Hip-hop emerged directly from living conditions in the Bronx in the 1970s. As in Durham, urban renewal and the construction of a highway—the Cross Bronx Expressway—led to the decimation of the South Bronx and the displacement of mostly Black and Brown residents. White flight and socioeconomic disparities led to increased crime and poverty rates. Black and Latino youth used the limited resources they had to create what we know as hip-hop. 

Although the music in the ‘70s and early ‘80s was typically upbeat and intended for parties, there were also songs with socially conscious messages. More than 40 years later, hip-hop has produced many songs across its sub-genres that document the racial and sociopolitical ills of America. 

The late radical poet and playwright Amiri Baraka reminds us that “Negro music and Negro life in America were always the result of a reaction to, and an adaptation of, whatever America Negroes were given or could secure for themselves.” Thus, hip-hop is a direct descendent of Black American music, from Negro spirituals to jazz, blues, soul, and funk.

It is not just celebrities or mainstream rap artists who use rap and hip-hop as a form of expression and a means toward resistance. Right here in North Carolina, independent local artists have relied on the culture not only to grieve the unjustified killings of Black folk at the hands of the police but also to resist systemic racism and evoke change. 

Troya: “Black Boy” 

Representing Wilson, Troya’s “Black Boy” is a love letter to little Black boys, reminding them and the world of their value. The song begins with a chilling gospel-like plea, “Said I need ya to make it back home.” Troya offers advice to two different Black teens who are making vast decisions. The music video juxtaposes their seemingly different lives, displaying the familiar “good kid” and “street kid” narrative. We’re led to believe that the “street kid” will lose his life to gun violence, but instead, Troya chooses an alternate ending that’s a reality for many: the killings of unarmed Black children whose unlimited potential is cut short by the police. Knowing how often Black children are targeted in general—the school-to-prison pipeline, stop-and-frisk, mass incarceration, and so on—the repetition of Troya’s warnings evokes an emotional response. 

Kaze4letters: “Wake Up.”

“Wake Up.” comes from Kaze4letters, a Triangle hip-hop veteran and the host of 97.9 The Hill’s “Inside Voices with Kevin ‘Kaze’ Thomas.” The new single is a dedication to victims of police brutality. “To know the history of the Black experience in America and to come to terms with that reality in 2020, you cannot ignore the three most recent cases of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd,” the multi-hyphenate rapper says. “In this moment, silence is compliance.”

Ray Emmanuel: “Black” | @Rayemmanuel

At age 15, Ray Emmanuel is fully aware of the racial and social injustices Black people have experienced. The Louisburg rapper is heavily influenced by Fayetteville’s own J. Cole, and like his idol, he’s been super intentional about his messaging. After the deaths of Arbery and Floyd, Ray posted tribute freestyles on his Instagram to his 142K followers, rapping, “Look at me in my eyes tell me what you see/Do you see a Black dude that was running the streets?/ Ever since I was a kid I was running for dreams/Never knew that running can be the reason that I was deceased.” Later, he takes on the cliché that all lives matter: “Yeah we know all lives matter, but why the lives treated different be the lives that’s Blacker?”

Eternal the MC & Shame: “Enough”

This collaborative single from Eternal the MC and Shame is a direct response to the racial climate of today’s America. The song was commissioned by TW2 Inc., a nonprofit music-and-art-education satellite program in Raleigh. “When I saw the footage of George Floyd, it was by accident, but I was enraged,” says said Eternal, who was recently featured in the INDY’s story on Cypher Univercity. “I felt like this is enough. TW2 Inc. wanted us to focus on our communities. That’s when I decided to focus on Raleigh.” On his verse, he expresses his disappointment in Raleigh’s government, naming the mayor and the police chief specifically. Shame, meanwhile, says his late brother’s spirit encouraged him to speak up. “I felt my brother speaking to me, telling me not to give up and to speak on a subject that definitely needed to be spoken on,” he says.

“Black AF” presented by Carolina Waves

Mir.I.Am (Miriam Tolbert), founder of the award-winning local entertainment platform Carolina Waves, curated and produced a cypher demonstrating the talent of North Carolina artists. The socially conscious cypher features rappers 2FLY KNG, TAGEM, Lena Jackson, and Jooselord. “I wanted to put together a group of talented individuals to timestamp this moment in history,” says Mir.I.Am. “Our generation needs to document the moment musically and on record, like previous generations did during their fight for civil rights and equality, and against war and police brutality. I’ve pulled together a specific roster of artists whose music addresses the injustices we face as Black people to speak to the cause.” W

Her Take: On Carolina Hip Hop is a new recurring column by Kyesha Jennings.

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