by Dr. Boyce Watkins
When I heard about the tragic death of Lord Infamous (aka Ricky Dunigan) from the group Three 6 Mafia, I was hurt, but not surprised. We’re used to rappers dying before the age of 50, since we’ve come to embrace a culture that only serves to deplete our mental and physical health at a very early age.
I don’t pretend to know how Lord Infamous died, and I certainly am not interested in stomping on the brother’s grave. But as a man who seeks to protect and empower young black men, I cannot remain silent as corporate America promotes a lifestyle that is leading them to a premature death.
Three 6 Mafia, among other things, was responsible for the popular song, “Sipping on some Syrup” (Sizzurp), which served to heavily promote “Purple drank” deep in the south. The drink is a mix of codeine and Sprite, which dulls the senses and causes numerous side effects. Some of the side effects include slowed heartbeat, shallow breathing, blurred vision, agitation and hallucinations.
I dare say that this is the drink that put the rappers Lil Wayne and Rick Ross in the hospital multiple times for seizures over the past two years. It is also the drink that killed the popular rapper Pimp C (aka Chad Butler) at the age of 34. If Purple Drank were a capitalist organization, corporate hip-hop artists would be the perfect spokesmen: They rap about the drink as if they own stock in the company, and it’s strange to see anybody spending this much time bragging about being high and drunk all the time.
Countless other artists have had their potential murdered by drug abuse, including the rapper Chris Kelly from the group Kriss Kross, DMX (an extraordinary rapper whose life has become a complete mess) and others. We can’t forget the rapper Nate Dogg, whose most famous line was “Smoke Weed Everyday.” He suffered strokes in his late thirties and found himself in a casket at the age of 41. Also, for every artist who dies or shows public symptoms of a drug problem, there are numerous others who suffer in silence, living on the brink of fatality.
Standing with the artists are the hundreds of thousands of young people who are on the receiving end of a barrage of marketing messages that encourage them to spend their lives in a liquor bottle or dope spot. “Purple Drank” is now very popular in the south, mainly because of messages being delivered to young people via death merchants like Clear Channel and record labels who profit from selling weaponized psychological genocide to young black men. When a black boy is born, there are two things built for him: A jail cell and a casket – That’s how prisons and record labels feed off of one another and get so rich in the process. Basically, we are like cattle being led to slaughter so someone else is able to eat good.
Anyone who thinks that this is just harmless music is naïve and obviously hasn’t studied marketing. The reason that corporations pay artists millions of dollars to wear their sneakers and clothing is because they know that whatever the artist does, millions of young people are going to emulate that act. Even the rapper 2 Chainz (the college-educated, 36-year old man who dresses like a teenager and deliberately lowers his IQ for the public) stated that hip-hop artists are better at selling sneakers than the athletes who actually work in them.
Also understanding the marketing power of hip-hop artists, young rapper Chief Keef recently boasted that his next album is going to raise the murder rate in Chicago. These artists, some of whom are a lot like highly-intelligent hookers, know their power to influence the minds of young people. The problem is that they have been taught to worship the dollar bill so much that they are willing to terrorize their own people in order to buy a nicer car.
When I had a debate at Brown University with my friend Michael Eric Dyson, one of the points that Michael brought up is the importance of preserving artistic freedom of expression. I agree, since I also enjoy expressing myself in a free and unfiltered manner. But the problem is that many of the rappers who are owned by corporate America have almost no artistic freedom, since they are compensated for sharing a message that ultimately serves to destroy and enslave the black community.
Independent rappers like Ice Cube and Immortal Technique also engage in free and sometimes offensive expression, but it usually comes from a place that is relatively unpolluted by an oppressive obsession with no-holds-barred capitalism. You notice the difference in their music, which seeks to encourage black men to be stronger rather than weaker, smarter rather than dumb, free rather than incarcerated. If you’re reminding brothers to get high and drunk and kill each other, you are pushing them to become worthless, lazy, self-destructive addicts who are ultimately no good for their community. These are not the kinds of black men on which you can build a nation and these are the black men who are built by corporate racists.
Some make the argument that commercialized hip-hop didn’t create the ills which exist in the black community. They say something like this: “There was violence, sexism and drug abuse before hip-hop even began and artists aren’t the only ones promoting it.”
OK, if that’s true, then fine: OK, hip-hop artists and their corporate overseers didn’t create poverty, violence and drug use. But while we can certainly say that they didn’t CREATE these structural problems, one can never deny that they are PROMOTING AND GLORIFYING them. If I murder someone, I can’t go before the judge and say, “Hey your honor, I wasn’t the one who invented homicide and I’m not the only one who’s killed someone.” Instead, I’d be held accountable for my choices.
As Immortal Technique expressed in an eloquent manner during a recent interview, most corporate-owned artists are incentivized to be 100% gangster, 100% of the time, which robs them of the ability to share a well-rounded human experience. Their participation in this embarrassing minstrel show is being called out by people around the country, including a persistent group of parents in Chicago who have been protesting local Clear Channel stations. This work is important for the economic future of black America, because the more black men we can keep out of prisons, graves and unemployment lines, the more we can keep in the homes to raise their children.
This minstrel show is what led us to kill Lil Wayne’s endorsement deal with Mountain Dew after he chose to disrespect the legacy of Emmett Till. I don’t regret our actions one bit, since I love my kids a lot more than I love a hot beat. The point is that our beloved hip-hop artists cannot be allowed to be used as corporate tools of oppression, and if we care about our children, we will take out all of those who seek to do harm to those we care about. That’s what independent black people do, which means we might also have to take down a few selfish slaves in the process.
The death march of hip-hop will come to a stop when all of us demand it. Until that time, we are going to be inundated with one tragedy after another, and the most repetitive letters we’re going to hear in our community are going to be “D.E.A” and “R.I.P.” Call me naive, but I believe black men can be better than that. Let’s stand up against ignorance.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series called Commercialized Hip-Hop, the Gospel of Self-Destruction. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.