Hip-hop, much like music in general, has long served a dual purpose. On one hand, music is entertainment, meant to transport us to different states of mind and emotional states. On the other, music is a powerful social influencer with the ability to precipitate real, lasting change.
The music of the 60s and 70s brought many of the issues facing our country to the forefront of the nation’s attention, and in a similar fashion, hip-hop has been representing the struggle of its fans and contributors since its inception.
In recent years, the country has seemingly become more divided than ever, and a surprising number of artists want nothing to do with the social commentary aspect of their chosen profession. For as many Killer Mikes and YGs as there are within the culture, there are just as many artists like A$AP Rocky and Bow Wow who feel zero responsibility to speak on what’s going on outside their own personal experiences.
In a recently penned editorial for Revolt TV, Atlanta emcee OG Maco addressed this issue with profound insight. Speaking on the issues facing our country today, Maco credits the power of social media with an increased influence from prominent artists within hip-hop culture, and praises the artists who are risking their careers (and sometimes their livelihoods) to stand up for injustices in our society.
In response to the repeated and seemingly systematic murder of blacks by law enforcement, the power of social media gave rise to a number of high-profile athletes and entertainers making public stands against these injustices, but few have been met with more hatred than one kneeling quarterback. Never has such a disarming gesture, kneeling, been treated as such an aggressive and vile act. Never has silence been used to convey a message so desperately needing a continuous voice.
Maco also touches on the flip side of the same coin, directing his comments at artists that benefit from the triumphs of the culture but are unwilling to speak out when the people of that same culture are being systematically oppressed.
According to Maco, it is the responsibility of influential artists to voice the frustrations and problems of their fans. And he's right. While every artist is entitled to the freedom their own expression, there is a multitude of artists benefitting from their fans monetarily whose voices are nowhere to be found when important issues arise.
As musicians, I believe we hold a certain ingrained responsibility to voice the frustrations of our listeners, to voice their fears, hopes, doubts, and goals as easily as their need for frivolous fun and opulence. As listeners, I believe it is essential to demand truth and perspective from the same people we spend our hard-earned money supporting. I believe it is essential to take a hard look at those who find it acceptable to profit from our daily triumphs and find it unceremonious to speak on our oppression.
OG Maco closes his editorial with an inspiring call to arms for the culture that comprises today’s hip-hop landscape. In Maco’s opinion, the influence of the prominent youthful voices in hip-hop are necessary for abrupt and lasting change.
If there is any hope for lasting and meaningful change, it must be as systemic and institutional as the forces against it.
Maco’s musings on the social responsibility of popular artists may be a bit demanding, but he’s far from wrong in his opinions. Music has the power to change minds, hearts, and lives. As artists, and as fans, we all have a responsibility to demand justice. Not because that’s what music is supposed to mean, but because that’s what humans are supposed to do.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: César Santo