When T.I. appeared on national television and was asked why rappers glorify violence, but are quick to call out injustices. T.I. in an extremely sincere and eloquent manner replied, “I think people need to take into consideration that Hip Hop traditionally has always been a reflection of the environment the artist had to endure before he made it to where he was. So if you want to change the content of the music, change the environment of the artist and he won’t have such negative things to say.” These words ring true, for a young child whose vision is obscured by an impoverished, drug and crime ridden environment. The child is lead to believe that the options available to them are limited to selling drugs, violence and other criminal activities. Children learn from a number of various mediums; parents, peers, television, music and their overall environment, as a race we are influenced by these factors and when we observe hip hop artists, television characters and the men in our neighborhoods, these figures will inevitably become our role models, it then stands to reason that children will aspire to be the object of their affection, “I do not expect the white media to create positive black male images.” (Huey P. Newton).
Hip hop has always played an integral role in influencing and educating people by replicating our ancestor’s oral tradition of sharing information and stories. For example KRS One had a song call “The sound of the police” which explored the origins of police and how they morphed into existence, from their inception of being enforcers during the times of slavery to their oppressive enforcement within impoverished neighbours and specifically black impoverished neighbourhoods. KRS One highlighted the scary similiarities between the past and present, and the institutional racism that existed then and now.
As a result of systemic racism, perpetuated by a government, police and society we have become a self fulfilling prophecy and rather than use music to uplift, educate and empower our people, we consistently support self-degradation with the glorification of the worst aspects of our existence by perpetuating and idolising violence, drug dealers and the continous sexualization of our women. It is therefore imperative that our conscious artists, entertainers and people in the media use their position to rally people and forge an alliance to redress the imbalance within our society so we are no longer unfairly targetted solely based on the colour of our skin, as Chuck D says in his book Fight the Power, “It’s very important for athletes and entertainers, especially black men, to say something uplifting and inspirational whenver they get an opportunity, because many children do not see strong black men in their community.” We cant ever demand that others see us as anything more than the most derogatory examples of black people if our own vision of self is obscurred. Colin’s #takeaknee is a prime example of an athlete having used their platform to highlight the issues that are prevalent to black people and demand that we are seen as more than the colour of our skin and are afforded equal rights and this is something that music has always fed into.
By identifying what we want, need and deserve as a people and taking our lead from activits like Colin Kaepernick, Patrisse Cullors and others of that ilk, we can effect change within ourselves and our music and as such change the narrative of the soundtrack to our world. For example, hip hop/rap has always reflected the political agenda in some fashion and as incarceration has played a vital role in the lives of black people in both the UK and USA hip hop too has acknowledged the impact of imprisonment as dictated by the leader of that time.
There is little to no research, evidence or statistical proof that black people are more inclined to use or sell drugs than their white peers, yet they are almost more than likely to be arrested and given a longer sentence for such crimes. Therefore prison reform is now becoming more of a pressing issue for hip hop and it would seem as if Colin Kaepernick’s protest can be thanked for keeping this issue current, and on the lips of influential people within media and entertainment, the likes of Van Jones and his consistent activism and Jay Z who himself made a documentary about Kalief Browder and the necessity for bail reform.
In the past hip hop has enjoyed a close relationship to the issues of criminal justice like the song “Belly of the beast”, which was in fact recorded by a prisoner whilst incarcerated, and Public Enemy who were infamous for their political music performing in Rikers Island demonstrates hip hop’s political awareness, however with the explosion of social media and the internet enabling millions to be reached, people with a very real platform and involvement in entertainment are attracting more coverage, bringing more awarenss to these issues. Meek Mills himself, wrote a song entitled, “Young Black America” which explored the issue of the prison industry and its racially biased sentences that inexplicably create a revolving door of repeat offenders, highlighting the criminalization of people’s blackness, as it were. The tone of this song is now a reality for Meek Mills who himself has been a victim of a racially biased justice system.
If we work together to minimilise the inherent indoctrination that our children are raised with, then we can begin to address the imbalance and decrease the incessant social and economic deprivation of their environment. The fundamental foundations of us as a people; our culture, values and morals are non-existent. We no longer educate the younger generations with the knowledge that they have the strength to achieve, can dream big and it is better to fail whilst trying than to never try at all. With real education, our children can acquire real knowledge, with this knowledge they can learn, develop and solidify the necessary skills required for life, with the absence of this knowledge the wisdom to implement these tools into a more positive and progressive future is missing.
John Singleton highlighted the realities of our communities in his movie, “Boyz n the Hood” when he successfully brought attention to the on-going situation that black communities endure on a daily basis, when his character Furious Styles gave his monologue “…….What we need to do is keep everything in our neighbourhood, everything, black. Black owned with black money, just like the Jews, the Italians, the Mexicans and the Koreans do…..Well, how you think the crack rock gets into the country? We don’t own any planes. We don’t own no ships. We are not the people who are flyin’ and floatin’ that shit in here. I know every time you turn on the TV that’s what you see, black people, selling the rock, pushing the rock, pushing the rock, yea, I know. But that wasn’t a problem as long as it was here, wasn’t a problem until it was in Iowa and it showed up on Wall Street where there are hardly any black people. Now if you want to talk about uh, guns, why is that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community? … Tell you why, for the same reason that there’s a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills, you don’t see that shit. But they want us to kill ourselves. Yea, the best way you can destroy a people, you take away their ability to reproduce themselves. Who is it that dyin’ out here on these streets every night? Y’all. Young brothers like yourselves. … You doin’ exactly what they want you to do. You have to think young brother, about your future, huh?” Boyz in the Hood was made in 1991 but this monologue is as powerful and meaningful today as at any time in our history.
As a people we are limited in our ability to reproduce due to drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and incarceration. We lack the skills, ability and often the knowledge of how to break the cycle, but more important than that we lack the willingness to demonstrate black pride and come together to build strong communities once more. Very often we fail to support black owned businesses with black money in spite of black people’s spending power having increased considerable since 2000, and it is estimated that $1.3 trillion is spent solely by the black community, with the vast majority of this money going anywhere except to specifically black owned businesses.
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