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Hip Hop Fridays: What has Hip-Hop really done for Racism? by Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz

While listening to Angie Martinez, a VJ on New York’s radio station Hot 97, interview one of the most successful rappers of all time, Jay-Z he made a comment that made me ask myself has the rapper lost his mind?

I was very entertained by the interview at first. It was typical or familiar dialogue, they spoke about Jay-Z’s success as president of Def Jam along with his developing relationship with his former archrival Nas. The interview stayed on its usual course with Jay-Z displaying his usual bravado that fans and detractors alike have grown accustomed to. Then Jay-Z got up out of his seat, took off his head set approached the window and jumped out of it with the absurd comment “Hip hop has done more for racism than any activist ever.”

The reason why Jay-Z’s comments are so disturbing is because he has the ears of millions and a lot of his fans take him seriously when he speaks. As we examine Jay-Z’s comments, the reader will see that Jay-Z has a very primitive understanding of racism so his argument is built on weak foundation. While listening to his comments, one can draw the conclusion that Jay-Z’s concept of racism is a very superficial one.

In addressing this problem, let’s start by asking Jay-Z the question "what has hip hop done for racism inside of hip hop let alone outside of hip hop?" I would have to say hip hop has done very little inside of hip hop to combat racism. The first proof of this is that there are no major labels owned by Blacks. The second example of this is the lack of control that Black artist have over their careers i.e. the image and material that is produced by the labels in representation of the artist and the art. So if you don’t control the image that is projected of you, you will continually be viewed in a way that others want you to be viewed in. If record labels are only concerned with profits then the negative images will continued to be projected.

Now on a broader scale we ask what has hip hop done for the Black community? I don’t see any substantial changes on the matter of racism that hip hop has contributed to. Hip hop has not closed the economic or educational gap between Blacks and other racial groups. It has not helped destroy the reckless behavior of young Black males in the inner city. Hip hop has not helped promote a positive image of Blacks throughout the world. So if hip hop has not effected change in these areas, how can Jay-Z say hip hop has done anything for racism, let alone more than any activist ever. Jay –Z believes that because his concerts consist of diverse crowds that this helps abolish racism. That assumption is a false one because when the show is over the economic and political conditions of the people who attend the show has not changed. The people who were in the ghettos unemployed before the show, returned to the ghettos without jobs after the show. Jay-Z must not get it confused, because he entertains someone does not mean he is accepted or respected by that person. I agree with Dr. Claud Anderson when he states in his book “Powernomics” “The sole purpose of racism is to support and ensure that the White majority and its ethnic subgroups continue to dominate and use Blacks as a means to produce wealth and power” (Anderson 5). I believe that this is the true meaning and purpose of racism, so in light of that, hip hop has done nothing in fighting racism.

In conclusion hip-hop has had a substantial effect on Black culture some positive effects and some negative effects as well. To have an effect on culture is vastly different from fighting to eliminate racism. Jay-Z is an authority on hip hop, but he seems to be out of touch with reality when it comes to social issues. I believe the true problem is that there is too much attention given to Black entertainers when it comes to social issues. The attention should be given to those who dedicate their lives to finding solutions to the problems that face the Black community.

Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz is a college student in NJ. He can be reached at

Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz

Friday, March 17, 2006

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