I always hear rappers say that they are “moving the culture forward” or “advancing the culture”, but I always wonder where exactly they are moving it forward to. Especially since, currently, black music is arguably the most unoriginal and uninspired it has ever been. Every time I hear a rapper say that they are “moving the culture forward”, they are usually referring to a new album, song or endorsement deal. You do realize that the “culture” is bigger than music and money right? With greats like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles who not only made phenomenal music, but were also commercially successful; simply making a new album or endorsing a new brand is not moving the culture forward. Besides, there were slaves who became millionaires – so simply making money is not advancing the culture either. “Moving the culture forward” should not be an arbitrary statement made to distract people from the fact that you are not really doing anything special. “Moving the culture forward” should also not be a cute buzz phrase used to market your brand. “Moving the culture forward” should be you expanding the vision and consciousness of a people by making tangible steps to improve and edify the community that looks up to you.
It is important for rappers and anyone else who professes to “move a culture forward” to realize that if you truly want to “advance a culture”, you must think outside of the box and transcend the stereotypes and expectations that have historically been placed upon that culture. To illustrate this point, I would like to tell the story of a man named Henry Brown. Henry Brown was a slave who lived during the 19th century. Henry Brown lived and worked in Virginia which at the time was a slave state. Even though he was allowed to work and make money, Mr. Brown still desired to escape the surroundings in which he found himself. In order for his escape to be successful, he had to get to a free state where slavery was abolished. He gained the help of two men James Smith and Samuel Smith, one was a black man and the other was a white man who owned slaves. He paid these men $86 to get in contact with an abolitionist in Philadelphia named James McKim. The plan was for Henry Brown to hide inside of a box and be shipped to Philadelphia. This box was three feet long, two and one-half feet deep, and two feet wide. Henry, inside of the box, traveled 27 hours by wagon, railroad, steamboat, ferry, and finally a delivery wagon before the box arrived in Philadelphia. James McKim received the box as a delivery and when he opened it; Henry Brown jumped out and began quoting the book of Psalms. He was later given the nickname “Box” (because he hid in a box). Henry “Box” Brown didn’t stop at just being free; he became a speaker and spoke all over the world telling about his great escape.
Many rappers today remind me of Henry “Box” Brown because they feel like they have to hide in a box, in order to escape their surroundings. Unlike Henry Brown, their box isn’t a physical box – it is a mindset, a stereotype, and a pre-packaged image. Many rappers feel as though record labels and consumers will not support them unless their content matter and image reflects the “typical” rapper’s image. I’m here to say that, first of all, you are bigger than any image or idea another human being has of you. God didn’t put you on this earth to live up to another person’s image. He put you on this earth to live up to HIS image. Secondly, you will never move the culture forward as long as you stay stuck in that mindset. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your story, what you’ve seen, grew up around and where you come from. But, what is the moral to your story? Are you discouraging those things or promoting them? Do you know the difference? I support rappers (who have the talent for rap) because I believe that rap is an entrepreneurial endeavor and I love that, but I believe that many rappers stifle their own growth and cut their potential short by limiting their thinking. If you truly want to advance the culture, advance yourself. Expand your thinking and your experiences. Invest in yourself and your knowledge, become a well-rounded human being, and expand your business ventures. In the process, you and your music will become better. When your music becomes better, the people who listen to your music will become better and, then and only then, will you truly move the culture forward. Slavery is over homeboy, the revolution is here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elijah Adefope is a law student at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a Law Clerk at ‘Walker and Associates’, an Entertainment Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be found at @ElijahAdefope or www.walkerandassoc.com You can also email him at [email protected]