Contributor: Sebastien Elkouby
Following the verdict that shocked the world, I’m naively expecting some of these big name mainstream rappers to use their music to address Trayvon Martin’s case and the issue of racial profiling which has become a national epidemic. However, expecting the likes of 2 Chainz or Trinidad James to do so is dumb and unrealistic. Or is it?
I’m sure that they’re as outraged about the verdict as we all are, even if their music doesn’t possess any redeeming social value. A matter of fact, I’m willing to bet that they have experienced the sting of racial profiling on many occasions. Wouldn’t that make them logical spokespeople for what so many Black males are subjected to on an almost daily basis? It would be no different then what NWA did in the late 80’s with “F*** the Police” or “Straight Outta Compton”. It worked for them and they didn’t even have to sacrifice their street credibility with what some immature rap fans might categorize as “corny, preachy rap” to address the realities of gangs, racism and police brutality. They called it reality rap. Chuck D called it the “Black CNN” for its ability to report on inner city life. It sold millions, inspired a generation and shifted the direction of popular rap. Tupac was its best example.
While today’s inner cities are facing the same crisis they did in the late 80’s/early 90’s, rap music has become even more popular then it was back then. This would seem like a win-win situation with rappers being given the opportunity to develop into more socially responsible artists while allowing record labels to explore new markets. These artists could use their music as a form of empowerment, similar to yesteryear’s Black CNN, and have their voices respected as an important part of the national dialogue. They would acquire new fans and earn the respect of a wider range of listeners. Record labels would be able to market these artists to a much broader audience, no longer just limited to the fickle 13 year old rap fans only interested in the latest flavor of the month. As a result, young aspiring rappers everywhere would be inspired to rap about more important subjects and society at large would greatly benefit from having a diverse pool of rappers kids can listen to rather than the one dimensional caricatures they’ve been exposed to for the last 15 years. We’d be on the brink of a new era in rap music akin to the Golden Age of Hip Hop (87 to 92) when conscious rap was at its peak, even if only as a trend.
But let me stop daydreaming! How foolish of me to think that this could actually happen. These rappers are puppets who take orders from the same system and mentality that used mainstream media to criminalize a 17 year old Black teen, even in death, while allowing the killer to walk free with the very same gun he used as the murder weapon. Plus, the average white mainstream rap fan is probably too busy living out his hood fantasies through the lyrics of Chief Keef and Rick Ross to have any interest in rap that empowers Black youth (no offense to all the white hip hop fans who make up 80% of the audience at any Dead Prez, Killer Mike and any other conscious rap group’s concert). And what would a record label possibly gain from promoting rap that speaks to the real world concern of its target market when the music business has literally made a killing selling murder music to young brothers just like Trayvon? Why would Jimmy Iovine become anything more than a businessman whose empire was built off racial stereotypes and misogyny (while former NWA member and once reality rap advocate Dr. Dre looks on)? Why should anyone even expect an entertainment industry that also invests in private prisons to acknowledge the link between the music they market and how white America perceives Black youth?
Sure, Jay Z is rich enough to release independent music and become the “Talib Kweli-ish” type rapper he once claimed to admire now that selling music is no longer an issue for him. But the glimmer of conscious lyrics on the Magna Carta album were eclipsed by Jay’s groundbreaking marketing strategy as well as his fascination with luxury, abstract art and high end fashion as heard in songs like Picasso Baby and Tom Ford. Plus I’m sure Jay wouldn’t want to get too political and risk falling out of favor with his billionaire friends Warren Buffett and “stop and frisk” advocate, NY Mayor Bloomberg. By the way, that Universal Flag medallion almost looked believable on you for a minute Jay. But that’s a side note for those who are in the know! It’s also unlikely we’ll be hearing Lil’ Wayne’s opinion on the Trayvon case following his well publicized “insensitivity” regarding another teen murdered at the hand of racism. I’m also not expecting anything from Florida based Rick Ross whose home state seems to lead the way in adult white males killing Black kids. After all, anyone who spend this much energy pretending to be a notorious drug dealer but never took the time to learn that Africa is a continent rather than a country probably shouldn’t be trusted as a reliable voice of the people.
But it is what it is. At least we still have underground artists like Jasiri X and Hip Hop legends like Public Enemy who use their platform to inspire and empower. They may not have a multi million dollar marketing machine behind them but the power of their words will be felt long after their commercial counterparts have faded away into oblivion.