Hip Hop’s Two-Faced Activism

Big ups to Jay-Z for establishing trust funds for Sean Bell’s kids. It’s a beautiful, generous act that will ensure a brighter future for the family of the man who was needlessly gunned down by NYPD officers just hours before he was to be married. Jay-Z is one of several rap stars who’ve stepped up and spoken out on the Sean Bell tragedy. When the three officers were found not guilty on multiple charges, artists like Lil Wayne, David Banner, Bun B, Ice Cube, Chamillionaire and DJ Drama blasted the verdicts. The Game quickly recorded an angry rap decrying police brutality. It’s heartening to see rappers respond like this. I just wish the hip hop community expressed the same level of concern for the victims of gang violence.

Police “misconduct” (that is such an inadequate word) shatters families and reinforces the fear and anger that so many people of color feel toward law enforcement. Police violence is a social obscenity and a major problem.

But it is street gangs, not the police, who are responsible for most of the murders in our communities – including the murders of countless innocent kids and adults who have nothing to do with the gang lifestyle.

Gangs are the main reason that homicide is the leading cause of death for black men under 25. Gangs are the reason that so many black and Latino mothers will spend another Mother’s Day weeping.

Where is hip hop’s indignation over the deaths of innocent people caught in gang crossfire, or targeted simply because they live in a certain neighborhood? Who will set up trust funds for these victims?

Of course, many rappers are involved in community building and other positive activities. But that doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of today’s mainstream hip hop music glorifies gangs and glamorizes crime. Many of our most successful rappers are gang-affiliated, and it’s common for emcees to shout out to different sets in their songs.

A whole lot of people are getting paid off of the violence and misery caused by gangs. So, of course there is no mass, hip hop-based movement to bring peace to the streets, or even to bring comfort to victims of the streets.

Sean Bell’s family deserves all the support and love they can get. But until the rappers show comparable love for the victims of gangs, and until they force hip hop to stop promoting criminal lifestyles, hip hop’s passion over Sean Bell will seem two-faced and hypocritical.

I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.


Cameron Turner is a Los Angeles-area native whose editorials, entertainment news features and audio documentaries have appeared on national radio networks, online and in print for over 20 years.

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May 7th, 2008 at 1:11 am Evelyn Santos says:


May 7th, 2008 at 1:22 am Regina Holloway says:

So true. More systemic change needs to happen within hip hop. Where are the hip hop leaders? Is Jay-Z one? I don’t think so. Russell Simmons maybe.

May 7th, 2008 at 1:25 am Binta Rohan says:

This blog assumes that hip hop owes Sean bell’s Family something. I don’t see why the hip hop community’s outrage should be held to such a standard. Its sad when, for lack of real leadership, we cling to rappers. They shouldn’t habve to do anything more than rap or real leadership should do that. But where are they?

May 7th, 2008 at 1:43 am RichardW says:

I’m in agreement on this. People in the limelight are focused on the wrong things. I dare say the JayZ thing was simply for publicity? Nut what about the gang and drug violence he glorifies? Do something aboiut that Jigga.

May 7th, 2008 at 4:39 am kamalp says:

i think its cool that jay-z did that. gangs aint cool but that dont have nothing to do with this man trying to help somebody.

May 7th, 2008 at 6:31 am SweetSis says:

bottom line is hip hop stars are leaders to young people and just like folk heroes like dylna and joan baez who led thru music, why can’t jay-z and kanye. kanye does a bit but nobody is organized. it should be more structured. and so yes i think they have a responsibility to stir up the interest of those that follow their music. why not?

May 7th, 2008 at 8:44 am MissReina says:

i second this motion!

May 7th, 2008 at 8:46 am MissReina says:

Think of all those mothers mourning senseless gang killings of their families on Mothers day. We need the hip hop superstars that have the ear of teens to do more than they do and stop biggiing up gunplay and crime.

May 7th, 2008 at 9:12 am dollsdaughter says:

As you said, many people are being paid on the false sensationalism to do with gangs. Until they get a conscience or the money dries up, I suspect things won’t change

May 7th, 2008 at 9:45 am Elsa Harkins says:

Gang violence is our biggest shame. Black on black crime shiould NEVER happen. Esp over some stupid colors and turfs we dont own.

