We Can’t Hear You: Why Those In Hip-Hop With The Most Influence Need To Start Speaking Up About Social Injustices

August 15, 2014  |  

Hip-hop is protest, or at least, that’s what it used to be. The beauty of its art is that on a piano-driven or drum-fueled beat, someone who isn’t a politician, teacher or authority figure can reach the masses and educate.

The lessons aren’t conventional.

The lessons aren’t sugarcoated.

The lessons aren’t often very nice.

Despite the fact that we would like to believe that in 2014, black bodies are equally valued considering that this great nation elected a black president, that is simply not the case. Instead, everytime we look up, 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.

Despite what we see now and hear on the radio, hip-hop has a conscience. It is a genre that can provide a platform for those to represent the unheard in times of great unrest. While Ferguson, Missouri transformed into a war zone earlier this week, tracks like Twista and Faith Evans’ “Hope” and Jadakiss’ “Why” fit the startling images of chaos in the city as calls for peace are heard from Brown’s parents and President Obama.

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.

Our lyricists shouldn’t shy away from stirring the pot with records directly influenced by the harsh realities of injustice. Jay Z penned records like “Minority Report” reflecting the everyday man’s trials, but now the genre as a whole has become consumed by Shmoney dances and lavish living. There is no sense of balance when it comes to popping bottles and dealing with everyday issues of the world we live in. What has changed us from being a culture of impact?

I get it. Rappers didn’t rise to fame to become activists. But for a genre to be so fundamentally based in social commentary, the disconnect these days is discouraging. Just like Game, Prodigy and 50 Cent communicated their discontent about Trayvon Martin’s death and David Banner has been vocal with his views about the killing of Brown, there is a need for others with great influence to speak  up, and to record songs that stand the test of time, speak to the people and reach beyond the Twittersphere.

J. Cole has done just that. 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’s done it again with the release 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”

Thank you J. Cole for rising to the plate and detailing the pain felt throughout the nation at the unfortunate death of Michael Brown. All we want to do is be free, and what we need is people to speak out about these injustices in any and every way possible.

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