(Picture courtesy of Pitchfork)
On Sunday March 31st, hip hop artist, businessman, and urban philanthropist Nipsey Hussle was shot dead outside of his Los Angeles clothing store. The death of the rapper came as a shock to the entire music industry. His passing was especially felt in the NBA community as he was known by players such as Lebron James, Steph Curry, and a plethora of other NBA stars for being one of the most authentic and inspiring rappers to come out of California in decades.
I myself as a Pastor and rap-music fan came across Nipsey’s music last year with the release of this debut album “Victory Lap.” As an African-American male in my 30’s I enjoy hip hop, though with discretion of the content. Despite Nipsey’s past gang affiliation and violent story-telling in much of his past music, I was impressed by not only the musical quality of his latest album but also the motivational slant of his songs. Listening to Nipsey was more than just trunk-rattling bass or upbeat hip hop to workout to. Nipsey’s album was lyrical hood-manual on how to leave the negativity of your past behind while working hard to achieve your goals and dreams, no matter what what those dreams are.
Coming from Los Angeles, the rapper was the embodiment of his own message. Although he still kept social ties to his former Crip gang family, he would be a major proponent for personal entrepreneurship, creating minority-owned business, discussing alternative health for those who couldn’t afford traditional health care. Along with many business ventures that he had he also worked to start “stem school programs” that was seeking to help underprivileged students in Los Angeles and beyond.
Despite his mostly positive message, Nipsey was still considered a gangsta rapper. Going through his music catalog, you will hear stories and tales of murder, death, robbery, shootouts, and more. But for most rappers like Nipsey, rapping about what they see is the natural byproduct of living in impoverished areas in which shootings and gang life are a natural occurrence. Like the famous poem by Tupac Shakur - The Rose From The Concrete - it was the concrete or hardness of life that would actually be the very thing to showcase both the talent and brilliance of Nipsey. Yet it would be that same concrete of violence that both Nipsey and other rappers like Meek Mill, YG, Jay-Z, and 50 Cent would come to monetize and weaponize. And the reality has to be considered, despite how uncomfortable the declaration, that it has been us as Gangsta Rap music consumers, that have contributed to the perpetual cycle of Black on Black crime and violence.
THE EXAMPLE OF BOBBY SHMURDA
I remember when the rapper Bobby Shmurda song “Hot Nigga” became a viral sensation. What many people do not know about the viral hit is that the song had been out 6 months before it went viral. Even the instrumental track that was used for the song had been used by another gangsta rapper Lloyd Banks years prior. But with the combination of the song’s catchiness along with the viral video in which the “Money dance” was created, the song became a mega-hit inspiring memes, video re-enactments, and remixes.
I remember watching a clip of the 2017 BET awards in which Bobby performed the song. What troubled me was not the violent lyrics of the song being sung on such a mainstream platform. But what troubled me most was seeing scores of actors, executives, and music artists from all genres stand and dance and repeat the lyrics as the artist performed. If we have forgot the first lines of the song say:
I'm Chewy, I'm some hot nigga
Like I talk to Shyste when I shot niggas
Like you seen him twirl, then he drop, nigga
And we keep them 9 millis on my block, nigga
And Monte keep it on him, he done dropped niggas
And Trigger, he be wildin', he some hot nigga
Tones known to get busy with them Glocks, nigga
Try to run down and you can catch a shot, nigga
It would later become know that these were not just lyrics, but an actual murder confession. For close to a year after the song became viral the NYPD would arrest and convict numerous members Shmurda’s GS9 Crip gang for various crimes including firearms, racketeering, drug dealing, and murder. Many of the same names referenced for committing these murders were themselves convicted and are serving life sentences. Similar to the songs of joyful exuberance sung by lynch mobs in the 19th century south, it is a harrowing reality that everyone who danced or repeated the lyrics was dancing and singing to the death of another Black man.
Rappers such as Jay Z and Meek Mill are apparently seeking to make strides in the awareness of the Black struggle. Jay Z executive produced a recent series on the Kalief Browder tragedy while Meek Mill, whom I once had a heated radio debate with, has become an advocate for criminal justice reform. I commend both of these men for these and other socially conscious acts. But there is no work that can be done that can substitute that of true and heartfelt confession and wrongdoing. And for every rapper who has ever glorified violence, even in the name of “just telling the news of their neighborhood” should acknowledge that they were wrong in advocating the death and murder of Black men, including Nipsey.
Growing up in the hood does not give any of us the right to monetize murder. And for any rapper who continues to express an unrepentant use of misogyny or violence in the current era of #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter and other social justice movements, should be called out.
WE KILLED NIPSEY
This accountability should not stop with the artists. We who African Americans, business owners, or in marketing, should think twice how we consume and export our hip hop music. I have made the choice to no longer listen to or support any artist that makes light of the murder of other men aka “enemies, haters, or opps” in their music. I also will not listen to any artist who was a former Gangsta rapper who failed to acknowledge that their music has been detrimental in some ways to the Black community. This includes Dr. Dre, who despite his amazing business acumen and success, has never apologized for either his domestic violence or his contribution to gang murders in Los Angeles during the 1990’s via the outlet of Chronic album. This is in part why I never felt comfortable purchasing Beats Headphones.
One of the mantra of today’s rappers is that their art is more than music. I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. Music is more than music. Research shows that music is a message that inspires, motivates, tempts, leads, empowers, and can even possess the minds and spirits of the listeners. And in a culture in which Black men like Nipsey Hussle are 4 times more likely to be killed by another Black man than any other race, it is due time to kill gangsta rap once and for all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jomo K. Johnson is the lead host for Church For Black Men & Families. As an author he has written Deadest Rapper Alive: The Rise of Lil Wayne and the Fall of Urban Youth and Social Surge Theory: Killing Black on Black Homicide in Chicago. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary.