What do you guys think of writer Touré's latest piece for the Washington Post about the war on drugs and hip-hop?
Excerpts: "In the early 1980s, most of the socially conscious hiphop records mentioned drugs as one of the many problems affecting black Americans, not the central one. When they did touch on drugs, they were almost always depicted negatively; doing drugs was a character failing, and the songs usually portrayed the speaker as a bystander trapped in a ghetto, observing it, not participating in its ills. They were like griots, storytellers." (...)
"By the mid-1990s, the U.S. incarceration rate was the highest in the world, damaging or destroying countless black families. Studies show that the number climbed from the 1980s, when less than 500,000 Americans were imprisoned, through the 1990s, when more than 1.5 million were locked up. (Many of those who contributed to the rise were black men ensnared by the war on drugs: In 1995, 16 percent of non-college-educated black men in their 20s were incarcerated, and the percentage rose in the decade that followed.)
Instead of stories from detached bystanders, hip-hop swelled with gruesome first-person accounts of selling, addiction, gangs, guns, the police and prison — from KRS One, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Kool G. Rap, N.W.A. and others." (...)
"Hip-hop is the product of a generation in which many black men did not know their fathers. How did these fatherless MCs construct their masculinity? For some, it was by watching and idolizing drug dealers. Many would make it as rappers by packaging themselves as former dealers — either because that is what they were or because that’s who they revered. I’m talking about the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, the Clipse, Rick Ross and others. By then, it seemed as though an MC needed to claim drug-trade stripes to earn acceptance among hip-hop’s elite. " (...)
"Hip-hop could have grown into a challenge to the war on drugs but instead accepted it as a fact of life and told bluesy, or braggadocious, stories about its part in it.” (...)
"The nation surely failed its black male citizens by targeting and imprisoning them when joblessness and the crack epidemic left them with few real options. They were conveniently villainized, arrested and warehoused to help politicians, judges, prosecutors and police win the public trust.
But hip-hop also failed black America, and failed itself. It’s unavoidable that hip-hop and the war on drugs would become intertwined. But the music could have been a tool of resistance, informing on the drug war’s hypocrisies instead of acquiescing to them. Hip-hop didn’t have to become complicit in spreading the message of the criminalblackman, but the money it made from doing so was the drug it just couldn’t stop getting high on."
(Full piece here)
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