Updated: Jun 24
"War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, uhh"
Like many humans on Earth, war is a major proponent in the circumstances that led to my birth. Ethiopia went through a blood thirsty communist regime, my parents met when they were allowed to return to their nation. They were forced to seek asylum, education & refuge outside of their nation, due to turmoil in the place they were born.
I have seen civil wars that divide nations erupt with my own eyes. It was July 30, 2005, I was in the first grade & Jon Garang, a Sudanese politician and revolutionary leader of the South Sudanese people, died in a helicopter crash. Garang, and his subsequent death, was a major influence on the movement that led to the foundation of the nation of South Sudan. I got picked up from school early that day and I saw the otherwise well meaning & ordinary people I had known for most of my life at that point, turn into savages. They were destroying things, shooting, they were throwing rocks at our car.
I have also lived as a first generation Ethiopian living in Toronto where I have seen, & have been impacted by gang & gun violence. I have seen people act territorial and assert warlike measures towards the most innocent people, & kill people I know, over areas they don’t own.
The difference between those wars is the wars between nations are treated as wars. Wars between nations have employees, pay stubs, benefits, pay rolls, resumes, engineers, designers, 401ks & strategy. Those wars have therapists, doctors & nurses, award shows, and trophies. The combined arms-sales of the top 100 largest arms-producing companies and military services companies (excluding China) totaled $420 billion in 2018, according to SIPRI. This was 4.6 percent higher than sales in 2017 and marks the fourth consecutive year of growth in Top 100 arms sales. Wars between nations have entire industries, rules, regulations, hierarchies, belief systems and universes. It's organized and regulated.
Wars between rival gangs are treated as just psychopathic insane people, but that’s rarely ever the case. Terms like War are used for nations in order to impose a different set of moral guidelines, because if you were to kill someone you would go to jail, but if you were in the army, you would be awarded a medal. Hillary Clinton called young black men super predators in order to paint them as these violent beasts, but the government gives out Purple Hearts for people in the armed forces. Gangs usually war for the exact same reason nations war, power & resource acquisition. War is a competition for resources. City-states began before agriculture, so the most agreed upon explanation for the creation of cities in the first place, is defense. We gathered our people and built walls to prevent raids of our resources during times of conquest.
War has historically been the cause for many global economic booms through conquest, but as our systems have become more sophisticated & with the rise of organizations like the United Nations & the peaceful economic trade between Nations, war & conquest has slowed down. Advocates for peace often identify the disruption of trade as one of the negative consequences of war. Armed conflict destroys the land & infrastructure, diminishing the amount of products that can be manufactured & traded. At the same time, it impedes commercial exchange not only between warring nations but, more broadly, in the whole region where fighting takes places, due to insecurity and to the destruction of roads, harbors, and so on. War becomes fiscally irresponsible from a cost-benefit perspective, even though various companies & nations do still profit from war.
The wars we hear about in many of our favourite rappers' songs are actual wars, in the same way a nation, or a tribe would be at war. In the Qafar region of Ethiopia, when tribes are at war, the musicians are designated to sing the praises of the warriors and empower the army. That is your favourite Chicago rappers role, but they are also active participants in the war, and by gaining notoriety they also become the main target of the operation for police & the opps.
As long as humans have existed, drugs have existed, and as long as drugs have existed, people have consumed and sold them. The sale of drugs is profitable because people want to get high, and might suffer from various other untreated mental health issues. The industry is deregulated and certain drugs are made criminal, in doing so, the government creates a booming criminal underbelly, a homeless problem, and mental health issues that are treated as crimes.
War on Drugs is a phrase used to refer to a government-led initiative that aimed to stop illegal drug use, distribution and trade by dramatically increasing prison sentences for both drug dealers and users. The movement started in the 1970s and is still evolving today, & we are all directly & indirectly products of the effects of that world.
Just like mobs with alcohol during the American prohibition, in a profitable underbelly where your capital is not protected by police, and is sought after by the police, you have to resort to methods of self and capital protection. That is when young men create organizations called gangs focused on providing a product into the marketplace, they take loans from a supplier that they need to pay back, and they occupy the real estate, while beating out the competition. The thing with unregulated and rapacious capitalism, that is inherently based on a collective understanding that laws are being broken and people are being harmed, is that it is willing to take matters to a criminal level which includes violence.
Historically, gangs create less organized, privatized city-states in blocks with a militia & industry, that’s why many of our favourite artists get caught with racketeering charges for being in organized crime rings. This creates warlike conditions and decades of trauma, from single parent households, addiction, PTSD & every other condition named in these songs. We have seen it with Lucky Luciano & the Mafia, but we live in a different world. None of those guys were rapping about it, instead they were putting it in films like The Godfather. The only difference is Francis Coppola wasn't active in the streets, at least I don't think so.
