New World Water: How Hip-Hop Has Responded To The Flint Water Crisis
UPDATE: Timbaland has confirmed a follow-up performance in Detroit to support Flint with the following announcement:
Today, Timbaland announces that he will be holding another event in Detroit, MI on March 4th, which will include a performance for the Flint, MI Water Crisis. Recently, there was speculation about issues that transpired at Timbaland's previous appearance in the Detroit club, Bleu this past January during his King Stays King Tour. Despite the rumors that were circulating in the media, Timbaland was still able to help the club raise money for the citizens of Flint, MI who are dealing with a contaminated water crisis. Both Timbaland and the Bleu Nightclub's spokespersons released statements about the past event and have decided to move forward by joining together again to host another performance in Detroit to raise more money for the citizens of Flint.
Bleu's owner, Mitchell Jaworski states, "After speaking with Timbaland, we are pleased that any previous misunderstandings have been talked through and we are able to move forward for the greater good benefiting the people of Flint. We are very proud to be an active partner in this effort and that our venue, Bleu Detroit, is hosting this upcoming event. By working together, we hope that we can help the people of Flint in their time of need." Battle Rapper, Quest Mcody and the promoter for this event for Flint states, “It's always been our mission to assist in the healing process. Through this misunderstanding, we got to the source, Timbaland and I had a conversation and focused on the solution. The people of Flint need us and they deserve the focus to be on them."
On March 4th, Timbaland and guests will be performing for Bleu club goers. The tickets sales from Bleu Nightclub will go to Flint, MI to help aid them through this water crisis. Additionally, Timbaland will be making a donation to those who are in immediate need for clean water.
Timbaland says, "I'm looking forward to returning to Detroit for this benefit performance. It has always been about the people of Flint, Michigan so I am grateful to be able to donate even more to address this crisis."
In addition to another show in Detroit, Timbaland will also be making up tour dates that were cancelled due to the recent East Coast snow storm in Washington, D.C. on March 3rd and New York City on March 5th. If you cannot make it to Timbaland's Detroit show, you can also contribute to solving the Flint, MI water crisis by donating to the Water 4 Flint Campaign.
Throughout all of Jon Connor's music career, he has wanted to put his hometown of Flint, Michigan on the map. Now, his city is the hub of an international news story, but for negative reasons: the city's water is contaminated with lead, as the result of an emergency manager's decision to switch its water source to the Flint River.
“To people in the industry, I would usually have to explain where I was from,” said the MC, a signee of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. “...But now, people say, ‘Dang, Connor is from Flint.’ There’s immediate name association with all the people I know in the industry. I made a joke that there will never be a confusion about where Flint is from never again.”
The crisis is the result of an overreach of governmental authority. Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder assigned an emergency manager — an official whose authority usurps locally elected government — to manage the state's funds. In an attempt to save money, that manager decided to switch the city's water source from a Detroit plant in Lake Huron to the Flint River. Citizens have reported discoloration, odd smells and bad taste from the water since shortly after the switch in April 2014, but Snyder and other officials insisted the water was fine for months, even after tests from scientists at Virginia Tech and Hurley Medical Center showed the water was contaminated. Further tests eventually revealed that Michigan environment officials failed to treat the river water properly, leaving it so corrosive that it leached lead and other metals from the pipes that delivered it.
With increased lead levels in Flint children and boosts in Legionnaires' Disease, media attention continued to mount, prompting reaction from environmentalist Erin Brockovich, Flint-area filmmaker and activist Michael Moore and Cher. The water has since been switched back to Lake Huron, but lead is still leaking into the water because the pipes are still damaged. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, enlisting FEMA to bring more bottled waters and water filters to statewide efforts. But effects of the lead poisoning will surface in Flint children for years to come through lowered IQs, behavioral problems, and other symptoms.
Michigan citizens are calling for Snyder's resignation and arrest.
