Pitchfork’s weekly rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, dances, weird tweets, fashion trends—and anything else that catches our attention in the world of hip-hop.
Rappers do have a role
In the days since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, protests demanding justice, equality, and police reforms have swept through the nation. Black people are angry and sad and trying to be heard, so it’s no surprise that many are turning to rappers, who have highly influential and diverse platforms, to help get their point across to the world. Some have bristled at this idea—“Bro, don’t look to no damn rappers or celebrities for leadership right now, correct information is vital,” tweeted J.I.D, reasonably—but whether rappers accept it or not, more fans look up to them now than ever before.
For over 30 years, the genre has played a vital role within protests. This past weekend, at a protest on Staten Island, a car played the 1988 N.W.A. single “Fuck tha Police” on loop; meanwhile at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” could be heard blaring through a megaphone in between impassioned speeches. In recent days many rappers have contributed to this legacy: Noname and Earl Sweatshirt offered strong and informative guidance via social media; Tory Lanez issued a necessary PSA to his rich rap friends; Bun B and Trae tha Truth protested in both Minneapolis and Houston; Teejayx6 and YG dropped protest songs; and the Weeknd and Drake opened up their checkbooks.
Of course, there were some who would have been better off saying nothing, like Gunna, who drew zero sympathy by tweeting, “It’s hard celebrating a #1 album when the world is Hurting.” And after Funk Flex predicted that JAY-Z would respond with “a cornball press release,” the rapper more or less did just that. Nobody is asking rappers to lead or to speak on issues they’re uninformed about, but rather to just recognize that they have an unmatched opportunity to amplify key voices and help spread correct information to the masses—and to use it.
Hip-hop news platforms’ inept both-siderism
Right now there are two sides in this fight: You’re either against racism or you’re not against racism. But still, a few of hip-hop’s most notable news platforms are trying to have it both ways. DJ Akademiks, the blowhard who built his massive online following through sensationalist coverage of crime in Chicago and Tekashi 6ix9ine, has used his Instagram to post videos in support of the protestors and in support of the police—basically anything that will get him more views. It’s the result of someone aiming to be both an influencer and a reliable news source, and it does more harm than good.
On Monday, The Breakfast Club, one of the country’s most popular radio programs and a purported bastion of hip-hop culture, had right-wing hate-monger Rush Limbaugh on as a guest. Throughout the interview, Charlamagne and his co-hosts made weak arguments that were either easily dodged or flipped by Limbaugh. In one case, Charlamagne raised a point about systemic racism, and Limbaugh followed with, “The Democrat Party has been promising to fix your grievances for 50 years… they haven’t even punished the people you think are responsible for the racism and bigotry being done to you, why do you keep supporting?”—completely trivializing the struggles of black people, as if it all could simply be solved with voting alone, while conveniently ignoring Republicans’ woeful record on race. But Charlmagne didn’t even fight back. He conceded and said, “I don’t disagree with you.” The interview became a way for Limbaugh’s divisive rhetoric to reach a large black audience, and it will surely give him fuel for the next few weeks.
These platforms think they’re being neutral by engaging with racists, but in actuality they’re just helping racist talking points pick up more steam.
This week, I’ve been in search of soothing music. It doesn’t quite help, but it’s better than nothing. Nolanberollin’s two-part song “Hydro/Frozone” temporarily puts you in a trance, with the Virginia native’s deep vocals perfectly drifting over a pair of hypnotic instrumentals. In the similarly mesmerizing video, Nolan steers a race car over a digitally altered background—it’s like watching the most bizarre episode of Speed Racer imaginable.
The music industry’s lip service
On Tuesday, the music industry, which lives on the backs of black artists, gave themselves a pat on the back. They might as well have all held hands and rapped “This Is America” together, as if it were their own “We Are the World” moment. Blackout Tuesday—originally conceived by two black women within the industry before it was quickly appropriated—was billed as “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change” and “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community.” It briefly halted the work of major record labels and streaming services, but not much actually happened.
There were a lot of black squares posted on Instagram. Universal Music Group—the world’s biggest label, worth a reported $33 billion—announced a vague “inclusion task force,” whatever that is. Spotify, which stock market currently values at more than $34 billion, gave us an updated logo and playlists with an eight minute and 46 second track of silence, while putting the onus of donating on their employees, with promises to match. And, on Wednesday, Warner Music Group announced a $100 million fund to support the cause—though the intentions are murky considering the fund was revealed minutes after the company declared the pricing of its IPO; at the end of its first day of trading on Wednesday, the company’s market value stood at $15.6 billion. So far we don’t know what’s more than a PR ploy, but let’s be clear: We want these major corporations to hire black people and open up their multi-billion-dollar pockets.
Baby Smoove and Top$ide: “Mona Lisa”
The SoundCloud page of Top$ide, a rising Detroit producer, has become one of my favorite places. When I unplug and take my bike for a cruise, I run through the collection of loosies he’s made with his city’s elite, which includes rappers like Babyface Ray, Los, and Veeze. Lately, I’ve been enamored with “Mona Lisa,” a collaboration between Baby Smoove and Top$ide; Smoove uses his lethargic delivery to talk about his usual topics—shopping sprees and deadstock Balenciagas—over a piano-heavy beat perfect for endless replays.
Don’t go out like Virgil Abloh
You know things have really gone south when a seven-page notes app apology hits social media. That’s what former Kanye West protégé Virgil Abloh tweeted out to explain the stingy $50 donation he proudly posted to his Instagram story. The artistic director of Louis Vuitton and CEO of Off-White later pledged much more, but for someone whose career was made in streetwear and sneaker culture, he should have known better off the bat.
A tweet to remember for the weekend
Find more resources in the fight against police brutality and systemic racism, including a list of organizations to donate to if you’re able, here.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork