The Black Column: Is Music All We Got?
So, recently for my “Black Power & the Bildungsroman” class, we’ve started watching Luke Cage. Yes, that is my homework for one of my classes. #Blessed.
I won’t spoil the show for you (although, if you haven’t seen it, I really think that should be your first priority) but I will tell you that in one of the first episodes, Luke is confronted with an important question. He has this incredible power, a gift you might call it. Is it his duty to use this gift for the betterment of his community? You may or may not know, but the community in Luke Cage is 99.9% black, and race is repeatedly addressed in the show. Me being the self-interested person I am, immediately made connections to my own life and the things I’m involved in. I’m an artist who does a lot of black art, and the question of “Do I owe it to my community to make art that helps black people?” is one that constantly comes up for me and my colleagues, partners, friends, people. Speaking for me personally, I say yes. I’ve written about this before, but I believe in the power of art to change the world, and that’s what I hope my art does. I would like to say that I think all black artists should be doing that. And I would say that almost all of the black art I consume does that. The books I read, the movies & TV shows I watch… they all help the community by addressing race issues, or giving a positive and necessary representation of black people in the media. But there is one exception I just can’t ignore. The music.
Y’all should know by now that I love Beyoncé. However, despite what you might think, she’s not all I listen to. True, she comprises about 60% of it. The other 40 goes to ignorant rap/hip hop. Yes, I said ignorant. And that would be the most accurate adjective to describe it. I’m talking, the rap that is all about drugs, material items they don’t have, and even worse, misogyny. The lyrics are filled with it. Calling women all types of names that, if they were actually said to me, would cause me to pop off. But I sing along to it when it comes on in the car! This is art made by black people that I don’t think anyone could possibly argue is making any sort of positive impact on our community. Now, truthfully, when hip hop first started, it was good for the community. But I’m not an oldhead by any means. Ask me who I’d choose between Pac and Biggie, and I wouldn’t have an answer for you. Nicki Minaj is in my top 5 favorite rappers. I didn’t understand the significance of Remy Ma’s diss being called shETHER for a good minute. I could go on, but I’ll stop because I’m sure you’re cringing reading at this point. My point is, when I say I love hip hop, the new stuff is all I’m talking about. And the vast majority of the new stuff is not bettering the community in any way. So where does that leave me?
I’m torn. There’s part of me that wants to be like “Well, why do black people have to do all this extra work anyway?! Why does our work have to have all these layers?” But. I’ve read Langston. I’ve read Du Bois. I know why. And… deep down, I agree. So then, I ask… should I be doing more? Should I boycott this music? Switch the radio off when it comes on, write think pieces about the various problems? But… I love it though. I genuinely enjoy rapping and singing along. I think these sexist, violent songs are bops and they make my life a lot more fun.
So where does that leave me?
I don’t know.
I’m gonna go listen to 21 Savage while I try to figure it out though.