Civic & social responsibility: the platform of entertainers in 2018
Apathy was a common theme in 2017. The preceding years have gradually desensitized the globe in a way that makes you question if compassion is actually sincere anymore. Whether the event is domestic or international, violent images play on a never ending loop, displayed on various mediums 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This consistent wave of exposure to the worst that humanity has to offer has numbed our minds. Another black person slain by a police officer; \another suicide bombing in the Middle-East; another mass shooting by the hands of a terrorist (a term that is not indicative of religion).
These vicious acts of aggression flood the news cycle without actually sinking in. Collective outrage amongst the general public will take the form of combative debates across social media until the next catastrophe happens, which takes about the lifespan of a gnat to rear its ugly head. That's not to say that the major news stories for each day, each week or each month gets completely forgotten; rather, the previous event gets stored in a mental cache that'll eventually surface as a talking point during another debate. Is the talk surrounding trending topics a genuine way for us to untangle the discourse, or is it a way for us to vocalize our self-interests hidden behind the facade of compassion.
It's hard to tell. I don't know if I'm just becoming more aware as I become older, but the past few years have been a clusterfuck of societal issues. It could be due to the fact that social media has grown to be a large news outlet that rapid fires the latest topic of the day at you without much time to process it.
Not being able to digest these matters easily is detrimental; it charges us up, but overindulge and it could kill you. If you close yourself off from the constant news stream for even a week, in today's climate, a figurative amount of months will have passed.
The same goes for the avalanche of new music releases every week. According to the 2017 U.S. Music Year-End Report from Nielsen, hip-hop and R&B collectively have overthrown rock as the most dominant genre in music. The popularity and influence of these symbiotic genres have been extremely evident for quite some time. But getting officially recognized is a huge win for an art form that is largely populated by black people and minorities alike.
With great influence comes great responsibility. Hip-hop is still a relatively new genre that has been scrutinized from the jump. Outside critics look at rappers like foul-mouthed misogynistic street thugs. It may seem like that from a surface level but you're not really listening or paying attention closely. The grimy, raw and gritty sound of early 90s hip-hop perfectly grasped the overall essence of those struggling just to get by. Vivid storytelling about harrowing experiences detailed the everyday existence to an outside world that didn't readily understand.
Often viewed as glorifying a violent culture, hip-hop was meant to portray the environment by honest means. Messages of positivity and personal advice stemming from youthful mistakes were present to active listeners. Fast forward to present-day. With social media, the world's most popular entertainers have inherited the assumed role of new-aged activist, whether they like it or not. Late 80s and early 90s acts like Public Enemy and N.W.A. were known for being on the offensive when it came political statements.
"Bring the Noise" and "Fuck the Police" are two examples of using your platform to highlight the injustices surrounding their community. While hip-hop has been socially conscious since its inception, after the most recent Presidential election cycle, it feels like the fans are demanding that artists speak up about certain issues. Now, more than ever, the "Twitter Mob" mentality will pounce on musicians for just about anything said that's less than perfect. Even silence is viewed as being complicit. And, even if the rapper or singer genuinely says the right thing with a proper response, someone will comb through their history in search of something "controversial" to try and discredit, like this 2015 interview where 2 Chainz was interviewed by Nancy Grace.
Before their discussion about the merits of legalizing marijuana gets any footing, Grace tries to portray him as another mindless pothead rapper. 2 Chainz dismantled Nancy and her 1-sided stance, calmly and clearly articulated his points, and offered reasonable explanations for certain hypotheticals that she presents. It will forever be an uphill battle for the entertainer: say nothing and get harshly criticized or say something and have all facets of your character unfairly tested.
Quality-wise, 2017 was an incredible year in music in hip-hop and R&B. Not every music release that came out last year was in direct response to the most recent US political cycle.
One of my personal favorite albums from 2017, 4:44 by JAY-Z, dealt more with the maturing process of an individual going from a brash and cocky street dude to a humbled and reflective family man. Transparency and inspiration were major themes throughout the entire project. His openness about his past mistakes (I'll fuck up a good thing if you let me // 'LET ME ALONE, BECKY') and encouraging verses for black capitalism were greatly appreciated during a year of wild shit.
Stability is extremely important. I get it; audio statements in the form of music projects can be considered speed bumps. It can force you to slow down, evaluate your surrounds before proceeding forward to the open road where you can whip it as fast as possible. But that is not a bad thing in the slightest.
The social and civic responsibilities of musicians are to bring awareness to their ever-growing audience - if they feel like that should be their role in society. We as fans should not force them to be spokespeople for an entire cause, whatever it may be.
The latest Kendrick album was not meant to directly change legislation overnight. Rather, it was meant to inspire the next generation of up-and-coming politicians or people of color in powerful positions that CAN directly affect legislation for years to come. The purpose of these "speed bumps" should force us to take inventory of our own lives so we can figure out how we can have a positive impact on our communities, starting at the local level. It's ultimately up to us to choose what we do with this inspiration.