Some Memorable Hip Hop Songs That Address the Issue of Gun Violence

stop the violenceWith much of our attention focused on the gun debate, Newtown, Ct and NRA (National Rifle Association) head Wayne Lapierre talking about how music, movies and video games have caused gun violence, many of us are also talking and asking hard questions.

Earlier today I was asking myself which rap artists would seize the moment and put out compelling music around the gun debate issue.. When I asked this publicly I got a lot of cynical responses, noting that rappers work for an industry that is violent prone and would discourage such efforts.. I don’t buy it. Folks in Hip Hop from day one have long spoke out against violence.

From the days of Afrika Bambaataa doing community center dances in Bronx River projects to promote peace in the early 70s to The Hip Hop Peace Summit w/ the Nation of Islam in the 1997 to Oakland rapper T-Kash running a marathon a couple of years ago to bring an end to gun violence.

In between we had KRS-One launching a Stop the Violence Movement with the Urban League which was accentuated with his landmark song Stop the Violence. In 2001 KRS went to the United Nations to unveil recently the Hip Hop Declaration of Peace.

We had songs like Self Destruction which was a famed posse cut led by KRS-One featuring everyone from MC Lyte to Kool Moe Dee to Ms Melody, D-Nice, Public Enemy, Justice and Stetsasonic speaking to gun violence.

That cut was followed up with the West Coast All-stars We’re All in the Same Gang. That song which featured everyone from NWA to Digital Underground to Tone Loc to JJ Fad was the underscore the efforts that were afoot to bring about a Gang Truce in LA.. In fact during the launch of the song, rival gang members appeared on the Arsenio Hall show to shake hands and call for peace in the hood.

Not too long ago (2005) Snoop Dogg revisited the We’re All in the Same Gang concept by bringing the West Coast Hip Hop community for a Unity Summit..

KRSOne-bfresh2

KRS-One

Three years ago, KRS-One got the Hip Hop industry including Nelly, Redman, Method Man, Styles P, Rah Diggah, Busta Rhymes to name a few, to revisit the Self Destruction project ..There were several songs done to address violence in the hood including the title track  Self Construction.

There are plenty of artists who have always and will continue to speak on issues of the day including gun violence. They may not be covered in the mainstream and many pundits may either be unaware or purposely chose to overlook their efforts, but it doesn’t mean they’ve been silent…It’s up to us to highlight them. Whether it’s the Hip Hop Chess Federation with Adisa Banjoko or artists like DLabrie of Hip Hop Congress, Queen Deehlah of the Silence the Violence Movement or Refa 1 of Aerosoul Movement all doing peace efforts in the Bay Area or artists like Wise Intelligent,  Hakim Green of Channel Live doing peace efforts in New Jersey or artists like I Self Devine, Toki Wright and Brother Ali of the Rhymesayers sparking peace in the Twin Cities to Jasiri X, Paradise Gray of X-Clan and the folks in Pittsburgh’s One Hood . There’s a lot of folks doing good things..

man-with-gunOne of the best and most timeless songs dealing with gun violence comes from Oakland rapper Frank J.. He was a member of a crew called Legion of Une  (Union City) which later became 187 Fac.. The song Brotha Put the Gun Away, was Frank J recounted all his friends who died and how he decided to put the gun away. He talks about real life incidents that took place in Oakland and around the Bay Area including losing his brother.. It’s a powerful song..the lyrics are searing.. I wish more folks would do songs like this..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGJJGFzl7jM

Another incredible and profound song comes from Organized Konfusion..Pharoah Monch and Prince Po drop lyrics that describe the path of a stray bullet..

These lyrics are haunting and all too true is far too many instances
Let the trigger finger put the pressure to the mechanism
Which gives a response, for the automatic *bang*
Clip to release projectiles in single
file forcing me to ignite then travel
through the barrel, headed for the light
At the end of a tunnel, with no specific target in sight
Slow the flow like H2O water
Visualize, the scene of a homicide, a slaughter
No remorse for the course I take when you pull it
The result’s a stray bullet
Niggaz who knew hit the ground runnin and stay down
Except for the kids who played on the playground
Cause for some little girl she’ll never see
more than six years of life, trif-le-ing
When she fell from the seesaw
But umm wait, my course isn’t over
Fled out of the other side of her head towards
a red, Range, Rover, then I ricochet
Fast past a brother’s ass, oh damn, what that nigga say
“Aww fuck it”, next target’s Margaret’s face *bang*
and I struck it

courtesy of OHHLA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNcS5Wl2qlo

We should also note as was pointed out by long time writer Spencer Abbott.. that Stray Bullet was the first of 3 songs dealing with this topic..Pharoah Monch takes it to higher levels with these other two songs When The Gun Draws and climaxed with “Damage“.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ6-FYAngvc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h4jOId8eSg

public Enemy ptAnother cut that deals with Gun Violence comes from Public Enemy… Its called Whatcha Gonna Do.. The song is incredible where Chuck D talks about how we keep shooting each other.. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

