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The claim of “We’re just rappers” and the like is no longer valid.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