There used to be a time when rappers had no qualms about speaking out against injustice. A recent essay from a brother who calls himself Gat Turner makes me long for those days. Turner’s essay, You’re Not the Boss of Me: An Open Letter toRick Ross & all of the so-called “Bosses” of Hip Hop indicts rappers who remain relatively silent on the Trayvon Martin murder. It takes particular issue with Rick Ross, a Floridian and self-proclaimed “Boss” of Hip-Hop. While many may dismiss it as bitter hating and/or golden era idealism, it makes a very valid and obvious point: Today’s rap stars are nothing more than narcissistic cowards.
Allow me to look through the same rose colored golden era glasses as Brother Turner for a minute. Rappers used to be far more eager to rock the boat. Between 1988 and 1993, rappers issued all sorts of warnings and threats to the powers that be. N.W.A told the Police to fuck off. Ice Cube stated publicly that he wanted to kill Uncle Sam. Public Enemy planned the imaginary assassination of Arizona’s governor. Paris did the same thing for then President George Bush Sr. on his second album. Ice-T declared war on brutal cops. Even the 16 track ode to irreverence known as The Chronic found time to address the L.A. Riots:
(I'ma say this and I'ma end mine
If you ain't down, for the Africans here
in the United States, period point blank..
If you ain't down for the ones that suffered in South Africa
from apartheid and shit
Devil you need to step your punk ass to the side
and let us brothers, and us Africans, step in
and start puttin some FOOT, in that ass!!)
-Dialogue snippet from the LA uprising documentary Birth of a Nation 4x29x92 that was used on the intro to the song “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” from Dr Dre’s album The Chronic
Looking back, it would seem that the rappers of the early 1990’s had balls of steel. Compare that with the rap stars of today. They certainly have inherited their forebears taste for theatrics, what with Nicki Minaj performing on-stage exorcisms at this year’s Grammy awards and Lil B calling himself gay. Such stunts aren’t truly meant to make statements of any sort, at least not in a sociopolitical sense. They are nothing more than empty self-promotion. They are publicity ploys staged by artists who care about one thing and one thing only: Their bottom line.
The big sellers of yesteryear made names for themselves by commenting on the state of the Black union. They were shameless provocateurs, no doubt, likely motivated by money as much as anything else. Public Enemy had two platinum albums under their belt when they recorded “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” for their third album Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Back. MTV refused to play the video for its depiction of a fictional assassination attempt on then Arizona governor Evan Mecham. Ice Cube likewise had two platinum albums under his belt when he made “I Wanna Kill Sam” for his album Death Certificate.
Were the Black Militant and conscious rappers of that time any more real than say, Rick Ross? Ice-T never killed a cop in his life. In fact, he now plays one on TV for a living. Public Enemy may have adopted the image and attitude of the Panthers, but they sure as Hell weren’t parading through city streets with guns or shooting it out with racist cops. Yet, there are two things that separate them from their modern contemporaries: Consciousness and balls. They were aware of what was going on in the world and what ailed their people. More importantly, they weren’t afraid to speak on it.
Rappers today are like the current stars of the NBA, many of whom were so afraid of hurting their brands that they declined to participate in this year’s slam dunk contest. Yet, members of the Miami Heat still managed to don hoodies in honor of Trayvon. Rick Ross did the same, but such passive gestures are nowhere near enough of a statement for a rapper to make. Rappers have to open their mouths to be truly effective. Rappers who are past their prime have nothing to lose by speaking out, which is why they are often more likely to do so. Underground rappers also have the nuts to put something real on the line, likely because they already operate well under the radar. Both aforementioned groups have been speaking out and making songs in honor of Trayvon. What have Hip-Hop’s marquee headliners been doing in comparison?
Perhaps, this lack of intestinal fortitude should come as no surprise. Today’s rap stars have shown continuously that they haven’t much heart, even when beefing with each other. It used to be that any two rappers at war with each other were unbelievably quick on the draw. Nothing was off limits and no disrespect, whether real or perceived, went unanswered. Ross didn’t hesitate to get very personal with 50 Cent and Young Jeezy when it came right down to it. Even that, it seems, is changing. After being unfairly called out by Common, Drake initially responded in kind. When common fired back mere days later, Drake opted out of the beef. He did so under the guise of taking the high road. White rapper V-Nasty got cosigns and support from her Black peers when she refused to stop using the N-Word in her songs. Is it any wonder that these guys are so reluctant to speak out on the Trayvon Martin case?
Another interesting thing is how this lack of balls points out just how behind the curve most rappers are from a social standpoint. Rick Ross pays tribute to Mafia Dons and the dope game like its 1985. He does so despite the fact that Mexican gangs and cartels are freezing Black dealers out of the drug trade in key places like Texas. Such facts never manage to make it into Ross’s music. Even factors relevant to his sub genre of choice (cocaine/mafia rap) have no influence on his content. Again, it makes sense that he is so hesitant to speak on the death of a native Floridian at the hands of a bigot. I guess such things interfere too much with the fantasy he’s trying to sell.
|Rick Ross donning a hoodie in honor of Trayvon|
Speaking on unpleasant subjects (Or, God forbid, advocating a “Black” viewpoint) can have dire consequences in today’s marketplace. If Drake, Ross, Wayne, or Jay were to truly take a stand on the Trayvon Martin murder, they might find their approval ratings plummeting faster than Obama’s. They obviously fear that much more than the George Zimmerman’s of the world. Once rebellious and unhinged, rap stars are now docile and impotent. They tow the company line not with vocal support, but with their silent complicity. In 1992, a murderous crooked cop would be in Ice-T’s crosshairs. Today, an ordinary civilian guns down a Black child in cold blood, and all Rick Ross has done is don a hoodie and take a picture. I guess he doesn’t want to jeopardize the money he plans to trick off in strip clubs, car dealerships, and jewelry stores.