As famous rapper J.Cole once said, “Lemme take y’all back man as I do so well…”
It’s January 2016. You’re on the way to the gym to keep that New Year’s resolution you had made about being healthier. Driving in the car, Drake’s Hotline Bling is playing in the background. All of a sudden, a brief radio break comes on, where it is announced that Flint, Michigan has declared a state of emergency. For the last two years, the 100,000 residents in Flint have been unknowingly drinking contaminated water from the Flint River rather than relying on water from Detroit. This switch was justified as a cheaper alternative for the city. However, residents have been complaining about the color, taste, and smell of the water and have been reporting incidents of rashes, hair loss, increased irritability, slowed cognitive function, etc. At first, the state ignored these reports and insisted the water was safe, but eventually, Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan legislature were forced to acknowledge the high levels of toxic lead in the water. The water contamination has had such widespread, pernicious effects on the residents that, on January 16th, 2016, President Obama declared Flint in a state of emergency.
But there’s hope! Although the people in Flint had trouble getting needed media attention, hip-hop/rap artists have taken up the cause. In efforts to bring awareness to the situation, many rappers have stepped into the recording studio to voice their opinions about Flint. Therefore, the rap industry has been one of the platforms that has kept the national spotlight on Flint.
Rap and hip-hop were created out of the need for a non-traditional political platform, often vocalizing the troubles that (primarily) people of color, lower economic background, and other marginalized communities face. Rap is more than just music seeped in profanity and promiscuity. From gun violence to police brutality to environmental justice topics such as Flint, rap/ hip-hop music has served as an agent of social change and justice. It is a way to circumvent the bipartisan nature of politics and media and give emphasis to issues that should be on the nation’s mind. Rappers not only help to voice the struggles of their audience but also support their audience.
Going back to Flint as an example, rapper Diddy partnered with AQUAhydrate to donate $1 million worth of water bottles to Flint residents. Rapper Meek Mill also donated 60,000 water bottles to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. West Coast hip-hop legend, Snoop Dogg, flew out to Flint to meet with Mayor Weaver to talk about how he could help with the situation in Flint. The list could go on.
Here are some specific song references that rappers have made that include powerful lyrics about Flint:
Big Sean (ft. Eminem) – “No Favors”
“Don, Don, Don life, I do this for the crib, the D to Flint
Kids who get sick with lead, others get hit with the lead”
(Big Sean and Eminem are both Detroit natives, so the events happening in Flint have hit very close to home)
Big Sean – “Savage Time”
“Imma take that water from Flint, and Imma go up there to D.C.
Imma make the president drink, he wouldn’t even let it touch his sink”
Pusha T (ft. Jay Z) – “Drug Dealers Anonymous”
“America’s worst nightmares in Flint
Children of a lesser God when your melanin’s got a tint”
Logic – “America”
“Ain’t like Flint ain’t got clean water
Dirty politics never come clean”
Vic Mensa – “Shades of Blue”
“I read a story about a woman with her daughter in Flint
She got lead poisoning from showers in the morning
When the governor switched out the pipes to bring water in
To the city river cause he said they can’t afford to get clean water
So now the poor people get the short end
Of the stick…”
The Game (ft. Will.I.Am & Nas) – “The Ghetto”
“The blocks in Watts got crooked cops that frame the innocent
No different from Flint, Michigan”
Common (ft. Stevie Wonder) – “Black America Again”
“As dirty as the water in Flint, the system is
Is it a felony or misdemeanor”
This multi-million dollar music artists could and have helped support people who are disenfranchised as seen by the example of Flint. Therefore, I urge environmental justice communities to use rap/hip-hop music as a “social glue” that unites people and gives the unheard voices a voice. Use the music industry’s money to aid the implementation of environmental justice. Let rap put a national spotlight on environmental justice issues like food deserts, gentrification, landfill placement, etc. Rap is a valuable tool that needs to be weaponized. So let’s rap about all environmental justice issues!