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The return of rebel rap: Can hip hop still fight the power?

Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne

By Truth Minista Paul Scott
Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Weekly

“There’s a chain of command; I’m the missing link.”
– Lil Wayne, “God Bless Amerika”

Back in 1969, Jimi Hendrix outraged some folks when he pulled out his guitar and rocked out on “The Star Spangled Banner” during Woodstock. Forty-some years later, the drama continues as Lil Wayne aka Weezy is in the center of a storm of controversy for wiping his Spectre sneakers on the American flag at a recent video shoot.

From Woodstock to Hood-stock, the game remains the same.

When Weezy stepped on Old Glory during the video for his new song, “God Bless Amerika,” immediately there were calls for the rapper’s dreadlocked head to be served on a platter.

Even though he came back less than 24 hours later and claimed he didn’t mean to diss the flag, the damage had already been done. Also, the fact that the event happened while the artist was getting his Rev. Jeremiah Wright on, did not escape millions of outraged ultra-patriots.

But just like when Jimi Hendrix pulled out his six-string in the 60s, the question remains, what was Weezy exactly trying to say? And more importantly, what song best represents the true mentality of the real boys in the hood in 2013, “Karate Chop” or “God Bless Amerika?”

For most of his career, Dwayne Carter — Weezy’s birth name — has been the poster boy for political apathy. Besides brief moments of social sobriety, such as his guest verse on Nas and Damian Marley’s song “My Generation,” his motto seems to have been “when life throws you a lemon, throw some codeine in a cup and make Sizzurp.”

But times are changing fast, and like Bob Dylan said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

For the last few years, commercial hip hop artists have been fighting a losing battle to prove that they can stay artistically relevant, yet, totally detached from what is going on politically across the planet. Even though rap music was being used as a soundtrack for rebellions in other countries, in the United States, the art form was still trapped in a netherworld of bottle popping and booty shaking.

But since Occupy Wall Street captured the imaginations of millions of suffering Americans about to lose their unemployment checks and scared the hell out of the fat cat exploiters of the poor who began to believe that the worldwide revolution against global gluttony was gonna come knocking at their front doors, hip hop has found it difficult to ignore the two-ton raging elephant in the room.

And Lil Wayne is not the only one feeling the heat.

While Jay Z’s “Open Letter” response to his trip to Cuba was definitely not the most politically-charged song ever recorded, it is, undoubtedly, his most politically charged recording.

Also, Jay Z’s homie, Kanye West’s, admission in a recent New York Times article that he was influenced by the political rap group Dead Prez has to be seen as a sign of the times. Because if DP influenced Kanye West, the question is, who influenced Dead Prez?

That is when names like Fred Hampton Jr. and Omali Yeshitela come into the picture. So, by inference, Kanye West admitted to the world that he is being influenced by the teachings of “Black militants,” whom they fear more than the most gangsta-est gangsta rappers.

“We need a cultural awakening,” says hip hop artist and Militant Minded Mess-age Music affiliate Extra Midwest. “We need something that hits us and makes us recognize … like a Rodney King moment.”

Hollywood is also reading the writing on the wall as the commercial breaks during the customary, weekly TV airings of “Juice” and “Menace II Society” are now featuring clips from the upcoming film “Fruitvale Station” about the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop back in 2009.

Is it a coincidence that all of this is happening while America braced itself for the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin? Of course not.

The entertainment industry execs ain’t stupid. They know that race and violence are going to be the hot topics of the summer. And since they pledge allegiance to nothing but the almighty dollar, they are not beyond making a little bit of change from some rapper stepping on a flag or even civil unrest.

They have done it before.

In his book “There’s a Riot Going On,” Peter Doggett wrote of a meeting of advertising agencies and entertainment conglomerates that was held in October 1968 called “Selling the American Youth Market,” which was followed two months later by a Columbia Records marketing campaign called “The Revolutionaries are on Columbia.” Thus, the revolutionary energy of the time was quickly co-opted and transformed into a capitalist marketing scheme.

Perhaps, hip hop artists are just overcoming their fears that if they speak truth to power they are gonna wind up floating facedown in a river.

While this may be true of civil rights leaders and members of the Black Power Movement, this really has never applied to rappers with large fan bases. Too many people are watching.

When was the last time that you heard of a political rapper being assassinated? However, there are frequent stories of non-political gangsta rappers being shot dead in the streets over some hood stuff.

Even though numerous conspiracy theories surround the death of Tupac Shakur, it wasn’t the revolutionary “Holla if ya Hear Me” 2Pac that was shot on the Las Vegas strip but the “Hit ‘em Up” Tupac.

Thus, turning a potential legendary act of musical martyrdom into just another case of perceived justifiable homicide.

Since George Zimmerman walked, I predict “God Bless Amerika” will become the official hood anthem of the summer.

Now, whether all this furor will result in a permanent change in the consciousness of hip hop remains to be seen.

But as of right now, one thing is certain.

Like Lil Wayne would say, “The block is hot.”

 

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