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Photo By Dren Pozhegu

“You’re dying, black women like you are dying. HIV is your killer, document that.”Girlfriends

Different topics, different times but the problem is the same, African-American men and women are dying. This is a snippet from the television show, Girlfriends. Two actors on the show are discussing the lack of purpose in one’s documentary. The male actor poses a question, “how is it going to help us?”. Even though he is focusing his work on HIV awareness, watching Baltimore in an uproar due to the lack of justice for Freddie Gray draws a similar parallel. It is not just this one incident that fuels the rage of the city, it is the idea that our men and women are dying. Whether you agree with the methods of the individuals in the city or not, you need to see that we as a people have lost our voice, we have lost our way.

As artists, we have an innate ability to express our thoughts and emotions effortlessly. We thrive when we perfect our craft over time. But I think the issue lies in our lack of effort into using our talent for a good purpose instead of attempting to reach some false sense of fame.

Read those words carefully and slowly. Allow them to empower you and emancipate you from the weak art you have allowed to take seed in your heart and mind. It is so powerful that sometimes even I feel frustrated with my own art. How can we expect to know and use our voice in times of need when we never use our voice to illicit change when things are seemingly okay?

I miss the value in music, the songs that somehow made me feel empowered as a queen, as a beautiful African-American woman. Maybe the frustration I feel with our art in this generation is what is causing my soul so much pain. I have a love-hate relationship with purposeful music because as much as I enjoy Fetty Wap’s, “Trap Queen”, I think I am in need more of songs like “Unpretty” by TLC.

I know my soul is dying without this kind substance. Where successful men and women put out work that make me stop walking, run the song back and remember the message. TLC does this in the song by reminding young women to love who they are. And yes, this may not fix the issues in Baltimore, but the point is the same. We need something to inspire us to be proud of who we are and allow that pride to transfer over into wanting to find our voice.

But don’t get me wrong, there are parts of me that enjoy different kinds of music without a real message. Ringing loud in our ears, trap music has permeated the music industry and what seems to be hip-hop. I have nothing against that kind of music, but I think as a whole we have to acknowledge those who are rapping about a life they do not live. And if you are not living that life, I pose the question, what message are you sending about the black community and it’s involvement in illegal activity? This is not meant to be a rant but I need us to be informed about the music and art we support and how it has the ability to affect us.

ron downes

Baltimore continues to burn and riot and as a writer, it is crippling to be at a loss of words. To evoke a change in others perspectives of the African-American community, we need to start right at home with our own voices, we have to change ourselves. Producing art is only half the battle but I am learning how to challenge myself and those around me to create more, create better.

I think Ron Downes Jr. is tapping into the kind of creation our souls need with his upcoming short film, “Color Blind”. The teaser shockingly rocked my world and brought tears to my eyes. I became instantly more aware. Frustration creeping in as I watched the teaser, I realize I have finally found the kind of substance I deeply desire. The teaser highlights modern day racism between two friends, one Caucasian and one African-American. His work has fueled me in ways I can’t begin to describe. I heard his voice in this teaser, loud and abundantly clear.

As artists I feel we have a natural obligation to utilize our talent in a worthwhile way. Do you remember when Jadakiss and Anthony Hamilton used “Why?” to describe political and societal issues that we ignore or simply do not care for. Or when Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake used “Where Is The Love?” to spread awareness about our lack of love for one another and ice cold hearts. Notice how both songs that are over 10 years old posed questions to the audience, asking us to wake up and realize the issues that surround us. I am intrigued by the collaborations of sorts, different artists with noticeably variant sounds are able to showcase something positive.

Kendrick Lamar has touched on our need for positive music especially in hip-hop. Almost elusive, To Pimp A Butterfly was beautifully executed. Some of the naysayers say it isn’t the greatest because of how he changed his sound up for the project, but I listened to this wholeheartedly and feel it is not what we expected but it is damn sure what we needed.

“What money got to do with it
When I don’t know the full definition of a rap image?
I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it.
Institutialized, I keep runnin’ back for a visit.”

They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs.
Make it they promise to fuck with you.
No condom, they fuck with you.
Obama say, ‘What it do?'”

tpab

My point is not to recreate the music that we already have but to challenge the way we approach our craft. It is not supposed to be about making a come up or reaching some ambiguous level of success. Our craft should also have some purpose to inspire the world and just maybe alter someone else’s perspective and mentality around us.

Listening to New Jersey’s own, Soulfull, I was reminded how lyrics can really stir up your thoughts, putting your mind in overdrive. One track on his first project HOMEMADE is what got me thinking, not at first but after listening more and more, I was moved:

“We floating under our hopes like slaves shackled on boats.”

I hesitate because I do not fully know how to approach this line. It’s like we are drowning, truly suffering in ways that is not the same way slaves did, but is almost more frightening now as we lack ambition, lack the drive needed to achieve our own definition of success. We want more, but tend to do less.

“& my people matter, I should be the only dope in the streets.”

Baltimore is fuming, saturated with utter anger, and riled up with aggression over this case and others too similar to it. To them, black men are being exterminated by those sworn to protect us. As they riot and burn what is left of their homes, they are scrambling to be heard. It took pain for the community as a whole to find their voice. They are screaming from the rooftops asking our nation to hear them, to notice their cries for help and words for change.

How can we hear them if we are padding the sound waves with garbage and scream this is OUR art. We are in control much more than we think. We don’t have to settle for just being artists, we can strive to be exceptional innovators.

“This is my hood I’ma rep, to the death of it
’til everybody come home, little niggas is grown
Hoodrats, don’t abortion your womb, we need more warriors soon
Sip from the star sun and the moon
In this life of police chases street sweepers and coppers
Stick-up kids with no conscience, leaving victims with doctors”

Originally released in 2002, Nas’ “One Mic” is powerful and still somehow sends chills up and down my spine. More than just lyrically sound, his personal message was needed. Rappin’ about what he saw around him, numerous times he refers to the power of the microphone. He uses his ability as a platform to speak on topics that may have otherwise go unheard. Revamping what it means to put out quality music, I somehow cannot help but to feel so attached to this track a decade later. I appreciate the music, I appreciate Nas.

Not only do I appreciate the musicians, even for a second, who choose to use their voice to speak on topics that are important to them and the world, I appreciate the voices that are not yet in the spotlight. As a whole, we need to unite our voices and and begin to care more about our communities. Organizations such as Care More based out of the Tri-State focuses on community involvement and empowering those around us through activities and events. Filled with joy, I see that the founder Mercedes Smith has found her voice.

I challenge you if you’re an artist to change how you view your craft. Even if it is only temporary, I challenge you to do something that will inspire others to change their world. Once we all understand the power we possess in our crafts, the sooner we get our voice back.

Find your voice and finally be heard.