Jay Z Tidal Tweets and the Baltimore protests: Hip-hop and hope

Sean Carter, aka Jay Z, doesn't use Twitter much, so it was a very rare moment indeed when the hip-hop mogul went on a 16-Tweet “stream of consciousness” tear on Sunday (April 26), to promote the music streaming service Tidal (owned by Carter's own Project Panther Ltd.). Using the hashtag #TidalFacts, Jay Z did his best to quell rumors about the company's health, to air his dreams for Tidal, and the like.

It was not his intention, I'm sure, to cull responses like these:





While there's a story in there about expectation/entitlement when the world's biggest stars even slightly open their door on social media, reading these responses to Hov's self-promotion during a time of protest actually made me think more about hope and hip-hop.

Stars like Jay Z don't reflect simply a level of celebrity, but stand as beacons of artistry, history, personal triumph and perspective. This week, protests against police brutality arose in Baltimore as they did in 2014 and earlier this year in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. It's at times like these that many people could use some perspective, could learn some history and are seeking some triumph and resolve.

Rap means a lot of things to a lot of people, because it's constantly evolving, an organism. Like all pop music, it can also be a vehicle for social change and protest, and has a long foundational precedent of just that.

With its origins in black communities by black voices, hip-hop continues to be a fertile medium through which, now, storytellers of any color, class, gender or nationality can reveal their realities and hopes.

An enthusiastic Tweet from Mr. Carter in January made reference to “Glory,” the Academy Award-winning song from John Legend and Common. Recently, Kendrick Lamar and D'Angelo have made breathtaking albums that have also inspired fantastic writing, about blackness, black men, black voices and black communities (and also about women in those communities). These conversations, songs and artists aren't gaining momentum out of coincidence, but arrive at times of anger and unrest, as African-Americans and other people of color are continually and unfairly targeted, berated and misrepresented by media, educational systems, government, law enforcement, and even by their most-loved arts and entertainment.

That's partially why fans feel that Jay Z and stars like him owe their voices to the conversation: because these are the artists who also helped energize and form that dialogue. Jay Z may never weigh in on protests in Baltimore and other cities like it, but the desire to hear from artists like him is still a reflection of hope that willful, eloquent speech is conjured from the same artform that helped this country recognize its black voices within.

Here are some pieces by writers and influencers of color who further delve into pop history, current rap music and voice in this climate of dissent, even as their opinions vary.

The Roots' Questlove, on protest songs

Kevin Powell, on hip-hop's response to Eric Garner

Nia-Malika Henderson speaks to James Peterson

Nicki Minaj thinks hip-hop's power of protest is waning

Lanre Bakare, on rap response versus political response