Ever since our nation’s birth, race has been a white hot flame of contention. Yet while other facets of Americana have shied away from discussing race, hip-hop has continually brought the touchy subject out into the open.
From Eminem’s ascension to fame in the late ‘90s and early aughts, to the ongoing controversy surrounding the racial profiling that took place at Barney’s department store, which currently has a holiday collaboration with Jay-Z, America’s conversation about race has become closely intertwined with hip-hop.
Yet even for a genre that has embraced diversity and worked to create unity, there are still more than a few kinks to work out, and the battle between Brand Nubian co-founder Lord Jamar and tongue twisting emcee Yelawolf has shown that hip-hop, and America, still have a long way to go.
After some labeled him a homophobe early this year for the lyrics of his song “Lift Up Your Skirt,” Lord Jamar went on to state that white rappers are “guests in the house of hip-hop” during an interview with DJ Vlad. When Vlad TV sat down with Yelawolf less than two months later, he was asked about Lord Jamar’s comments, and his response only fanned the flames higher.
“In some ways that’s very true,” wrote Yelawolf on his Facebook page after the interview, going on to say that, “…since I’m paying rent to be here…I’m gonna need the landlord to come fix this plumbing issue cause all I see is your shit.” Although he repeatedly pays his respects to Lord Jamar, calling him one of “hip hops legends,” Yelawolf also takes advantage of the Constitution’s First Amendment, hurling his fair share of insults back at Lord Jamar and owning his “trailer park hood shit” style.
It didn’t take long before Lord Jamar took to Twitter to reply, and soon he had not only posted a list of white rappers he respects (MC Serch, RA the Rugged Man, Brother Ali, Apathy, Action Bronson, Asher Roth and Eminem), but also claimed that his ensuing angry comments about Yelawolf stemmed from Yelawolf’s diss rather than his opinion. Brother Ali even responded to one of the tweets, thanking Lord Jamar and Brand Nubian for taking him on tour and giving him a chance earlier in his career.
While hip-hop’s humble beginnings are undoubtedly black, the genre has since sunk itself deep into global culture. Yes, the projects are still a hotbed for emcees and deejays, but now you can also hear Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” blasted by cars rolling through the suburbs, as more and more turn to the often poetic form of expression as an outlet. For better or worse, hip-hop is now not only a black pastime, but an American pastime.
So what impact does Lord Jamar’s statements have on the legacy of hip-hop at large? For one, they will do little to deter those who truly love the genre, regardless of race or ethnicity; Eminem’s “Global Icon” award at the MTV EMA Music Awards proves that, even though it prompted another tirade from a displeased Lord Jamar. The real question is whether this type of open discussion of race proves to be a setback for hip-hop, which has done so much to help race relations in America. However, much like our nation, hip-hop is still young, and both will require time to work things out. Hopefully music can help speed up the process.