There’s a long political tradition in hip hop. Ice Cube once called it “the Black CNN,” and there was a time when the toughest drug dealers on the corner would bump Public Enemy. But as hip hop became a business and those who wanted to succeed in that line of work found that their sales tended to spike when they rapped more about materialism than injustice, there came to be a rift between more conscious hip hop and the image-centric fare.
Still, the shooting of Mike Brown (and Trayvon Martin, and Ezell Ford, and Sean Bell, and…) and the subsequent police response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri led a batch of hip hop’s biggest pop stars to drop a posse cut that captures the frustration, outrage, fear, and anger of so many black Americans right now. The resulting song–“Don’t Shoot”–teams the Game, who spearheaded the project, with Rick Ross, Diddy, 2 Chainz, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, and more as they each vent their frustrations over the things most Americans have witnessed in the past weeks.
The track gives everyone an eight-bar verse to talk about Ferguson and the news of the summer. Some, like Ross, seem a bit out of their element when rapping about politics, while others step up well. Fabolous and Wale both call out the popularity of the “ice bucket challenge” by juxtaposing the fundraising fad with the reality faced by Brown, his family, and every single American who looks like them. It’s heavy work at a heavy time, and while it’s possible that there’s a bit of irony in hearing so many guys who built their careers around rapping about guns come together for a song called “Don’t Shoot,” it’s also good to hear some of hip hop’s most commercially successful stars find their political conscience.