Hip hop artists are usually expected to share thoughts on matters of the heart, relationships gone bad or strife in the neighborhood. None of these were topics of discussion, April 13, in the Lincoln Theatre at The Great Debate, a town hall gathering, one of the first events of the annual Emancipation Day Celebration in D.C.
Hundreds of D.C. residents gathered to hear panelists’ concepts of how Hip Hop artists can address emerging social issues in education, employment, gun violence, drugs, prison reform and anything else that affects young people specifically and the Black community in general.
The panel, moderated by TV reporter, producer, Robyn Murphy, included actress and recording artist Toni Blackman, hip hop artist MC Hammer, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, president of Russell Simmon’s GlobalGrind.com; political correspondent Michael Skolnik and recording artist and founder of the Ladies First Women’s Empowerment Organization, Monie Love.
Emancipation Day pays homage to the 152nd anniversary of the end of slavery for 3,100 enslaved Blacks who were set free by the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, signed into law April 16, 1862; the only act to pay slave owners to release their slaves.
“[It] was the only time in our nation’s history where the federal government paid the slave owners $1 million to free the 3,100 people,” Orange told the AFRO.
“We’ve traveled a very long way from April 16, 1862, to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with President Barack Obama,” he said.
However, even though the African-American race has traveled so long and overcome so much, there are still discrepancies that restrict the community and its youth that need to be addressed, such as the need for the Black community to have a strong sense of self.
“I want other people to acknowledge and recognize their power and their value,” Blackman told the AFRO. “You don’t have to be Halle Berry or Beyoncé to be impactful and influential. You don’t have to run a multi-million dollar empire or be a hip hop mogul to be influential to young people. Young people care about people who care about them.”
Panelists discussed the generational disconnect that faces Black youth, emphasizing the shift in Hip Hop music from teaching substantive messages on life to only entertaining.
Love said today’s music no longer mentors young people.
“We have to take accountability as artists,” she said.
“It hurt my heart to see that these kids today do not have the amalgamated outlet to express their frustrations as we did in Brooklyn with Public Enemy,” Love said.
Chuck D said rappers no longer rap about things they believe.
“Spit what you believe to the core,” he said, likening the artists who create music to appeal to children as “virtual pedophiles.”
Emancipation did not solve all the Black issues in America, according to Frederick Douglass; it only led the way to the work that had to be done.
“Those slaves learned something that the rest of the country would soon learn – that emancipation is only the beginning, because just being free is just the start, the beginning of the end of slavery,” Murphy said.