In 2008, three police officers were acquitted of the murder of Sean Bell – who they had shot dead two years prior outside a strip club in Queens, New York, as he left his bachelor party the night before he was to be married. Despite firing over 50 bullets at Bell, who was unarmed, and wounding two of his friends, the officers were deemed not guilty in his shooting death. Following the verdict, rapper The Game responded with the song 911 Is A Joke (Cop Killa) – dedicating it along with his track My Life to Bell.
In a statement ahead of the track’s release, The Game said that he was “outraged and speaking out for my generation that are afraid to speak out against police brutality and murder… I grew in Compton and had to stay silent because of the fear that was prevalent in my community, but now that I have a voice I’m speaking out.” What he found, however, was that it became difficult to find artists who were willing to speak up with him. In recently resurfaced interview footage following the release of the song, the rapper is seen crying as he describes the disheartening experience of being unable to convince people to collaborate with him on the track for fear of speaking out: “I reached out to a lot of rappers and a lot of them… I just got … excuses. Nobody wanted to stand up… We don’t have a problem putting out a mixtape and dissing each other, but when it comes to the problems that affect us like police brutality, excessive force… Nobody wants to stand up for that.” As the interview progresses, he says that he doesn’t want to be a part of the hip-hop community anymore because no one wanted to be vocal anymore.
In the time since the interview, a number of artists have spoken out, be it through statements or music, on the issues facing black people in the United States, as well as throwing their support behind the Black Lives Matter movement. From TINK, Immortal Technique, Killer Mike, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and more, the list is ever expanding, unfortunately prompted by the ever-expanding list of victims. Rappers and industry heavyweights are throwing their voices behind the movement, even calling out each other when it comes to ignorant and misguided comments or lack of involvement.
Recently, following the release of his video for 16 Shots, which details the graphic, violent shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2014, Vic Mensa commented on Lil Wayne distancing himself from the movement when asked to comment by a Reddit user. “I think it’s a very ignorant, selfish and isolated position to take… even someone as big as Wane is just a black man minus all of his ice and fame, and can be treated the same way.”