Rap song speaks to land rights and environmental justice
By Steve uFray
Special to the Michigan Citizen
As the warmth of spring brings a thaw to the recently frozen soil, Detroit residents, once again, prepare for a new season of urban gardening and activities throughout their neighborhoods. However, as the city evolves through a state takeover, the question of land rights is on the minds of many and artists are once again taking the moment to speak out for the people.
A collective of hip hop artists, who are active in the environmental justice movement, have taken to the studio to give the people an anthem of self-determination in how they grow their food and prevent the land grab of the vacant lots throughout the city. “Own It” features contributions from several of the city’s leading hip hop activists, including Will Cee, S.I.R.I.U.S., Subverso, Bryce, Sage and Blue Lady Fire Tide.
The song begins with Will Cee’s commanding verse over an airy melody and light percussion, “Put a price tag on it, throw rent on it, protest on it, get bent on it, move folks off it, see what the cost is, land sold from under our nose, too many losses.”
With home foreclosures continuing at alarming rates around the city, the urban community has found little recourse against the takeover of properties from the banks. Houses lay in ruin and properties abandoned, and for many, the warm spring and summer seasons bring the burden of fields overgrowing with tall grass and weeds.
“Detroit disaster, man-made economics plan laid for us, they make a profit,” continues the intro verse from Will Cee.
This urban reality is commonplace throughout the city and for hip hop artists in Detroit, a unique inspiration for the creation of their music. Hip hop culture encourages artists to write lyrics that are authentic to their environment, making “Own It” an important contribution to the world’s understanding of the condition within Detroit.
“The voice of the people as ancient as the land, that is objectified just as one women, no we are not ghosts,” raps Kadiri Sennefer, who goes by the name S.I.R.I.U.S. Sennefer is an urban farmer at D-Town Farms and member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. His verse is a powerful reminder that the strength of the city is its people, not its economic standing.
“Hip hop needs to earn the political respect,” said Will Cee in a statement to The Michigan Citizen about the importance of hip hop as a tool of social action. “There’s so many different strands of hip hop, and I think that a lot of people don’t see that. That needs to be demonstrated, that needs to be proven again and again.”
Bryce, who founded his company Detroit Recordings as a way to create and distribute socially conscious music that is also appealing to hip hop fans, states that the time is now to deliver positive songs like “Own It” to listeners in a way that rivals the mainstream media’s delivery of mostly negative music.
“One hundred percent authentic engagement by those artists, entertainers, activists who are really doing the work,” said Bryce at a recent environmental justice event, “it is time for us to create our own spotlight, create our own stage, and project our own images and messages as loud and powerfully as we possibly can, and the time is now.”
Subverso begins his verse by calling out Hantz Farms and the company’s plan for altering the landscape of the city, a reality that hit the city hard in late 2012. The Southwest Detroit native has also spent much of his life living in Chile, where art and political action often go together.
“In Chile, hip hop has been through many processes,” says Subverso, “but recently it has been a key cultural element in the social and political awakening of an entire generation that has flooded the streets to fight for quality and completely free public education at all levels (including college).”
He states that the neo-colonial takeover of land that has happened in many poorer countries is now taking place in Detroit. The music is an opportunity for residents to be inspired to speak out for their rights to the land, he says.
“Hip hop is recognized by all — not just by hip hoppers themselves — as an art form of the poor and working class,” says Subverso. “It is the voice of those who resist a profit-driven economic model that denies people their rights as human beings, and that rapes the earth by allowing the most destructive forces of capitalism to extract natural resources and leave behind erosion, pollution, and economic destruction for those who live there. Very similar to what’s been happening in Detroit over the last decades.”
“Own It” is available for free download online at www.soundcloud.com/kadiri-sennefer.