Monday, April 28, 2008

The Bell Has Been Tolled, Mainstream Hip-Hop Must Answer! A Call for the Mainstream Hip-Hop Community to become Political in the Wake of the Sean Bell

The Bell Has Been Tolled, Mainstream Hip-Hop Must Answer! A Call for the Mainstream Hip-Hop Community to become Political in the Wake of the Sean Bell

By Michael Partis

“If Malcolm or Huey had the outlets our musicians have today, it’d be global. I have to figure out a way to do it myself.”

Alicia Keys- “Alicia Keys Unlocked”

Blender Magazine-May 2008 edition

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 book, “Why We Can Not Wait”

When I saw Jay-Z, the biggest artist in Hip-Hop, could put out a record dissing NBA basketball player Deshawn Stevenson two days after the Sean Bell verdict, but yet could not put out even a statement on the case, I said enough.

Hip-Hop music and culture is an often criticized, highly stereotyped art form and cultural movement. Gangsters; ignorant; selfish; destroying the Black community; perpetuators of the word “Nigga;” and vulgar, incendiary rebels without a cause---these are among the many charges routinely hurled. And typically in the dead center of the attack are Black and Latino youth; and more specifically, the Black and Latino young man.

For all the racially-tinged hatred disseminated from the narrow-minded faction of the political right, or the equally narrow, grossly misinformed analysis of the Black conservative cohort (the John McWhorter’s and Stanley Crouch’s among others), there has been an identical amount of advocacy and support for Hip-Hop. Whether it be from religious, political, academic, or grassroots sectors, people like Kevin Powell, Rosa Clemente, James Braxton Peterson, David Kirkland, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Trica Rose, Joan Morgan and numerous others have articulately, comprehensively, and thoughtfully commented on the full spectrum of the music and culture. They have ardently and courageously defended it’s legitimacy to legions of Americans who see it as a one-dimensional, hedonistic, pesticide in America culture.

But now is the time for mainstream Hip-Hop to stand-up and defend the same community of folks who help create it, support it, and maintain it.

The claim of “We’re just rappers” and the like is no longer valid.

In a music and a culture that is heavily populated and controlled by young Black and Latino men who many times laud themselves as being the authentic voice of an urban Black experience that while is extremely harsh, vulgar, self-indulgent, and misogynistic but yet claims to be “real”---it is time to talk about this realness.

It is time to speak on a how the United States makes up less then 5% of the world’s population, yet has almost 25% of the world prison’s inmates. AND 1/9TH OF THOSE ARE YOUNG BLACK MEN.

During the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections we have seen Black votes be treated as if they were meaningless in Georgia, Florida, and Ohio. We have seen increasing attempts to demonize our largely Black African and Latin American immigrant population without understanding how our state-endorsed, government-supported, private- corporate sector’s role in globalization is helping to profit from and perpetuate, not address, this issue.

We have seen how the lives of Blacks in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama were not primary but secondary concerns in the face and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina---and how we still have no national agenda to address the displaced peoples or comprehensively rebuilt their cities. We are in the mist of seeing historically Black sections of cities like Chicago, Flint, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, and Trenton suffering through staggering high school dropout rates (and correspondingly, significantly low high school graduation rates) and economic stagnation.

We have seen how the NYPD could stop the Bushwick 32 from going to a friend’s funeral. And now we see how no amount of bullets to an unarmed man warrants excessive force by the New York City Police Department…again.

Now we need mainstream Hip-Hop to talk about it. They need to tell America how they see it.

While R&B superstar Alicia Keys has come under great scrutiny for her comments about “Gangster Rap” in the May 2008 issue of Blender Magazine, the most profound statement she said has been lost. Keys talks about the women empowerment anthems of Aretha Franklin and the soulful, yet explicitly political songs of Marvin Gaye as being examples of the power music holds: the ability to impact society. She goes on to express how she wants her music to bridge the politically & musical gap in an effort to raise awareness on important societal issues.

It is in this spirit that I call out the most talented and successful Hip-Hop artist of our society to rise. Brothers and sisters are being killed, disrespected, and belittled to the point where many now are saying our lives are meaningless.

