In his song, ‘Gorgeous’, Kanye West asked, “Is hip-hop just a euphemism for a new religion? The slave music of the past that the youth is missing?” He asked this because hip-hop has an obvious strength and breakthrough, by any means necessary, power that other musical genres don’t have. Hip-hop has had a tremendous influence over the world in just a few decades. This influence and strength come from the power of the pure spoken word and the stream of consciousness that rappers produce through their verses. Eight bars from a dope lyricist can provide more insight than a doctoral dissertation. Hip-hop is more than just a musical genre, it is a culture and its music is the social commentary of a people and their worldview. I look at hip-hop as the illegitimate child of the civil rights movement because hip-hop was born out of the inner cities; inner cities that had lost their leadership. Hip-hop gave a voice to those who had no other voices speaking on their behalf. The voices that spoke up on microphones and over beats told the world exactly how they felt and didn’t hold anything back. The voices that spoke on those microphones should not have had the guts to speak to the world the way they did, but no one told them that, and as a result they shocked the world. That was the power that hip-hop had and still has, but what we primarily see now is a culture that has been silenced and emasculated by dollars and which chases the latest trend instead of setting the direction and agenda of a people. So…what does that have to do with Donald Sterling? EVERYTHING.
Once the alleged audio of Donald Sterling was released, there was an immediate backlash across the nation. Many people called for protests, boycotts, and for a “stand to be taken”. More even called and are still calling for the ousting of Donald Sterling from the NBA, but therein lies the problem. Donald Sterling OWNS the Clippers, the NBA cannot simply fire him. There are organizational by-laws and a constitution that must be followed. It is highly unlikely that the NBA can force him to sell his team without his consent. In addition, it may be difficult for many of the players on the Clippers to leave the team (if they so desire). These players have contractual obligations that will be enforced. It may be difficult for these players to leave or to force a trade and may require a good deal of legal wrangling. This unfortunate situation can teach rappers two things.
First, it can teach rappers to live their lives in such a way that it disaffirms any potential stereotypes that a close minded person could make about you. Much of the outrage against Donald Sterling is not simply because of the comments he made, it is because of the society we live in. The outrage is partly due to the history of racial injustice that has been perpetuated by America. It is due to the fact that much of black America does not feel as though they are treated like equals. Systematic racism is also well and present in our society and this country has not made enough progress (even though many think otherwise). Subsequently, this Donald Sterling controversy provides an opportunity for rappers, and others, to sit back and question themselves. “Am I only speaking out when a white person says something racist or when a white person kills a black person?” “Am I silent on real issues that happen every day such as black on black violence?” “Am I teaching my people how to be Kings and Queens, how to be owners and investors?” Nobody is asking you to be the next great civil rights leader, there are already too many wannabes, but is your music and life contributing to the changing of stereotypes and ignorance in the world? If it’s not, then no one can really take your selective outrage seriously; you are just another voice reacting to the latest media sensation. When you promote the things that are killing your culture, your voice becomes powerless when you then decide to “take a stand” against things like the current Donald Sterling controversy. No one will take you seriously and it is a shame because you should be taken seriously.
Secondly, this event can teach rappers to be careful with their legal paperwork. If your label owner or president made these kinds of statements, could you get out of your deal? Do you have creative control over your music to where you can decide to make the type of music that people deserve or does your label owner get to decide what kind of music you put out? Do you have power and control of your destiny, your ideas and your vision or is your career in another man’s hands? The NBA is different because the players play on teams owned by groups and individuals. Rappers and musicians, however, have options on what label to sign with or if they even want to sign with a label; whereas, there’s only one NBA. Take advantage of that freedom of choice. Take control of your brand. If you make good music, take that power into your own hands.
I have a question though; can rappers really be mad at Donald Sterling when record labels reward rappers for making music that degrades women, promotes the violence and murder of their own people, and espouses materialism over true wealth? What does that say of what they think of you and your people? I’m just saying.
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]