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Chiraq, Hip Hop & The Philosophy of War

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

"War, huh, yeah

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing, uhh"

-Edwin Starr

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.