More Than Music: How Important Black Musicians Work is in Progressing Racial Unity and Equality
It’s no secret that music is one of the most powerful forms of expression in the world. It is something that is so diverse and has so many different varieties giving pretty much anyone and everyone the opportunity to connect with some type of music in an intimate way. Especially in the rap/hip-hop/R&B community, artists speak about important, relevant and real issues facing the world today. This is nothing new though, it goes way back to the 80’s and 90’s when N.W.A and Ms. Lauryn Hill and Tupac and even Michael Jackson were in the game. But today, if it’s Kendrick or Beyoncé or Solange or A Tribe Called Quest, you can be sure you are about to be blessed. Their lyrics are filled with messages of hope and peace but also truth of the reality of what is going on in our country, specifically focusing on police brutality and institutionalized racism. If you have any sort of social media presence, I’m sure you’ve run across arguments both in support of and against certain artists and their work.
When Beyonce performed at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2016, the internet went absolutely wild.
Many were outraged by her dancers who were wearing black leather and berets, paying homage to the Black Panther movement on their 50th anniversary, claiming that her performance was anti-police and disrespectful. Beyoncé performed her single ‘Formation’ that she had dropped just a few days prior. At one point during the show, Beyonce and her dancers formed an X shape, apparently as a nod to civil rights activist, Malcolm X.
Later that year, B’s sister, Solange Knowles, dropped an album titled ‘A Seat at the Table’ in September. It is a very honest and personal record that is filled with excerpts from an interview Solange conducted with her parents in which they talk about what it means to be black in America today. In the interlude called ‘Tina Taught Me’ Solange’s mother explains that being pro-black and celebrating your culture and heritage does not mean you are anti-white, “the two don’t go together.” But many privileged white people have a hard time understating that. I think that many white people aren’t fully aware of the advantages they have over minorities, so they don’t really understand why black people feel the need to be so pro-black and so they are taking it as anti-white. Peggy Macintosh explained it well when she said, “As a white person I had been taught about racism that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. . . White privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in every day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious.” But it is so interesting to me that not everyone can grasp the concept of white privilege, because as demonstrated in the following video, most people are aware of the injustices black people face and wouldn’t want to be treated as they are.
Anyways, I love this album and I love what it stands for. It addresses important issues and has pretty clear political statements. There is another song on it called ‘Mad’ featuring Lil Wayne, which I just think is interesting because a couple months after this very woke album came out, Lil Wayne said in an interview that he doesn’t support Black Lives Matter and that there is “no such thing as racism” because he hasn’t experienced it. But just because you may have not personally experienced racism in your own life, does not mean it isn’t very real in others lives. Though black people may not come across explicit racism on the daily, implicit racism is still very prevalent. This brings up the concept of structural or systemic racism. This is the idea that our nation was built by and for the white man, and because of this, our economic, social and political institutions are structured to be more advantageous to whites, leaving blacks and other minorities with less opportunities for success.
Another album that is an incredible piece of art and demonstrates just how powerful music can be is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Lamar is notorious for producing content laden with references to black culture and the injustices that the black community faces and that he has experienced growing up in Compton. He made headlines when he performed at the 2016 Grammys with his songs ‘The Blacker the Berry’ and ‘Alright’ off of the album.
The performance starts with Lamar and his backup dancers in shackles and chains, symbolizing the mass incarceration of the black man in America.
His most recent album, released only a couple of weeks ago is titled DAMN. The first two songs, BLOOD and DNA, include clips from Fox News Reporter Geraldo Rivera criticizing Lamar and hip-hop while stating, “Lamar stated his views on police brutality with that line in the song, quote: “And we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo’ sho’… This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” Kendrick Lamar responded saying that his words are being twisted and he is preaching hope, not violence.
As demonstrated above, 2016 was an incredible year for black musicians with a message. But the thing is, it’s more than just music. It’s more than the songs you jam out to in your car, or that get you hype for a night out or that pump up your exercise routine, it’s so much more than that. This music is meant to educate people and to unify people. It tells a story of their lives and their struggles and how far they’ve come as individuals, but also demonstrates how much is left to be done as a country and as a people. I hope these artists and many more continue to use their platform to speak on the injustices of the world and to spread hope and love and peace.