If what we hear in the music was just about capitalism and power acquisition there would easily be a trade agreement, but war isn’t just logical, it has long lasting & traumatic effects on individuals. Many wars continue for centuries because people are looking to retaliate in order to avenge people they love. Gabriel Marquez said “It is easier to start a war than to end it.” These rappers are talking about their own experiences, & antagonizing real life altercations, because these situations are very personal. Humans are tribal creatures, we have warred since the dawn of man, usually for raids. We would raid other tribes in order for our kinship to acquire more resources.
Certain communities have been at war for millennia, and the people involved are so emotionally invested, they don’t want an end to the war, and they want to be on the winning team. Some people are born into it, entrenched in it & can't see around it. There are people who enjoy war because it gives them a transcendent cause & something to do. Even though most of us have never killed a person, aggression is a predisposition of the human condition. In Karl Marlantes “What It’s Like To Go To War” we can get an insight on what it’s like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche. Combat, Marlantes says, is “the crack cocaine of all excitement highs — with crack cocaine costs.” He goes on to describe the adrenaline surge of combat and the psychic pain that inevitably follows.
Many nations have been able to organize and begin to trade peacefully, but when something is personal, it takes over your being. For the past few years we have watched many of our favourite rappers get gunned down, in broad daylight, by people who go on to talk about their crimes in their music, because of things they may have said in their music. There are artists who live what they say in their music. Tekashi 6ix9ine infamously put all of his crimes online, various other artists have spoken about who they have killed, robbed or smoked, as a way to get clicks. These people are reflecting the socioeconomic conditions of their society, and various societies around the world, including my own.
In Bobby Shmurda’s ‘Hot Nigga’ he is talking about real crimes & real bodies that he has been to jail for, & he is dancing about it. I don’t believe Bobby Shmurda is just some psychopath, he is a soldier, giving us a look into the psyche of a soldier during a war he inherited
Music is not the reason these wars are happening, its just a glimpse into the wars. Hip Hop & the internet has given us a reality show window into the wars in the streets. We watch Quando Rondo talk about fearing for his life after a murder transpired, for entertainment, like the Hunger Games. These interviews with Angela Yee are part of the rollout for his music. These artists are in real situations, fighting for their lives, and our attention at the same time.
Some of these rappers are living the same life as Al Capone & various other gangsters involved in organized crime, but they're using the outlet of music to share the innerworkings of the world, and fatally antagonizing their opposition. The music is a glimpse into the same nation that has a mass shooting everyday. Hip Hop is a genre that came from the streets, so there is always a lane in the marketplace for artists from the street element, who are discussing real life wars & crime elements in their music. These things are happening in communities, the music is just the most visible example of the conditions.
Thousands of people were harmed, imprisoned and died during prohibition, & guys like Al Capone were labeled criminals & gangsters, but now Alcohol is a trillion dollar taxable industry. Millions of people died and were affected by the war on drugs, & many are still in jail for weed crimes, but Cannabis is a billion dollar taxable industry. The law is a flimsy system of pseudo or false morality, especially against members of the lower class & that's why our communities are in the state they are in.
Music has a low barrier to entry & former inmates who couldn't legally get corporate jobs would clean their drug money through music, to try and make it out of their predicaments, and they would begin talking about some of the real situations that happened in their life. In the last decade, and especially today, there has been a shift towards keeping it Too real. I won’t be overly specific, but there is a huge lane for this drill subgenre of “opp rap.” It’s past just gangster rap where you portray the image of a gangster, everyone is taunting their real life opposition in their music, and many of them are dying because of it. They speak on real dead people, brag about killing them and that makes them go viral, but they go on to suffer various legal problems or die.
Tupac Shakur is a prime example of the warlike conditions that bleed out into hip hop music. Pac understood the role of the black man in society, how the government consolidated power by pitting us against each other, he was a product of the crack epidemic. Afeni Shakur was a Black Panther, who was active during the civil rights movement & even she fell into the effects of the crack epidemic, because the power structure targeted her generation too. Pac saw firsthand what it meant to come from a single parent home, with a Mother who was hooked on crack, & due to his mothers historical role, he had the academic wherewithal to understand the real enemy was an oppressive & imperial system of power, that profits from division.
