Words written by Hip-Hop Chess Federation founder, Adisa Banjoko.
This is part two of our series involving the Weaponization of Hip-Hop. What is that, you ask? It is how hip-hop—from the artists to those involved in other aspects of the culture—can be used to directly spread truths that have been suppressed by the mainstream media and give a voice to the voiceless. In order to understand why rap (the vocally expressive part of hip-hop culture) is so scary, you have to understand that America has never been comfortable with black men having a voice. No type of voice: militant, conservative, liberal or even moderate. In my 46 years on this planet, I have never seen a time when the opinions of black men were invited into any mainstream discussion. Any voice or utterance the black man has tried to exercise was immediately and always shut out. Even black jazz artists in the ’50s and ’60s were attacked by the mainstream media because their music alone, without words was enough to scare white America.
Rap music, unlike jazz or rock, is the unfiltered voice of black people unrestrained. This is why rap has always been a nightmare for the American mainstream establishment. This is also why rap’s weaponization has no counterpoint. It is that very reason why the culture must be weaponized and presented as such on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong… having fun, party rocking and enjoying rap is good, but it is also crucial to its weaponization. No rapper should ever allow themselves to be commodified and sold like slaves to the masses without mentioning one real thing that matters to them. It does not have to be police brutality or war, y’know? It can be something as easy as healthy living. Or it can be about something deep like loving your significant other and family instead of having these things and pretending that you are a playa or a pimp. It can be something as simple as being a good father.
Anything that forces the mainstream to see black humanity as a real, tangible thing, is a weaponization. Understand that this series is only meant as an outline for what can and should happen within black culture. It is not meant as an end all, be all, but many artists that you love will not be listed. If you think folks are missing, add their work in the comments page and let’s discuss the merits of the argument.
Rap can, at times, be deliberately violent sometimes. This stems from the fact that rap and its lyrics come from the lives and personalities of dangerous neighborhoods. The most militant or gang-related rap you can think of is still simply an artistic expression. No matter how murderous any lyric by 50 Cent or Young Jeezy may be, in the end a person got mad and picked up a pen instead of a gun. For that reason (and a few others) — rap music still stands as a testament to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s missions to use words over force. It is also important to keep in mind that what mainstream America hates you for today will be awarded to you in spades tomorrow. From King to Dr. Huey P. Newton to Malcolm X to Ice Cube to the Geto Boys to Public Enemy — they were examples of “back then you didn’t want me, now I’m all hot and you’re all on me” type rap. Now, if you do your research, you’ll see that they’re honored in halls of fame, the hallowed pages of history and considered iconic legends for the fearlessness they had in bulk.
And those master teachers inspired others to lace their notebooks with lyrical napalm to destroy the barriers that restrict black-and-brown people from placing their hands on that elusive mistress, Freedom. Whether male or female, these MC, such as Sistah Souljah, were able to make cracks and dents in the thinking that rap was just a trend or that hip-hop performers weren’t intelligent observers of human nature. Listing the woman born Lisa Williamson as the first rap artist you should check out + who should return to the front lines was conflicting for me. Her first album, 360 Degrees of Power, was not that good lyrically, actually. She started off as kind of a smarter version of Flavor Flav. I remember hearing her way back on Terminator X‘s album on the song, Buckwhylin‘.
With that said, there are an ocean of female MC’s that are better than Sistah Souljah. She wasn’t wack by any means, but she didn’t have that umph on the M-I-C like Queen Latifah, Monie Luv, Shorty No Mas and the countless others who brought more lyrical wrath, style and finesse. However, even if you added all of them together, they could not match Sistah Souljah’s wisdom or courage on paper, TV or radio. It was her debates on the Phil Donahue Show that showcased her informative panache and inspiring demeanor. Before Kanye West had the balls to say “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” Sistah Souljah said it in her fashion, more consistently and courageously than any other black male in hip-hop possibly ever has. She was so scary to white people that Bill Clinton tried to have her shut down. Today, Sistah Souljah is known for her amazing work as an author, but the O.G.’s who love hip-hop remember that her fury on the mic went far beyond rap. She defended black men more openly, consistently and effectively than many black men even defended themselves.