I can remember being a teenager listening to people talk about the decline of, “real hip-hop,” and about, “ Hip-Hop being dead,” thinking that they were corny as hell. I had no space in my head for that kind of talk. Hip-Hop was my life at that point. I grew up in a Christian household with parents that are both ordained ministers and a father who’s only guilty pleasure was classic old school jazz and R&B; the kind that was probably the background music for me and my three siblings conception. As a child, my ears became accustomed to the classics of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Al Jerreau, Earth Wind And Fire, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and many others. So naturally I fell in love with Trap music. In all honesty, till this day I have the same love for the classics as my pops, but as a young black teenage athlete who was still finding my identity, Hip-Hop became the background music to my adolescence.
I can remember being in high school, a mostly white high school of students from affluent families, gathering my sport’s teams in the locker room before a big game, and blasting Gangsta Rap at the highest level possible. I will never forget those moments. I never used to think of the irony back then, thirty - three teenaged rich and middle class white kids, and about five other black kids and myself, all crammed in a small room, jumping up and down reciting the lyrics of the most hardcore Rap artists of the times. I would bump 3/6 Mafia, Notorious Big, Tupac, The Hot Boys, whatever was going to get me in the mood to go on the field and knock somebody’s head off. I never thought much of the power of Hip-Hop back then, how it was strong enough to connect so many different people from different backgrounds through the power of artistry. What I realized back then was that every artist has a story to tell, and the mystery behind the storyline and lifestyle that they never knew and would never be exposed to in life had these white boys curious enough to memorize every line.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to realize the true power of Hip-Hop, during my time in college I started to research the origins of Hip-Hop before the Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, and Grand master flash. I started to learn about the early cultural African Influence of the “griots” people in Africa. I learned about the influence of Gill Scott Heron, The influence of Rudy Ray Moore, The influence of The Last Poets, the influence of Marvin Gaye and the influence of the rest of the forefathers of this Hip-Hop Culture that I had accepted as my own.
The funny thing is…. We as black people are the only ones that don’t ever really believe in the true power of Hip-Hop. We often say amongst ourselves that it is not Hip-Hop’s responsibility to raise our children. “If you are there for your kids, then rap and TV wont have to raise them.” But I am living, breathing proof that even if you have two loving and attentive parents present, Hip-Hop can still help raise your kids. I took many of the scriptures and lessons in the chapters of my book of life out of Tupac and Nas lyrics. Hip-Hop raised me just as much as it raised the rich and middle class white kids that I spent my middle and high school days with that would sit in that room and zone out with me under the spell of someone else’s artistry. That’s part of the true power of art itself, the power to organically connect with the source of another person’s truth through his or her own form of self-expression.
Imagine the amount of voices and the movement that we could raise up against the Tyranny of Government and systematic oppression if we had Hip-Hop as the true revolutionary mouthpiece and voice of the younger generations. Imagine if we could use Hip-Hop as a tool to educate, enlighten, and inspire our young people across the world, instead of to preach the gospel of self-genocide and destruction. We have gotten to a point through technology that we have transcended the control of the media by government forces, in order to do what media was meant to do across the world in the first place, to educate, inform, and enlighten.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said it best when he said, “ All of us with influence have a responsibility to measure it wisely and to use it wisely. Hip-Hop is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, with a message that can change the world. Rap artists have followings all over the world, with the ability to put out messages that reach across the world.
The enemy saw the knowledge kids were getting from rap music from artists like Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Talib kweli and others, and realized the real power of the Hip-Hop artists and the underground followings that they were creating. Because of the Internet and technology, artists no longer needed large record labels or mainstream media to get their music out directly to their fans. There is nothing more dangerous than a strong black man with a platform and a message. Malcolm X was a strong black man with a platform and a message. Martin Luther King was a strong black man with a platform and a message. Huey Newton was a strong black man with a platform and a message. All were targets because of their skin color, platform, and vision. But they also all helped change the world and the state of the Black community for the better. The last thing the power structure wants is the gospel of a black revolutionary over a dope beat blasting through speakers across the world, but that might be the exact thing that the world needs right now.
