Music Features

Hip Hop Roundup: A Remembrance and a Reminder

They say that music and entertainment can be the greatest forms of escapism, when reality appears helpless and difficult. It’s one of the oldest unwritten precepts in our modern society. This assumption can be true in certain situations (namely when a worldwide disease is barreling through the human race), but to me, it can act as a blatant cop-out for circumstances that aren’t beyond our control. Yes, pressing play on our favorite song can create this aural alternate dimension, but it can also be an excuse for inaction when problems seem “uncomfortable.”

Music hasn’t been easy to consume over the past week because none of it truly matters at this moment. We’re witnessing a centuries-long pandemic right in front of us, a normal that hasn’t been new in quite some time: the cyclical abomination of our countrywide police force that continues to wreak havoc on innocent unarmed African American lives on a day-to-day basis. The uneven brutality we see now is a product of decades-long mass incarceration and mistreatment of anyone who’s non-white.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Ahmaud Arbery are just some of the many Black people who’ve been disproportionately beaten, surveilled, and shot for many, many years with Floyd being the most recent case. And now, to apparently add more fuel to the fire, countless protesters are met with lethal tear gas and even more excessive brutality at the hands of law enforcement. Our racist government seemingly works quicker to utilize military force against innocent people than respond to the many nurses and caregivers who’ve demanded more supplies to help with the Coronavirus disease. Cops are literally going undercover with body cams to infiltrate the protests and arrest as many people as possible. There are reports of certain people inciting riots on purpose so cops can have a lame excuse for using even more force. This is not okay.

White citizens such as myself have an obligation to educate ourselves and stand with the people who have been most affected by this racism because we are the majority committing these heinous acts of violence. By allowing African Americans and any other minority to stand on their own during times such as these, we as white people are allowing this demonic trend to continue. That is a crime in it of itself. We are exploiting our privilege that we don’t deserve because we are the problem.

Ignorance, a lack of human decency, and the inability to accept an ongoing dilemma are catalysts for inaction (how ironic). How can anyone stay silent when innocent men and women are dying at the hands of people who are supposed to protect us? How can we watch a cop inexplicably lay their knee on Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds and only say one or two words about it? And if we are trying to take action, how can anyone have a progressive conversation without first understanding the history of African Americans as perceived second-class citizens? These are some things a lot of us need to consider. I do too.

For years, we as white people have been scared to take accountability for our conspicuous prejudices. Politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton continued a blueprint that’s been set in stone since the dawn of slavery. Put as much money as possible into prison systems. Lock up Black and Latinx people for minor drug offenses or no offense at all. Place as many police officers on the streets without any sympathy. Disregard healthcare and parole, or any other basic human right. This is modern America. Capitalism and racism at its ugliest. Exposing the systemic injustice is a step in the right direction, but we as white people also need to take accountability if we’re not recognizing a transparent problem. We’re seeing a similar trend of power abuse under Trump’s guise, hence the disturbing military force utilized in the streets. This isn’t a white vs. black problem. Thinking it is will only further segregate us as a country. This is everyone coming together to denounce the corrupt political system we find ourselves under.

Staying stagnant is not an option, and it shouldn’t have been in the first place. I should’ve been more vocal about this in the past, and I regret that. Our rhetoric must change. The old adage of “history repeats itself” is a lazy excuse for allowing the same systemic racism to occur time and time again. To me, the cursed saying is code for “I understand what’s happened in the past, but it’s something we’re going to have to accept because that’s just the way life is.” No, this is not acceptable. When people say “money is the root of all evil,” that’s really code for “I don’t want to take accountability for the harm I’ve done that’s led to countless preconceived notions.” Dangerous proclamations such as these are major reasons for why we stay conservative as a country.

Racist bigots continue to be terrified of Black excellence, and that’s a major problem. It’s a dark trend that’s reared its ugly head for decades. When African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced one of their most successful economic booms in this country, we took that away from them. When the Civil Rights Movement was supposed to be a leeway to a brighter period, we took that away from them by allowing big corporations to write laws involving stricter police existence. When rap became one of the biggest genres in the world, we tried to use their lyrics against them in order to lock up the revolution. We see it still today with the mind boggling case in California involving Drakeo the Ruler’s Stinc Team; a trial blatantly executed in subtle racist terms. You can read more about that trial here. California in general continues to suffer from regressive leadership under District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Dirty cops continue to get paid ridiculous amounts of money to cover their own asses. THIS IS A PROBLEM.

The police force in general should be defunded because too many citizens see them as above the law. Much of the reason for why politicians are afraid to convict dirty cops is because so much money is invested in law and order. We need to sign petitions and be aware of the constant misuse of our budget. $414 million is budgeted for our task force in Massachusetts. Over a million dollars is sued on police a day. There needs to be more focus on other aspects of the community like education (such as paying teachers more) and healthcare. This problem extends throughout the country too.

