Blood on the sidewalk. Flowers left where a parked car full of young women was sprayed with bullets. A young black boy murdered on Malcolm X Boulevard. These are the realities of the communities we live in.
So many of our communities are in crisis, but we’ve come to accept crisis mode as reality. Murder has become so commonplace that we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel the effects of it. We distance ourselves from the tragedy. We choose not to get involved. We choose instead to focus on the areas of the world we feel we can control – places where sitting in a parked car is not a death sentence, places where young men don’t bleed out as a city bus pulls away.
I ask people: What do you think about all the violence? And the answer is different each time but in essence it’s the same. People shake their head and shrug their shoulders and say they don’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it, and short of having an actual solution to the problem, their solution is to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Who is doing anything about the problem? We don’t have leaders. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson may be well-intentioned men, and they may be community spokesmen who churn out sound bytes when something racially motivated occurs, but there is no movement, and they are not leading us anywhere.
The only real leaders in the urban community — people with the actual ability to influence others — are hip hop artists, but when it comes to responding to communities in crisis, most artists of the mainstream variety are nowhere to be found. The murders continue. The wealth gap widens, incarceration rates and dropout rates skyrocket, and yet we have a form of music that is completely divorced from the reality of the community it springs from.
Rap was once the voice of the black community; now it’s the voice of a corporate puppetmaster that shouts out brands of liquor, names record labels after expensive cars and projects a criminal lifestyle in which money has more value than human life. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s a phenomenon that’s been occurring ever since hip hop culture and rap music became commercially viable products to sell to the masses.
Corporations have far more to gain if we squander our wealth, put dollars in their pockets and send young minorities to the private prisons they’ve invested in than if we unite, invest in our own communities and create a new movement on par with Civil Rights.
Corporations do not profit from our activism and empowerment. Corporations do not profit from our freedom. They do, however, profit from our social, mental and economic enslavement.
By aligning themselves with these profit- and power-hungry companies, commercial rappers have essentially become traitors to their people. But still, the reality of our communities can’t be ignored.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
So the question is, how much longer will mainstream rap stay silent about things that matter?
Lauren Carter is a writer and editor based in the Boston area. Follow her on Twitter and check out her blog at www.bylaurencarter.com.