Hip-Hop Did the Work This Summer in Ways You Didn’t Realize
Bemoaning the lack of protest anthems misses the point: What we need from artists has changed
As the summer of 2020 draws to close, it’s clear the world has changed in unprecedented ways. A pandemic, its ensuing economic fallout, and a broad-based racial justice movement — not to mention the toxic, repressive administration that serves as their backdrop — have disrupted our lives in ways we scarcely could have imagined. If ever there was a moment for hip-hop to realize its promise as a political and cultural corrective, it’s this one. Throughout the week, LEVEL will be publishing stories that examine the summer of 2020 through the lens of hip-hop — from its relationship to the world at large to its own structural issues.
The idea of a “revolution” is at once an echo and a prophecy among Black folks. It’s legend foretold by our understanding of how race functions in America and where we have always headed. To be Black is to be in constant conversation with questions like “what would you have done during slavery?” or “would you have been nonviolent during the Movement?” Those conversations also become “what are you going to do when the revolution comes?” The mental exercise of these hypotheticals is one of the accoutrements of being Black in America.
After a summer of seemingly ceaseless Black death, today feels like the end of the hypotheticals. We are now faced with a reality in which we have to actually answer those questions. Will we march? Will we boycott? Will we protest? Will we feel the sting of tear gas, the rawness of wrists chafed by handcuffs?
Hip-hop, by virtue of being a Black art form, has faced the same speculation: What will the culture and its stars do when it’s time to stand up for, and with, Black folks?
When protests spread across the country in response to the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, rap responded in a way befitting a genre that had spent more than two decades deciding if it was a staple of corporate…