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Michael Brown, Activism & Where Hip-Hop Fits In

In the wake of chaos centered around Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb, Ferguson, many people have expressed their opinions about the teen’s death, racism, and the rioters. Being that my hometown is St. Louis, MO, this news of Brown’s death has left me emotionally paralyzed and I have been able to avoid discussing and writing about this issue until now.

While many activists have taken to the streets and/or keyboards, no one in the media is gaining more attention from their statements and opinions like celebrities. First, let’s do a quick timeline of statements made by entertainers that caught my attention.

8/9: Rapper/activist, David Banner Tweets

Our situation is more psychological than people will admit. Black kids kill black kids for the same reason cops do. They see no value.

8/11: Rapper, Killer Mike’s Instagram caption reads

We are human beings. We deserve to be buried by our children not the other way around. No matter how u felt about black people look at this Mother and look at this father and tell me as a human being how u cannot feel empathy for them.

8/13: NBA player, Gilbert Arenas’ Instagram caption reads

I would like to start off by saying too the family of the victim GOD BLESS#RIPmichealbrown you will be missed: too EVERY African American out there..how dumb are we really???every time we hear some bad news, the first thing we do is #RIOT #ROB #STEAL #BURN sh-t in our OWN neighborhoods..this racism fight has never been #blackvswhite, it’s ALWAYS been #blackvsblack from what the stats.. About 10 riots from the black community over the years and the only thing damaged ,was the BLACK COMMUNITY by The BLACK COMMUNITY..only reason they issue riot police isssss just in case you actually got smart enough to walk 6 blocks ,YALL ain’t f-cking up white rich sh-t smdh

8/14: Singer, John Legend Tweets

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8/14: NBA player, JR Smith Instagram caption reads

Our people dying everyday by police everyday for no reason but you want to keep posting pics of Robin Williams cause he made you laugh even tho he killed him self! #Butthat’snoneofmybusiness

8/14: Rapper, Chance tha Rapper takes to the streets of Chicago for a National Memorial of Silence  to demonstrate “hands up don’t shoot” in honor of Mike Brown.

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8/14: Reality TV star and lawyer, Phaedra Parks’ Instagram caption reads

During my St. Louis visit, I had the pleasure of meeting #MichaelBrown’s mother Lesley McSpadden. Although, we come from different places & backgrounds, we are very much alike-We are both black women & mothers who deeply love our sons. Unfortunately, she is planning her son’s funeral while I struggle to make sure my sons never know her son’s fate. #fixitjesus #JusticeforMikeBrown #Ferguson #prayforpeace #prayforstlouis #StopPoliceBrutality

8/15: Rapper, B.o.B tweets

so Antwon will shoot 12 ppl in a week and ya’ll be like “FREE TWON!” a cop shoot a n***a and y’all riot… ok… #facts

8/16: Rapper and St. Louis native, Nelly tells TMZ

I understand the frustration, but we have to strategize before we overreact. We don’t get no do-over on sh*t like this, so we have to do it right the first time.

8/17: Rapper, J. Cole visits Ferguson to see Mike Brown’s memorial, read more here.

In today’s digital realm, entertainers’ mouths have not been under the same control as they once were before the arrival of Twitter and Instagram. Now a few of these same stars have been deleting their comments or backtracking on what they originally said if some of their statements are not supported by the general public. However, my thoughts about how and IF people in the entertainment industry should comment on social matters like ANOTHER death of a Black teenage boy, sexual assault, or anything for that matter gets a little more complicated, especially for hip-hop.

As a self-proclaimed hip-hop scholar, I can’t help but to notice the political roots of hip-hop slowly seeping through the gold grills, candy paint, and YSL shirts every time a tragedy surrounding Black men (and I’m being intentional about gender) takes over of the social media sphere. In the 1970s and 80s, hip-hop culture did not only gain notoriety because of its unconventional music arrangements, but because of the justifiably angry messages coming from Black and Latino people because of poor living conditions, low wages, and inequality. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five rap,

Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice

Now, the old argument around hip-hop is that the music carries no political impact. Rap now saturates the radio with songs about sex, money, and designer drugs. However, hip-hop did not get to this state by itself, music fans, myself included, demanded more party music, now artists don’t feel the need to produce music that contains social/political messages.

Nevertheless, I celebrate hip-hop artists making political statements during detrimental moments in history like Brown’s death because it resembles the time when rap music was the medium used to express anger around injustices within urban communities. At the same time I am cautious of the statements made by entertainers considering the extreme claims they often make and the weight their words have in popular culture. However, I am more concerned with encouraging hip-hop lovers and pop culture junkies to regularly demand this trendy activism from our entertainers through their actual music, movie role choices, and music video visuals. Amiri Baraka once stated, “Art is whatever makes you proud to be human.”

In honor of Michael’s life and the many people who have lost their lives to police brutality, here is Freestyle Fellowship’s “We Will Not Tolerate.”

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