider social rap revolutionists have made songs that have split listeners. The most notable hip hop figure that comes to mind is former rap artist Tupac Shakur, otherwise known as 2Pac.
Shakur is considered one of the greatest rappers of all time, and is often noted for his realistic depictions of racism, crime and violence. Although Shakur created socially progressive songs like “Trapped,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Dear Mama” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” his music sometimes reflected both feminist and misogynistic views that contradicted one another. Songs such as “Wonda Why They Call U B****,” “All About U” and “Skandalouz” all display Shakur’s ideas about a specific kind of woman.
These women looking for sexual independence and financial advancement are considered sluts, whores and gold-diggers, according to the song. However, this was not the biggest problem. Rather, the issue was the fact that these women were spoken of more often than the women of respect, independence and loyalty he mentioned occasionally on his projects. The degradation of women in hip-hop is still an issue today.
We still have these issues within hip-hop, despite the fact that hip-hop can be a force for change. The lack of activism among large figures in hip-hop has only prolonged the process of total equality for blacks in America.
Recently, Rap Rehab journalist Matt G wrote an article referring to the lack of social topics among artists following the meteoric rise of current rap star Drake, and how many artists today make music about themselves, instead of bigger, more important topics like racism, inequality or police brutality. This idea resonated with me, and opened my eyes to the vast gap of popular rap artists today, who rarely address these racial or social topics.
I feel there is a missed opportunity among these figures. Musically, Drake–and artists like them–have the ability to impact millions, so why not address the issues?
The one mainstream artist I feel has put forth the effort to address such issues is Kendrick Lamar. On March 23, 2015, Lamar released the critically acclaimed “To Pimp a Butterfly” album. This album discusses topics such as police brutality, racism in America, love and self-love.
One example from the album is the song “i,” in which Lamar reflects upon his own self-conflicts and his newly formed spirit. Albums such as these receive quite limited radio exposure, and thus do not garner the audience that they should.
Protests among hip-hop fans should be a priority. Rather than try to enact real change, people turn to the likes of social media to display any kind of empathy, anger or appreciation they have towards a racial or social topic. I believe that, like artists, fans of hip-hop have a responsibility to become bigger participants in talking about cultural change.
As the faces of hip-hop, artists also need to be mindful of their responsibility to their communities. After all, so many people look up to these artists.
We should start by creating positive campaigns that promote the construction of recreational facilities, shelter centers, music studios and schools. Interaction with the kids in poverty-stricken environments is necessary in order to motivate them to do what’s best for themselves, their families, and their communities down the road. We should inspire these kids to become police officers or judges. Roles such as these would help regulate the imbalances of our judicial system.
By combining both musical and social powers, hip-hop is able to generate a movement that will slowly chip our current issues down to dust. For example, artist Donnie Trumpet is leading an artistic movement in the inner city of Chicago called, The Social Experiment.
The Social Experiment is a group of musicians who promote peace, love, equality and non-violence. The hip-hop collective raises money to help build music studios and playgrounds around the urban neighborhoods in Chicago. Their musical and social contributions has provided a generation with faith, in a city lost in corruption.
It is time for these solutions to be implemented into our neighborhoods and our culture. As a nation, we need to establish a new regime that encourages peace and equality for everyone.