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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
One thing that always bothered me about church are those who preach one thing and do another. It’s all too acceptable for the pastor to drop the name of Jesus to his fifth extramarital baby’s mama, or for a woman to leave her bible in the car while she’s twerking it up at the club.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone has some kind of gap between the person that they want to be and the person that they are. Every time I swear I’m gonna get a body like LL Cool J, I’m usually talking with a doughnut in my hand. So, none of us is above the handicap of simply being human.
But one thing that we have to do is hold ourselves and each other accountable by encouraging one another to at least try to speak up about blatant, avoidable contradictions that might confuse impressionable kids. Talk is cheap, and we live in a world that accepts the idea of people saying good things, even when their actions are in the opposite direction.
I thought about this when I saw Snoop Lion and TI speaking against gun violence during the BET Experience LA Live event. The event was part of a series of gatherings to promote the BET Awards. Yes, these events are designed to make money for Viacom, but making money isn’t a crime, as long as your corporate greed doesn’t hurt too many people.
The goal of the event, from what I understand, was to talk about gun violence and find ways to stop it. There’s no one better than TI and Snoop to get the point across, since they’ve seen this violence on too many occasions. BET is a network that sometimes seems to be working to rehabilitate itself, but has done so much damage to the black community that it might take 50 years of reparations for them to correct all they’ve done to destroy us (even BET co-founder Sheila Johnson admits that the network has increased the spread of HIV in the black community).
With that said, I hope that TI, Snoop and BET take seriously the solemn task that lies in front of them. I am quite familiar with TI’s music (I find myself to be able to more effectively critique hip-hop by listening to it), and actually believe that he is one of the most talented artists in history (not just today). Anyone who isn’t convinced that TI is a genius needs to only try to replicate his swift, cutting lyrical ability to find out that his neurons fire at a rate that would put any Nobel Prize winner to shame.
I also hear in TI’s music an internal struggle between what he was taught and what he knows to be true. He’s like Neo, living in the Matrix and suspecting that there is more to the world than he’s been led to believe. He has just enough Malcolm X in his blood to tell him that he shouldn’t waste his life trying to hurt the people that he loves so much. This is where I separate TI from his counterpart, Lil Wayne: TI wants to be a better man, and Lil Wayne enjoys showing you that he just doesn’t give a f*ck about anyone but himself – that’s why I was more than happy to help convince Mountain Dew to drop him.
After these events are over, there should be conversations about how to make it more than just another publicity stunt. It’s hard for an artist to say that gun violence is wrong, and then spit a bunch of lyrics that glorify the idea of unloading a clip into someone’s head because he disrespected you. Marketing does work, so the same young man who appreciates BET’s message against gun violence is also affected when BET gives an Artist of the Year Award to Lil Wayne.
If anyone should be deeply concerned about and unified against the gun violence epidemic in America, it should be our hip-hop artists. They’re the ones most likely to rap about friends who’ve been killed and relative who are locked away in the prison industrial complex. The power and inspiration of brilliant music can produce political miracles, and it’s only a matter of harnessing this power for good to elevate our people out of the chaos that we are experiencing today. We must also confront the racist power structure that spends more money locking black children up than it does educating them, and makes it easier for most black men to get a gun than a full-time job.
TI, Snoop and other artists hold the keys to the minds of our youth. It is important that they use this power responsibly. In other words, when it comes to saving our kids, I truly hope they choose to “Keep it real.”
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series called Commercialized Hip-Hop, the Gospel of Self-Destruction. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.