It’s not difficult to educate yourself. We live in the technology age, for Christ’s sakes. African Americans or any minority groups should never have to prove their worth to society. It’s ridiculous that I even have to put this in words, but something has to happen. Politics and capitalism are a part of some inhumane game now. People will do anything in their power to win the presidency. When Democrats were losing a bunch of elections in the 80s and 90s, they decided to tighten their policies on prisons. Human decency has been sacrificed for a silly game about who can insult the other best. The country is shattered, and it’s because of apathy and ignorance.

The media still doesn’t know how to properly display their news either. They enjoy showing the burning buildings (normally propagated by by excessive police brutality) but they never showcase the millions of peaceful protests across the nation; groups of people locked in arms praying that they don’t find tear gas in their lungs. They also rarely display the constant over-agression of police officers in the streets during these protests. This is a problem. Journalists must do better too. The media has a long history of illustrating African Americans as nothing more than animals; second-class citizens. This chain has to be broken. No more of that “history repeats itself” bullshit. We must recognize how problematic it is that African Americans represent a little over 10% of our nation’s population, and yet they represent 25-30% of the prison population; all because of inhumane policies and stark inaction.

I’m disappointed in myself and my country for not being properly educated in a time where resources are bountiful. Other white people should be disgusted too. I can properly chase my dreams without having to worry about a cop beating me to death. I can play basketball in the park without having to worry about being shot by a white supremacist. Hell, I could commit a crime and at least get a fair trial. African Americans can’t, and THIS IS A PROBLEM.

No one should ever prioritize a piece of property over a human life. The majority of whites did not build this country from the ground up. We were not forced to be slaves, and we were not heavily exploited for free prison labor under the 13th Amendment. Property damage in general doesn’t equal violence despite what most people may think. These uprisings are a response to unjustifiable police violence against Black people, so even worrying about property disregards the movement. This should go without saying, but we still haven’t learned.

African Americans are not celebrated enough for their accomplishments, and when they are, the entire situation seems deceitful. Hip hop has provided so many happy memories for me, therefore I try my best to research and talk to as many people as possible about the culture so I don’t come off exploitative. Understanding your privilege is key for progressing the discussion. I can do better, and so can others that look like me.

It’s a shame that in a time where the whole world is suffering under the weight of a crippling pandemic, the people who should protect us are still failing us. We don’t see human life as essential anymore. When bigots and racists see African Americans, they don’t see teachers, entrepreneurs or doctors. They see them as statistics. THIS IS A PROBLEM.

I want to properly remember the African American lives who’ve been lost at the hands of racism, but I also want to celebrate their aliveness; their courage; their resiliency in a world that continues to push them away. I want to acknowledge George Floyd as a loving truck driver who also happened to be a rapper in DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click. I want to remember Ahmaud Arbery as a South Georgia Technical graduate and an aspiring electrician. I want to remember Breonna Taylor as a emergency medical technician who always lent a helping hand to those in need. I want to remember Philando Castile as a nutrition services assistant, who worked in public schools for a brief period before his death. In Donald Trump’s eyes, these aren’t beautiful, selfless human beings; these are “thugs.” THIS IS A PROBLEM.

Most importantly, I want to see my African American friends chase their dreams unscathed so we don’t have to remember them as a martyr in another eulogy. Words cannot describe how awful it is knowing that they’ve been kept up at night crying time and time again because another Black male or female couldn’t feel what it’s like to reach a period of self-actualization; a period of unapologetic success. Many of my college classmates have just graduated, and rather than prepare for an exciting new adventure, they must now (once again) have to consider their place in society as they walk outside. This is not okay. As we’ve learned recently, life is too short to worry about shit like this, but we have too because we as white people are allowing this problem to continue.

To all my African American friends and comrades, I stand by you, I will fight with you, and I will talk to you when you need it most. I want to carry your burden because you have been carrying it for 400-plus years. I want to spread this message to the rest of my local community (who are predominantly white and middle class) in hopes that they understand their impact. And I hope other white people try to do the same. I can do better, so can many others. I want there to be a day when the first thing a young Black boy or girl learns is not how to put their hands up, but how to chase a dream of their choosing.

Here is a link to a Rolling Stone article that highlights some of the many places you can donate too for the movement against police brutality. If you can’t protest because of various reasons, these are great alternatives. Also, educate yourself, and have conversations with others who are unaware of these ongoing issues. I’ll leave a couple links at the bottom for educative purposes as well. Let the voices of African Americans be heard for once.

Here’s Where You Can Donate to Help Protests Against Police Brutality

13th on Netflix

The Rap Report: To George Floyd a.k.a. Big Floyd of the legendary Screwed Up Click

The Devastation of Black Wall Street

Minnesota cities, counties paid $60.8M in police misconduct claims in past decade

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Column: George Floyd, Central Park and the familiar terror they inspire