“RAP,” a voice of the disenfranchised raises concerns and asks an important question: “how do you undo 500 years of oppression?” While “rap” is defined as a spoken word art form of usually rhyming poetry over beats and hip hop is a music genre, it’s also a movement calling for revolution and crying out for social change. Rap and Hip Hop has been criticized because of the promotion of drug use, violence, and the disrespect of women. Not all hip hop music falls into that category. In fact, the commercial rappers and hip hop artists constitute less than 1% of the genre. It’s supposedly cool to be “gangster” in the sub-genre and the music industry capitalizes on that vibe reinforcing justifiable anger because it’s easier to sell it back to the streets.
The most popular rappers are brilliant entertainers. They have also done a lot to make people aware of the difficulties facing poor urban blacks. Hip-hop’s revolutionary potential is best expressed by “conscious” rappers who focus on important issues rather than bad b***hes, lean and their “Dab”. The crime, starvation, and limited media representation are just to name a few issues that affect urban communities. Let’s ponder on the fact that most of the minority youth aspire to be a rapper, entertainer, or sports athlete. Some drop out of school hanging on to those dream neglecting the fact without a high-school diploma, a black man can hardly find a job without proper education.
Conscious rappers are often well-spoken in their lyrics and push social awareness of the issues that plague our community. For example, performers Dead Prez, a duo from Florida, sometimes toss apples into the audience to encourage healthy eating. Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar can be deemed a socially aware rapper. Lamar blessed his fans with his album ” To Pimp A Butterfly”. The entire album illustrated the struggle of inner city youth and he spoke of change, pain, and agony caused by the oppressors. J. Cole also used his voice to promote change. In his video for “Crooked Smile,” he dedicated the clip to 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was killed during a police raid on her home in 2010, and the imagery is based on her life and death. And he did it again with his performance on CBS The Late Show of his song “Be Free,” sending this message about the song dedicated to Michael Brown:
“Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free”.
I believe that things will not change until there is a revolution where the powers that be finally understands and does a complete 180-degree turn to shift social change. This was true half a century ago in the segregated South. But today, it is nonsense. Despite the fact that we would like to believe that in 2016, black bodies are equally valued considering that this great nation elected a black president, which is simply not the case.
Instead, young black men are being killed by the police, and one another, with no justice being served. Most recently, 18-year-old Michael Brown lost his life at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, shot multiple times while unarmed, his hands in the air. At the core of hip-hop, records like N.W.A’s “F**k The Police” and Nas’ “Sly Fox” never felt more fitting.
In a time where we need people with influence to speak, I’m wondering, where have records like Tupac’s “Changes” retreated to? The records that explicitly detail a struggle that is still felt today. It appears strategic brand management has made artists fall quiet until the dust completely clears before they speak out about anything, or better yet, they say nothing at all. In a social media-driven society, it takes more than a tweet in solidarity to reach the masses.
In conclusion, despite the blame placed on rap for the prominence of violence in American society, hip-hop music is a symptom of cultural violence, not the cause. In order to understand hip-hop, it is necessary to look at it as the product of a set of historical, political, and economic circumstances and to study the role it has served as voice for those subjugated by systematic political and economic oppression. In order to put an end to the cycle of death present in the contemporary culture of urban minority youth, we must provide them with the resources and opportunities to view the future with hope.
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