You can get with this – upon viewing the death of a young child on the streets by the bullet of a handgun, one rapper (Chief Keef) tweets with a sinister laughter that only necrophiliacs would appreciate.
Or you can get with that – upon reviewing a videotape of “ghosts” – those friends and acquaintances whom the streets have sunk in the earth, another rapper (Lupe Fiasco) visibly mourns for over two minutes as the cameras rolled.
Last week’s Lupe Fiasco and Chief Keef “beef” has emboldened me with a renewed passion and concern about what the Chicago rapper Rhymefest calls, “a bomb that can last for centuries.” This “bomb” is certainly meant to destroy and, by no means, should be spun as a balm to assuage the hardened reality of the life of the streets. The streets are sinking our young into graves and into the underbellies of the prison industrial complex. These human vaults are being fattened by dark bodies of teenagers and young adults whose lives have barely been actualized. As such, in the consternated wake of Lupe’s retirement announcement due, in part, to a weakening of spirit peering into the eyes, hearts and minds of the youth, I call for a circle of prayer, an engagement of action—and heart—of our youth to rid their palates of salacious death pills.
Hip-Hop, oh Hip-hop, carest thou not that we perish?
There are those who will read this piece as for its Madhubuti/Sanchez/Giovanni/Baraka-like call for art being purposeful as a building block for community and nation building. As I make it clear in the Hip-Hop courses I teach, the aesthetic is divine and as such it is a tree whose moral mandate is to bear nutritious fruit that by no coincidence nurtures Black talent. However, as the controversial George Shuyler said in the 1920s and 1930s Harlem Renaissance: “One contemplates the popularity of the Negro-art hokum and murmurs, “How-come?” And, true to the proverbial history repeat of itself, one of my students Wesley asked of me in class: “Can we not locate a middle ground between production that is garbage and production that is conscious. Can we not support a non-engaged art?”
Surely we can but what Chief Keef posits in his “art” is tantamount to an evisceration of human care. And as Lupe weeps at the sight of “ghosts” from his past, we get haunting reminders of art’s inability to move beyond stereotypical imitation. Meanwhile, real life carnage transforms streets into graveyards.
Off the whirlwind ride of the presidential nominating conventions, the (apparently) indifference of both the DNC and RNC about violence in our communities is frightening. So when Lupe mourns those lost souls, the murdered or incarcerated excellence that compose his life’s DNA, such lament bespeaks the divine and is precisely what consciousness looks like. In turn, government’s Darwinian assumption that only the next generation of middle class children is needed to rebuild America (if given enough advocacy), is equally disturbing. Yes it is bigger than Hip-Hop! The American Dream and its patriotic nets must be cast a little wider to ensure urban youth get the same critical love and advocacy to ensure a levee is built to protect the hopes (and art) of urban youth from a hurricane–like rage of urban violence.
It should not be inferred that I am prognosticating a result of the psychopathic nature of Chief Keef or the grossly exorbitant number of young people with an affinity for “bang bang” and illegal drug usage; one simply cannot predict the outcome since our youth are always on the radar of social ills. In those frustratingly surrendering moments to a culture of a perceived nihilism, my research assistant Dalitso Ruwe often reminds me that we must instill new hope. We do this through mature voices and actions.
We are as much the culprits as the police brutalizing youth when we re-tweet, or ‘like’ videos and news dealing with youth violence. We must not do this and return to the comforts of our lives, no matter how minuscule the comfort is, without socially engaging in forms of resistance like mentoring and donating resources in our communities. A learned community cannot sit idly by and watch the artistic output arrested by the psychic and spiritual development of youth. Something has got to give. When history looks back, we won’t be judged by the great talents this period has produced. We will instead be judged as bystanders as the countless great talent of our generation become ghosts forever attached to the barrel of a gun.
El Wasalu Muhammad (aka Lupe Fiasco), I challenge you to come out of your wilderness period of spiritual warfare where you are being tested and tried and I urge you to be what your name denotes, “the truth.” Gadflies of a culture have never been embraced by those who have the most to lose by your truth. So if you are considering an ascent into the Hip-Hop heavens through retirement, remember that we arbiters of hope may ascend with you with our heads covered in sorrow and societal dismay, weeping as you leave.
Julius Bailey teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. He is the author of 2011 volume Jay-Z: Essays on Hip Hop’s Philosopher King (McFarland Press). He holds master’s degrees from Howard and Harvard universities and a doctorate from the University of Illinois. Dr. Bailey is currently researching for an upcoming publication: Kanye West: Hip Hop, Philosophy and the Tragic Image.