Legendary musician and social activist Stevie Wonder has announced that he will boycott any state that has a Stand Your Ground provision, starting with Florida. Wonder made his announcement during a concert in Quebec City, Canada. Wonder declared, “I decided today that until the 'Stand Your Ground' law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”
Wonder’s stance against the Stand Your Ground laws is a bold step designed to reignite activism among socially dormant musicians.
If there is one group of artists that needs to follow in the example being set by Wonder, it is so-called gangsta rappers. Gangsta rap promotes social dysfunction and to a large extent is a marketing vehicle for the prison-industrial complex. Gangsta rap has become the dominant voice in hip-hop, and it is marginalizing any leverage the art form has to advance social and moral issues.
Hip-hop started out as a multifaceted movement and lifestyle to give voice to the voiceless. Chuck D of Public Enemy once called rap the “Black CNN.” Throughout the years artists such as Afrika Bambatta, KRS-1, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def were “urban journalists” bringing you stories of the street that were both informative and intellectual in their content. These artists inherited a sound, style, and purpose that began with artists such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron among others. Rap, the spoken-word art form that has been around since the 60s, was infused with lyrics that inspired thought and positive social activism.
Today, however, “gangsta rap” is largely materialistic, misogynistic, and violent. Gangsta rappers are seen as hucksters who do more corporate promoting of cars, liquor, brands of clothing, and jewelry than they stimulating thought.
Far too many rap musicians have forgotten the role they can play in advancing civil and social liberties. For every era of social advancement there has been a musical art form to accompany the movement. Jazz, the blues, and R&B music have all been a critical component of social progressivism. Hip-hop music was supposed to take up the mantle, but it seems to have momentarily lost its way as a social medium.
Dr. King said, “Jazz speaks for life.” Hip-hop, what say you?