That’s J. Cole, Bas and his Dreamville army in Ferguson, Missouri.
Cole’s appearance in the cultural and racial hotbed comes only 48 hours after his highly-charged, emotional tribute to Michael Brown, “Be Free.” There was no publicity-contrived angle. He brought no news cameras with him, though in today’s world it’s not like he would need to. An announcement of his arrival was never spread to the masses. He just showed up.
The same day Cole’s record hit the net, B.o.B. let loose a string of tweets best categorized as ill-advised and poorly thought-out. “So Antwon will shoot 12 ppl in a week and y’all be like ‘FREE TWON’,” he said. “A cop shoot a nigga and y’all riot…ok…#facts.” There were other tweets about betting people won’t overthrow the government and how of the current wave of aggression will not result in anything past tweets.
Of course, whether by his label or Bobby Ray himself, the tweets were deleted.
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates addressed the growing sentiment that has somehow became the prime contrarian argument for the Ferguson riots: that Blacks don’t care about Black-on-Black crime, only when a White person is culprit do they invoke the victim, “woe-is-me” stance. You know, almost as if there’s some sick, twisted enjoyment in watching intra-racial fatalities or the still very-relevant scenes of violence in Chicago and other parts of the country play out like lost episodes of The Wire. Equally as important, Bobby Ray’s assertion all people would do is tweet is a Grade A slap in the face to those actually in Ferguson putting their lives and safety on the line.
The short-lived tweet ignored people and voices like Antonio French, Tef Poe, Maya Aaten-White and those organizing voter registration drives at ground zero, doing everything in their power to inflict change and promote positivity in a situation enveloped by deep-seeded disdain.
B.o.B.’s tweets did nothing to push the discussion forward, only piss gasoline on an already-uncontrollable cultural blaze.
Cole showing up in Ferguson was a power move, however, if for no other reason it confirmed he actually gave a damn and realized his purpose and his music’s purpose are valued well beyond radio spins or singles on iTunes. While clamoring for names like Jay Z, Kanye West* and more to address Michael Brown and Ferguson – which still may happen – the counter-argument is this. Anyone attaching themselves to the Hip-Hop culture shouldn’t beg an artist to speak out on anything unless he or she is 100% committed. And for what it’s worth, Cole, Killer Mike, Jeezy and David Banner have all spoke their piece and represented the genre more than admirably.
At its best in situations like these, Hip-Hop and the leaders in it become not only Black America’s finest publicist, but the audience it embraces far beyond racial lines, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and socioeconomic privileges. At its best, rap is the vehicle for change in generations who became sick and tired of being sick and tired.
At its worst, well, that’s easy. Hip-Hop’s played the role of America’s red-headed stepchild since the days when NWA scared the living shit out of America, so many of the country’s unflattering personality traits fall directly in the genre’s lap, fairly and unfairly.
This isn’t a call to action to boycott B.o.B.’s music. He’s a charitable guy, by most accounts. But in his position of influence, he’s better off taking his own advice.
If he’s really fed up about the lack of action, then make a change. If he’s actively involved in anti-violence campaigns, get more active. We all should, myself included. If that’s the reality he wants to live in, then lead the charge. Otherwise, in his own words, all people are going to do is remain 140-character activists.
Then, we’re right back at square one, looking at each other wondering who’ll be the one to grab their balls first and incite the change.
* – The same guy who once rapped “Even if you in a Benz, you still a n*gga in a coupe (coop)” and “In the past if you picture events like a black tie/ What the last thing you expect to see, Black guys?/ What’s the life expectancy for Black guys?/ The system’s working effectively, that’s why!” Go figure.