Politics, Protests and Pandemic: Hip-Hop Notables Speak On the Unrest
By Stereo Williams
America is in a state of crisis.
That's easy rhetoric; the kind of hyperbole that gets tossed around in turbulent times. But the year 2020 has been rife with minor and major disasters that have reshaped life in the United States in ways unforeseen. The global coronavirus pandemic exploded in March, sending the economy into tailspin, overwhelming the country's hospitals and exposing harrowing disparities in American healthcare.
With COVID-19 ravaging Black and brown communities disproportionately, the scourge of racism remained firmly fixed in our national consciousness and our collective backyards; as the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; along with the shooting of Jacob Blake and others reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and forced America to have a national conversation about white supremacy and what it has wrought on the world.
And amidst all of the chaos, the spectacle of an election year as unfolded. With a sitting President who seems intent on fanning the flames of racism; while also proving himself incompetent in how to manage a health crisis.
ROCK THE BELLS spoke with some of Hip-Hop's most notable voices about these vexing times, as these artists grapple with the politics, pandemic and protests that have defined this tumultuous year.
Ice Cube on the police and politics...
“This is America as usual. This is why we've got a problem."
"[Police shootings of Black citizens] happen every week somewhere. It’s the reason why we can’t take our foot of the gas or forget, or go back to ‘normal.’ Whatever that means. I don’t want to go back to what it was. Who wants to go back? It’s about making a new reality for ourselves. And now is the perfect time.
You can't go back and you can't be scared of the moment.
A lot of people have been trying to talk me down from making demands of the Democrats. We've got a Contract With Black America out there and everybody is telling me 'Now is not the time. we've got to get Trump out of there and then we can go ask.' Nah, that ain't how it works. You ask now and then. Get him to commit now when he needs you. After he gets in, he don't need you."
"The Black vote is the most important vote. Now is the time to ask for what you want. You won't be more important than you are between now and November."
Montsho-Eshe on the emotional toll...
"I’m a very positive person."
"I like uplifting things. I try to do my part to bring some light. But these days are hard and I have to fight through.
It’s been mind-blowing. It’s been very sad. I literally told my daughter that I feel like we’re living in a twilight zone. There’s so much stuff going on right now. The pandemic, racial injustice, our country is so divided. So much going on, to take in. And you still have to deal with everyday life and function in our ‘new normal.’ I feel for my people. I feel for humanity. It’s just been sad. One of my dear friends said he just punched the wall in his house because he was so angry. It’s working on people — mentally and physically and spiritually and emotionally.
COVID put a hold on everything; and there have been days when my daughter and I just sit and talk about what's going on the world — the Democratic and Republican conventions, and politics. She's eligible to vote next year and we're talking about that and what she wants to do in her career as a model. But she's learning how to drive, and I go through the 'When you get pulled over, here's what you do.' The same thing people tell their sons, I have to tell my daughter."
Chuck D on the youth taking the lead...
“When you saw the young energy respond to what happened to George Floyd, that was a tipping point."
"Young people were immediately like ‘There’s too many names on this list for it to be a coincidence.' So what did young people do? They marched and protested in their local area, which was totally different. And they said ‘We need police reform right here and right now. They demanded this.
The biggest difference between [now] and 1989/1990 is that people have been born and people have died in the interim. That’s why we can’t say ‘we went through this before, why doesn’t it seem like things are changing?’ It’s a different mix of people. That’s why you have to be constantly aggressive at attacking the ‘isms;’ the systemic ills of racism and sexism and so on. You have to always teach and go at it. And I think when people lose sight of that, they also lose sight of the gaps in generations and [there's no] transfer of information.
But young people have said 'this is a tipping point. And even if we don't know what happened back then, we know what's happening right now.'"
Speech of Arrested Development on survival...
“For me, this has been a decades-long fight. It’s a constant reminder of how backwards our system has been towards Black people. And I mean, the educational system all the way to the policing system. Obviously, the police have a viewpoint of us and it keeps being shown. My feeling has been that we have to start educating people, especially new generations of Americans, [about] the true history of America. So that more value can be placed on Black lives."
And I know that It could be me next. It could be my son next. This lack of value is traumatic."
"I have been teaching my kids to literally obey everything the police officer tells you. Because the first order of action is to live and the second order is to protest and change the system we’re under. I encourage every brother and sister to obey every single order, and take it slower and slower. Just to live.
That’s not justifying what they’re doing to us. I’m not justifying it, whatsoever. I’m just striving to get us through Point A, which is survive."
Yo-Yo on feeling exhausted...
"When George Floyd happened, it took me a long time to even watch the video.
"I don’t think I’ve seen the whole video to this day. It’s because I grew up in South Central L.A. and I’m just so sick of it. My stomach couldn’t even stomach it. I’ve already suppressed all of the deaths I’ve had to witness and all the friends I’ve said goodbye to, just growing up in the hood.
When this happened, and I saw just a little clip, it gave me horrible feeling. I felt like I’ve been fighting for so long that, in the beginning, I didn’t feel like fighting. But I’d never seen my dad cry about something like this. He’s a Vietnam vet; he was in the Navy. And he was calling me like ‘Yolanda, I wanna do something.’ One minute, he’s like ‘you guys gotta really vote’ and then I heard him crying. He was like ‘I’m sick of this shit.’ That gave me an awakening.
"I clung to Maxine Waters when she and I became friends. People in leadership around me in California, I cling to that. So that I can be a part of the number when people are making decisions. I’m a person who’s speaking for my community. But I'd never heard my Dad cry."
Ceelo Green on staying ready...
“I still feel faithful and hopeful that, no matter how cliché this sounds, change will come. But I’m also a realist. And I realize that very seldom is there a peaceful transition of power. More than likely, we may have to engage in a war for peace. So preparedness is the mandate that I issue out to all under the sound of my voice. To be informed, because information is the truest form of equality. Which is why they burn books and burn down libraries and things of that nature."
"I think it’s an atrocity. It’s so much more than just 'unfortunate' that the value of life is still so low."
"It's little to none.
It has to be a revolution of the mind. I believe – [even with] this quarantine ordeal – I look at it as an opportunity. Someone could easily say 'That’s easy for you to say, you’re rich, famous and living in a big house somewhere.’ But in reality, that could never exempt me or anybody from anything that’s going on. I can’t bet money that they’re gonna recognize me at the red light!"