killermike_LEAD

As rap and hip-hop culture has evolved – from its infancy on the corner of Cedar and Sedgwick to what it is today, a multibillion dollar industry with global sway – a startling trend has emerged. We’ve talked about it before, using lyrics as evidence in court and the type of threat it poses on free speech and privacy. But what else what are we missing? What other angles are being overlooked?

Michael Render (aka Killer Mike of Run the Jewels fame) recently penned an op-ed piece on USA Today with the help of Erik Nielson (assistant professor of Liberal Arts at University of Richmond) zeroing in on some key issues like the “blatant mischaracterizations of the genre” and “ignoring many of the elements that signal rap as a form of artistic expression, such as rappers’ use of stage names or their frequent use of metaphor and hyperbole.”

The letter itself is an example of what he’s talking about, the author’s byline reads Michael Render and the Killer Mike moniker is in parenthesis – rap personas are just that, parentheticals. Killer Mike is Killer Mike when he’s on stage not when doing laundry or taking a shit or doing the other million things any normal person does on an average day. Killer Mike is a mere faction of who Michael Render is as a human being.

These blind spots in society reflect a profound detachment between races, particularly between white and black America. It’s further exasperated by social media and the immediate stage it provides, a place where context is hardly a prerequisite. The mainstream media’s perception of black america while changing slowly and for the better is still far from enlightened. The many have bought into the convenient catch phrase of “I don’t see race,” which has only furthered the divide.

Be mindful, we’re not too far removed from a time when race very much mattered, when black people were lynched regularly or when internment camps were a real thing – our grandfathers can tell us those stories, their fathers can show us the scars. To ignore race is to ignore a key component in which this country was predicated upon, a cornerstone of American history.

Render goes on to say that in no other artistic expression has the artist been more scrutinized than in hip-hop. He continues by explaining that hip-hop is not the problem, and he’s 100% right. The problem is the disconnect within cities and communities nationwide, we’ve alienated ourselves so much that we’ve forgotten the meaning of humanity, which is the perfect environment for the spread of mankind’s most fatal disease: hate.

How do we close that gap between darkness and light? Is it an economic issue, a social issue or is it the structure itself – that in order for all this to work there needs to be a group that essentially takes it on the chin, the hammer and the nail scenario?

Maybe it’s all of the above, and the first step in untying this wretched knot is acknowledging its presence and exercising the type of empathy and compassion that comes with solving a mutual problem. We are in crisis and tensions are at a boiling point, and no, despite what they say, we shouldn’t put our differences aside. We should put a giant spotlight on them and ask ourselves how on earth are we going to fix this before we burn ourselves in an inferno of our own making.