By Toure Muhammad @ToureMuhammad
(FinalCall.com) – Rappers talking about oppressive, unfair record deals, the false trappings of capitalism and the prison industrial complex is not new to hip hop, but it’s usually the underground, unsigned and/or activists, artists who talk about it.
But well-known artists, including Kanye West and rising star J. Cole, have raised these topics in recent music. Kanye and J. Cole had CDs released on the same date, June 18, the day before the annual Juneteenth celebrations in the Black community. Could this be a new trend with more artists unafraid, fed up and/or frustrated enough to confront and analyze more complex, relevant social topics in their music?
“After years of some of the most self-hating and ignorant music our people have ever been forced to digest, this is definitely new and refreshing what J. Cole and Kanye West are saying. I hope it spreads like wildfire to other artists. We need balance back in all forms of Black music, no question,” said Kevin Powell, president and cofounder of BK Nation, a new national organization based in New York City.
J. Cole’s project, “Born Sinner” has a track titled “Runaway” where he discusses how a conversation with his racist manager had him thinking about the legacy of chattel slavery in America: “Made me reflect on the time when we was 3/5s of them/chains and powerless/brave souls reduced to cowardice … ”
Then he makes the connection to today: “Rich white man rule the nation still/Only difference is we all slaves now, the chains still concealed.”
Kanye’s new release, “Yeezus” has a track titled “New Slaves” which rails against racism, capitalism and the prison industrial complex: “My momma was raised in an era when, clean water was only served to the fairer skin … use to be only n—-rs now everybody playing, spending everything on Alexander Wang … meanwhile the DEA teamed up with the CCA. They trying to lock niggas up, they trying to make a new state. See that’s the privately-owned prison, get your piece today.”
DEA refers to the Drug Enforcement Association and the CCA refers to the Corrections Corporation of America, which along with the GEO Group are the two biggest corporations that operate for profit prisons and detention centers in the United States.
Even in Lil Wayne’s latest project “I Am Not a Human Being Part 2,” he ruminates about if he will die today or go to jail right after these lyrics in a song titled “God Bless America:” “Yeah, my country tis of thee, Sweet land of kill ‘em all and let ‘em die, God bless America, uh, This so Godless America.”
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have supported the increased incarceration rate.
Initially, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan pushed and established the current drug war policies that caused the prison population to jump, but Bill Clinton leaned heavily to the right with “tough on crime” policies that continued the Republican policies and caused a boom in the prison population. There is no sign that trend has changed. Vice President Joe Biden, a senator during the Clinton administration, wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which, among other things, called for $9.7 billion in increased funding for prisons and stiffer penalties for drug offenders.