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. Kings 79th 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 Jim Crow has been replaced by the glass ceiling.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, weve done a horrible job understanding the mistakes they made, and that we all made as a community profiting off the negativity. Life aint sweet. We know this. The music is gritty. The business is slimy. But its 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 some would say we are blowing it. However as judged by Kool Herc’s recent stand with Senator Chuck Shumer,
defending the homes and right to ownership of the tenants of Hip-Hop’s birthplace, we are not sitting on our asses. Outkast said “get up get out and get something” and that’s exactly what we did, as Hip-Hoppers raised their collective consciousness in light of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the judicial inequality showcased in the Jena 6 incident. Our reality is ugly, and even though we camoflage it with bling, the pain and poverty that powers our music is true to the soul and message of Dr. King. Rappers like David Banner and Immortal Technique ARE speaking up. They are taking a responsible role in presenting these issues to our youth and to the world.
Often we forget in our haste to make history,the appreciation of the legacy of our past history. We stand on the shoulders of giants whose names we cant remember, or choose to forget. Pioneers who dealt with ridicule and resistance when the world was taking rappin for a joke. It is that same spirit that ran through Dr. King. The attempt to face violence with peace did not necessarily seem pragmatic on face value. But whether or not you agree with the approach, the willingness to bring truth to the masses in the face of ridicule is congruous with the true spirit of Hip-Hop.
We should honor that legacy and that sacrifice, even while we cover it with ice. Let’s 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. Kings spirit, and not some phantom phrase cooked up to politicize the mans life. We are living the results.