Posted Nov. 12, 2002-- I am sick and I am tired. I'm not willing to go put flowers on yet another memorial with teary eyes while I say 'What a shame.' 'My condolences to the family.' 'It's too bad.' This is not a column about the death of Jam Master Jay. This is a column about the death of hip-hop.
For only things that die can be reborn. Hip-hop is already dead, thought it’s taken the industry longer than expected to memorialize it. It’s been on life support for some time, and we all know that there’s been no indication of brain activity for years. Yet we hesitate to pull the plug. We know it’s dead because we allowed a 37-year-old husband and father who’s done nothing but contribute in the most positive way to hip-hop to end his life on a studio floor looking into the eyes of another brother.
Are we not our brother’s keeper? You say I wasn’t there, I had nothing to do with it, I didn’t pull the trigger, etc. etc. etc. Just like you say ‘my violent, misogynistic lyrics don’t affect kids’ and ‘my whip, my bi—h, my gun, my weed’ are more important than living life with some integrity. Just like you say ’I’m not your role model but please, buy my records, buy my clothing line, and stop downloading my bull—-t records.’
There is no industry that has suffered more early and untimely deaths than the collective hip-hop industry. We have lost people to accidents, heart attacks and murder, most before their 40th birthdays. We have lost some of the most vibrant, creative and important people in the game well before they had the chance to make their greatest contributions. Do you think it’s coincidence? I don’t. I believe that hip-hop’s karma is coming back on us. I don’t mean that any particular individual is responsible for their deaths. I mean that as the collective community of hip-hop we are all responsible.
How many of us contributed to the climate of negativity and violence that surrounded hip-hop during the East Coast/West Coast era? How many of us took a side, even though this so-called coastal war was completely manufactured by greed and envy of a few? How many of us bought wholesale into the hatred of women espoused in so many rap songs or the violence and lack of respect for life that so many of those songs encouraged? How many of us fled the hood without trying to reach back and pull somebody else up? And I don’t mean by taking them on tour and giving them free weed and letting some groupie sex them down.
How many of us cried when Tupac and Biggie died and then continued on buying the same kind of negative rap (minus the creative genius they brought to it) because ‘rap music doesn’t beget violence, it was already here before rap music.’ How many of us really, really believe that our children, brothers, sons, daughters and community haven’t been affected by a constant stream of music and videos portraying Black men as non-thinking animalistic thugs and women as brainless ho’s who exist purely for a man’s sexual pleasure?
Maybe you haven’t seen the photos sent around in an e-mail where a girl who looks no more than 15 is wearing an airbrushed T-shirt and headband that says ‘Pregnant P—-y is the Best P—-y.’ Where does the mindset of wearing something like that on your clothes come from? Maybe you think I’m blaming the music. No. I’m simply asking that the community take the collective responsibility that the success of hip-hop music has placed on their shoulders. Hip-hop was a positive way for young Black men in particular to seek self-expression. Then it became a way for young men and women to be heard outside their block, their project, their ghetto or their city. Then it became a multi-billion dollar cultural phenomenon that shaped a generation.
But where is the responsibility? When did we get to the place where checking your brother or your sister or pulling them up on something they’re doing wrong became ‘hating’? When we check our children it’s because we want them to grow into successful productive adults who know the difference between right and wrong. When we can’t check ourselves or each other and we’re unwilling to let anybody else do it, we have a serious problem. When did we get to allowing people to contribute to the destruction of our community because they drive on 22-inch rims and name check Italian designers? When did what you own get twisted up with who you are?
You ask me if I’m sad about Jay’s death? A brother who, like Aaliyah, always made you feel, whether you were close to them or not, like you had a better day just because they crossed your path. A brother who continued to record music in his community instead of fleeing to a gated neighborhood in the suburbs like most of the other artists who claim to be so hard and real?
So no, I’m not sad. Because what Jason had — personal integrity, a family and friends who loved him, a group that he’d been with for more than 20 years who respects his contributions too much to go on without him – is much more than what most of these fools who claim to be so ‘rich’ will ever have. So I’m not sad. But I am pissed. If we had learned anything from Pac and Biggie’s death, this couldn’t have happened again because we’d have taught our young people that nothing is more important than life.
But instead we have people embroiled in beefs. People who have already been shot and stabbed and are still fanning the flames of dissent and turmoil. People who instead of trying to deal with their own issues come out of nowhere to take down another brother who’s as successful as they are. And yes, I’m talking about YOU, but I don’t want to give any more weight to any of your stupid conflicts so I won’t bother to mention your name. Please, the next brother or sister in hip-hop I hear talking about a beef or tearing down somebody else just to get publicity should get a collective smack-down from the hip-hop community. Or maybe we’ll just keep downloading all your records for free. When people no longer want to even pay for your s-t, doesn’t that tell you something?
But it’s not just about the artists, and I use that term loosely. They don’t sustain hip-hop by themselves. We allow them to make a living and thus we as fans, consumers, critics, industry executives, etc., have contributed to and supported the death of hip-hop. When we can as a collective start to understand the need for a spiritual revolution in hip-hop and begin to make that happen, we will be on the path to helping end all this senseless death. Hip-hop is absolutely at a crossroads. Which way will we go?
Cause right now, I can say with all truthfulness, I used to love hip-hop. But now, I don’t.