The TownhallSocial issues

A come-to-Jesus moment for rap and black America

By Shun Smith

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

For most of my 40-plus years of living, I have listened to rap music. From the likes of 2 Live Crew, LL Cool J, and No Limit Records to more current artists like Kendrick Lamar, Lecrae, and 2 Chainz. As time progresses, we get older and hopefully wiser. In a sense, the rapper is no different. 

Some of them aspire to change from their blasphemous ways and chart a new path toward reconciliation with the cities they grew up in. The fame and fortune many artists have gathered over the years has allowed them to take up endeavors like business, politics, hosting cooking shows, and pimping hoopties. Over the last five years, lyricists have taken to activism in both the studio and the streets in the name of black lives [matter]. This is not to take away from rappers like Public Enemy and The Roots, but this feels different; in a word, hypocritical. 

In a come-to-Jesus moment, a person realizes they’ve traveled down the wrong path and must change direction, usually towards something good. Rap hasn’t done that. In fact, it never slowed down. Rappers just stepped on the gas. 

For as long as I’ve been listening to rap music, the promotion of degeneracy (murder, excessive casual sex, robbery, drugs) has been commonplace. Rap has helped create the culture that currently exists in the black community. The irony is that nearly every rapper expresses that moving out of the ‘hood was imperative. A search on lyrics.com using the phrase “move out the hood” reveals endless results. 

Rappers from all walks of life aspire to escape the neighborhoods that influenced their music and made them fortunes. Not surprisingly, most people who have lived for extended periods without basic needs such as food, water, security, and safety are inclined to seek greener pastures. Once they attain relative success, one will “move out of the hood.” However, there is an onset of illness that affects blacks upon departing their old neighborhood. It’s called survivor’s remorse.  

Also known as survivor’s guilt, survivor’s remorse can be defined as feeling guilt or remorse about surviving a traumatic event when others didn’t. It’s common among military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Symptoms associated with survivors’ remorse in the black community manifest as feelings of indebtedness to the neighborhood, accepting victimhood, advocacy on behalf of the worst elements of the black community, supporting liberal policies like criminal justice reform, defunding the police, and protesting in the name of black lives only when they are killed (justly or unjustly) by white police. Blacks, regardless of income level, can succumb to this illness. Unfortunately, it is most severe in those who are well-to-do. 

But what about positive rap, or Christian rap, you ask? Its effects are fleeting. Positive rap is drowned out by the mainstream, and Christian rappers begin to sound worldly and preachy about material possessions. They are the Impossible Meat of rap; something just doesn’t taste right and leaves you craving the real thing.  

Recently, attention has been brought to the legitimacy of rap lyrics as evidence in the courtroom. This isn’t the first time rap lyrics have been brought under a microscope for litigation. In 1990, 2 Live Crew sat in the Broward County Courthouse facing obscenity charges. Their lawyer, Bruce Rogow, argued that rap music, while crude, held artistic value. Surprisingly, Henry Louis Gates Jr. – currently known for helping black celebrities find their African ancestry – made a courtroom appearance and gave expert testimony on behalf of 2 Live Crew. They were later acquitted. 

In 1992, Ronald Ray Howard, who shot and killed Texas State Trooper Bill Davidson, attempted to avoid the death penalty when his defense attorney claimed 2Pac’s “2Pacalypse Now” album influenced Howard. The defense claimed the album’s lyrics were like “pages out of a cop-killing manual.” Davidson’s widow filed a civil suit against Interscope and Time Warner Records to hold companies liable for the music of their artists. 

In 1998, the rapper C-Bo allegedly violated probation. C-Bo had been convicted of a negligent discharge, and while on parole he released the rap song “Deadly Game.” The California Department of Corrections stated that C-Bo had engaged in behavior that promoted the gangs and the lifestyle he was prohibited from interacting with during his probation. 

Lastly, in 2003, in one of the most notable court cases involving rap, Ronell Wilson was accused of killing two undercover detectives. Less than 36 hours after the detectives were shot, Wilson was found with handwritten rap lyrics that bragged about a killing. Here’s an excerpt: “leave a 45 slug in da back of ya head.” The lyrics were presented as evidence, and Wilson was convicted.  

The trials and tribulations of rap and the legal system are extensive. Currently, in New York, “Rap Music on Trial” legislation has been introduced. If passed and signed, the bill will limit the use of artistic expression (i.e., rap lyrics) as evidence in a court of law. Concurrently, in the Dirty South, some Atlanta-based rappers have been indicted under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. The Fulton County DA, Fani Willis, indicated that she would use rap lyrics as evidence.  

But why shouldn’t she? When will the rest of the black community put rap music under the microscope and place it on trial?  

No one can deny the power of music. Studies have shown that music can have a positive effect on the human mind because it activates both hemispheres of the brain to increase learning potential. Music might even improve brain function. If you’ve ever wondered why old people like our parents are prone to say “that’s my jam” when an Earth Wind and Fire song plays, it’s probably because their songs are connected to happier times before they had kids. 

On a more serious note, during the fall of 1999, academics at the University of Dayton conducted a two-year study that involved speaking to 106 male felony offenders between the ages of 12 and 17. The questions were related to their preferred music and whether it played a role in their criminal behavior. The race of the young offenders varied as much as their many crimes. The majority (80%) of the group identified rap as their favorite music genre. Regarding the effect of music, many participants thought music was a trigger, and most thought the music affected how they felt. Ironically, many young offenders didn’t believe there was a connection between their behavior and the music. 

As for alcohol and drugs, at least 20 rappers have their own brand of alcohol or serve as brand ambassadors. Don’t forget that liquor stores are already disproportionately located in black neighborhoods.  

Rap is like lead in Flint, Michigan drinking water. It was ignored for years and has contaminated black culture. Rappers and other advocates have played the role of President Obama drinking the water in Flint. The rap is digestible, “It’s still good,” “look how prosperous we’ve become.” Meanwhile, aspiring rappers die every year and black people continue to suffer the consequences of figurative and literal lead poisoning. 

If you’re familiar with Memphis rap in the late 90s and early 2000s, you should be familiar with Gangsta Boo. Gangsta Boo released “Hard Not 2 Kill” featuring DJ Paul on her album titled “Both Worlds.” DJ Paul repeated the chorus “It’s hard not 2 kill niggas, it’s like an everyday job not to kill niggas.” It was a very catchy hook; unfortunately, it wasn’t and currently isn’t our reality. 

YouTuber Hip-Hop Universe, a self-styled arbiter of rap-related gun violence, has claimed that at least 200 rappers have died from gun violence, five were stabbed to death, and at least four died from overdoses. According to the CDC, black homicides rose nearly 30% nationwide. None of those black deaths will end up on a T-shirt or a fancy BLM chant or get covered by major media outlets. But they may end up in a verse of a drill rap song that helps some ambitious drill rappers get signed to a record label. You would think with all this gun violence some rapper would have profited from firearms manufacture collaboration. Buy Gucci Mane’s Gucci-patterned Glock for a limited time only.  

In the words of C. Delores Tucker, “principle must come before profit.” But it hasn’t. We all know label executives pay too much money for anyone spouting debauchery. The amount of money that can be gained by selling out is infinite. When will a come-to-Jesus moment happen for black America and its unfortunate connection to rap?

Subscribe to get early access to podcasts, events, and more!

Shun Smith

Tags: , , ,
Previous Post
Privatizing college loans will stop Woke University from running rampant
Next Post
America’s education system is failing. Here’s why.

Related Articles

Tags: , , ,