All Articles Tagged "hip hop and politics"
2006 was the year I graduated from high school and also the same year Kanye West released his hit single, “Touch the Sky.” Seeing that I was getting ready to enter my freshman year of college, Kanye’s aptly titled album Late Registration became the soundtrack to my pre-collegiate life. There was magic in that whole album; but I particularly bonded with “Touch the Sky” because when Kanye said, “You gon’ touch the sky, baby girl!” I knew he was talking to me. I studied that song. With its sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” it became my inspiration. You may also remember that in this epic song there was a short verse from up and coming Chicago rapper, Lupe Fiasco. Laden with references to Japanese and American cartoons, I never fully grasped all Lupe was trying to say. I just knew he was introducing himself as a young rapper on the come up. He didn’t move me like Kanye but I dug his pacing and added his name to my rap radar.
When I got to school, I found myself surrounded by a whole bunch of what I called “Chicago Kids.” There were swarms of them ranting and raving about their love for their city, Harold’s Chicken and their sports teams. (Thank God the Bears lost the Superbowl to my hometown team, the Indianapolis Colts, or I would’ve never heard the end of it.) But the Chicago Kids weren’t completely obnoxious, truth be told they put me onto some good stuff, including Lupe Fiasco. The girl who would later become my best friend from college, asked me if I’d heard of Lupe. I wasn’t a connoisseur of his music like the Chicago kids were, but since he was on my favorite song and therefore, my rap radar, I knew his name. She let me listen to the first single, “Sunshine.” With lyrics like, “You’re the starry skies above me, won’t you please come down and hug me,” it was a love song, about a regular dude approaching a girl who just so happened to dig him too. It was beautiful and I was officially a Lupe fan. After that single, his first album Food and Liquor didn’t disappoint. I knew I dug it but I didn’t understand how deep it actually was, until I watched one of my guy friends rapping along to “He Say, She Say,” a song from the album.
A group of us were sitting around in the community lounge, pretending to study. My friend, who was on DJ duty, played Lupe’s new album. “He Say, She Say,” came on. Immediately the energy shifted from light and jovial to heavy and pensive. If you’re not familiar with the song, essentially it’s a very heart wrenching conversation between a mother, son and an absentee father. Both the mother and the son plead with the father to spend more time, explaining how his absence is having a negative effect on his academic and emotional progress.“To be a man, she try to make me understand that she my number one fan but it’s like you booing from the stands, you know the world is out to get me, why don’t you give me a chance?” I knew it was a rare piece of art when I first heard it and I loved it. But I was left utterly speechless as I watched one of our guy friends lose himself in the lyrics. For a dude who seemed to take very little seriously, he was in a trance rapping and bobbing, his eyes closed. I knew, with no words necessary, that he was singing his own story. And he didn’t even have to write it, Lupe did it for him. It was so real and so tragic that I gained an entirely new level of respect for Lupe. And with the release of each album, my love and respect continued to grow. There was The Cool with songs like “The Fighters,” “Go Baby,” “Gold Watch,” and the song that would become one of my theme songs, “Paris, Tokoyo,” (the original and the remix). That was late 2007, early 2008, the same year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
Then a few years later, things took a turn for the worst. By 2011, Lupe had some choice words for President Obama, calling him “the biggest terrorist” in one breath and then claiming he doesn’t get involved in politics in the next. When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it. I had to look it up for myself because, though Lupe had always been very opinionated, this just wasn’t like him. But alas, it was true. His argument was that the United States’ policies inspire other countries to attack us. And if we didn’t have these policies other countries wouldn’t try to take us down. For someone who admittedly doesn’t follow politics, this seemed like a very haphazard and outrageous thing to say. And it didn’t stop there, earlier this year Lupe went on to say that President Obama is a “baby killer” because he’s authorized the use of “predator and reaper drones.” Lupe argues that the drones are killing innocent civilians and not just the terrorist targets the U.S. government is after. Lupe likened President Obama’s methods to a drug dealer: “Drug dealers can say the same thing. ‘I didn’t mean to kill all the people in the restaurant. I was just trying to get that one dude who killed my cousin. Just so happened that that little girl was there.’ Same thing.”
