consciousness brings a new, fresh meaning to historical moments and events of
the past. As millions of people in America and throughout the world prepare to
recognize and celebrate the 78th birthday of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., it is important to take note of the relevance of Hip-Hop culture today to
the teachings and legacy of Dr. King.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an articulate, charismatic and fearless leader who
believed in standing up and speaking out against injustice. Over the last 30 years,
Hip-Hop has emerged on the global stage as the cultural manifestation of a generation
of fearless youth who are eloquently self-determined through their music, poetry,
art, dance, film, and other multimedia formats to articulate both the positive
aspirations and negative contradictions of a world that still needs to be rid
of poverty, ignorance and injustice.
If you ever had the opportunity to witness Dr. King speak from a civil rights
movement podium, you would hear the strong beat and cadence of truth in his delivery
that always ended in a motivating crescendo calling for the establishment of “the
Likewise if you were ever blessed to hear TuPac in person, you always felt the
staccato rhythm of his unique poetic expression with the passionate truth of a
post-modern satire set to a heart-throbbing musical beat that made you want to
stick your clenched-fist straight up in the air. Like Pac prophetically said,
“And even though you’re fed up… Huh, ya got to keep your head up.”
Hip-Hop is about transformation, both personal and societal. It is about speaking
the truth and having the courage in one’s life journey and career development
to always aspire to have a better quality of life for your family and community.
Giving back to the community is a central ethos of contemporary Hip-Hop. This
is right on point to Dr. King’s teachings concerning the importance of contributing
to the redemption of people who are less fortunate.
The Hip-Hop movement today demands empowerment, in particular economic empowerment.
Dr. King’s civil rights movement demanded freedom, justice and equality for
all. The effectiveness of both of these movements for change required and requires
the involvement and the mass participation of youth.
Everyone has heard of King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. But
one of his most penetrating writings was his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Dr. King was responding to criticism he was receiving from other preachers who
were oppose to the tactics of direct action and public demonstrations that involved
mainly young people who stood up to protest injustice in the face of police dog
bites, water hoses, and beatings.
Dr. King challenged all those who had become comfortable with the status quo of
poverty and inequality. He was proud to see thousands of Black people stand up
to the forced segregation of the South. He concluded his letter saying, “Let
us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the
deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities,
and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood
will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Many of the great lyrics and poems of Hip-Hop today were also conceived in jails
and prisons across America. Every time I hear Cassidy, The Game, Beanie Sigel,
Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nas, TI or Jim Jones, I know that the culture is producing
stronger and greater lyrical expressions of the triumph over the pains and difficulties
of the current struggle for a better life.
It is interesting that King’s vision is coming closer to reality. For sure,
however, there are still many serious problems today concerning racial prejudice.
But there also has been real progress. In truth, Hip-Hop is evolving to transcend
race and class barriers. From Eminem to 50 Cent, Hip-Hop today expresses the challenges
of the need to keep fighting for empowerment and equality.
Run DMC said it best: “You just goin through life without a trace….when
the answers you seek are in front of your face.” Hip-Hop is God’s answer
to the prayers of our people who prayed for a young generation to come up strong
and fearless with the courage to rise to the occasion of the next stage of the
struggle for liberation. God bless Dr. King’s memory and God bless Hip-Hop’s
continued global evolution.