Sometimes, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why we expect rappers to be invested in social justice. Rapping is a job.
This is not to say that they can’t be. I only ask why we expect them to be.
When Kanye showed up at OWS NYC, I thought this is interesting.
The US has an interesting history of Black celebrities using their voice to advance causes on the behalf of those who have less social power than they do.
Think Muhammed Ali.
Think Lena Horne.
There are countless others.
There were also several other folks as well who are not necessarily Black. John Lennon and Yoko Ono come to mind.
The process by which a person becomes politicized, and by that I mean becomes willing to read, think and take action to change some janky shit (on an individual or a systemic level) varies from person to person.
It may come from participating in an event at your school and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.
It may come from registering folks to vote in your neighborhood and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.
It may come from working with a youth advocacy organization and learning that if you work together you can prevent the city from implementing a 17 and under 10pm weekday curfew and building a half a million dollar youth detainment center for those who were caught outside past curfew. That would be mine. We did this in ‘Frisco.
I do understand that given the history of rap music that there has always been a variety of voices, some progressive (PE, early mid career Ice Cube), some partying and misogyny (Too Short) some fun (LONS, Digital Underground) some darkness (Geto Boys). The point is that not only was their variety in content, but because it was largely marginalized music, remember MTV had to be convinced to play Rap videos, it existed on some pop stations and largely on college radio and mom and pop outlets.
My point is that I don’t romanticize rap music as some glorious do-right genre.
However, I do think that there is something particularly important about the fact that these t-shirts even exist (or existed).
When I saw the shirts, I thought of the contradiction.
With Jay-Z, here is a man, who embodies a rags to riches story, in possibly the most American sense possible. One of the richest Black men in this country. Low income kid from the hood who did good. We are similar in that way. Why is one of the richest Black men in the country making money off of a movement based on people taking action because many of them are not eating. The hood is not eating. Apparently neither are the suburbs.
For examples of people missing meals see:
In some ways those Occupy All Street T-Shirts reminds me of how capitalism, in its very DNA, will try and squeeze profit out of everything it comes into contact with, even if it is blood from a rock.
You know how Ross has Maybach Music? When I saw those t-shirts, I thought of Watch the Throne (Jay Z’s and Kanye’s new album) as 1% music. How could it not be?
All of these thoughts leave me with a few questions.
What do we stand to gain if we stop looking at rappers as “activists”?
Why do we even do that in the first place?