Forget about Tayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, forget him too. Both individuals are irrelevant. I don’t want to bombard you with my perception of two gentlemen with whom I will never become acquainted. Instead I urge you to turn the hands of time back to the 90s and turn your volume knob clockwise. These next few individuals are much more noteworthy in examining the conditions causal to Martin and Zimmerman’s renown.
In 1999, Nasir Jones (better known as Nas) released his fourth studio LP, Nastradamus, where on its album art he ostensibly depicted himself as a prophet. The album received critically unsatisfactory marks and its theme showed to be short of groundbreaking. From just a few years earlier, apparently some other rap fellows could justifiably claim prophethood. Well before Trayvon Martin was conceived in 1995, Sadat X, Grand Puba, and Lord Jamar (comprising the group Brand Nubian) released their the album, Everything Is Everything, in the fall of 1994. They advanced their brandishing of social-political consciousness with the track, “Claiming I’m A Criminal.”
Recorded between 1994 and 1996, Tupac Shakur and The Outlawz archived “They Don’t Give A F–k About Us,” which was formally released in 2002 on Tupac’s posthumous, Better Dayz compilation.These recordings are political cartoons effectively similar to The Jetsons as they projected Trayvon Martin’s impending future. Peculiarly these emcees very well could be regarded as Renaissance men, embodying both artists and clairvoyants. Somehow they knew Trayvon’s fate, before he knew the world. How could some rappers spewing that damned hippity-hop sneak under our noses as soothsayers? Well, truthfully, they weren’t even anybody special in that respect. No special powers, no “Papal-esque” clothing, and not even a cloudy snow globe were present. But they were likely only telling us what they experientially knew to be true. Their occupational skill is rooted in mastering what we have the capability to do best: talk about ourselves in the vein of an autobiographical narrative. Almost eerily, when we share what we think are experiences unique to our own lives, we draw back the curtain on another’s lifetime and indirectly provide an audience for someone we may never meet. In essence we give that person a voice, sometimes unbeknownst to the story teller and/or the person actually living the account.
“Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth?
A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts.“- Tupac Shakur. “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto.” R U Still Down? (Remember Me). 1997.
To bring this full circle, this is not so much about the slaying of a 17-year-old. When a justice system seems to heed murder with nonchalance that of misplacing an ink pen, we are rudely reminded of our historical and seemingly endemic disregard for a black male’s life in America. Trayvon Martin’s death is simply indicative of a cavalier indifference to African-American male occupancy. Relative to other demographic groups, black males seem to be recognized no more than silhouettes amongst intricate, sapient beings.
“B—h you lying you say we aint hanging from a tree. Frederick Carter Greenwood, Mississippi. . .When Medgar Evers got killed in front of his family, body froze. When Al Johnson, Andre Jones, and my folks in these jail cells. They call it suicide cuz it’s just another black male [dead]”– David Banner
The outrage and controversy is broader than “presumed phenotypical white man murders school-aged black kid.” Fury and frustration run ablaze because it required both fatality and Anderson Cooper just for America to wake up and smell the coffee and realize the “Post-Racial Gazzette” is not coming to our doorstep any time soon. Can we be honest with ourselves and at least consider if such bias and apathy can sear through a legal bureaucracy then they may very well fester in the minds and hearts of actual people? We should not think, because we have merely chartered human rights and elected a member of a racial minority as President, that we are not prone to prejudices that serve as the forerunner to such accomplishments. Of course we don’t need CNN or any other news outlet to tell us that. Hip hop has in part fulfilled that lane of journalism.
An individual’s story has the power to preemptively forecast threatening storms ahead. For those who can muster primary and secondary accounts of systemic inequity in spaces spanning from the classroom to the coroner’s room, it is almost as if America’s Secretary of Health, “Dr. Goodwill,” diagnoses them as a hypochondriac. In this instance, art certainly reflects life. Imagine an oracle peering into an orb backed by an ominous tempest. Now picture a few of them interpreting the same premonition. So sure “Gnozir” (or Nas), you made Stillmatic‘s “Ether” a generic trademark for scathing diss records, but you can’t take all the credit for being a prophet just one album prior.