Three hip-hop artists and social activists, Mahogany Jones, Khary Frazier and William “Will See” Copeland, discussed social change through hip-hop, including what hip-hop is to them and what it has the potential to be. Philosophy Prof. Derrick Darby led the discussion of the artists in a panel sponsored by the Maize Collective.
The artists began by speaking about how hip-hop shaped them, their Black identities and what the music has come to be to each of them. According to the panelists, while growing up, hip-hop served as a body of knowledge, learning from artists like Nas, Scarface and LL Cool J, among others.
“I definitely can say that, more so than anything in my life, even more so than family on a lot of levels, hip-hop impacted my interpretation of so much of what I’ve seen,” Frazier said. “If it wasn’t for the Source Magazine, I probably would be reading at a third-grade level.”
LSA junior Leah Schneck said she found the concept of hip-hop as a source of knowledge to be interesting.
“This idea of knowledge and where it comes from and how we interact with it and how it’s created (is unique for) me, as a white person; how do I get to interact with that, how can I learn from it, how can I support it?” Schneck said.
For Jones, hip-hop was much more than a learning experience. As Jones found her passion within hip-hop, it became a place to be validated, something she hadn’t truly felt before.
“The first thing that it did was it gave me license,” Jones said. “So, it gave me this license to say and be who I was without any apologies and it was the first, even more so than poetry, it was the first time I had encountered a culture, in American culture, that told me, without any questions, I’m right.”
Copeland mentioned his work, which includes environmental aid in Detroit, where he was raised. Oftentimes he finds people are willing to take action for environments outside their own, like rainforests, but don’t often act within their environments.
“There’s a certain dynamic that a lot of Black people feel in terms of, people are very excited to save the environment, but then when it comes to their environment, it’s filled with a lot of the other things that you named — the trash, the pollution, the litter,” Copeland said. “People ain’t so excited about saving their environment.”
The artists discussed what Black Lives Matter means to each of them, citing their objections to as well as approval of the movement.
“I question the phrase because the thought process is, who was saying we never mattered in the first place?” Frazier said. “On the flipside, for like my little sister, for some of my younger cousins, for some of the younger cats I know, it is a platform that gives them an avenue to stand up and fight.”
Jones touched on her reality as a female, Black hip-hop artist, sharing some of her thoughts on the topic through part of a song.
“I guess that’s why I find it difficult that I reside in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ how is the ‘home of the brave’ the home of the slave?” Jones said. “Turn around and made the Atlantic my mass grave then convinced the world that I was depraved.”
One of the big issues each artist discussed was the commodification of hip-hop, considering what hip-hop is now as opposed to what it used to be. LSA sophomore Lauren Weiss was surprised by this concept and how hip-hop is sold.
“What really struck me was the whole valuing culture and how rock ‘n’ roll is preserved but hip-hop really is not,” Weiss said. “It’s become a commodifiable thing.”
Frazier mentioned what is heard now on the radio is the culmination of a number of forces, many of which are unseen.
“If you see anything in front of you that is given to the masses, it is there for your consumption,” Frazier said. “(There’s) a reason why you have easier access to music or images or ideas that are more … destructive.”