Among the greatest assets of hip-hop culture is its inherent role as a narrative of the people. Hip-hop was born from the streets, raised by the working poor, and has, in turn, offered a way out of the struggle for many who had no other choice.
Throughout racial, economic, and political struggle, hip-hop has represented communities that are either ignored or misrepresented by elected officials and news outlets across the country, and the War on Drugs has been no different.
Kicked off by President Nixon in the '70s, the War on Drugs was heavily bolstered by Reagan in the '80s along with the crack epidemic, leading to mass incarceration for nonviolent offenses and predatory mandatory minimum sentences.
For as long as the War on Drugs has been in full effect, hip-hop has offered harrowing firsthand accounts of every part of the spectrum affected. From distributor to addict, hip-hop’s drug narrative has definitely been exploitative and glorified at times, but it has also provided balance to a government-funded paradigm of scare tactics and unnecessary incarceration.
Meanwhile the DEA / Teamed up with the CCA / They tryna lock niggas up / They tryna make new slaves / See that's that privately owned prison / Get your piece today / They prolly all in the Hamptons / Braggin' 'bout what they made - Kanye West “New Slaves”
In recent years, however, it seems as though hip-hop’s narrative is climbing out of the underground and into the attention span of the mainstream. As the presidential election heats up and racial disparity is at the forefront of the nation’s conscience, the role of the War on Drugs in America’s systemic racism is more glaring than ever, and mass media is finally handing their microphone to the people who have already been warning us about it for 30 years.
More and more often, we’re seeing prominent voices within hip-hop being invited into the more broad, nationwide discussion about the War on Drugs, and it’s a great thing. The New York Times’ recent collaboration with Jay Z, “The War On Drugs Is an Epic Fail,” is the apex of hip-hop’s voice being heard through a mainstream entity, but it’s far from the only example.
Killer Mike addressed the War on Drugs while interviewing former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders back in December, an opportunity that’s mind-blowing in and of itself. As seen above, T.I. has also eloquently voiced his concerns over the War on Drugs in a new collaborative educational piece with Vevo for their “Why I Vote” campaign. Across the board, mainstream entities are offering a vessel to the voices that have been speaking on this issue from the underground for decades.
As previously mentioned, hip-hop’s commentary on the War on Drugs and its repercussions are nothing new, but this commentary being granted a mainstream stage is very new, and it’s a perspective greatly needed, now more than ever.
Hip-hop houses many of the same people victimized by monumental missteps, like the Controlled Substances Act or mandatory minimum sentences, making the potency of their perspectives a necessary ingredient for change in the future. The only question now is: Who else will step up and allow hip-hop to speak to the people?
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: NY Times