Note: this is the final installment to Kelvin Criss’ four part series on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and its relation to hip-hop. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.
By: Kelvin Criss
Tupac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby“ explains many hardships in society from the perspective of a twelve-year-old mother:
“She’s 12 years old and she’s having a baby / In love with tha molester, whos sexin’ her crazy / And yet she thinks that he’ll be with her forever / And dreams of a world with tha two of them together, whatever / He left her and she had tha baby solo, she had it on tha bathroom floor / And didn’t know so, she didn’t know, what ta throw away and what ta keep / She wrapped tha baby up and threw him in tha trash heap / I guess she thought she’d get away” (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”)
This song not only discusses the problem of women, but also girls. A twelve-year-old is pregnant and, “ Brenda’s barely got a brain, A damn shame, The girl can hardly spell her name” (lines preceding those above). Tupac is trying to make everyone in the community aware of these problems; problems that don’t have to exist. These are partially self-inflicted problems, they are not caused by outside perpetrators but from people in the community. Dead Prez’s “Can’t Sell Dope Forever” addresses other problems that the youth face and are holding back the community. For example, sex and drugs are destroying the community. It was for this reason that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense kept drug dealers and pimps out of their neighborhoods. These counter-revolutionary actions not only hold back the community, but they poison it. Another problem for the community is lack a of helpful police assistance. Public Enemy’s “911 is a Joke,” which discusses the lack of police assistance when people in the community call 911, states, “Now I dialed 911 a long time ago, don’t you see how late they reactin’, they only come and they come when they wanna.”
Raising class-consciousness is necessary in hip-hop because people cannot help each other until first they help themselves. This of course cannot be done until the people realize their situation and the problems with it. This was the same for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; it was why they did so much community outreach before they tried to better the community. Before people can be educated they must learn why they need to be educated.
Implications of Findings
I have found that the ideas of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense are reborn in the lyrics of many hip-hop artists. This is because the artists are trying to help their communities just as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense did. This is evident in countless songs by Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez and the late Tupac Shakur.
“We view each other with a great love and a great understanding and that we try to expand this to the general black population and also people, oppressed people all over the world, and, I think that we differ from some other groups simply because we understand the system better than most groups understand the system and with this realization we attempt to form a strong political base based in the Community with the only strength that we have and that’s the strength of a potentially destructive force if we don’t get freedom.” (Huey Newton Interview)
This interview of Huey P Newton (Dead Prez placed this interview clip in the end of “Propaganda”) explained the shared motives of hip-hop artists who wish to bring about change through their words.
This interview is just one of many interviews of members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which Dead Prez and many other hip-hop artists include in their songs. In addition to direct clips of speeches and interviews, hip-hop songs also reference members, ideas and programs of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
The ideas and goals of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense have been reborn because of the many references to them in hip-hop. The love of the people and the lust for change is why so many hip-hop artists rap about political and social issues. Rather than using guns and police encounters to gain attention, hip-hop artists use beats and rhymes to reach the people. This is an easy way to spread the message due to today’s technology and the ability to so easily copy and transfer music on computers. Through downloading, stereos, concerts and word of mouth, the messages are spread amongst the people.
Public Enemy. 911 Is a Joke. Rec. Jan.-Feb. 1990. The Bomb Squad, 1990. CD.
Tupac Shakur. 2Pacalypse Now. Rec. June-September 1991. Atron Gregory, 1991. CD.