For decades, popular culture has served as the medium for black individuals to promote discourse regarding the black experience in America. More specifically, hip-hop has been the primary avenue through which many black artists choose to illustrate the nuances their existence. I also examine other mediums of black popular culture such as film, that has been prominent in exhibiting and empowering the black experience, and black lives, respectively.
As famously mentioned in the 2015 movie, ‘Straight Outta Compton’, Ice Cube utters;
‘Our art is a reflection of our reality’.
Black hip-hop has long been defined through its critiques of American institutions and establishments. The main critique concerns the police force, more specifically regarding the unprovoked, consistent, and inhumane treatment of black individuals by law enforcement. This extends further to address the issue of systemic racism towards the black community that is perpetuated by the American police, that has worked to actively undermine black individuals for generations.
Following the unjust killing of an unarmed George Floyd in May of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement reverberated worldwide, becoming the primary subject of discourse on social media. As of July 2020, public demonstrations continue to be carried out across the United States. With an enormous turnout, peaceful demonstrations exacerbated into riot early on. As demonstrations heightened, the state responded with extreme, unwarranted military action. Police forces and S.W.A.T. teams were deployed to protest locations, shooting tear-gas canisters into large crowds and violently attacking protesters.
Scarily echoing the events of the Arab Spring demonstrations that spread across the Middle East in 2011, this was edge. The tipping point. But this is not surprising. It is eerily reminiscent of every preceding movement concerning the disregard of black lives in America. Testifying in the Kerner Commission, an investigation into the race-riots of 1967, social scientist Kenneth Clark mentioned the repetitive cycle of black demonstrations failing to institute change. Clark referred to the Chicago riots of 1919, stating;
“it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of 1935, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of 1943, the report of the McCone Commission on the (1965) Watts riot. I must again in candor say to you members of this commission — it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland — with the same moving picture shown over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”
For subsets of the American population, these demonstrations are regarded as unacceptable, archaic, and barbaric. These groups fail to understand that this is the limit. The killing of George Floyd marked the day that the black community finally struck back. A warning that such inhumane degradation, humiliation, and systemic incarceration will not be tolerated. This time, George Floyd will not be brushed under the rug. He will be remembered, and the revolution will continue to surge in memory of Brianna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and all the other victims of police brutality.
This is the end of the firework, the fuse has burnt, and now we are all witnessing the explosion. Through hip-hop I examine this fuse. Through examining the work of some of my favourite black artists, I explore the lineage of the fuse, the times where it has burnt a little quicker, the times where everyone is watching, and the times where we all turned a blind eye.