When we look back at hip-hop in the distant future, one of the most important contributions it will have provided, at least from a societal standpoint, is the awareness it brought to the prison-industrial complex in the United States.
There have been activist groups fighting this fatally flawed system for decades now, but as far as bringing awareness on a mass scale, I can think of few institutions more indebted than hip-hop. Whether it's veterans like KRS-One and Immortal Technique or current stars like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, hip-hop has always shone a light on the system it consistently finds itself entrenched in as a culture dominated by men and women of color.
Remy Ma, who spent over six years of her life behind bars on two charges of assault, recently recalled her experiences with America’s prison system in an interview with The FADER. While Remy goes into great depth about the struggles inherent in our privatized prison system—especially for women—the detailed account of her court process is what really caught my attention.
"If you get caught in an election year, it's over for you. That's kind of what happened to me. So they had to act like they were cracking down on crime and all this stuff. It's crazy because I can count numerous times I went to court and it'd be me, Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, like literally we all would have court on the exact same day. That's no coincidence. We get there and the news outlets would be there, TMZ would be there, the [New York] Daily News and every one of us ended up doing time except Busta, he got a crazy fine. Ja got a couple of years, Wayne got a year, and I ended up with the most. It was just a bad time to be doing anything at that time, and that's how it is sometimes."
Not only does this speak to the vast difference in sentencing based on unrelated factors like timing or opinion of the judge—an issue she goes into great detail on earlier in the interview—but it paints the picture of a system that parades defendants with a celebrity status in front of the media, a tasteless and unnecessary addition to whatever punishment they would go on to receive.
These are four individuals with four completely different cases, from different areas mind you, all being asked to appear in court on the same day to maximize the publicity their proceedings would inevitably receive. This speaks to a system far more concerned with financial gain and the appearance of stringency in times of an upcoming election than that of the rehabilitation of citizens convicted of crimes.
This, of course, is no surprise, especially to anyone of color in this country that’s experienced our judicial system in all of its infamy. But it is a sort of cut-and-dry, textbook example of ulterior motives on behalf of a system that is supposed to exist for no other purpose than enforcing laws and facilitating justice.
Remy herself acknowledges in the interview that she was blessed to receive much more support during her criminal experience than the vast majority of those exploited by the prison system, and just as many of those that came before her, it’s become her mission to expose that system.