On October 9th, hip-hop once again failed me.
As YG’s “My Hitta” played on speakers from someone’s dorm room, my stomach churned at the line: “most likely I’mma die with my finger on the trigger.” Hip-hop failed me because earlier that day I received a text from my childhood best friend letting me know that her father had been shot and killed.
The glorification and commodification of the deaths of brothers, sisters, friends and family is sickening. It is almost as if hip-hop listeners are celebrating the murder of my loved ones whenever they hear a mainstream hip-hop song; it hurts.
Most feminist critiques of hip-hop are centered in disgust for the objectification and blatant disrespect of women. But an additional feminist critique of hip-hop is the lack of sincerity mainstream hip-hop has to how gun violence can actually ruin families. Hip-hop romanticizes death and murder, and it fails to acknowledge the fight for reproductive justice many women in low-income areas have to take on. Gun violence has taken fathers, mothers and children; mainstream hip-hop fails to bring this to light for its 70 percent white audience.
Reproductive Justice is the right to have a child, the right to not have a child and the right to parent a child without violence inflicted from outside forces. But suburban listeners aren’t always concerned with reproductive justice as they enjoy hip-hop. Studies have shown that many non-Black hip-hop listeners are attracted to hip-hop because of its violence and sexual themes, but mainstream hip-hop listeners shouldn’t celebrate the death of those who were gunned down while trying to live a life in a neighborhood that matches their income bracket.
Take a low-income neighborhood of Miami, Florida — Miami Gardens — for example. Miami Gardens is considered in the top ten percent for the most dangerous cities in the nation. There, children are taught to duck close to the ground if they hear gunshots, and to run and hide as fast as they can if they see a car with no headlights creeping down the street at night. Their mothers fear for their lives whenever they step outside the door.
I know this because it was my life. It only occurred to me recently why my mother hated every hip-hop song that talked about shootings and dying in the middle of gunfire. Can the majority of people who blast the hip hop songs with these themes at parties even begin to imagine the feeling of always thinking about the cost of a funeral for your son or daughter?
Living in a place where many people tote guns and death as a strong possibility should not be celebrated in a hip hop song by supposed street warriors, and should not be sung by privileged Stanford students. Never forget that Rick Ross was a correctional officer, and mainstream hip-hop is mostly a performance for people who are fascinated by blackness.
Living in such a place should be seen for what it actually is. It is a home for many who just want to live normal lives and raise families. Mothers should not have to bury their kids, or teach them how not to get shot. Mortality is real; child mortality is real — and death by unexpected execution is an injustice.
About a year ago in Miami Gardens, an 11-year old girl was killed by a bullet in the comforts of her own home. She became the city’s 10th shooting victim in 11 days. In March, Qualecia James, mother of a 4-year old girl, was shot and killed while seven months pregnant. Children have been shot at parks while at play. And these are only the people who have had articles written about them.
Mainstream hip-hop artists and listeners must stand with children and families of color who are living in these areas. Hip-hop must stand with women of color who call these areas home because single-motherhood is far too commonplace in these neighborhoods.
Stanford students are implicated. I am implicated. We need to stop senselessly singing along with these songs about gun violence and instead think of the faces of the children, the women and my childhood best friend’s dad. Her siblings will not know their father, and her mom will now enter into single motherhood, again.
Hip-hop can be great, but I’m tired of the music glorifying something that is so real. If I ever wanted to start a family in my neighborhood, I would have a constant fear of death for my children, husband, mother, nephews, father, cousins, friends, grandparents and myself. I shouldn’t be reminded of that in every mainstream hip-hop song.
The fight for reproductive justice is in real time and mainstream hip-hop listeners need to take a stand.
Contact Mysia Anderson at mysia ‘at’ stanford.edu.