As a 90s baby I grew up on hip hop. I’m talking about some of the greatest albums to ever come out. I was in the lines at record stores, pre-ordering the new CD coming from Aftermath, Def Jam or The Roc. I listened to albums start to finish from the very jump because my pops was an old school DJ after he came home from Vietnam. My father almost only exclusively listened to vinyl, so first listens were always so special. I also was blessed to experience limewire. Music was everywhere and lyrics were my therapist for more years than I can remember. These songs held my pain, my grief, my joy, and my motivation; these bars were laying the foundation of what I believed in as I moved through life. As I reflect on my politic currently I often see, actually hear, how these lyrics that helped me grow up also helped me grow my politic unconsciously.
“Gimme one shot I turn trife life to lavish
Political prisoner set free, stress free
No work release, purple M3’s and jet skis
Feel the wind breeze in West Indies
I’d make Coretta Scott-King mayor o’the cities and reverse feens to Willies…
I’d open every cell in Attica, send ’em to Africa.”
-Nas, If I Ruled The World
This might have been my first experience with abolition but I could feel it in my soul. Nasty Nas is dropping bar after bar about an abolitionist world where political prisoners are free, the most vulnerable have enough money to live a thriving joyful life, those with a radical love for the people actually are elected officials and Africans return to the continent where we belong.
“Can we please have a moment of silence
That’s for my niggas doing years in confinement.”
-Quan, Just a Moment
“Can we have another moment of silence
For brothers who died from Black-on-Black violence
From here to the Dark Continent where rebels sell diamonds
To clients all over the world, got little Black girls dying.”
-Nas, Just a Moment
This song has always been a gem to me. Again Nas and Quan address politics issues in the first few bars of their opening verses. Quan targets the inhumanity of solitary confinement while Nas utilizes some clear Pan-African beliefs. Solitary confinement is an oppressive tactic the state uses and we have seen it wielded as a weapon against all types of incarcerated Africans. From the Angola 3 to Kalief Browder, we have seen solitary confinement used to terrorize captured Africans in the carceral system. Nas brings light to the evil of how capitalism has destroyed not only Africans in amerikkka but on the Continent as well. These ideas would draw me into examining the role the west has on continued oppression on the Continent.
“The D’s sick, they searched the whip and they can’t find the semi’s
They was just harassing me cause they know who I was
Spent the night in Central Booking for smoking some bud.”
-50 Cent, High All The Time
Fif is telling the story of so many Black men throughout the country. I was watching this exact scene play out in my everyday life: unwarranted police searches, and the mass incarceration of Black men for drug charges as a part of the war on drugs.
“The chronic is blown
For my niggaz that got locked up and deported
And now they gotta go back home.”
-Lloyd Banks, I’m So Fly
As a colonized group of oppressed citizens Black folx have tried to numb the pain of being the most oppressed through marijuana use. Here, Banks sets the foundation for my opposition to ICE. Although I didn’t realize it, these bars were preparing me to understand the evils of immigration detention centers and the trauma inflicted on the community as families are ripped apart.
“Possessed by the streets you can’t tell me that this ain’t home
I can’t eat if the rest of this sh*t ain’t gone
I’m gettin’ used to the needles on the bathroom sink
Gotta close my door because the bathroom stink
See, daddy don’t work, and mama don’t drink
But daddy do dope, and mama can’t think
So look like I’mma be the man of the house
Gotta have somethin’ to put in the air when it’s out.”
-Young Buck, Loyal To The Game
Life for me and many of my peer group consisted of us surviving the terror that the war on drugs caused. The Iran-Contra Scandal alone should provide a reasonable explanation for the rampant wide-spread drug use throughout the country. And everyone knows when amerikkka gets sick, Black folx get the flu. As the war on drugs was created and funded by the US government the epidemic of drug abuse sky rocketed. President Nixon’s domestic policy chief admitted “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” We know that the“just say no” campaign and the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act ushered in a new wave of violence from federal, state and local police agencies in Black and Brown communities. As the police expand their reach crime continues to rise, an obvious contradiction to the idea that more police equal improved safety.
“I’m like, Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex
I never claimed to have wings on
Nigga I get mine, by any means on whenever there’s a drought
Get your umbrellas out because, that’s when I brainstorm
You can blame Shawn, but I ain’t invent the game
I just rolled the dice, tryin’ to get some change
And I do it twice, ain’t no sense in me
Lyin’ as if, I am a different man.”
