While the media covering Hip Hop is busy obsessing about Meek Mills’ accusations about the authenticity of Drake’s writing and Future’s dousing an audience with Sprite, Wale is lending his support to First Lady Michelle Obama’s latest initiative.
Wale Reaching Higher
Another Hip Hop artist making moves worth talking about is Wale. This DC native has teamed up with none other than the First Lady of The United States to promote her reach higher initiative which aims to improve America’s educational objectives and “make education cool again.” First Lady Obama was joined by Wale to explain the goals of the initiative and to speak to college bound youth about the importance of education.
The First Lady’s initiative is significant especially as it relates to the Black community because if one were to conduct a survey they would find that even for the upcoming generation, there is still a lot of ignorance surrounding higher education. First Lady Obama is a first generation college grad as her parents were not college educated. It is true that there are more Black youth enrolling in college than before but they still only amount to about 56% of high school graduates and then only about 20% of that 56% actually make it to graduation. So from high school to college the numbers actually break in half twice. That’s not that impressive.
First Lady Obama’s initiative seeks to address education from the perspective of mentally preparing youth for higher education. This is one of the prevailing issues in the Black community. There are many prevailing myths and a basic ignorance about higher education in the Black community. I, myself, can remember attending undergrad with students whom their goal seemed to have been reached by simply being accepted. For other students the culture shock and sudden demand for performance that, depending on where in their hometown they received their high school education, they had not experienced before crushes them under poor grades or feelings of discouragement. Something other cultures seem to know that we, in the Black community, ignore is that preparing young people to be college graduates starts a decade before they ever get there. Black youth need their intellects stimulated, engaged, encouraged and challenged. It is baffling how many parents will go above and beyond to see that their kids play sports and train hard to be good at them but don’t apply the same level of support for intellectual activity. The brain is a muscle like any other on the human body and the more you train it, the stronger it is. Also, Black youth are often fed this belief that if they go to college there is some Wiz that they’re gonna meet on the yellow brick road who will grant them economic success. We have to be transparent with our youth (especially the forthcoming generations) and let them know that entry to college and even matriculation from college is not the end of the journey. It is, in fact, the end of the beginning of the journey. Black college graduates have to be taught how to use their degrees when they graduate and how to analyze whether the career path they desire demands advanced education.
Hip Hop as a Sociocultural Force
It’s par for the course to see a celebrity endorse an initiative or become spokesperson for a cause. We instinctively know that it is good public relations and part of their job to an extent. However, Hip Hop culture bears a legacy of social consciousness, community engagement and activism. It’s not just good PR, it’s part of the heritage. We often forget that. But underneath all of the drama and sensational media stories, we can always find some Hip Hop artist somewhere involved in an initiative with their old community or some issue for which they are passionate.
I can still to this day remember Self-Destruction. All those artists coming together (despite what they rap about) to spread a message against violence and crime. I remember Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y. record and the message it carried about respecting women and coming together as a community. One of my favorite songs is by Lil Wayne (who I’m not necessarily a fan of) Tie My Hands when he spoke in response to the tragedy in New Orleans. Young Jeezy’s The Recession stayed playing in my car as we all felt the effects of the economy crashing. Hip Hop always the social climate and the artists have always spoken out…and not just through their music.
Wale joining forces with First Lady Obama in her Reach Higher initiative bears talking about because within the past few years their have been discussions in the Hip Hop community that have danced around a subject that should be addressed head on. That subject is the rapper profile. I’m all for nostalgia and respect for the golden age but time moves forward and things do change. If we can recall it was around the early 2000’s that we saw backpack rappers move to the spotlight. They were these intellectual, socially conscious artists that veered from the formula that was popular at the time to instead include solid content in their music such as Common and Kanye. A polarization between them and the gritty street produced content that the industry had began to capitalize on was made. Their were comments and discussions about authenticity and manhood that followed. But, in truth, it was just the rising of another generation of Hip Hop artists.
Changing Hip Hop Demographics
American consumption of media dictates what the media distributes because like most of American institutions they have been swallowed up by the monster of capitalism. Justifying its means by the ends. So, of course, they feed us what we most want to see and hear as long as is it isn’t objective and allows us to think for ourselves. So its no big surprise that we don’t see as much press about Hip Hop artists doing things like this as opposed to the mind-dumbing drama that is feed to us in constant rotation.
So despite the fact that the reality of Hip Hop artists has changed (as they always do and always will) we only see the same regurgitated stereotypes that dictate to public opinion that all rappers are thugs from the street who had not other options and fell into the streets for survival. The era of that narrative is pretty much over. The streets ain’t the same; the game ain’t the same; and the people aren’t the same.
This is important to note because Wale like a large number of other Hip Hop artists has attended college. Despite the grittier street lyrics and references to selling drugs that has become a staple in rap narratives, not all these young men and women are stupid or uneducated. In truth, the profile for what a rapper looks like and where he has come from has changed significantly within the past 10-15 years. Many of the most well known rappers today aren’t from the era when Black people had severely limited access to higher education and had to resort to illegal measures to make ends meet. These rappers aren’t from the era when attending college seemed like an unattainable possibility. However, that doesn’t mean these artists haven’t struggled as much as their predecessors or that the issues or that they haven’t experienced the street life. Even Tupac admitted to have sold drugs for only brief time before the older dudes on the block stopped him.
It’s important that we, in the Hip Hop community, remember the truth about our community and not allow it to be dictated to us by the mainstream. Going to college doesn’t erase street credibility or stand as some symbol for someone who has it better than the dudes in the trap. Attending college as a means for survival comes with its own share of obstacles and struggles. And it all inevitably leads back to the same system of oppression that have shaped the streets. It is important that Hip Hop artists speak out on these issues as well because they reflect the changing landscape of the listeners and members of the Hip Hop community. It is equally important to highlight and showcase those artists who are contributing to the dialogue and putting action behind making a difference.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man