Hip-Hop & Politics: Are You Really Listening to Your Music?
Jenna Caldwell | 5/12/16 5:11pm
| Updated 5/15/16 7:58pm
American Word Magazine
Music: we all listen to it. From being handed the auxiliary cord and proudly displaying our Spotify playlists, or being forced to listen to frat brother Mike’s same three Drake songs on repeat (we get it, “Jumpman” is a good song) — music is all around us, demanding us to listen.
While we may belt out Beyonce’s “Formation” or rap every lyric to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” are we really listening to the messages in our music? For years, musicians have used their platforms not only to give us fun tunes but also to deliver strong political messages.
Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” (1989) told its listeners to stick up for their freedom of speech. NWA’s “F*** Tha Police” (1988) practically speaks for itself. Ice T’s s infamous song “Cop Killer” (1992) references police brutality. Politicization of music is nothing new, and the same messages still appear today.
Queen B can do no wrong – unless she releases an explicit and politically charged song, performs at the Super Bowl and promotes Black Power, all while alluding to the Black Panther Party. “Formation” has received backlash for its lyrics and politically-driven music video.
The video opens with Beyoncé atop a New Orleans police car sinking in a flood, alluding to Hurricane Katrina. “What happened at the New Orleans?” says Messy Mya, a New Orleans native and YouTube personality. Beyoncé’s video critiques the government’s action in a city where the majority of residents are black. The government’s delayed response contributed to the death toll of more than 700 residents (cue Kanye’s infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line).
As the music fades, Beyoncé is engulfed by the flood – she is another victim of the government’s delayed response. She does not scream or fight. Beyoncé is a symbol for the New Orleans residents’ calls of help that fell upon deaf ears, forcing many to accept their doomed fate.
Although many have joined the new anti-Beyoncé movement, AU’s Performing Arts Professor, Sybil Williams, explained that artists who use music to promote materialistic and sexist messages should actually be criticized, not Beyoncé.
“I’m old enough to remember when the hip-hop culture began and it was highly political, and I saw it become… vapid,” said Williams. She is referring to the early 2000s when rappers like 50 Cent and Lil Wayne promoted nothing but wealth and women.
“A great amount of power has been given to you, a great platform has been given to you, use it for something other than stupidity,” said Williams.
Some rappers today are using their power to make political statements. J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar released “Black Friday,” a song in which J. Cole raps: “Got a middle finger for Uncle Sam / I done paid so much taxes I can fund Japan / But instead they make a young ni**a fund the man / Same man that keep a young ni**a under, damn.”
J. Cole expressed his disapproval of paying taxes to a system that arguably keeps black men from succeeding. We often see this discrimination within the job market and with the high imprisonment of minority men. A study conducted by Young Invincibles discovered that an African-American male with an associate degree has the same chances of getting a job as a white male with a high school
The politicization of music is becoming stronger as artists have not only realized that their music reaches the masses, but they can also use their platforms to speak to the millennial generation – the future.
But more needs to be done. Artists must encourage their audiences, bring about awareness, speak on issues that matter, but also remember, actions will always be louder than words. Are we going to continue listening to the music and do nothing, or join the growing crowd of “woke” individuals and speak up about human rights?