The hip hop community continues to react as the Trayvon Martin case unfolds
Trayvon Martin’s murder has been, so far, one of the most controversial events of the year, raising social, racial and political issues in all parts of American society and beyond - stirring reactions within the artistic community as well; especially the hip hop scene.
Hip hop has been linked in the past to political claims and social uprising, referencing hip hop icons such as Public Enemy, Tupac and Wu-Tang Clan among others. In recent memory, many recall the famous dispute between Kanye West and former President Bush following Hurricane Katrina, when the rapper accused the commander-in-chief on national television of not caring about Black people.
Historically, one could say that hip hop was born for social and political reasons. When Afrika Bambaataa started Zulu Nation in the 70’s after his trip to Africa, it was mostly in response to gang fighting in his native Bronx, to bridge the gap between people from disadvantaged communities and find a new, artistic and universal way to express their frustration and share the joy of music.
30 years later, hip hop has changed and evolved a lot, but the issue of race, which is so deeply rooted in the history of the United States, still has heavy meaning within the hip hop community. In this regard, Trayvon Martin’s death has definitely struck an all too familiar chord.
Today, as circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s murder are still unclear, and feuds over audio records and diverging versions of the facts prevail, many reactions from the hip hop community show that artists care and want to be involved in the national debate.
Musical tributes are now flooding the Web, as renditions from artists include the Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey), Dead Prez and Mike Flo “Made You Die” video, Papoose’s tribute or "We Are Trayvon" by Plies, to name a few. Public Enemy’s Chuck D. has been particularly vocal, asking Rick Ross to put together a track in honor of Trayvon Martin, and talking to Rolling Stone about upcoming new albums including a song called “Beyond Trayvon”.
Some hip hop artists such as Young Jeezy or The Game are speaking out directly for Black people, having expressed their frustration at the fact that racism is still rampant and not being addressed as a major factor in the case. Others like Mob Deep’s Prodigy and Killer Mike, question the police’s actions and the Stand Your Ground Law, which is under intense scrutiny.
Looking into the future, Nas explains that Trayvon has already left a legacy beyond anything he probably could have imagined, and hopes his death is not in vain. In a recent Def Jam press conference, Nas adds that racism is a daily issue and hip hop has a responsibility to do something:
"It's just a conversation that we're all having. You know, it's a Trayvon Martin every day, every other day; its been going on since the beginning of America. So it's just amazing that this young man, his life has become something to pull us all together to try to like protest against the sickness of racism. You know, it's just sad that someone this young had to come to that kinda cowardice balance, you know what I'm sayin? Hip-hop having a responibility? Of course. Hip-hop has many responsibilities, and does hip hop as a whole? No. no. There's too much going on for hip hop as a whole to focus on one thing, but yeah, why not, Trayvon was hip hop, you know what I'm saying, he was one of us, so of course we have a responsibility to do something, you know what I mean?"
Here is a great recap of reactions from the hip hop community: