It's hard to find "socially relevant" artists in general, but especially within the music industry. I use the word artist with a fairly narrow scope considering the fact that most people who would call themselves artists are in actuality money hungry entertainers with little to no values as their principle guides in their work who fit perfectly into the industry's precut frames. In any case, among the slim selection, one hip hop artist whose music I have a great respect for is Lupe Fiasco. In the year 2011, anyone who can lay thought-provoking lyrics over hot beats that will make you at least tap your feet while your eyes are opened by each bar separated by precise intentional pauses that make you hungry for more knowledge deserves a huge round of applause. Of course standing out isn't difficult in today's entertainment field. All you have to do is sound vaguely intelligent and be able to touch on at least two current events during an interview. I caught a segment of an interview between Lupe and Tavis Smiley two weeks ago. As always, Lupe used the platform to discuss some pretty gut-wrenching realities, my favorite being his criticism of President Barack Obama. Unlike many observers, Lupe can recall hearing Obama's call for change during his race toward to White House as he fervently called for us to withdraw from Iraq. Obama lost points with many voters (hello!) when in the same speech he argued that we should go into Afghanistan. (Huh?) Wait... So we're leaving one country and instead of returning home, we're going into another one? Oh... I see...same vehicle and driver just taking a different road. Ok...
Now I'm a realist. I'm well aware of the fact that there are "terrorists" in many nations who would love to see America buckle before the eyes of the world, which by the way it's already doing in many respects (hi public education), however it seemed like such an awkward and awry plan to be proposed by a candidate who was promoting something called change. Well we changed…direction, but I don't think that was the change many of us were hoping for. In any case, Lupe scores points for his criticism.
Let’s fast forward to another video clip in which Lupe discusses racism. Now this is an issue that is far more complex than I intend to explain in this forum, but I'd like to take a moment to throw some tough love and realism back at Mr. Fiasco. In the video clip available on youtube.com, called "getting rid of racism," Lupe suggests that the only way to end racism is by closing off future generations of children to the history of racism. Don't mention slavery, the KKK or anything that may make children aware of their differences and let them grow up in harmony. This is amusing to say the least.
In addition, he argues that we remind children of our history because of our pride. While this point is complicated, it is one worth considering. Lupe then goes on to criticize the "leadership" in the Black community. Citing Oprah's attempt to pit older Black figures against the youngings and their supporters over the use of the word nigga, Lupe posits that the impact was a nationally displayed separation among Blacks. Lupe is clear on his position as he says "nigga, nigga, nigga, I love the word nigga, because it represents our history and past so why abolish it?"
I personally don't see the use of the word nigga as purely generational issue. At the age of 23, I do not use nor condone the use of the word myself. More importantly in regards to his proposition concerning history, how is it that you can simultaneously propose that the only way to avoid racism is to withhold/hide history from the next generation of youth and support the use of the word nigga because it represents our history? I'm confused.
It seems to me that the problem really isn't whether or not we teach history but rather how we teach it. Youth of all color need to be exposed to the ugliness of American history from chattel slavery to Jim Crow as well as the triumphant success of the have-nots. More importantly we need the kind of overhauling changes in our nation's systems and policies that will bring about real economic and political equality. As an inner-city educator and social justice advocate, I understand the complexities of conversations concerning race and poverty and just as I hold elected official responsible for the errors in their reasoning, I intend to do the same for the artists I support. Sorry Lupe, but go back to the drawing board and take a closer look at your logic because it's ill.