Celebrities around the country have donated their money and time towards the cause, but hip-hop has had an especially large role. Sean “Diddy” Combs donated $1 million bottles of his Aquahydrate water. Meek Mill donated money to the Flint Child and Family Health Development Fund, and sent 60,000 bottles of water. Detroit native Big Sean launched a Heal Flint's Kids initiative, donating $10,000 of his own money and raising more than $57,000 at press time. On Friday, Snoop Dogg popped up in Flint to meet with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver before a show in Detroit. The Game, whose sister and children live in Flint, teamed with the Michigan-based Avita Water to donate $1 million (including $500,000 of his own money), and challenged Madonna and Jimmy Fallon to increase their donations of $10,000. Def Jam founder Russell Simmons donated 150,000 bottles through his company RushCard, including taking some of the water door to door, and spoke at a town hall meeting in Flint on Monday. Others within the culture have moved relatively silently: Pusha T sponsored a group from Virginia that brought two semi trucks worth of bottled water to Flint and delivered them to homes in the area.
“I think most hip-hop artists can relate to the issue due to their previous upbringing and surroundings,” added Tia Scott, a Flint-based writer who covers hip-hop music on her blog The Dope Show. “Many of these artists speaking out aren’t far removed from poverty, violence, and unfair social and economical conditions that personally affect them and their families.”
Flint's rap scene is mostly known for acts such as MC Breed and Dayton Family, but plenty of rappers can see themselves in Flint. Game can see his own family; his sister and her children live there. The city has a primarily black population of 100,000 people, and seems to consistently be down on its luck. General Motors was founded there, but it took most of its factories out of the city before the implosion of the auto industry. And when jobs decreases, crime rises, which is a case that happens virtually every year. Flint ranks among the top five most dangerous cities in the country in terms of murders per capita. Flintstones (as residents often call themselves, a nickname made popular after a Michigan State basketball team of primarily Flint players won the NCAA Championship in 2000) are used to their city either being ignored completely, or being seen as a punchline. In Connor’s new song “Fresh Water For Flint,” H20 is only one of the issues he brings up; he also talks about the scores of abandoned houses and young people in prison.
The water crisis continues a narrative that rappers have told for years: people in power creating dire conditions that poor people of color suffer through and must band together to overcome. The same systems that lead to police brutality, housing discrimination, disparate educational systems and more, penalizes poor people of color who can’t figure their way out of the maze. Flint could be any of Neighborhoods, U.S.A. that gave birth to these rappers before they got rich — or, in the case of The Game, neighborhoods where their loved ones still live.
“My city’s been fucked up for a long time. Where do we draw the line? It’s like they’ve been saying fuck us for a long time,” Connor cries.
Detroit battle rapper Quest Mcody initially pitched in by joining a friend to raise money and ended up donating 30,000 bottles of water to distribute in Flint, setting up shop at an defunct Kroger’s grocery store. Last week, Quest hosted and helped organize a the Detroit stop of superstar producer Timbaland’s “King Stay King” tour as a benefit show to raise money for people impacted by the crisis. The show raised $3,000. (Timbaland didn’t perform at the concert, he simply stood behind the turntables as another DJ spun music. Local reports and the New York Daily News reported that he refused to perform because the bar didn’t have Ace of Spades liquor; Timbaland’s camp said he was never contracted to perform, but only to make an appearance. On Tuesday, Mcody said Timbaland agreed to perform at a free Detroit show in March.)
“If this affects someone and they turn 18 and they’re acting up, what are you going to do to ‘em?” Mcody said. “You’re going to take them and you’re going to correct them with correctional facilities, or detention centers, or psycho wards. And that’s the worst case scenario but where do you draw the distinction?”
Flint residents have always persevered through obstacles and struggles. Star athletes like Olympics gold medalist Claressa Shields, middleweight champion boxer Anthony Dirrell, and Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram have all hailed from Flint, along with award-winning children’s author Christopher Paul Curtis, star ‘70s band Grand Funk Railroad, just to name a few. About all of them return to Flint to give back in some way after they make it. Artists like Tunde Olaniran make activism as much of a priority as their music careers.
Connor says the city’s spirit is embodied by his mother, who worked 30 years at a General Motors job using a nail gun that gave her carpal tunnel syndrome, all to send her children to school. The city’s resiliency sounds identical to the spirit of hip-hop, and of people of color around the country and the larger diaspora.
“It’s the Flint mentality: you gotta do what you want to do to get where you want to go for the ultimate overall cause. We never say die,” Connor said. “When the automotive industry was picking up and leaving, the people who stayed said, ‘We’re going to endure. We have this faith, belief and strength that Flint is going to come back.’”
“Given this water situation as well, we still got that same mentality. There are people still finding a way to smile. There are people in Flint, we’re still finding a way to continue on with our daily lives...and stay the resilient Flint I grew up knowing.”