In this tumultuous social climate, where topics often revolve around human rights protests, police brutality, vocal hate groups on social media and the fear of terrorism being instilled by the media, it is officially “cool” to be socially active and “woke.” The opinions of the public matter more than ever in this digital age, especially when a viral, negative social media post has the ability to make or break businesses and politicians alike. When rappers speak out on the big issues, activism gets a cool makeover and the youth join in, but some artists are still seemingly afraid of having the responsibility the power of their words bring. Is it fair to make rappers the new social leaders?
With all the police shootings of unarmed minorities in the past couple of years, social media users demanded high profile artists to speak out against the injustice and were enraged when some prominent members of the rap elite remained silent. Rappers like J Cole and The Game were commended for their powerful musical tributes to the victims and their efforts to spread awareness of police brutality while others protected their financial interests and brands by not rocking the boat.
Beyonce sparked outrage with her performance of “Formation” during the 2016 Superbowl half-time show. Protestors argued she was using her performance as a platform for the “Black agenda,” but in doing so, she sparked an important conversation about the power given to our police forces and their abuse of it.
During the current Presidential campaign, the question of candidate endorsement is raised routinely in interviews because fans are eager to know who their idols are supporting. This proves the power of the “raptivist” and highlights the weight of their political opinions. Pop culture icons and their endorsements are arguably one of the reasons behind the success of President Obama during past elections. He used social media to rally support from the youth and appeared on many popular TV talk shows alongside celebrities to get his policy ideas heard.
Since he was elected as President of the United States, Obama has also invited several rappers and entertainers to the White House, making it clear he is a fan of the genre.
Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike is helping Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in his bid for the title. His endorsement has gained Sanders a spot on many urban media sites and publications.
Artists like Michael Jackson (MJ) and Bob Marley regularly spoke out about poverty, political unrest and racism in their music, and MJ was known for his progressive-message videos. Music transcends culture and social class due to its availability, therefore it is one of the most important platforms for social change. The ability to create a catchy hook or a beat is all part and parcel with spreading positivity or triggering a debate.
Thankfully, it is now becoming cool again to use this platform as a stage for social issues instead of just sex, drugs and material possessions. For example, Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” has become the unofficial soundtrack to the Ferguson protests last year. It struck a chord with people and made them feel hopeful in times of despair while empowering the community at the same time.
Authenticity and having a voice have always been important elements for a successful rapper. Fans want to know their story and relate to their struggles, which is why ghostwriting is an issue for their credibility, something we saw with Meek Mill’s reaction to the news that Drake doesn’t write all of his bars.
Fans obviously don’t like it when rappers stay silent on major issues like poverty, racism and police profiling. The new wave of conscious rappers filled the void commercial rap created. The youth want to be counted and respected, instead of seeing degrading misrepresentations of themselves in music videos. When a rapper chooses to use his or her power for the benefit of the people, their influence goes a long way.
It’s amazing to see so many politically active rappers and entertainers in today’s generation. Hopefully, their involvement in protests for the issues that really matter will motivate a renewed popularity for activism and spark a further civil rights movements to help those in need.
Rap is a powerful medium for change, but artists are flawed human being like everyone else. We cannot expect them to shoulder the responsibility of leading social progress alone, therefore thorough research into political candidates before voting is crucial. Hold politicians accountable for their actions or inaction. Be confident enough to have an opinion, despite what celebrities are saying, and like the say goes: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”