I remember the first time I heard this line. I had just begun to really study Che, and to hear Hov name drop a communist revolutionary was the co-sign that gave my developing politic street cred. “I get mine by any means” was such a clever play on Malcolm’s words and re-affirmed my politic was respected by the hood. Often times it is difficult to stand on your radical politic as a young Black man if you aren’t surrounded by a bunch of other revolutionaries. These lyrics gave me a sense of belonging and pride to stand on my beliefs.
“Now, all the teachers couldn’t reach me
And my momma couldn’t beat me
Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seein’ me
So, with that disdain in my membrane
Got on my pimp game; f*ck the world, my defense came
Then DeHaven introduced me to the game
Spanish Jose introduced me to ‘caine, I’m a hustler now
My gear is in and I’m in the in-crowd
And all the wavy light-skinned girls is lovin’ me now
My self-esteem went through the roof, man, I got my swag.”
-Jay-Z, December 4th
As an abolitionist people often tell me how unrealistic my politic is. To that point, my answer isn’t how abolition is going to end crime completely but rather what would the world look like if we gave everyone the love, guidance and support they needed to be successful from birth? Growing up with family members destroyed by the war on drugs left many with deep wounds. Many of us felt abandoned, neglected, unworthy. These feelings coupled with anti-Black amerikkkan propaganda through the public education system and we have a formula for internalized racism. Where Black kids do not feel seen or valued, and if you don’t believe in your own value based on your identity as an African why would you value another Africans value? This colonization of the mind has led to the disunity of African people on this continent and is the root cause of gang violence. The entire premise of this song is to tell Hov’s story but in that he opens up with a name drop to Chairman Fred Hampton. Evoking the memory of Chair Fred speaks to a very real sense of carrying on the tradition of the Panthers.
“Forget about the risk we took, I never can
Rebel in this white man world until they bury him
Being broke is so un-American
That’s why I’m screaming all money in, ’til the end.’
-Nipsey Hussle, Keys 2 the City
The material conditions of Africans trapped in amerikkka’s capitalism forces so many of our best and brightest to be robbed of the opportunity to be great. Instead we are forced to risk our freedom to simply survive. By surviving through any means necessary we are labeled as rebels, thugs and super-predators. The paradox of the amerikkkan dream is that it is truly the amerikkkan nightmare. There is nothing more frightening to amerikkka than a Black person who knows their rights & calls amerikkka out in its hypocrisy.
“Broken culture that we all lost n*ggas in
Elevated innovation over ignorance
I represent it…
Go flourish, double back and come and get your n*ggas
Pass the power to your people, it ain’t nothing realer
Faced with this decision it’s a funny feeling
Knowing when you tell the truth they gon’ come and kill you
Knowing people need some proof, went and got the millions
Stressed a young n*gga out but I’m so resilient.”
-Nipsey Hussle, Mark My Words
Nip walks us through the conditions that cause the need for revolutionary thinking and lays out the blueprint to building Black Power: Pass the power to your people! Every Black revolutionary has been sent for, the government had an entire agenda to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah. Those who are in the struggle for Black liberation know the level of violence brought every day through multiple facets of white supremacy. All the while understanding that Black Power is a politic of self-determination.
Hip-Hop at its foundation and core is African, which is in direct opposition of amerikkka and amerikkkanism. Hip-Hop is a response to the oppression of the Black masses, Hip-Hop is rooted in abolition. Hip-Hop is about standing on your beliefs. To me, my politic comes from great thinkers like Malcolm, Huey and Ture but it also comes from the heart of the streets, and to me, the sound of the streets has always come over beats. Maybe the best way to sum it up for me is an interjection in one of my top 5 songs of all time:
“Now before I finish, let me just say
I did not come here to show out
Did not come here to impress you
Because to tell you the truth when I leave here, I’m gone
And I don’t care what you think about me, but just remember
When it hits the fan brother, whether it’s next year, ten years
Twenty years from now, you’ll never be able to say
That these brothers lied to you Jack”
-Jay-Z, Public Service Announcement
From my discovery of Hip-Hop as an elementary school student through my years in middle school, high school, and even college; my love for music and hip-hop specifically has always provided a space for me to grow. A space where I can listen and examine philosophy. To me it connects me to my indigenous African roots, griots/storytellers have always been an important part of West African culture and Black music has been our way of continuing that tradition. These storytellers have helped to raise my consciousness and influenced my Black Power politic, regardless if that was their intention. Hip-Hop is the music of the oppressed, it is the narrative of Africans trying to make sense out of a world designed to kill and capture them. Hip-Hop is resistance and so naturally to me, Hip-Hop is rooted in abolition.