Last week, it was reported that ISIS member Denis Cuspert was taken out by drone strikes in Syria.
What does this have to do with hip-hop? One headline for the story read: "German-Born Rapper Who Joined ISIS Was Killed In U.S. Airstrike."
I immediately clicked the link, scanning the story for any mention of an actual affiliation to music, and unsurprisingly I found none. As has been the case for years, media outlets love to use the genre of rap and rapper as an occupation to push an agenda associated with violence, anti-government and mayhem.
Over a year ago, when Mike Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson, early reports jumped to conclusions about his character based on the fact that he wore Beats headphones and had a few rough rap songs floating around on the internet. As ludicrous as that attempt of defamation might be, it was effective in the court of public opinion. Outside of hip-hop circles, the genre has been continuously undercut despite actually being one of the few marketplaces for open conversation in society today.
As a kid, while growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I listened to Tupac religiously. Pac's music created a dichotomy between how I viewed rap music and how my mother and father viewed rap music. My parents, who have never listened to a single rhyme from the late rapper, viewed Tupac through the prism of buzzwords that, to his credit, he readily embraced. He was only a thug, a womanizer and a criminal according to the mainstream media. To me though, ‘Pac was a prophet, a voice that allowed me an opportunity to understand something outside of my own existence, not unimportant in the isolation the ‘burbs often provide its inhabitants. To me, Tupac was a strong, powerful human willing to speak his mind, but my parents couldn't see it that way because their opinions were busy being shaped by the stereotypical aesthetic of a ‘rapper’ that the media was pushing through a negative lens. I feel as though it is this fundamental misunderstanding, the unwillingness of some to acknowledge wisdom and thoughtfulness that comes from somewhere other than the expected, that has been and continues to be central to race relations domestically.
My parents preconceived notion of an artist like Tupac is indicative of the ways social tropes are often developed and enforced to achieve a specific objective. Anything containing positivity to the black experience in America is often pimped to do the opposite, a theme readily evident on Kendrick’s latest collection. Using the word ‘rapper’ or ‘rap’ when it refers to something or someone that is not directly involved in the artistry, it becomes immediately detrimental to the sort of social movement that the genre uniquely provides.
It is for this reason why websites like WorldStarHipHop do more harm than good to the entire hip-hop community, why shows like ‘Love & Hip-Hop’ exist and why certain aspects of a perceived African-American experience are often re-purposed by ignorant frat boys and Hollywood filmmakers alike.
If Denis Cuspert was a rapper than I am a lion tamer for having a pet kitten. Even if Cuspert spit bars at some point in his life (he did) and was fortunate enough to perform on a tour (he did, once), what does that have anything to do with his involvement with ISIS? Was he plotting an attack on the 6 God? Did Yeezy tell him to do it? No and no. It was a personal decision by a man with a specific taste in music who once tried it.
You don’t often see “Country Guitarist Guns Down High School” as a headline, but plenty of mass shooting masterminds have picked up an instrument at some point in their life. Mike Brown uploading a couple rough rap tracks to his Soundcloud, recorded with friends for fun, had nothing to do with him being gunned down by government employees. But rap scares the establishment. They don’t want us to all get along, it’s preferred we not understand one another and so they demonize and sandbag one of our best tools for unification in an attempt to paint it as a negative.
How do things change? For starters, we can heed the advice of a wise man.
"I want to be better. You grow. We all grow. We're made to grow. You either evolve or you disappear." - Tupac
[by Jake Krez, who is not a rapper. Follow him on Twitter.]