Talkin dat drive by shit
Everybody talkin dat gangsta shit

Talkin dat drive by thang
Everybody talking dat gangsta swang

Slaves to the rhythm of the master
Buck boom buck another
Neighborhood disaster
(Drummer hit me one)

A gun iz a gun iz
A muther fuckin gun
But an organized side
Keep a sellout niga on the run

What you gonna do to get paid
Step on the rest of the hood
Till the drug raid

See you runnin like roaches
Black gangstas need track coaches

The white law set you up raw
When you have his trust in killin us..

courtesy of OHHLA

The video which was rarely seen depicts a re-enactment of an attempt to shoot a fictional Black president near the grassy knoll ala JFK.. Great video, but the lyrics stand by themselves and speak to issues of self-hatred and gun violence..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhKqsIe283c

Anothers songto consider and perhaps the most potent is NasI Gave You Power

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJf2q_w7L_8

The Hip-Hop Hypocrisy

Marlon LeterranceThe smell of cigarette smoke and sweat spilled over into our cell block. From a distance, the sounds of young men shouting at each other and tussling and laughing filled the atmosphere with a certain sense of restlessness. Donald Williams wiped his forehead with the back of his hand then stared down at the tattered pages of an old Bible.

“I remember asking my Mom what she did to make pops hate us so much. I couldn’t have been much older than eleven at the time, but I can still remember the anger I felt. Mom broke down into tears and tried to explain it to me, but I couldn’t understand why other kids had their fathers taking them to ball games and stuff, but mine didn’t even take the time to wish me well on my birthday.”

Donald paused a moment to reflect. His expression was a mask of bewilderment and pain. “I used to think that if I could become a good enough kid, it would make my pops want to spend time with me. But the only time my pops really talked to me was when I got into trouble at school. Mom would threaten to send me away to a training school and pops would come over and beat me and lecture me on why I should stop cutting up in class. Many times I would get in trouble just so I could see him and ask him, after he beat me up, if he would come to my basketball game and watch me play. I just wanted him to be proud of me, to love me, but I ended up hating him and everyone around me because he couldn’t.”

When I first heard Donald Williams‘ story, I made a vow to one day tell it to the world. It was a painful tale of a young man attempting to somehow deal with the absence of a responsible father. Donald’s words were filled with rage and interlaced with a venomous sense of hatred. Yet, underneath the anger, there seemed to be a hint of tears. He was in pain, he was hurting, and the man responsible for this devastation didn’t seem to care.

“When I got sentenced to prison, he came here to visit me a few times. He tried to preach to me and counsel me and tell me how wrong I was for selling drugs and living the criminal lifestyle. Man, he even sent me a bible and tried to tell me to give my life to Jesus. But it was too late. After all these years without him, what made this fool feel like he had the right to step into my life now and give out fatherly advice. I would’ve worshiped Satan before I listened to a thing he had to offer. Whenever I looked at him I wanted to just grab his neck and squeeze it and squeeze it and squeeze it until every ounce of his miserable life oozed out of him. I hated that man more than I have ever hated anyone in my life.”

Donald took his father off the visitation list and swore that he never wanted to see the man again. In my presence, Donald never allowed a tear to trail down his chocolate face. But I can imagine those tears came, often, in the middle of the night while contemplating the hate that a father’s neglect created.

Horrific stories of men who refuse to play an important role in the lives of their children are well known. It is an issue that must be dealt with firmly; with serious consequences handed down to offenders. But I am writing this article because I know of another story of blatant child abuse that may hit closer to home than you realize.

It is the story of a child named Hip-Hop.

afrika-bambaataa-point

Afrika Bambaataa

It was born out of raw sense of expression that led many black kids to turn basements and dormitories and bedrooms into impromptu studios. Inner-city geniuses began experimenting with an art form that had the promise of becoming a powerful force in the community. It was fun and competitive. Street corners became the breeding ground for aspiring emcee’s to get their first taste at moving a crowd. With pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, along with many others leading the way, rap music exploded into the hearts of young black kids across America.

Along with the birth of Hip-Hop came the emergence of annoyed critics within the older black generation. They wrote Hip-Hop off as a fad that would die out in two or three years. They were far more concerned with stepping across the railroad tracks into the American Dream than paying much attention to the silly Hip-Hop kids with high-top hair cuts who used their mouths to beat-box. (The current Hip-Hop critics who claim to only be against “gangsta rap” are no more than intellectual hypocrites. Vocal members of the older generation disowned rap music even in its infancy – well before it became a vehicle for some artists to disrespect females and illustrate the horrors of street life.)

