Tag Archives: jail

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and the Fate of the Black Male pt 4

As much as the prison complex and the rap industry affect the livelihood of black males in society, they also affect the way in which black males are seen in this society. Again, the understanding of how a criminal label can affect how you are seen is fairly simple, but the role of the commercial rap industry is more complicated and subdued. If the prison complex is used to label African American males as criminals, then the commercial rap industry substantiates that labeling by portraying an enjoyment of the lifestyle that leads to prison. Take the industry’s use of Travis Scott, for example. Scott is a contemporary rapper worth 2.5 million dollars whose most recent song, Antidote, has been on Billboard’s Top 15 rap songs for weeks. Here is an excerpt from Antidote, “I might do it all again / I just hit a three peat / fucked three hoes I met this week / I don’t do no old hoes / my nigga that’s a no-no / she just want the coco / I just want dinero / who that at the front door? /if it’s the feds oh-no-no” (Travis). Travis Scott grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in a two-parent home with his father running a business and his mother working for Apple. He went to college, but dropped out. Travis Scott lived in a socio-economic status that is less likely to be influenced by gang culture and criminal behavior yet, his counter-cultural lyrics still portray a blatant and monotonous display of criminality while rejecting the idea of instilling value through socially conscious poetry.

The commercial rap industry has used African American males like Travis Scott to rid the diversification of Hip-hop’s counter-cultural mentality in order to display African American males as a demographic that embraces the lifestyle of a criminal. Therefore, the commercial rap industry is aiding in the dehumanization of African American males by portraying the notion that we as a community enjoy lifestyles that lead to second-class citizenship.

Using lyrics from the 7-grammy award winner Kendrick Lamar, the commercial rap industry is saying, “Fuck niggas’/No better than Samuel or Django/No better than a white man with slave boats” (Kendrick). Yet, Kendrick’s words can also be used to show the battle that Hip-hop culture is currently fighting against the criminalization of African American males:

“Retraced my steps on what they never taught me/Did my homework fast before government caught me…[this is] straight from Ethiopia/N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty- wait listen/N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish/The history books overlook the word and hide it/America tried to make it to a house divided/The homies don’t recognize we been using it wrong/So I’ma break it down and put my game in a song.” (Kendrick)

In showing the royal lineage of African Americans, Kendrick Lamar exemplifies Hip-hop culture’s resistance against the “second-class citizen” stigma of said demographic. However, the emcee element of Hip-hop is not the only one fighting this battle. Hip-hop dance, with its growing influence in American mainstream culture, can have a massive impact on the identity and perception of African American males in this country. As a Hip-hop choreographer and teacher in graduate school, I have studied the ways in which the values of Hip-hop culture—Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun—can be cultivated within a studio classroom and a concert stage environment (Chang 105). As a result I’ve created artistic works that use street dance styles to raise awareness on issues such as police brutality, and explore ideas of identity and representation in regards to African American males living in this society. I’ve also created weekly Hip-hop dance classes in the city of Columbus called “onCUE” where “CUE” is an acrostic for create, unite, and empower. These dance classes are for the entire community where students learn foundational street dance techniques in order to grasp a new way to connect with themselves and to converse with others; thus, encouraging the dissolution of social, economic, political, and criminal barriers.

By introducing a pro-cultural agenda through Hip-hop dance, I am combatting both the “second-class citizen” label brought on by mass incarceration and the criminalization of commercialized rap music. My efforts might not be enough to change the system, but I’ve witnessed the affects enough to know that it changes lives including my own. I’ve gone from seeing myself as solely a thief to proclaiming that I am a dancer. I am a teacher. I am an artist. I am a scholar. But most importantly, I am an embodiment of the positive influence that a criminal can have on this society through Hip-hop.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.

“Billboard Hot Rap Songs.” n.p. n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.

Cummings, Pond. Andre Douglas. “Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice.” Social Science Research Network (2009): 19. Web. 23 February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar. “i.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap. dir. Ice T. Indomina Releasing, 2012. DVD.

Travis Scott. “Antidote.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

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Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and the Fate of the Black Male pt1

Hey y’all,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Honestly, I’ve tried, but for my last semester of grad school…let’s just say senior-itis has not had any room to hit me. In grinding through this busy semester I did accomplish one of my goals– write a research paper and present it at Ohio State’s most distinguished graduate school research competition (applause applause “thank you very much” applause applause)! It got a lot of great reception and I thought it would be something people are interested in. Since it’s a 7-page paper I decided to split it into 4 parts to share with you all throughout this month. I hope you all enjoy!

Part I:

 

I am a graduate. I am Hip-hop. I am a criminal. In a few short weeks I will proudly graduate with a Master’s degree in Dance from Ohio State University with a focus in Hip-hop dance and culture. Graduation should be a time to celebrate, as I have accomplished an educational milestone that allows me to become a productive and influential citizen to society. However, sometimes I truly dread graduation because, for me, life transitions mean uncertainty—the uncertainty caused by poor decisions as a young adult. I wonder if my criminal record will deter me from opportunities that I could otherwise have. Two misdemeanors of theft have stigmatized me in the eyes of many—just another negative Black statistic.

Consider the correlation between the incidences of incarcerated African American males and the heightened glorification of criminality within contemporary commercial rap music. Today, the African American male is the prominent figurehead of both the industrial prison complex and the commercial rap industry in the United Sates. I will discuss how both discourses aid each other in the marginalization of the black male in American society through a textual analysis of scholarly literature and rap lyrics. I will also explore how Hip-hop dance can combat the stigmatization of African American males perpetuated by both the criminal system and the rap industry through a critical analysis of my work as a graduate student in Hip-hop dance.

Since the 1970’s the number of people incarcerated into the prison system has quintupled from 350,000 to over 2 million (Alexander 8). In some cities, more than fifty percent of the prison population consists of African American males. Today, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost one of every three African American males will go to prison in their lifetime. One out of every three. Look around. 1-2-Prison. That means over 7 million African American males will be labeled “criminal.” Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow provides insight as to what that label entails in saying:

Even when released from the system’s formal control, the stigma of criminality lingers. Police supervision, monitoring, and harassment are facts of life… a criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind—discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote. (141)

The charges that most of these criminals face are for non-violent crimes such as the illegal use of drugs or the illegal selling of those drugs. Yet, these non-violent offenses, though largely self-induced, have laid the foundation for a pernicious, socially violent, movement that labels African American males as second-class citizens—a permanent stigma that is difficult to overcome.