Even the original Gangster Rappers Like NWA had a revolutionary aspect to their message to counteract the violence, drug culture and police brutality that they were exposed to every day. Their music expressed resentment to the establishment of colonization taking place in their neighborhood. Soon their music was at the forefront of urban culture because of the authenticity of their storytelling and their audacity to challenge the power structure through their lives and art. If nothing else, they proved that Hip-Hop as an art form was a powerful tool of inspiration as any marketing campaign or advertisement in a newspaper. Rappers were the new preachers, and their church pews are full of listeners all day every day reciting that gospel. But where was that gospel leading their congregations?
In 2011, the Correction Corporations of America (CCA) which is the biggest name in the private prison industry contacted 48 states to buy their prisons on the outrageous condition of the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain 90% occupancy rate over the 20-year duration of their contract. But if the purpose of state prisons were really to rehabilitate the prison population, then wouldn’t it be a complete conflict of interests to enter into a contract that guarantees that the jails would maintain 90% occupancy during the terms of that contract? The answer without question is yes. But it gets deeper. A few months later, an anonymous email was sent to several members of the music and publishing industries inviting them to a meeting where it was determined that Hip-Hop music would be manipulated to drive up prison profits according to raprehab.com.
Only 6 media companies’ control 90% of all media that US citizens watch read and listen to. GE owns (Comcast, NBC, & Universal Pictures), News-Corp owns (Fox, Wall Street Journal, & New york Post), Disney owns (Pixar, Abc, ESPN, Miramax, & Marvel Studios), Viacom owns (MTV, Nick jr, BET, CMT, & Paramount Pictures), Time Warner Owns (CNN, HBO, TIME, & Warner Bros) CBS owns (Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, NFL.com, Jeopardy, & 60 mins). These companies have control over all avenues necessary to manufacture any overnight celebrity or start any trend.
According to Bloomberg, The largest holder in CCA stock is Vanguard Group Inc. who also holds considerable stock in in corporate giants such as Viacom and Time Warner. Vanguard is also the third highest holder in the GEO Group, which is second nationally only to CCA, only GEO Group also has jails in the UK, Australia, and South Africa. The second largest holder in CCA is a company called Blackrock, which is the number one holder in both Viacom and Time Warner. So to be clear, it is no problem for a company that is invested in both the entertainment and prison to make any artist professing ideologies that align with their interests a star overnight. They can make sure that anyone gets the necessary promo, product placement, and national attention necessary to guarantee that they are a commercial success as long as they continue to profess messages of self destruction and hate that make their investors rich.
The people that own media are the exact same ones that are invested in private prisons, and using one to promote the other is both insanely lucrative and immoral as hell. The largest rise in incarceration rates in the history of this country correlates directly with early 1980’s prison privatization. And our Artists are now a huge part of that vicious cycle. People are often times quick to defend Gangsta Rap, saying that the artists have the creative freedom to share their art that they want to make. But what is creative or artistic about the justification of homicide, Drug Abuse, Misogynistic rhetoric that glorifies a destructive lifestyle? How much creative freedom do you have if you can only rap about the worst aspects of our culture?
Contrary to popular belief, there is still a market for conscious music. Artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar are at the forefront of conscious Hip-Hop culture with lyrics that artistically paint the scenery of America and the inner cities within their metaphoric paintbrushes in their own unique ways. J. Cole has the first album in the last 20 years to go platinum with no features, proving that there is an audience out there desperate for a message that they can stand behind and believe in. Talib Kwali, and Lupe Fiasco have been touring internationally for years making money successfully off of that same market. This is the age of the Internet, there is nothing stopping artists from putting out the music that inspires to the fan bases that support them. Record Labels aren’t even needed for artists with a certain platform. What we need now are real artists that are courageous and bold enough to challenge the power structure again.
Black and brown people are the original people and the majority of the world’s population. And across the world of Europe, white America, and Asia, blacks are oppressed and persecuted because of an inherent fear by the power structure of our collective strength. We are all, as people of color, a global family and, as an artist; you have a responsibility to your heritage and your people. The time for being cool and staying silent on issues facing our people is long past. The new uncle Tom is the one who ignores his position and influence while continuing to perpetuate the agenda of genocide and self hate while an extermination of our people is already under way right in front of our faces.