Hip Hop’s Relationship With Gun Violence: A History Lesson

The March For Our Lives event drew millions of individuals out to the streets of their cities on Saturday March 24th. With the main event taking place in Washington D.C., featuring students from Majory Stoneman Douglas High School who suffered through the tragic loss of their fellow classmates to gun violence only weeks prior, celebrities alike voiced their concern for making schools a safer place.

In attendance were artists like Common, Vic Mensa, Kanye West, Kehlani, and Jennifer Hudson. All of whom have an experience with gun violence or have been vocal about the struggle of our 2nd Amendment right. The aforementioned men are all Chicago natives and have been leading the charge towards inner city violence through their music and discussions (see Vic Mensa on United Shades of America).

Mensa has been politically involved since he was 16 he told CNN on Saturday and previously has discussed that in Chicago, the violence could end if children had easier access to sports and art programs, instead of being susceptible to gang recruitment.

Unfortunately not every rapper believes in supporting the changing gun laws. On Saturday (while not in attendance at a #MFOL event) Killer Mike appeared in an NRA video voicing his support for gun ownership. The division of rappers on “conscious” issues affects their persona and their music. Artists who take time in their discography to discuss gun violence can be considered conscious rappers, while artists who use guns in their music to show they mean business are classified as gangster rappers. It’s rare to see someone who creates a gray line between.

As Gangsta Rap was born out of Compton in the 1980s, aspiring rappers tried to follow N.W.A. by not only voicing their reality on police brutality, but their fashion, including a bandana and a glock on their hip. While these defining characteristics poised questions towards gang culture and not always about the music, guns became a centerpoint for toughness in the streets.

Their ability to take a life or at least to scare an unwelcome beef away, created a persona of being untouchable to outside groups. In songs like “Bang Out” by Snoop Dogg, the Cali artist spends roughly 3 and a half minutes describing his reason for a shoot-out, because “Fuck a cop, non-stop, 20 Crip, all day”. The veteran rapper has since switched sides on the gun issue. In 2015, Snoop joined the campaign #ImUnloading, after the loss of life he’d experienced from gun violence, asking companies to stop investing in stock relating to the gun industry.

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While Tupac and Biggie both released lyrically empowering and truthful content, their fame and associations shot them dead in the streets they once ran. Since the days when the OG rappers roamed the coasts rapping about killing their enemies, an alarming rate of individuals (children and adults combines) dying by gunshot has increased through the 2000s.

As a response, rappers have used the music industry to help tell their stories. Jay-Z released “Spiritual following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; Vince Staples’ “Hands Up discusses color profiling in the hood; Nas wrote I Gave You The Power” to show perspective that guns don’t kill people, people kill people; and Vic Mensa released The Autobiography, an album that details the death of his brother:

“Do the realest ni**as die young? A question for the gun that killed my brother Cam aka Dare, how’s life up there? Do you still laugh up like crashin’ trains? Do you tag your name on angel wings? It’s been a minute. Write me back, little Vic.”

While most outsiders to the hip hop community think that rap music promotes violence and ignites unwarranted hate, most of these artists are leading the charge against police brutality, inequalities as Americans and the misconceptions towards people of color (such as why men resort to selling drugs when they can’t find a “real” job). Recently, LA rapper JAG released a visual freestyle about black men being killed by police.

Hip Hop is not the reason for gun violence in America. Misdirection and influence are though. If we want to break the cycle of violence or not have to organize protests, we have to bring resources into all of our communities that help kids, teens and adults feel empowered to succeed. Whether that is becoming a rapper or president, equal opportunity for a fulfilling life must be present for everyone big or small. #MFOL

Writer & Visual Storyteller | I think mumble rap is like disco, a bad phase.

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