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Common, Kendrick Lamar and Black America’s desire for hip-hop intellectualism

common kendrick

Within the past few days, the nation heard bold statements from rap artists Kendrick Lamar and Common. However, one rapper has been vilified for his words while the other has, thus far, received praise.

On Jan. 9, Billboard magazine released its feature interview with Kendrick Lamar. In reference to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner situation, Kendrick Lamar said, “I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s f—-ed up. What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.”

His statements were met with immediate disdain as some Twitter users and rappers  Kid Cudi and Azaelia Banks blamed Kendrick Lamar for “talking down” to black people who live in poor communities.

On the other hand, Common’s speech at the Golden Globes has been viewed as epic and timely. With the nation watching on the powerful platform that is NBC, Common and John Legend accepted the award for their song “Glory” from the film Selma.

“The first day I stepped on the set of Selma I began to feel like this was bigger than a movie,” Common said. “As I got to know the people of the Civil Rights Movement, I realized I am the hopeful Black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring White supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed Black kid who maybe needed a hand, but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. Selma has awakened my humanity.”

Common soon became a trending topic on Twitter and his words have been posted on Instgram as inspirational memes.

Although they both received two different reactions, Common and Kendrick Lamar are in the same boat. They are merely entertainers who are paid to rhyme words, but they are expected to be much more than artists.

Within the Black community, the chosen speaker has always had power and responsibility. In ancient kingdoms of Africa, the griots were the storytellers, poets and musicians who preserved the history of a culture and were also advisers and diplomats.

In America, Black preachers continued the legacy of griots by standing as powerful leaders who serve as spiritual and social guides for the community. Hip-hop, in a sense, is an extension of the thought-provoking speeches that were given by Black religious leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

As a result, many who grew up listening to hip-hop view rap artists as de facto leaders of the Black community. Whether you agree with it or not, rap artists have a strong influence on youth culture.

There is a hope that every rap artists can be as critical of mainstream media like Chuck D; as political savvy as Killer Mike; or rise to the occasion like Common just did at the Golden Globes.

But that’s unfair and unrealistic.

Every person who picks up a microphone to rhyme will not be able to eloquently provide proper insight on life in the Black community. Even when rappers can express themselves intelligently on record, it still doesn’t always qualify them to explain real-life issues when the music stops. And they shouldn’t have to.

Rappers are entertainers who often have a knack for telling the interesting aspects of their experiences in life. So we shouldn’t get overexcited when a rapper says what we want to hear, and we shouldn’t lose our minds when a rapper does the exact opposite.


1 Comment

  1. Dave on January 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I don’t think it has so much to do with them being rappers or entertainers. As you said, speakers “have always had power.” It just so happens that Common, Kendrick, and whomever else have a larger-than-life platform and with that comes power. I don’t believe people have expectations of them because they are a part of the hip-hop community. It’s more about their position. Both men are in a position of high media coverage. In the digital age, every non-famous person desperately wants their voice heard and desires to have that sort of attention on their passionate opinions. When you have a Common that echoes how so many feel, they become ecstatic to know their same feelings are being broadcasted. When you have a Kendrick that expresses a controversial, lesser-held opinion, many that don’t agree with him look to his platform in the media as being destructive or improperly utilized. I would liken Kendrick’s comment to Charles Barkley’s recent comments about Ferguson.

    Their messages are amplified by the media. The media hypes the public. To be honest, no one would have known of Kendrick’s comments in Billboard Magazine if the blogs or digital media sites (including didn’t use his Ferguson comment as a headline. How many people were actually going to the newsstand to purchase the magazine and read the article?

    As for black people searching for speakers/a leader…

    I think black people are searching for their voices to be heard, not just in the form of one, stand alone speaker/leader. Not everything Common or Kendrick rhymes about reflects the traditional black experience in America, which you mentioned. For this reason, many black intellectuals that dedicate their lives to educating youth – void of the excessive swearing and street references of rappers – are grassroots by some standards, opting to teach in schools or universities and engage in community outreach programs. But, they aren’t covered, in large, by the media. RollingOut does a good job of covering black intellectual profiles and other content, but others are scarce in that field.

    To wrap this up, there’s a hunger for more black media that doesn’t just broadcast two polarizing messages (Common’s and Kendrick’s) and that doesn’t distort the image of black people by only offering slim pickings. There are so many voices fighting to get their opinions and stories told against prejudices of the white media.