Detroit, MI — The city’s hip hop community is protesting Detroit’s new status under emergency management in its own unique way.
Will Copeland, a community activist and emcee who performs under the name Will See, has recently released a song with a heated message to mobilize citizens against the state’s takeover of Detroit through an emergency manager. The song “Emergency” is a powerful example of hip hop as a tool of resistance and awareness.
“These different messages need to be put out there because if they’re not put out front and center, a lot of people aren’t going to think of hip hop as rebel music, they’ll think of it as party music or materialism,” says Copeland.
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In today’s popular hip hop music, the mood is far from being a tool of social activism, rather it is conformed to materialism and destructive behaviors. Hip hop’s original architects envisioned the music to be a voice of positive community growth.
“I don’t think we can just rest assured that everybody is going to be with us on that definition (of hip hop as rebel music),” Copeland adds. “I think that needs to be actively done over and over again.”
Insite The Riot is another Detroit emcee known for using her lyrics for awareness, confronting many social-economic issues in her music. As an activist, she is well aware of the implications of the emergency financial manager appointment.
“I’m not naive to recognize that the city doesn’t have its financial issues,” she told the Michigan Citizen. “But from a historical standpoint, cities that have been placed under emergency managers haven’t been any better off in the long run.”
Insite says that while she thinks some assistance from the state may have been necessary, “I think that this is far-reaching.”
She says many of her peer artists are knowledgeable and concerned about the city’s new leadership status, with many conversations occurring at live music events, but she acknowledges there has not been many songs produced to confront the issue.
“There hasn’t been this massive movement to respond artistically,” she said. “I’d call it being stressed in a lot of different directions right now, there’s so many issues going on. I would like to see (the hip hop community) come together around this issue.”
Aside from being a voice of activism, hip hop music is also used by many to become entrepreneurs. Achieving success can be a way to help the city overall, some artists say.
313Phresh, who performs throughout the city and is well respected for his conscientious lyrics, sees the emergency manager as a step toward the city becoming economically viable, which will ultimately assist young artists.
“I think it’s going to help the city financially, which is going to bring business and money to the city,” he said. “I think that’ll help venues that will bring more traffic to the shows.”
The real challenge, he explains, is to hold public officials more accountable to creating a better city.
“Everyone they’ve been putting in position to make moves for the city, what have they done the years they’ve been in those positions?” Phresh said. “How much longer do you want the city to be known as what it is now?”
The reputation of Detroit is at stake, and local hip hop artists have an interest in making sure the city’s name is globally strong. Hip hop’s moment is to tell the story of the city’s residents to the rest of the world, who are paying close attention to what happens to the Motor City.
“The EM is the opposite of everything hip hop represents, which is respect for ourselves as humans beings, solidarity with brothers and sisters who need our solidarity, an unwillingness to accept injustices, etc.,” says SubVerso, a southwest Detroit resident and emcee who performs his socially conscious rap in Spanish.
SubVerso has lived both in southwest Detroit and Chile, and his music confronts many issues of oppression for indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. He has several music videos on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of views internationally, and he is active in the Detroit community.
“Hip hop is recognized by all, not just by hip hoppers themselves, as an art form of the poor and working class,” says SubVerso. “It is the voice of those who resist a profit-driven economic model that denies people their rights as human beings, and that rapes the earth by allowing the most destructive forces of capitalism to extract natural resources and leave behind erosion, pollution and economic destruction for those who live there — very similar to what’s been happening in Detroit over the last decades.”