Legacy. Something handed down from the past for the benefit of the future. Never has there been a more precious gift than a life laid down so that others may enjoy liberties you were denied. Such is the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we near what would have been Dr. King’s 77th birthday, we as a Hip-Hop community should truly reflect on what a gift that legacy was, and answer the loaded question: “Are we living up to the challenge of continuing that legacy?” The central question, I suppose, is are we leaving our culture in a better position to be a vehicle of change for those that come after us? Or are we leeching the culture leaving a useless husk in its wake?
Hip-Hop has proved to be our salvation in many ways. Jim Crow has been replaced by the glass ceiling. The noose and the flaming cross have been replaced with media assassination, bathroom plungers and bullets from blue clad soldiers who fear wallets. Hip-Hop has become the voice of our community where the Black Church once stood. The voice of Jay-Z, who calls himself Jay Hova, resonates louder in the minds of children than Jehovah. We rage against the machine with a voice that is changing the globe. Hip-Hop is the greatest agent of cultural diffusion this planet has ever seen. Faster than the Crusades. More powerful than sports. Able to have children of all races refer to each other as ni**as in a single bound. But is that a good thing? Does the newest integration allow for us to continue our struggle for advancement?
Hip-Hop has moved our young men off the corners and into the booth. Off the block and into the boardroom. From reporting to P.O.’s to being CEO’s. Unfortunately many have ushered in that criminal element with them rather than truly convert their lives for the better. The “keep it real kingdom” has gotten increasingly more violent and negative since we lost our own Malcolm and Martin (Shakur and Wallace) almost a decade ago. While we keep them alive with posthumous albums, we’ve done a horrible job understanding the mistakes they made, and that we all made as a community profiting off the negativity. Life ain’t sweet. We know this. The music is gritty. The business is slimy. But it’s nothing to die for.
As Dr. King attempted to ensure our continued devotion to the ideals of our collective struggle with his legacy of sacrifice, so must we as a Hip-Hop community make sure that it will continue to be our voice, and our source for economic, political, and social advancement. For better or worse, Hip-Hop is how many people worldwide with no experience with people of color to see Black America. Not all of us are comfortable with that connection, especially the older generation, whose connection with our music and lifestyle adversely relates to their age. The older they are, the less likely they are to roll. So we arrive at a point in our history, where we are pitted against each other, for the favor of the collective, much as Dr. king faced opposition from the younger, more aggressive leadership of the SNCC.
Both hoping for the same goals, Dr. King was more willing to negotiate, the young college driven SNCC leadership impatient and ready for change now, were unwilling to bend or compromise. Because of Hip-Hop, Russell can navigate corporate America in his omnipresent Phat Farm, devoid of suit and tie. We can make deals and money outside of the system.
This is the freedom that we have sought for so long…and we are blowing it.
Hip-Hop is a competitive field by its very nature. It is predicated on what’s fresh and what’s new. Lost in that search for new, however is the appreciation of the legacy of our own history. We stand on the shoulders of giants whose names we can’t remember, or choose to forget. Pioneers who dealt with ridicule and resistance when the world was “taking rappin for a joke.” They made it possible to have the Lex coups, the Beemers and the Benz. We should honor that legacy and that sacrifice, and not cover it up with ice. Vulgarity should not be the only reason for our prosperity. Lets make a true effort to honor that legacy. Restore that balance of Yin Yang, and leave this better than we found it. For the respect of our forbears, and the survival of those that come after us, let us keep Hip-Hop true to the essence of Dr. King’s life, and not some phantom phrase cooked up to politicize the man’s life.
We are living the results.
Remember, at one point it was all a dream.