Here’s the Real Conversation We Should Be Having About Violence in Hip-Hop
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Here’s the Real Conversation We Should Be Having About Violence in Hip-Hop

Yes, there are systemic factors, but Black men killing each other needs to end. And it’s on us to do something about it.

While enjoying lunch at a South Los Angeles Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles Monday afternoon, PnB Rock was shot and killed during a robbery. The Philadelphia-bred rapper, born Rakim Hasheem Allen, was 30 years old and is survived by two daughters.

There’s speculation about what led to the attack. Some have assumed an Instagram post inadvertently tipped off the assailants to PnB Rock’s location (the rapper's girlfriend published a geotagged photo to her story reel prior to the shooting). It seems like the Los Angeles Police Department agrees. Some have gone as far as blaming her for the death of her children’s father.

People have been concocting robbery schemes since long before social media’s advent. It’s disturbing to place the blame on this woman's shoulders for posting a picture of fried chicken and tagging the location to what is, in some ways, a historic landmark. Whether the people who ambushed this man discovered his whereabouts from Instagram or not, it’s bleak to think eating in a public place and enjoying time with your family while engaging in social media can become fatal. Fact of the matter is, nobody deserves to be subjected to violence in this way. In our discourse about tragic instances like this one, we need to get a bit more honest about the unique forms of violence rappers and people in our communities are subject to. These are Black men dying over petty beefs and jewelry. That ain’t it.

When the subject of violence amongst Black men is brought up, too many people seem to disregard its gravity. Kendrick Lamar broached the subject earlier this year in “The Heart Part 5,” dubbing the ever-growing bleakness among this cohort as ingrained in “the Culture.” The loudest voices in the room talk about how rappers need to be more careful, keep their heads on a swivel, and “check-in,” deploying language that insinuates, whatever happens, happens because the game is just the game. It doesn’t have to be that way though. It shouldn’t.

It is true that it's best to take all precautionary measures to protect yourself whenever possible. That goes for whether you’re involved in a genre of music where the specter of violence has almost always been present or whether you’re completely isolated from it. The beautiful thing about hip-hop is its observational eye and confessional messaging. In most cases, save for horrorcore or whatever, the things you hear in hip-hop are genuine depictions of Americana.

Hip-hop is granularly about the lives of Black people living in Black neighborhoods, but unlike any other genre of music, it is honest about what this country truly is. If you were an alien from a distant galaxy and listened to The Strokes, Madonna, Whitney Houston, and even Bruce Springsteen’s entire discographies, you’d learn less about America than what you’d comprehend after one listen of Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

America is a distinctly violent empire with more guns than human beings, built on brutality, selfishness, and the power of a dollar. Even though Black people have been subject to all of the above by our oppressors, we are Americans, and many of us have adopted these tactics of the oppressor for survival. In order to tell the whole truth about cycles of violence within the Culture, you cannot separate the fact that a particularly American flavor of poverty, toxic masculinity, pridefulness, and infinite access to machines only designed to take life are at the very root of the issue. However, this form of hostile survival tactics are contemptible under any circumstances. While there are a myriad of explanations, I struggle with landing on any real justification.

We’ve come to accept way too much when it comes to violence. Some things aren’t worth explaining away or justifying, but rather searching for solutions.

When Black-on-Black crime is discussed as a talking point to legitimize police violence, it undoubtedly dehumanizes Black people—Black men in particular. Proximity crime is a natural conclusion in a violent land; white people kill white people, Latinx people kill Latinx people, and so on and so forth. However, there's something amiss here. The type of violence that’s implied when someone mentions Black-on-Black crime in good faith is hyper-specific—like surging homicide rates among young Black men. There has to be a middle ground between using statistical figures to legitimize over-policing in Black neighborhoods—essentially treating them like they are colonies within a nation—and coming to the conclusion that the kind of violence we’re talking about is not alarming or unique in any way, because it is. Anytime somebody is murdered in cold blood, especially in front of their family, is a cause for concern. That’s word to PnB, word to Pop, word to Nipsey, word to Dolph, word to Trouble, word to Snootie, word to a list of names and monikers that could fill a memorial wall front and back.

Respectability politics has no place in a discussion about violence in the Culture. It’s silly to think that anything from intraracial conflict to sagging pants or tattoos should have any bearing on how we are treated by law enforcement, hiring managers, or whomever the fuck. (Ironically, Kendrick fell into this trap with his electrifying-yet-misguided 2015 single, “The Blacker the Berry.” Guess you live and you learn.) Even fancy suits and Ivy League degrees aren’t guaranteed to save you from being perceived as a threat by white supremacist law enforcement. Earnestly addressing concerns over senseless violence does not fall into the category of respectability politics. Respectability politics is chiefly concerned with the white gaze and white people’s acknowledgment of our humanity. Conversations about violence centering Black people, with Black people’s health being the chief concern, could not be further away from this.

In this brutal country, gun violence is an epidemic that we sadly continue to get more accustomed to every day and, in some ways, become desensitized to. Why exactly is it that videos of murders—active and the aftermath—are plastered on social media? That’s not normal. We’ve come to accept way too much when it comes to violence. Some things aren’t worth explaining away or justifying, but rather searching for solutions. And there are people on the ground doing just that, like Cred in Chicago, the Urban Peace Institute in Los Angeles, and these seven in Philly. If you want to stop listening to stupid-ass writers like me and go make a difference, get off the internet and put in some work with an anti-violence organization in your city.

The Culture is important, but in reality the only thing that truly matters is people’s health and safety—it’s gotta be protected at all costs, people got families out here. That’s how you really survive in America.