Who Speaks For Us: Are We Straight Outta (Conscious) Hip-Hop?

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By Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer, Friends of Ebonie

I finally went to see Straight Outta of Compton last weekend. I thought it was awesome. In fact, it’s was No. 1 at the box office for three straight weekends. #GoCube. I expected it to be pretty good, but I was not ready for how much the movie imitated present-day life.

Set in the mid-1980s to the early-1990s, Straight Outta Compton tells the musical journey of rappers, Ice Cube, Easy E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella also known as N*ggas With Attitude (N.W.A.). The group’s “started from the bottom now we’re here” story was filled with highs and lows, but I was especially intrigued by the influence police brutality, systematic racism and discrimination had on some of N.W.A.’s music. From their experiences they recorded their most famous anti-police song, “*uck the Police.” As the movie depicted scenes ranging from innocent teenagers (including N.W.A. themselves) being stopped and frisked to the Rodney King beating, I kept thinking is this set 2015 or 1986? Socially, not much has changed since the coming-of-age of NWA. Their music is just as relevant today as it was then. 

There was a scene in the movie where the group members were convinced that because the Rodney King beating was caught on video that the officers would automatically be found guilty. However, as we all know, none of those officers were found guilty. Neither were the officers in the Amadou Diallo case, Trayvon Martin case, Mike Brown case, Eric Garner case…need I go on? Why are we still fighting the same fight from the 80s and 90s? If rap music was the equivalent of social media in the 80s and 90s N.W.A. would be voices within the #BlackLivesMatter movement for sure.

After watching Straight Outta Compton, I see Ice Cube in a brand new light. I admire him for taking a stand and being the voice of his generation. I admire the courage of Easy E to speak out when the highest federal law enforcement agency in America, aka The FBI had N.W.A. on their most wanted list. N.W.A. did not back down and they did not stop. When the police in Detroit tried to intimidate them and told them not to sing “*uck the Police” at their concert they did it anyway.  They knew that their music was shedding light on what was really happening in their communities. They knew that by using music to touch their fans someone was going to hear the truth. Where is that today?

We live in a society driven by music. So much of who we are and what we do today is influenced by music. What or where would we be if more artists took an N.W.A stand? Or what would happen if those who do speak out got the same appreciation as those who exclusively rap ratchet?

I don’t really listen to today’s hip-hop music, however when I do hear a song all I hear is foolishness. There is no struggle, there is no “F the police “there is no why didn’t he get indicted.” All you hear are fake thugs trying to be real when there is truly a genocide happening to our people. Watching Straight Out of Compton convicted me. It made me think, who in our generation’s hip-hop music could be an N.W.A.? Who is our Ice Cube? I shared this post idea with a few friends, and they offered these artists as possible hip-hop revolutionaries of our time:

  1. J-Cole – For his latest album, outspoken lyrics and humble presence in the Black Lives Matter movement
  2. Kendrick Lamar – For his outspoken lyrics and his song, “Alright” which has been called the new black anthem.
  3. Janelle Monae and Wondaland– for their song “Hell You Talmbout” and social justice protests that take place before their concerts in each city

Additionally, back in January Mic News offered “These Six Rappers are the Defining Voices of #BlackLivesMatter.” Five of the six artists I’ve never heard, but that could just be me. #ImNotThatCool.

I’m not saying N.W.A. was perfect. Despite what the movie showed, I know a lot of their music was the anthesis of black power. However, in my opinion that’s the fabric of being an artist. They used their platform to the best of their ability to seek change when a change was needed. It is my sincere hope that artists with a message get the platform they deserve. And for those artists that do have a platform, they begin (or continue) to use it in a way that will not only entertain but also educate, inform and raise the level of consciousness of those who look up to them.

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