Social change harmonizes with hip-hop

Internet Photo - Kendrick Lamar uses his lyrics to speak about the oppression of the black community in the modern context. The saying goes, “the revolution will not be televised”.What if, instead, it’s played on the radio? Some of today’s biggest hip-hop artists, such as Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, and J Cole are using their music to do just that. The Leader sat down with the Black Student Union’s (BSU) Executive Board to get their opinion on the impact of black artists creating politically charged music. They also discredited the notion that these artists are anti-white, as has been a prevalent response on social media. BSU president Perode Charles shared a simple response to this backlash. “It’s not anti-white,” he said. “It’s pro-black. It’s not about bashing another race; it’s about black success, black heritage, and black art. That’s it.” BSU secretary Tristan Duff criticized the logic behind these assumptions. “All you have to do is look at the lyrics,” he said. “It is not at all about white people. They do use imagery about police, but that’s like saying all police are white. They are talking about systems of oppression.” Some critics have reacted harshly to the imagery of Lamar and Beyoncé’s lyrics in particular. Lamar’s single “Alright” contains the line: “And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure.” Callen Williams, BSU’s vice president, offered an explanation for this charged language. “We don’t like that the police are discriminating against us,” he said. “We don’t need to show affection towards our oppressors.” Although music about social justice is not a novel concept, it has recently reached a peak as a result of recent events across America. The night before her Super Bowl performance, Beyoncé silently dropped her song “Formation” at midnight. The video includes potent scenes of Beyoncé lying atop a sinking police car, conjuring up memories of Hurricane Katrina. Another scene depicts a young black boy break dancing in front of a line of heavily armed police officers, prompting the officers to hold their hands up in the iconic “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture used in protests of the killing of Michael Brown. Although his music is less well known, Christian rapper Lecrae has also been making waves with his powerful lyrics regarding the state of America today, particularly for the black community. His story and lyrics were recently discussed on NPR, and his most recent album “Church Clothes 3” delves into the intricacies of racism, poverty, and oppression with potency. In his single “Gangland” featuring fellow Christian-artist Propaganda, Lecrae says, “Are you gonna sell drugs or are you gonna be homeless? Cause the government’s not paying attention,” when describing the paradox of urban life. Thomas Baity, BSU’s advisor and EC’s telecommunications manager, applauds the hip-hop community for speaking against these systems. “This music is about more than bling and women,” he said. “It’s about telling our struggles and trying to get people to join us and help us get what we are due — equal rights.” Beyond EC, professors and high school teachers across the country are turning to lyrics to teach about oppression, empowerment, and protest. At the recent Chicago protests surrounding Donald Trump's Mar. 11 rally at University of Illinois Chicago, protesters were heard chanting the chorus of Lamar's "Alright". The demonstration ultimately led Trump to cancel his rally altogether, citing safety concerns. Social media is packed full of articles, opinion columns, and video responses to the direct activism being employed in today’s entertainment industry. Some of it, like the sentiments expressed by BSU, reflects an empowering response. Others, like the #AllLivesMatter and #PoliceLivesMatters posters, view these as anti-white sentiments. Regardless of the response, one thing is clear — these artists are starting a revolution.