Navani Knows the Ferguson Decision: Where is Hip Hop?

The Grand Jury decision was made Monday night not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teen Michael Brown and I like most of America – at least my America, am heart-broken. Not surprised really, but still heart-broken. Amidst the anger and frustration I am also confused. As I watch people take the streets to protest I can’t help but wonder, where is Hip Hop in all this?

I fell in love with Hip Hop over 20 years ago for it’s rebellious nature. I loved that it talked about things that were considered taboo and went against the grain. It was brave, honest and fearless. It was a movement created and made up of people that represented me – the economically challenged, invisible person of color. For the first time people were talking about the things that went on in our communities, sharing our personal struggles and putting it out to the mainstream. It was as if we actually mattered.

Artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, NWA and later on Nas gave a glimpse into what daily life was like for the underprivileged and underserved. The communities that are so easy to ignore. It gave a voice to those without one. It felt empowering. That’s what started my love affair with Hip Hop and that’s what I miss about it today.

20 years later and Hip Hop has grown into a huge, international, powerful cash cow yet the communities that birthed it still suffer needlessly. So many people feed off of Hip Hop culture yet no one is protecting the people it represents. It baffles me that nothing has changed. The same issues of police brutality and injustice KRS-One spoke about in “Sound of Da Police” are still happening.

These are not new issues for anyone looking in from the outside. This has been going on my entire life. If you listen to “Fight the Power” you will see that. If you watch “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz n the Hood” you will see that. If you ever pick up a book written by a person of color you will see that. The same reoccurring themes continue to show up. It’s so easy for those that are not personally affected by it to be completely oblivious and turn a blind eye.

No matter what your thoughts of Michael Brown are – whether you classify him as a “thug” (which I have seen a lot of in my Facebook feed) or not, deserving or not – I just want to remind people that this is bigger than one case, one cop, one non-indictment. I grew up with a huge mistrust of the establishment and law enforcement as it was ingrained in our culture. We were told rules to abide by like if you ever get pulled over make sure you keep your hands up where they can see, don’t reach for the glove compartment. But now keeping your hands in the air doesn’t even work. I constantly feared and still do, for any of my male relatives or friends to ever interact with the police. If you didn’t grow up feeling like that consider yourself lucky, it’s a privilege that most people I know do not have.

I recently went to see a Keith Haring exhibit called “The Political Line.” It showed how he addressed many social and political issues like racism, gay rights, media and consumerism in his work. He used his art to make a statement and take a stand. In the gallery write up it said Keith Haring “saw the role of an artist as that of an antagonist, with a responsibility to speak out against inequity and injustice.” I agree with that statement. I have always considered true emcees to be artists.

So, now I am wondering when Hip Hop will go back to its roots and use the power of their million-dollar corporate sponsorships, the 360 deals and the millions of followers on social media to speak out against injustice? That’s the Hip Hop I know and miss.  And we need it more than ever now.