May 7th, 2008 at 9:46 am Elsa Harkins says:

Scratch that/HOODS we don’t own. I sounded a little West Side Story above. hehehe

May 7th, 2008 at 9:53 am Ashley says:

It is a shame that so many of our youths feel like they need to turn to gangs. There has to be something we can do as a community along with the influence of the hip hop stars. We can’t just depend on them to turn this situation around

May 7th, 2008 at 11:30 am thelma says:

let truth ring! you hit it right on the head. of course sean bell’s murder is a terrible tragedy. its one in a long line of police overzealousness. But, hip hop can play such a vital role is turning the tide of gang violence… i love this peice

May 7th, 2008 at 11:41 am culturepop says:

if one rapper put one non violence song on their albums or a mixtape we could stem the tide. but until they stop using their jail time or murder fantasies to make themselves seem cool this mess ain’t going no where. sad but damn true

May 7th, 2008 at 11:46 am kris says:

I agree that there are some hip hop artists that glorify this lifestyle but what about the ones that don’t. What about Common, Black Eyed Peas, Talib Kwali, The Roots, Mos Def just to name a few. Why do we always focus on the negative parts of the hip hop community? What about those that are in the main stream and do have a positive message that they send out to their fans and have been for over a decade? Before we pass judgment on a few of the artists should we not be more well versed in the art form and the artist that create it?

May 7th, 2008 at 11:48 am culturepop says:

what is hip hop summit all about? why is it like a closed door meeting and we never know what happened, what so-called rules were laid down? they need to be up in their figuring these problems out and not just pretending to make decisions. this is our children’s lives and lifestyles at stake

May 7th, 2008 at 12:19 pm nicq says:

Big ups to Jay for helping out the Bell family.

May 7th, 2008 at 3:55 pm pmatters says:

After seeing the Philadelphia police beating online today, police brutality and racial profiling has to be more of a reason to go into a gang then hearing rap music.

May 7th, 2008 at 4:33 pm Tina says:

I agree with you Brother Turner. I also agree that we can not leave it up to rap artist to fix everything along with the athletes and everyone else that we allow to be our children’s role models. As spoken in Sister Ahmad’s blog entry it takes a village to raise our children. We must all take responsibility.

May 7th, 2008 at 4:42 pm Principal Hanna says:

Kids tune into the music. Right now it does nothing but entertain. It could do so much more. Like the young man Kris says, there are some who are conscious about and considerate of their impressionable audience. But so many scores more who coul care less about anything other than their pocketbooks.

May 7th, 2008 at 6:08 pm hisherness says:

interesting. very. but the powerless will always create a structure in which they have power in some sense. that’s all gangs really are … a way for people who feel powerless in their macro to create a micro in which they have power. hip hop can’t change that, nothing can change that. the thirst for power, for control, is human nature. hip hop, as much as it rubs my sense of the aesthetic the wrong way, is an art form born from society, it’s an expression, a reflection. certainly, it’s an established enough form to be utilized in the way you describe, but there are fairly severe limits to that. how far can a hip hop star really change what people on the ground see as desirable and achievable forms of power? somewhat, yes, but a star is by its very nature unreachable by mundane means … that’s why we call these people stars, they’re outside of our experience. perhaps they can change what we see as desirable, but not what we see as achievable. what we need are achievable forms of power other than the power to kill our neighbors, steal their goods, and so forth.

at this point i’m rambling and far, far off topic. i’m thinking “aloud”; my apologies. thanks for the article.

May 8th, 2008 at 2:32 am NORM AL GUY says:

hisherness - i totally agree

May 8th, 2008 at 3:41 am ratty says:

this is real talk.

May 8th, 2008 at 11:34 am allison says:

If we don’t buy the “gangster rap” forms of hip hop then they will get the message that we are tired of it being spread through out community.

May 8th, 2008 at 1:16 pm PRETTY PLUS says:

let rap be rap. entertainment. let leaders be leaders. white folks dont look to their big rock stars to lead them. its so ridiculous.

May 8th, 2008 at 2:11 pm UrbanJobCoach says:

It is encouraging to see so many of hip-hops icons jump to action. However, I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a desperate need for the hip-hop community to take a stand against gang violence and other black-on-black and brown-on-black crimes. I’d settle for not glorifying violence as a start.

May 8th, 2008 at 11:24 pm missme says:

agreeing with urbanjobcoach (cool, btw)

May 8th, 2008 at 11:26 pm missme says:

true words from hisherness: on:
“but the powerless will always create a structure in which they have power in some sense.”