In the last four weeks, four unarmed black men have been killed by law enforcement across the country – Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York, NY, John Crawford in Dayton, OH and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, CA. Though the issue of racially charged police brutality is sadly one that has reared its ugly head more often than not in our country’s history, it should never be of the sort to be collectively swept under a rug of ignorance or justification. But as consistently sickening as statistics on this issue continue to be, we can equally count on the same level of vigilance the spirit of reform and movement others choose to show in opposition and in solidarity to stimulate change for these social injustices. In this day and age, the power of technology and social media has allowed an ardent movement to shine a light on the glaring situation surrounding Brown’s murder in Ferguson and also those of the aforementioned. Social activism has now taken on a new identity in the form of tweets, videos, snapshots, posts and blogs. The information, the truth that is now so clear to a captive viral audience is available at fingertips’ length. Yet, with all this progress in raising awareness, is it enough? Are those on elevated social statuses and platforms using their position to shed more light on what’s going on in Ferguson? I’d be willing to bet a whole bucket of ice water that a large number who can, aren’t.
To be specific, the jabs I’m throwing are towards hip-hop music and its most visible representatives who, for the most part, choose to sit on their hands at this point and remain mum on the topic of Ferguson. I’m not here to call out all the parties guilty of such, but I’m sure that we’re all in agreement on who makes up the titans of the rap industry at present. Not to get all too, “Get off my lawn!” on y’all, but the question that begs to be asked here is – what happened to the days when hip-hop gave a damn? Since when did lack of empathy for social ills so heavily infiltrate a culture that was essentially built by the people, for the people? What was once a voice of the urban and inner city youth is now all but reduced to glorified peacocking. The flaunt-fest that hip-hop is now sorely lacks the social commentary that icons such as N.W.A, X-Clan, Tupac Shakur, Common, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots and even a young Kanye West sparked to bring light to crucial issues that affected their communities. Now to be clear, I don’t discount the Dead Prez, the J. Coles, the Phontes, the Rapsodys, the John Legends of this industry, as it’s well-documented how much they’ve used their craft and influence to incite a conversation at the very least and at the most a positive movement towards making right the injustices that still affect black people today.
Simply put, I am taking issue with mainstream hip-hop’s general silence on the death of Mike Brown and the powder keg of a situation that is Ferguson. I do this because my soapbox is admittedly thousands and maybe even millions of followers shy of relevance compared to our favorite purveyors of turnt-upness, who’s following remain vast, impassioned and eager to hang on their every word. To put it succinctly, do you really think that if Tupac were still alive, he’d stand by and not at least release one track to address the gross abuse of power and basic human rights displayed by the law enforcement in Ferguson? Questioning the leadership of hip-hop brings to mind a quote once said by one Terence McKenna, an American philosopher who deserves merit for the following justifiable and poignant social commentary:
You can stand back and look at this planet and see that we have the money, the power, the medical understanding, the love and the community to produce a kind of human paradise. But we are led by the least among us – the least intelligent, the least noble, the least visionary. We are led by the least among us and we do not fight back against the dehumanizing values that are handed down as control icons.
Right now, do you feel as if hip-hop is being led by the least? Are these perceived leaders using their talents and notoriety to draw awareness and change to real issues affecting the realities of countless folks in their communities? How many buckets of ice water are they going to pour on their heads to actually try and wash away the stain of racially charged social inequality?*
If you’ve been reading this while playing the song above, it’s worth noting the sobering fact that Marvin Gaye made a song that’s as relevant today as it was some 40 years ago. “What’s going on,” you ask, Marvin? Unfortunately with hip-hop’s ruling elite, not much of anything right now.
*This is not to discount the movement to draw awareness to ALS, as the ice bucket challenge has in fact raised millions towards ALS research and treatment.