Over the weekend, I was watching the film “Letters To the President,” a documentary that showcases the hip-hop music community’s close-knit ties to the social and political policies of the last 30 years.
Back in the day, hip-hop reveled in revolutionary lyrics and imagery. Every rapper, regardless of their style, managed to incorporate a political message into their songs. Groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five delivered the Message and White Lines in between party joints like Scorpio and Freedom. Even the hardest “gangsta” rappers of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, such as Ice-T, Too Short and NWA used their platform to narrate stories about police brutality, the L.A. riots and other issues plaguing ghetto life.
But those days are gone and no longer do we have artists like Public Enemy telling us that we “Can’t Truss It” or Boogie Down Productions reminding us to watch out for the “Black Cop.” Instead, hip hop has traded in picket signs for Aston Martins, Rolexes, Christian Louboutins, and a bunch of other products that most of us can’t pronounce, let alone afford.
With the fragile housing market, a slow to recover economy, two—no, wait three—wars, rising gas and food prices, police brutality, and so forth, it’s not like there isn’t plenty of material for rappers to work with. So why hasn’t Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Waka Flocka, Nicki Minaj, or any other mainstream artist, been willing to use their music to discuss more than just what they got and what you ain’t got?
I thought long and hard about this topic, which has spurred dozens of conversations with fellow hip-hop heads that also feel slighted by the direction of the genre. As pointed out by Sean “Diddy” Combs: “people have figured out the formula when they make records for radio, and DJs ain’t DJs no more. DJs don’t break records no more. DJs don’t play album cuts. DJs play what is going to move the crowd. DJs, they don’t expose you to the newness.”
Although some might rightfully argue that Diddy himself has contributed to the downfall of the genre, he does makes a great point. Over the years, radio stations, which are now part of corporations, stopped being about balance and more about force feeding listeners a continual loop of the same six songs. Case in point: probably one of the dopest political theme songs to come out in the last few months was Pharoahe Monch’s “Clap,” which took aim at all of the questionable police raids and shootings that have been making headlines around the country. Around the same time, Travis Porter’s ”Make it Rain,” a trap-rap booty bouncer about paying woman to take off their clothes, among other things, was released. Guess which of the two received regular radio play and which was banished to YouTube?
But of course, radio stations should not feel that they have to shoulder the blame all on their own because the music industry itself is just as culpable. In their haste to “get money,” the corporate side of the art form has made it difficult – if not impossible – for positive and/or political hip hop music to reach the masses.
With rap music sales dropping by 44 percent since 2000, record company A&R executives are going to appeal to what they feel will guarantee a hit. Unfortunately, a hit that will sell means drugs, violence, misogyny, materialism and the ill informed.
Which brings me to my final point: the fans. Yeah, you guys who will rush to support empty lyrics and content just because it has a good beat. Like the A&R executives, radio stations and rappers, we, the fans, started watching the Billboard charts and basing a rapper’s worth on how much money they generated, how many women they had in their videos, and how many albums they sold as opposed to what they were actually saying in their music.
Hip-hop used to be that mirror that was held up to the rest of world exposing conditions of what it was like to be poor and black in America. But today, that image is a little fuzzy and distorted. I’m not saying it’s all hip-hop’s fault, since it appears that we’re all guilty of being less politically active and concerned as a community like we were nearly two to three decades ago. However, I worry for the younger generation who will never get a chance to experience the art of hip-hop the way people of my generation did.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(The Root) — In you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me news, Luther Campbell — yes, that Luther Campbell — is throwing his name into the politics game. He hopes to run for mayor of Miami this year, if the Magic City decides to recall its current mayor, Carlos Alvarez. It’s been more than 20 years since Uncle Luke and the 2 Live Crew released “Me So Horny” and one of their most controversial albums, As Nasty as They Wanna Be. So perhaps the stripper-loving rapper is ready to take on a new challenge.
(The Grio) — Rap mogul Master P and Michelle Obama are teaming up to fight the childhood obesity epidemic. Master P will be hosting an event during Grammy week where he will ask celebrities to support the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign through his own Move Through Music organization. Furthermore, a reader survey conducted by Bizbash named Michelle Obama the top choice to walk the red carpet in 2011. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed selected Mrs. Obama over people like Bill Clinton and Lady Gaga.