This is directed at your “favorite rapper” and your “favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” It is a call to go against the inclination towards profit-driven commercialism and mass media appeal. It is a call to step away from the “music is just fun,” “music as a way to escape reality,” “we’re artist, not politicians,” explanations. It is a call in the mold of Dr. King and many Black leaders of the past to look beyond your image or your bank account and into the heart and soul of our society; to look at injustice and stand against it. It is a call to use our largest communication and cultural medium to talk about the pressing issues of our community right now. It’s time to break from our regularly scheduled programming, because our community is in a state of emergency.

It is not a call for the adults of Bakari Kitwana’s Hip-Hop Generation, or the activist of our past movements, or the Hip-Hop artist of today that are “underground” but making music in the “backpacker,” “conscious MC” tradition. This is a call for the biggest of Hip-Hop’s stars to stand up and say something. It is time to answer the call. Our people can not wait any longer.

We need our Hip-Hop stars to stand up beyond being artist, but as responsible men and women that are needed. Because right now, it’s bigger than Hip-Hop.

Michael Partis


Anonymous said...

The point about Jay Z is so incorrect look at his actions he was supporting the Bell family before the verdict. It is upsetting when ppl write information trying to get a point across but does not have factual information to prover their point. ” Hip hop superstar Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter has shown his support for the widow of an unarmed man who was gunned down by New York police, by using her as a model for his Rocawear clothing line.

Days ahead of the trial of the three detectives who killed Sean Bell in late 2006, Nicole Bell has starred in a magazine advert with the couple’s two children.

Just days before the trial of three detectives accused of unlawfully killing Sean Bell in November 2006, Nicole Bell has appeared in a magazine ad with the couple’s two children.

The three pose in Rocawear clothing, alongside Nicole’s quote: “We are going to be here to the end, ’till justice is served.”

Nicole hopes a judge will hit the three plain-clothed officers with the toughest possible sentence.”

Anonymous said...

Thanks to anonymous for the point of information but I think the brothers point is still held.

We're missing something though; in the days of Marvin Gaye, it wasn't just about making money. It was about making art, art that impacted the community. Today it's about making money and rappers tell us this every moment that they can.

How can we expect rappers to stand up when our own leaders relegate us to second class citizens so that they will continue to serve a purpose.

The system is not that hard to understand. While I will say that it is tough to change the mindset of a people; there first needs to be a plan. A plan of action, something we haven't seen in a very long time. People are too busy with their own agendas.

So 50 Cent stands up and he makes a comment about the Sean Bell situation. What is that doing? It's bringing awareness, awareness that will be met with strong criticism. I can see the headlines now; "rapper who raps about killing black men is angered that cops kill black men".

You see what Alicia Keys started to allude to and we are completely missing is that it is beautiful minds like yours brother that will help mobilize us on the ground. Your writing should inspire Lil Wayne to say something, inspire Jay-Z and these other mainstream figures because they are hearing about the noise that you are making here on the underground. Your writing has the ability to affect their sales, their street cred even.
Every one wants to be a gangster right, back in the day gangsters took care of their communities. So are these rappers the real gangsters that they say they are. Let them entertain and my brother you be the activist that you are. When we have made enough noise they will come around and we will unify the culture towards fighting for something meaningful.

Truth is we only want those who push forward the movement, the ones who will not can remain slaves to their record labels for all we care.

the ambassador said...

Saw a link to this blog via 2dopeboyz and decided to check it out. The voicing of your thoughts on this issue is appreciated.

If the topic is something that interests you, please take the time to read this, follow the link within it, and participate in what non-mainstream hip hop is doing for this cause.


the ambassador said...

link didn't work.

TheChosenOne said...

I've got somethin to say to the Jay-Z Rocawear ad. No one thinks that is a little bit of exploitation on his part? Ok, so he spread some awareness to the cause but at what cost? This wasn't an ad for Sean Bell. This was a promotion for Rocawear featuring Sean Bell. That's just bullshit if you ask me. I think that the family agreed because they believe it was a good promotion for them, but all in all, it benefited Rocawear more than Sean Bell. Sean Bell will be a distant memory in the near future and Rocawear will live strong. But in saying all this I don't know the specifics behind if the proceeds went to help the family or what so I will leave my comment open for some scrutiny.

Nice Story, Mike.