Hip Hop culture has been one of the primary forms of expression for BIPOCs (Black and Indigenous people of color), especially when it comes to social justice.
Some may think the genre has grown into a business focused more on money and commercial value, but many essential Hip Hop figures are keeping the fight alive when it comes to tackling social issues. JAY-Z and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Roc Nation, have been at the forefront of social justice within Hip Hop, and last weekend they teamed up with the United Justice Coalition (UJC) to host their inaugural social justice summit in New York City.
The event brought an A-list group of speakers to Center415 in Midtown Manhattan to dissect the current state of criminal justice reform, mental wellbeing, public safety and more in the United States through various panels. Charlamagne Tha God spoke on the decriminalization of mental health, something he’s supported for some time now.
According to The Breakfast Club co-host, social justice is something the culture will always have to fight for because the world is filled with injustices. He believes the judicial system can sometimes intervene for good, but the fight for justice and equality remains an uphill battle.
“Civil liberties and social justice are something we still haven’t seen in our lifetime,” Charlamagne told HipHopDX. “We get glimpses of it where something happens to a Black person in this country. It’s a clear injustice and, you know, sometimes the judicial system does what it does. It feels like most of the time it doesn’t, you know? So I mean, it’s everything. It’s a never-ending fight until this country really lives up to create freedom, liberty and justice for all, not justice for some.”
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Hip Hop used to be a place where even the most prominent artists used their platform to shine a light on what’s happening in the country and their respective hoods. With all the money that has flooded into the industry, the lines have become blurred and many rappers aren’t necessarily speaking on the same topics as before. Because of that, Charlamagne thinks Hip Hop artists need to do more, especially when fans have seen what can be done with their platforms.
“I feel like Hip Hop was that for a long time,” he added. “There was a time you would listen to a record and they would have a lot of things that were socially redeeming in value. They’ll be talking to the moment, but I don’t feel there’s enough of that happening right now. Especially with everything that’s going on with the country. I don’t feel that sense of urgency coming from the Hip Hop artists.”
He continued: “Even when you think about the last few years, it’s like, what are those records that speak to the moment? Everybody was shocked during COVID when Lil Baby dropped ‘The Bigger Picture.’ We knew records like that were coming; we just didn’t expect it to come from Lil Baby. So yeah, not many people are speaking about the urgency of what’s happening in this country.”
Fortunately, many Hip Hop power-players are keeping that fire burning and stepping up to the plate, such as Yo Gotti. The Memphis mogul appeared on another panel at Team Roc and UJC’s social justice summit and spoke on the inhumane treatment of inmates at Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi.
Over the last two years, Gotti has teamed up with JAY-Z to fight the injustices at the prison, and they recently secured a significant win when the Department of Justice recognized the violations at the maximum-security facility.
“I think being raised in a family who — I have several family members, my father and my aunties, who went to different prison facilities and I visited them as a youth growing up,” Gotti said. “I could imagine what they were going through, but this situation, in particular, the videos and stuff we saw coming out of there, is nothing like I heard about when I was visiting my family members. I just don’t think it’s right that any prison facility could treat people like they not humans.”
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In addition to fighting for justice at Parchman, Yo Gotti is also working closely with Hov to prevent rap lyrics from being used as evidence in court. In April, the two scored another big win when the New York State Senate passed “Rap Music on Trial,” a bill that limits the admissibility of lyrics in criminal cases and safeguards an artist’s creative expression. For Gotti, protecting Black art is paramount.
“I think music is an art,” the CMG boss said. “How good you can put words together, how good the melody sounds. I don’t know when that became criminal — it’s crazy — but I think we are living in a world where people are looking for anything to discredit or dismantle success. It seems like it.”
Hip Hop culture is far from achieving complete justice and necessary change for all. Still, figures such as JAY-Z, Yo Gotti and Charlamagne Tha God are taking those first steps, opening the door for their peers to assist with the cause. After all, who better to speak up than some of the biggest voices from the most popular genre in the country?