“Our country ‘tis of thee/land of liberty/But that’ll never be/not in America” – “Amerika” – Trick Daddy
It was the annual Independence Day party and Club US was packed wall to wall with Black folks dressed in red, white, and blue, looking like thugged-out Uncle Sams. Everybody was enjoying the holiday to the fullest. But suddenly, DJ Freddie D stopped the music and yelled, “Y’all do know that we weren’t free in 1776, right?” That’s when the crowd turned ugly and started throwin’ chairs and champagne bottles at the DJ booth. Order wasn’t restored until the cops showed up and arrested Freddie D for starting a riot…
Every year, African Americans spend millions of dollars on hot dogs, booze, and fireworks to celebrate this country’s Independence Day. Problem is, while the ”bombs were burstin’ in air,” my ancestors were still pickin’ tobacco in the hot Carolina sun.
Although the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass posed the question back in 1876, ”What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”, more than a hundred years later, we still have not gotten a good answer.
At most, some outraged, overly patriot dude dismisses the question by saying, “Well, Buddy, we are all Americans now.” Or the classic line, “This here’s America, and if you don’t love it, you can take the first boat back to Africa.”
Good answers. But that wasn’t the question.
No matter how drunk you get at Uncle Rudy’s July 4th pig pickin’, and how many firecrackers you set off, that still won’t change the fact that chattel slavery in this country did not end until almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Matter of fact, it must be noted that Black folks gained nothing from America’s victory over the British. Lerone Bennet wrote in his book, Before the Mayflower, that Lord Dunmore, former governor of colonial Virginia, issued a proclamation on November 5, 1775, promising freedom to all male slaves willing to fight for England. This was more than 80 years before Lincoln “freed” the slaves in states that were rebelling against the Union.
Also, Britain abolished slavery in 1833, and it was not until three decades later, that slavery was abolished in America.
Since its early days, Hip-Hop has tackled the issue of Black patriotism. During the height of Reaganomics, in the mid-‘80s, pioneer rapper, Kurtis Blow, proudly rapped that America was his favorite country. Decades later, during the Era of Terror, Petey Pablo told the USA not only to “raise up,” but to “take the flag/put it in the air/and spin it like a helicopter.”
However, most rappers have been more critical.
Back in 1988, Public Enemy said on “Louder than a Bomb”, “Picture us coolin’ out / On the 4th of July/ And if you heard we were celebrating/ That’s a world wide lie!”
On his 2001 song, “My Country,” Nas claimed that America wanted to get rid of him because he knew too much.
The criticisms did not only come from New York rappers, but the West Coast had beef with Uncle Sam, as well. Right after leaving N.W.A., Ice Cube released the anti-patriotic 1990 CD, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, and also West Coast artist Paris released scathing CDs like The Devil Made Me Do It.
Although not known for political awareness, Southern rappers have also challenged America’s past and present atrocities. On 2002’s, “Thug Holiday,” Trick Daddy challenged the mis-educational system by questioning why when authors write history books about America’s wars, the only people that die are the Americans? As if no one else on the planet counts.
And, while some may argue that America electing her first Black Commander-in- Chief as a reason to fight for your right to party on the 4th, Plies said on “Why U Hate Me,” “They say our president’s Black/But we can’t tell, though.”
Let’s be clear. This is not a matter of hatin’ on people eatin’ hot dogs, but challenging historical falsehoods. Nor does it have anything to do with “Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but everything to do with lies and the pursuit of truth.
The big question is, if we accept the historical inaccuracies as fact, can we really criticize the youth for following rappers who glamorize the false notion that if you sell drugs and go to jail, eventually you will emerge from prison as a millionaire entertainer?
If America can celebrate a fake holiday based on a Freedom denied to those who built this country, then the gangstas have the right to create their own Thug Holiday, celebrating the many contributions that gangsta rap has made to American society.
While patriotic Americans preach the virtues of Freedom, this does not apply to Freedom of Thought. They prefer you to repeat dogma, instead of giving a critical analysis of historical facts. And this goes way beyond the 4th of July.
Why should Native Americans feel compelled to celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, or should the Japanese Americans really be expected to rejoice on V-J Day?
At its best, Hip-Hop has been iconoclastic by nature, boldly smashing the false idols of the past and bringing forth new ideas. But the question in 2012 is, in an era when rap artists are being rewarded for being carbon copies of each other and not challenging the status quo, does Hip-Hop still have the heart to challenge historical hype?
Like Immortal Technique said on “Point of No Return”:
“Universal Truth is not measured in mass appeal.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website, or on Twitter (@truthminista).