2016’s Boldest & Most Important Political Statements In Hip-Hop & Beyond
2016 has been a rough year. From seemingly endless celebrity deaths to a political campaign unlike any other to racial tensions dominating headlines, these last 12 months have been riddled with great sorrow. But as history continues to remind us, out of great pain comes great resilience, and actors, athletes, authors, and MCs are just a few of the groups who spoke out and showed up for social and political causes this year. Today, we celebrate only a fraction of the mighty voices we heard from in ’16, and salute those brave enough to make some noise.
T.I. “Warzone”/Us Or Else
The Summer of 2016 was a tumultuous one and served as fertile ground out of which many of the year’s biggest political statements grew. Included therein are the recent works of T.I., a rapper more commonly associated with chart-topping pop-culture phenoms than “conscious” Hip-Hop. But as he demonstrated in the game-changing video for “Warzone” and his Us or Else EP, some issues are simply too hard to ignore. The video stars a Black police officer who fatally shoots a White child, a potent reversal of fate that inspired a much-needed conversation about empathy. Us or Else, as T.I. came about, as he told The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah in September, because “I just really want to create dialogue that will promote change.”
Killer Mike Says It’s Time To Take Down The System By Taking Our Money Out Of It
On the heels of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police, a justifiable anger was swelling in millions of Americans, frustrated with a broken record that forced us to hear the same old story again and again. Killer Mike, long since an outspoken political voice (and Ambrosia for Heads’s choice for Hip-Hop Person of the Year in 2014), provided the forlorn a way to channel said anger into an effective means of revolution, and it was all about economics. Speaking with Atlanta’s HOT 107 he said, “We don’t have to burn our city down. But, what we can do is go down to our banks tomorrow. You can go to your bank tomorrow and you can say ‘until you as a corporation start to speak on our behalf, I want all my money. And, I’m taking all my money'” elsewhere, adding “What we’re going to do is to start to divert money from the system. And this works. Apartheid ended in South Africa because students in America said ‘We not flying Delta anymore. We’re not drinking Coca-Cola anymore. We’re not supporting any corporation that supports that Apartheid and enslavement of people who look like us.'” Just a week later, it became evident his words had a powerful effect; more than 8,000 new accounts were registered at a single Black-owned bank.
Colin Kaepernick Takes a Profound Stand By Taking a Seat
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick reminded the world that symbolic gestures can be as influential as any organized movement. By choosing to take a knee or sit out the national anthem at football games, he inspired similar actions in athletes and citizens across the globe. Not only did his act of silent revolution land him a historic Time magazine cover, but it earned him the support of President Obama, Marshawn Lynch, J. Cole, and many others. In his own words, Kaepernick explained his controversial actions, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” On or off the field, he has become a central figure in the ongoing movement for civil rights, and one who has redefined what it means to be a standup guy.
A Tribe Called Quest Return Triumphantly With “We the People”
There is no summation of music in 2016 without mention of A Tribe Called Quest. Period. The iconic Queens, New York Hip-Hop Group may be a favorite amongst Heads, but there is no denying their influence well beyond, and their appearance as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in November was exemplary of their rightful place in American popular culture. The release of their first album in 18 years, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, was enshrouded with as much pain as it was joy, due to the tragic loss of Phife Dawg in March. However, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi seemed to make the collective decision to ensure Phife’s presence loomed large nonetheless, as it does in the video for “We the People.” Certainly the group’s most political single in a 25-plus year history, it’s a reflection of Trump’s America, a place where Muslims, gays, women, and the disabled are treated with the same disdain reserved for Black and Brown Americans. After having taken such a long hiatus and suffering the loss of a founding member, A.T.C.Q was brave to return to our collective embraces with such an outspoken piece of work, but they are proven to have arrived at exactly the right time, and continue to heal us through song.