Jay-Z may say it’s his time now, but Lincoln Anthony Blades insists that the legends who paved the way for today’s Black artists deserve a lot more respect.
As a young Black man with an acute interest in Black history, I cannot learn and hear enough about great men and women like Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott-King, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Dr. Dorothy Height. But I have a problem with the ancientness with which we address their struggles and the societies that they lived in. When we talk about Martin and Malcolm, to some younger (ignorant) folk we must be talking about Jesus and Moses because they believe those men and the people and ideologies they fought were so long ago that their struggle has no relevancy in our presumed “post-racial” society. And it’s that thinking that can lead our modern day Black artists to disrespect the legacies of older artists and activists who lived and protested in those times.
Last year, Harry Belafonte accused Jay-Z and Beyoncé of “turning their back on social responsibility,” which led Jay-Z to pen this verse on the song “Nickels and Dimes” from his latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail:
“I’m just trying to find common ground/
‘fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a nigga down/
Mr. Day O, major fail/
Respect these youngins boy, it’s my time now/
Hublot homie, two door homie/
You don’t know all the shit I do for the homies”
Another noteworthy incident of young artist to legendary artist disrespect occurred when Stevie Wonder announced that he would no longer perform at any concerts in Florida, until the state repealed its stand your ground law in the wake of a six-person jury acquitting George Zimmerman of all charges after he killed Trayvon Martin. Upon hearing Stevie’s declaration, Lil’ Mo, who has way less hits than Floyd Mayweather, tweeted:
“If the coin was right, would HIS staff accept or deny the gig? And if so how would he know? They could say it’s sumpter, sc or nah?”
The offending tweet clearly alludes to Stevie’s unscrupulous behavior, which is unfounded, and wraps a blind joke all in one ignorant statement. Amongst people with actual insight into Stevie’s long-lasting legacy of supporting civil rights, her joke elicited as much LOLs as her shows sell tickets – which is not very much. It’s surprising that she couldn’t see how much of a significant statement Stevie Wonder was making with his actions, especially when she knows he can still fill arenas, while she would struggle to sell out a DUI classroom (in the great words of Corey Holcomb). But, I digress.
And who can forget when Lil Wayne rapped: “beat that p*ssy like Emmett Till,” whose lynching sparked the modern Civil Rights Movement much like Trayvon Martin’s murder is mobilizing people to fight injustice today.
The real problem here is that people like Lil’ Mo, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and most of their fans either don’t know, don’t understand, and/or don’t realize how relevant the fight for civil rights still is to this day, and how RECENTLY Black Americans were treated as sub-human. For young Black folks (OK, Jay isn’t that young, but he acts immature) to disrespect great men like Stevie Wonder and Harry Belafonte is abject IGNORANCE because they truly don’t know who they are talking about.
In the 1950s, Belafonte was not only Dr. King’s confidant, but he actually financially supported the King household since Dr. King only earned $8,000 a year as a preacher. He also bailed Dr. King out of Birmingham City Jail after he was arrested, while also raising thousands of dollars to release other civil rights protesters. Belafonte financed the Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives, helped organize the March on Washington, and bankrolled the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee by flying to Mississippi with Sidney Poitier and handed over $60,000 in cash. And he was far from having anywhere close to the money, power, and “respect” that Jay and Beyoncé have, even by relative standards.
Wonder has been using his music to influence change and create awareness for over 40 years, including his support for issues such as racial harmony, AIDS awareness, supporting Dr. King’s birthday in being recognized as a holiday, and humanitarian aid in Africa. He frequently has used the profits of his records as contributions to charities to help these causes.
The problem with these men is that they lived in a time where many Black artists explicitly understood that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Our current ideology of individual exceptionalism has dudes bragging about their cars, money, and hos in different area codes, while simultaneously reminding the listener how much better off they are than them. That’s the new normal. It’s no wonder Lil’ Mo could easily deride Stevie Wonder’s intentions, because she lives in an era in which money is more important than integrity. And I could see how Jay-Z would blow off Belafonte’s comments because (in all fairness) Harry does not truly know how much Jay does for his community, and also because Jay comes from a world where stuntin’ on hos supersedes fighting for the less advantaged amongst us.
And it all boils down to one scary truism: These artists believe that we truly are living in an age EXTREMELY far removed from the time Black artists were actively involved in civil rights. By acting as if the 1960s were the 1870s, it helps current artists (to whom much was given) relish their role of being apolitical and just “gettin’ this money!” It helps current artists forget that the only reason they can tour any city they want and stay in the same hotels as their white tour-mates is because of the many great men and women who paved their way, not that long ago.
It’s disgusting that Jay-Z could even think of publicly addressing Harry Belafonte as “boy” and equally pathetic that Lil’ Mo could denigrate Stevie Wonder’s 40 years of civil rights activism in one inarticulate tweet. Our legends deserve a lot more than that – especially from the men and women profiting off of the fights they fought to make life better for ALL of us.
Originally appeared at UPTOWN Magazine
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com, he’s an author of the book “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer” and a weekly contributor for UPTOWN Magazine. He can be reached via Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at This Is Your Conscience.
All photos courtesy of UPTOWN Magazine