U Mad?: What Happened to the Angry Black Man?
“Every show you see me in/ deep concentration/ cuz I’m no comedian” - "I Ain’t No Joke", Eric B and Rakim
There was a time when Hip-Hop artist “Bro4Real “ put fear in the heart of America, as he was this country’s biggest nightmare - an angry Black man on a mission. Every time he picked up the mic, there was the threat that he would spark an uprising in every ‘hood in America. But that was before he went Hollywood and found out there was more money in making kiddie movies. Now you can catch him at Wally World some weekends, signing autographs for little White kids whose parents he once scared to death...
Back in 2003, Cam'ron created a catchphrase when he put Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on blast with two simple words: "You mad?" Almost a decade later, if you asked the same question to Black folks in America, the answer would be a resounding 'No!' Matter of fact, we seem to be the only people on the planet who are not outraged about something right now.
Recently, the whole Muslim world became outraged over a cheap movie on YouTube that disrespected their religion. Simultaneously, the Scientologists were upset over the movie The Master, which they found offensive. At the same time, even the mild mannered royal family of London got ticked off when half naked pictures of Princess Kate appeared in an Italian magazine.
But for the majority of African Americans, everything is beautiful.
It hasn’t always been that way. There was a time, during the late '60s, when the streets were angry. During that period, even the most racist White person watched his words because of fear that some six-foot-five Black man in a black beret and army fatigues might come knockin’ at his door late one night. Even the Blaxploitation movies of the '70s had that one obligatory, super, pro-Black brotha tryin’ to drop science on the pimps. This did not escape the notice of countries across the world fighting American and European imperialism.
During the late '80s, Black rage was expressed through the music of Public Enemy and other political rappers. Even though the early gangsta rappers, such as N.W.A., preached messages of misogyny and murder, they, too, made it clear that they were angry at the system, if only as an afterthought.
So the question is, how did a people who have served as role models for the oppressed, everywhere, struggling against global tyranny, become such wusses in the 21st century?
Although many people point to political oppression via such covert programs as COINTELPRO as the culprit, the real reason for the lackadaisical attitude is more overt, yet sophisticated.
In 1968, the Feds put out the Kerner Commission Report as a way to explain why Black folks in the ghetto were so angry. By the early '70s, they had found a way to channel that anger under Richard Nixon by changing the focus from Black Power to Green Power and neutralizing the “militants” by giving out small business loans, government jobs, and college scholarships as rewards for good behavior.
As Kwame Ture (then Stokley Carmichael) observed in his 1968 speech in Oakland, CA, “a lot of people in the bourgeois tell me they don’t like Rap Brown (Jamil Al Amin) when he says 'I’m going to burn this country down' but every time he says ‘I’m going to burn this country down', they get a poverty program.” Today, rap artists who promise to stick to coonery and murder music are rewarded with million dollar mansions and Maybachs.
Times have changed but the game remains the same.We have to stop parroting the lie that political Hip-Hop is no longer popular because the collective condition of African Americans improved, or people just got tired of hearing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. With times being harder for most people than they were in the '80s, that explanation just isn’t logical. In reality, the pacification program that used pimpology, federal and private grants, and drugs to suppress the revolution in the '60s and '70s simply added rap music to the mix in the '90s. So you had the creation of a new drug - “Rap Ritalin."
Although rap music may go through various stages, the one thing that the power structure doesn't want is angry music with a political ideology. Matter of fact, if conscious artists want to shut down the aggressive, murder music being played on the radio - pronto - all they have to do is start making revolutionary remixes of the Top 10 hits. Some have already done it, like Dead Prez in 2002 with Turn off the Radio, The Mixtape Pt. 1, and Jasiri X recently did with 2 Chainz's “Riot”. However, it has yet to be done in the context of a mass movement.
Hip-Hop today is full of distractions, with the sole purpose of keeping the youth from getting angry. Whether it be keeping them perpetually high or turning them into over-sexed, sex fiends, the goal is the same. Think about it. How mad can a rapper be while smoking a blunt and gettin’ a lap dance from Big Booty Judy? He’s just happy to be alive.
So today, the angry Black man is dead. The grimacing poster boy of Black rage, Ice Cube, is making Disney movies and Ice T, the “cop killa,” is playing a detective on TV. The only remnants of the angry Black male are "Huey Freeman" from the "Boondocks" cartoon and "Brother For Real" from the old "Martin" reruns.
Although we may underestimate the power of righteous indignation, those in power make no such mistake. If a low budget YouTube video could spark worldwide revolts, how much more could the words of a Jay-Z or Kanye West?
Even within Hip-Hop, what would happen if the next assault on Black culture by the entertainment industry was met by outrage? What if mad mobs of Hip-Hop fans wearing black hoodies started turning over tour buses, or college students started bumrushin’ the stage at homecoming shows, demanding an end to murder, minstrel music?
It's time for us to get mad again. Like "Howard Beale" said in that classic old school movie, Network, it's time to open the nearest window and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!"
Although words like this ain’t gonna get me invited to many Hip-Hop conferences, and eventually may cause this column to be “banned in the USA," (as 2 Live Crew once put it), so be it. Somebody's gotta tell the truth. The only way we are gonna regain our respect is to follow the 2 Chainz motto and let the world know:
“If you mess with us/we gonna start up a riot.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly 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 NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).