Jay Z & Cornel West

Okay, so I’m listening to Cornel West talk with Jay Z about hip-hop and his new book. And even I will admit that Jay Z thinks in a more critical manner than I probably would’ve given him credit for based on my assumptions. They were talking about the use of the “n” word (among other things). And even just taking that sound bite about the “n” word, and another sound bite about how the people who “made it” (became successful) aren’t the folks coming back to the neighborhood to talk to youth, but the “gangsters” are, I just have one prevailing thought:

Even though Jay Z can discuss the issues of poverty, race, and class as institutional and societal issues, even though he has a broad appreciation of music, even though he can discuss the depth and meaning in his music that goes beyond the surface of what is initially heard, are these ideas and discussions filtering down to the youth who consume his music and often carelessly sling around the “n” word, or who are hearing that a “gangster’s” lifestyle is something to aspire to, or who hear and see the level of materialism being expressed and aim to acquire as many high priced possessions, or who only know and/or listen to ONE type of music, etc.…?

I would love for these men (in particular) and proponents of hip hop (in general) to spread this message–of the intentionality in how they live their lives, of their values, of the power of words and their historical context that parallels those of freedom fighters–to more than just the ears of students in elite academic institutions such as Princeton or Oberlin, but to those youth who not only never meet the doors of higher learning, but never even get mailed a brochure because they haven’t exited the doors of high school as a graduate.

I don’t know, I’m still very conflicted. I want to hold up rap and hip-hop as an artistic expression and extension of political activism and social commentary, but I think there needs to be more responsibility for what is being said. Many people are just hearing the words “bitch, nigga, gay, ho, etc.” standout, but are completely missing the dialogue on racism, misogyny, and sexuality, as well as the irony that’s intended in some of the lyrics.