As a result of the older generation’s neglect, many of Hip-Hop’s leading pioneers ended up signing horrible contracts that gave opportunistic new labels total control over their lives and careers. Instead of influential black leaders using their experience and wisdom to reach back and help Hip-Hop grow into a positive, more focused force in the black community, far too many of these leaders (and rap critics) made the decision to disassociate themselves from the music. Hip-Hop didn’t seem to fit into the cultured, intelligent, and civilized image that they were trying to project to White America.

Still, Hip-Hop grew. Talented poets from all over the country were eager to contribute their vision to the music. Run DMC, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, KRS One, Ice-T, Rakim, and a host of others continued to build upon the foundation of Hip-Hop. Mistakes were made, egos clashed, but rap music followed the beat of it’s own drummer and continued to make huge strides forward. Soon, rap music began reaching the ears of white suburban kids. As a result, Hip-Hop entered the radar screens of white corporate entities as a marketable (and exploitable) commodity. Money was offered, deals were made, and contracts were signed.

Nowhere in this equation did black intellectuals step in to offer guidance and “fatherly” advice. White lawyers in fancy suits shuffled tons of paperwork in front of new artists, enticing them to sign over all their publishing rights for a few pennies. Had more brothers with insight and experience stepped up to the plate to defend the rights of these early artists instead of criticizing them, maybe less rappers would have been raped financially. Tales of bankruptcy and poverty amongst the early innovators of rap music will forever be a footnote in the history of Hip-Hop.

nwa original-225Still, Hip-Hop grew; new artists contributed new things. Biz Markie and Slick Rick made kids laugh, and Ice-T explained the gangster’s plight with tracks like “Colors.” Hip-Hop expanded into new territory, and even newer, fresher voices filled the airwaves. Two heartbeats later, a group named N.W.A. stole away the imagination of fans by introducing a raw, no-holds-barred form of expression that graphically detailed the lives of gangsters. White kids in Alabama started screaming “F— Tha Police,” and politicians all over America began targeting Hip-Hop as a scapegoat for social woes. Most black leaders remained quiet during this onslaught, leaving their Hip-Hop children to be sacrificed by an angry white political lynch mob.

Still, Hip-Hop survived. Though battle-weary and bruised, the music produced prophets who attempted to fill the void left by the older generation. Groups like X-Clan, Public Enemy, and KRS One tried to teach the masses about black power and unity. “Self-Destruction” became an anthem for change as artists from across the spectrum joined together to promote positive interaction. This would have been the perfect time for the intellectual critics of Hip-Hop to reach back and steer rap music onto the Yellow Brick Road to redemption. Instead, these critics turned their backs on Hip-Hop and settled down into their little house on the prairie, beside the Waltons.

Now, in the wake of Tupac and Biggie‘s death, as Hip-Hop struggles to redefine its identity and purpose, there seems to be a resurgence of black critics banging down the door to CNN’s studios hoping to spit out a few intellectual sound bites that will impress their colleagues. Sideline opinions from people who have never even listened to rap music seem to be becoming the norm. More and more black leaders are claiming to be upset that the white corporate structure is exploiting the talents of young black males, and that most artists are too blind to recognize this.

My understanding of history is based more on facts. The truth is, it took white media outlets to embrace Hip-Hop before black-owned media outlets realized that it was “okay” to feature rap groups (the only exception being Soul Train, Ebony, and Jet). It was only after Nike and Reebok and Mountain Dew and Sprite used Hip-Hop artists in high-profile commercials did black-owned companies accept the idea. Quick research will show anyone who is interested that Forbes and Time Magazine had cover stories detailing the economical power of Hip-Hop moguls years before Black Enterprise had the courage to tackle the issue.

Donald Williams wasn’t perfect. Neither is Hip-Hop. They both traveled down a lonely road filled with foolish mistakes and very bad choices. But I understand their anger when, after years of neglect and disappointment, irresponsible father figures tap-dance their way back into the spotlight with two-cent opinions on what the young should and shouldn’t do. The words that Donald said to me, seven years ago, seem to be the same words that many Hip-Hop fans are screaming out today. “After all these years without him, what [makes] this fool feel like he [has] the right to step into my life now and give out fatherly advice.”

Marlon leTerrance is a regular contributer at BlackElectorate.com. As a product of the Hip-Hop Generation’s maverick disregard for conventional thought, Mr. leTerrance writes from the perspective of the “disenfranchised street dwellers, disillusioned by the Struggle”. He can be contacted via e-mail at MarlonLeterrance@aol.com