Tupac saw himself as a general & conqueror. He called himself Mackavelli, he studied the art of war & various warriors like Shaka Zulu & the strategies they used throughout history during the building of nations & empires. Labels and the media perpetuated & profited from the East-coast vs West-Coast war. Pac spoke about it in interviews & in his music, he talked about providing economic prosperity for New York by dethroning the reigning regime of Bad Boy records by his own Death Row Records. He truly believed it was an election, the roll out was the campaign, and the record sales were the polls, he was going to provide jobs & uplift communities, like a politician typically would. That war escalated & most likely led to the deaths of various real people, including but not limited to, Biggie Smalls & Tupac Shakur. That’s because the prosperity of one was viewed as the detriment of the other, they occupied similar lanes.
The labels & media are part of the same imperial structure that pit Biggie & Pac against each other, & the same demons Afeni was fighting & Quando is fighting. Capitalism relies on competition in order to thrive, individuals monopolize certain markets and try to beat out their competition. But many of these artists come from various street and criminal elements, so a guy like Suge Knight handles his business a little differently than Bill Gates, even though they had the same goals in mind. Suge Knight was born into worse conditions, & had less startup money than Gates, so he had to survive in accordance to his environment. Hip Hop is competitive in its essence, but the economics of attention force artists into ruthless capitalism.
Hip Hop is a genre for & from the ambitious & socioeconomically disenfranchised youth of a society, when a society is impoverished, it’s residents seek to nourish themselves by any means necessary which incentivizes the criminal element in order to survive the conditions that people are born into. The goal of the genre is exemplified in Biggie’s ‘Juicy.’ It's aspirational, you’re supposed to take the terrible conditions you’re born into & make a better way for yourself. If you made money in the streets, music was a way to legitimize yourself, but many artists get tangled in the street war element. As I’m getting older, the music is transforming.
Self-snitching has become a problem as of late with artists feeling the need to talk about all of their active criminal exploits & antagonizing to get clicks. In the entertainment industry, like in various other industries, there were limited slots for black people, so black artists & businesses are pitted against each other for the label's attention. That’s why various artists like Michael Jackson and Prince weren’t on good terms, because one's prosperity determined the others' level of success. In capitalism you are valued in comparison to your contemporaries by the people who cut your check, but that scrutiny & division is even more heavily emphasized with black people.
It has to be Martin Luther King vs Malcolm X, instead of both coexisting. America couldn’t have both Michael Jackson & Prince at the top. Diss tracks are the same as those “I’m a Mac & I’m a PC” ads Apple used to have. It's the same as political smear campaigns. It's the Pepsi vs Coke monopoly mentality embedded into this structure, but in places like the entertainment industry, where people are the products, it has various real life implications.
As a young black man, & owner of a Hip Hop platform, I feel a duty to make a stance on the direction of the culture. Hip Hop was created so young black people could make some money, now that there's more money than ever, people are dying younger than ever & we are barely reaping any of the profit from our labour. Artists sign deals that keep them in debt to the label forever & relinquishes ownership. For Hip Hop to get bigger, we need more access. We need to be allowed in larger venues, and to be in rooms on higher floors, in order to start making real positive change. Hip Hop culture has a grasp on the masses, it's bigger than the government, and there is a way it can stop being that. Jazz used to be the Hip Hop of its day, and Rock & Roll after that.
Hip Hop exists at the moment, at its biggest & most diverse. The cultural impact is astounding. It's the single most influential communications medium to affect young people's habitus, on a global scale. Literally everyone wants to be a rapper, everyone wants to see them, dress like them, speak like them, eat like them & be like them, and that is powerful. Hip Hop culture is global, and it's one of America's largest exports, which makes it the most visible exhibition into the socioeconomic conditions in cities around the world, including my own
The System is at war with poor & young people in general, Young Black Men to be specific. The System paints us as savages & monsters to be feared, and places us in conditions that force us into becoming the monsters they imagine us to be, so they can lock us up. Trump sent the military at Chicago & BLM protests last year. Everyday we see an unarmed black man be murdered, to the point of apathetic redundancy, it's disturbing to say the least. Rappers receive more media scrutiny than police that actively murder black people everyday.
The system creates the conditions to criminalize our existence. It's a sophisticated form of warfare that legalizes slavery & genocide. Genocides against young people are commonplace through history, (see Cambodian Genocide) this time they either kill us on camera or plant seeds to make us kill each other. The oppressor has used tactics of divide & conquer to keep us fighting, so we can wipe each other out.
As a generation, we need to unite. We need to promote, endorse and reward unity between black people. We need to take ownership of our value, & make autonomous & self sufficient decisions. We need to build wealth & communities, we need to develop the same strategies as nations. As a young black business owner, I want to work & build with other young black business owners & artists peacefully and amicably, in order to create lasting & generational change.