Derrick Luster: Hip-Hop is the Racial Bridge

Jay-Z once proclaimed in his 1999 song “Come and Get Me”, “I brought the suburbs to the hood,” alluding to the fact that this generation of Hip-Hop has acted as a bridge between races to improve their relations. Though this song was released before the most recent push by Hip-Hop artists to address race relations in their music, it perfectly epitomizes the role that the genre has taken on. Being called today’s Civil Rights Movement, modern Hip-Hop music has made significant progress in bringing different races together under one culture to unite against race-based hate crimes and injustices. Obviously, these incidents still occur. The major difference between the present and the past regarding these injustices and hate crimes is the response and reception by people of non-minority descent. As a result of the research conducted by Eliezer Bercasio, there is evidence that suggests that “individuals who frequently listen to Hip-Hop are more likely to empathize feelings of inequity and injustice directed towards racial minorities.” This means that even though music is often seen as such a minor aspect of our society, it actually serves a key role in piecing together the often ignored perspectives to create a better world. For example, after the recent slaughterings of African-Americans due to police brutality, many non-black celebrities have endorsed the #BlackLivesMatter movement that fights to put this senseless incremental genocide to an end. This support derives from the aftermath of the Hip-Hop Generation who used their culture to explain the struggles of the lower class, as well as the injustices and discrimination faced by minorities to those who were not cursed with the same obstructions.

Previous generations argued that Hip-Hop was too loud and violent to promote anything productive; however, the music born from recent Hip-Hop artists has been pretty positively received by all communities, and has continued the tradition of educating the world of systematic race-based injustices while promoting equality. This generation of Hip-Hop has produced several musical masterpieces that address different aspects of the life of a minority and work to not only empower minorities, but also to paint a vivid image for those who are not experiencing the same tribulations so that they can better understand minorities’ behaviors and ideology. One of these albums is Kendrick Lamar’s most recent piece, To Pimp A Butterfly. The title, which is a play on the title of Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” that highlights racial injustices of the past, is a clear attempt to show the timelessness and cyclical nature of racism. On “Wesley’s Theory” he lists the vices that African-Americans are perceived to succumb to after receiving large sums of money, such as “a brand-new Caddy”, “Cuban link[s] on [his] neck”, and “a strap.” He then proceeds to blame “Uncle Sam,” who represents the affluent white men who control the world with their money, for baiting African-Americans to spend themselves into debt. This song is used to represent the way radical black people think white people view them, and with quotes like “we should’ve never gave n***** money, go back home,” the song places blame on both parties for the divide. Lamar argues that the history of discrimination displayed by non-minorities still makes minorities second-guess trusting them. This argument is double-edged, though. It also places blame on minorities for having these wild presumptions, regardless of what history may lead them to assume. The album reveals the dichotomy between the opposing perspectives on the racial divide, but essentially turns the mirror on both parties, blaming both for the prolonged war.

Other projects like T.I.’s Us or Else EP and Vic Mensa’s There’s A Lot Going On were released in response to tragic shootings as a plea for the lives of black men in the United States. On Wale’s song “Chess“, he explains how he believes that everything in the world is predetermined based on race, and that no matter how much you do, there is no changing the outcome. He compares the world to a game of chess, stating that “the whites move first and you go second, ‘cause you’re black,” alluding to the potency of white privilege and a lack of equality in opportunities for all races. This topic is also addressed in Pusha T’s song “Sunshine” where he says, “laptops is for the county kids, metal detectors is where ours is.” He also, like Kendrick, T.I. and Vic Mensa, speaks on the systematic perpetual murdering of black men in America. He says:

“These ain’t no new problems, just old ways
I see one time turn sunshine to a Freddie Gray
Just another n**** dead, just another n**** dead
Send another to the FEDs, Send another to the FEDs
Not guilty, still I’m filthy
In FOX eyes, we the dark side so they tell you lies”

The rapper is saying that he not only believes that these killings have been going on for decades, but that he thinks they are often swept under the rug and victims are not receiving proper justice. The murderer is often gone unfairly unconvicted and the news paints the victim as the aggressor, in his eyes.

These artists take on dense topics that use personal experiences, observations, and perspectives to explain the oppression of minorities, which has been the greatest thing a Hip-Hop artist could do to help improve race relations. By using music, something people turn to as a safe haven from reality, to turn a metaphorical mirror on the listener, whether white or black, and reveal the faults within that person that hinder the progress in the fight for racial equality, the artist has accomplished his or her goal. The role of a Hip-Hop artist in today’s society is to convey their struggles in hopes that they can brighten interactions between the forever warring black and white races. The new generation of artists within the genre take on the role of the teacher, as said by Lauren Lyons, because they use the fact that they are marginalized by society as fuel and as a vehicle through which they can educate others. By educating the world on the racial barriers’ tendency to create inequities between races, Hip-Hop artists are helping to smooth race relations and create a level of unparalleled awareness that helps future generations understand how to prevent the injustices that plagued our previous generations. Modern Hip-Hop just does it’s job of bringing minorities and non-minorities together through shared experiences, even if they are only by ear.