In the wake of numerous well-publicized incidents of black men dying at the hands of police officers, one would think that hip hop artists would be at the forefront of creative and activist endeavors in response to those tragic events.
After all, hip hop brought the world passionate and justifiably angry protest tracks such as Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and NWA’s “F*ck tha Police.” A couple rappers have released songs directly related to these killings. J. Cole’s “Be Free” is an emotional ode to Michael Brown and all of the Michael Browns of the world. The track even includes quotes from Dorian Wilson, Brown’s friend and also witness to his death. J. Cole has also been at numerous protests regarding Brown.
Kendrick Lamar’s “i” is not explicitly about the recent volatile situations in the news, but the lyrics and tone of the danceable track are very much in line with the sentiment of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that appeared in social media after Darren Wilson was not indicted for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s a song about loving yourself and each other and understanding that all of us matter.
Nelly, who is by far the best known rapper out of St. Louis, had nothing but words of caution for angry and frustrated residents of Ferguson in the days immediately following Brown’s shooting. “”I understand the frustration, but we have to strategize before we overreact,” said Nelly. That’s not exactly the powerful statement or track fans were looking for from a Missouri native son.
Numerous hip hop artists have taken to social media to express their opinions, but none so eloquently as Questlove, drummer for The Roots. In an Instagram post, the author and music industry expert urged rappers and other music artists to be in the moment and deliver music that speaks to what is going on right now.
I urge and challenge musicians and artists alike to push themselves to be a voice of the times that we live in. I know that many see what happened to Dixie Chicks’ #NatalieMaines @mainesmusic (she bravely expressed her opinion/dismay on the Bush administration declaring war & was unjustly targeted….while in hindsight being CORRECT) suddenly there was an onslaught of radio silence from artists across the board (correction not everyone was silent, but the silence was deafening) although I’m kinda/sorta addressing the hip hop nation I really apply this challenge to ALL artists. We need new Dylans. New Public Enemys. New Simones. New De La Rochas. New ideas! But it just doesn’t stop there!! We need outlets (hello #ClearChannel #RadioOne #Vh1) to balance the system. Yeah I’m just as guilty of feeling the high of all that I despise (“Devil’s Pie” D’angelo) but the reason why this nation seems to be moving 3 steps ahead in some areas…..but then 7 steps backwards in every area is a lack of balance. I’m not saying every song gotta be “Fight The Power” but in times like these we need to be more community minded (taking a wild guess that “urban radio’s” format didn’t change much from the pre program stuff (using that word *politely*) we’ve been hearing for years. & when I say challenge I don’t mean breathless race to the finish on who makes the more banging “Fuck Tha Police” sequel. I mean real stories. Real narratives. Songs with spirit in them. Songs with solutions. Songs with questions. Protest songs don’t have to be boring or non danceable or ready made for the next Olympics. They just have to speak truth. I laugh & have fun w “Bitch You Guessed It” like everyone else. But my soul is aching man. Seriously just ONE or Two songs that change the course. This is something I feel the need and urgency to put out there. #EricGarner #MikeBrown #JusticeForAll #FeedMySoul #HandsUpDontShoot #ICantBreathe
Hip hop fans have the same sentiment. How can a culture created and celebrated by black and brown people all of sudden be deafeningly silent on issues of life and death in our communities? This is such a critical point in time. There is a multi-generational movement going on right now that has Millenials, their parents and grandparents in the streets protesting all over the country. There should be more than one song by a mainstream hip hop artist that speaks directly to the police brutality, judicial system failings and the general disregard for black life that we see in our headlines and in our for front yards everyday.
Where is the hip hop track that gets people moving and thinking and angling towards progress? We should not have to dig in the crates 20 years or more to find that intersection of passion, creativity, substance and just plain old good music. Hip Hop, where are you?