Monday, August 8, 2011

Chuck D. Calls Out Jay-Z and Kanye West for Materialism During Economic Hardship

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action

I met the rapper Chuck D at the Measuring the Movement forum, hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton. I sat next to Chuck for a good 30 minutes during the panel discussion and got to appreciate his humility and intelligence as it pertains to the plight of black people. What I also noticed was that Chuck stands a far cry away from his peers regarding whether or not they give a damn about the people who are buying their albums.

In a spin-off to the new song, "Otis," written by Kanye West and Jay-Z, Chuck engages in a lyrical assault like no other, highlighting the fact that it’s not cool for West and Jay-Z to brag about how much money they waste when African Americans are in the middle of one of the most devastating periods in economic history. With 16 percent unemployment and the near complete decimation of black wealth, Chuck speaks directly to the public backlash toward artists who remain ignorant enough to believe that rapping about private jets and half-million dollar cars is preferable to discussing our collective plight. In fact, I’ll never forget when the artist Diddy gave his 16-year old son a half-million dollar car, and then turned around and gave a mere $10,000 to the entire country of Haiti.

Chuck also speaks on the prison industrial complex, which is something that neither Kanye nor Jay-Z seems to have noticed. I met another (nameless) artist who works with West on a regular basis. I asked him if Kanye is in tune with the social issues that plague the black community. To my disappointment, the artist simply said, "Kanye’s on some other sh*t." I would hate to believe that the man who had the courage to speak up on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Katrina has turned himself into just another highly talented corporate monkey.

Hip-hop obviously needs to turn the corner. Using the guidance and inspiration from empowered and progressive artists like Chuck D, one would hope that the creative fire of hip-hop music can be harnessed for progressive change. The time is ripe for a major political movement: Economic times are worse than they’ve been in decades, the Internet allows people to come together like never before, and the disapproval rating of political leaders in Washington is at an all-time low. Chuck is onto something, and I hope that his speaking up against "The Throne" (Jay-Z and Kanye’s latest exercise in self-absorption) is the first of many steps toward giving our community the vision that it needs to create a better life.

Real hope and change lies in the streets, not on Capital Hill and not at Def Jam Records. All of us have to speak up, stand up and make our world into what it needs to be.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.

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