Stay in Your Lane or Nah? A$AP Rocky, #blacklivesmatter & The ‘Raptivist’ Phenomenon

By Mr. Westbrooks

In an opinion piece for The RootMichael Arceneaux expressed his thoughts on A$AP Rocky‘s 2015 interview with TimeOut Magazine and his follow-up interview with The Breakfast Club last week. He ultimately came to the conclusion that the public shouldn’t expect all celebrities to use their platforms to speak out about the current issues if they lack the knowledge to do so. The following week, I watched an interview between Red Pill of Know The Ledge Radio and Brother Rich of Underground Railroad Productions in which Red spoke on Rocky’s comments as well. He expressed a similar sentiment and took it a step further by stressing the seriousness of activism and the need for statements and actions to only come from individuals who are sincere about the work. He also stated that rather than making the offensive comments that he made, he could’ve deferred his thoughts to someone more knowledgeable.

Recent events surrounding the backlash that A$AP Rocky received from the public/media along with NBA and WNBA players using their platforms to speak out against police brutality opens up for discussion the topic of whether professional athletes and celebrities should use their platforms for social commentary or simply stay in their lanes.  While I agree that staying in your lane prevents celebrities from making ignorant, outlandish, or disingenuous statements, a question that comes to mind is, “Should that philosophy apply to injustice?” Whether you’re living in a privileged position or in poverty, many of us probably know that at any given moment we can go from one extreme to the next. Furthermore, as Black people, most of us are aware that injustice can be inflicted upon us in some manner no matter what our socioeconomic status is.

With that being said, what doesn’t affect us directly could affect us if our circumstances happen to change. Moreover, a collective mindset teaches us that since we’re all connected by race or humanity (whatever you prioritize first), issues that don’t affect you directly, do make an impact indirectly. To use an oft-stated and on the verge of becoming cliche Dr. King quote, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s true that some threats just remain that, threats; however, the atrocities of anti-Black police brutality and vigilante violence in our history to accompany the recent string of events show and prove that the oppressor isn’t bluffing.

It’s hard to believe that Rocky is merely speaking on what he knows considering that he’s surrounded by media, and he maneuvered through uptown NYC during his adolescent years. Although he doesn’t live in Ferguson, the population and social ills of Ferguson probably mirrors those of Harlem in many ways. There’s a good possibility that he’s either witnessed police brutality or knows someone or heard a story about someone who was a victim of it. He doesn’t have to know about politics to recognize that shooting down unarmed Black people is a bad thing. Thinking about the root of Rocky’s comments, it makes me wonder whether he truly doesn’t know what’s going on, if he’s just choosing to not care, or like Megan Saad said about artists in general who shy away from becoming “raptivists,” he wants to protect his “financial interests and brands.”

If Rocky doesn’t care or if he’s afraid to lose his financial backing, he can refer back to the two paragraphs before the last. If he’s honestly lacking knowledge of what’s happening racially, socially, and politically in America, he can either do his duty as a so-called “American citizen,” and educate himself, he can do as Red Pill suggested and defer to someone more knowledgeable, or he can go with the Mr. Westbrooks theory and create his own lane by continuing to speak on what he knows, but in a manner that contributes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before anyone gets what I’m saying twisted, mixed up, and confused, let me first be clear that I’m not  one of those Black people that deflects the issue of police shootings by bringing up Black-on-Black violence. You also won’t hear me exclaim, “All Lives Matter!” I’m very aware that BLM is a movement to restructure or rebuild the Black Liberation Movement to include a broader population of Black people in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and ability with the goal of challenging systematic and blatant injustice while reaffirming our contributions to society.  And, I won’t pull the respectability card by suggesting that rappers need to change their content in order for the police and other racial groups to respect us. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the point of how A$AP Rocky can continue to rap and talk about what he knows while still contributing to the movement.

While groups outside of the Black social construct have and will continue to be apparent allies to BLM, it’s essentially all on us to achieve the solutions we need to reach, whatever they may be. It’s going to take buy-in and a unified effort from Black people. While rap songs about violence, drugs, money, hoes, and clothes aren’t the reasons why police are shooting down Black people, these factors can hinder our ability to unite in greater numbers and battle against the beast of racism and White supremacy.

If Rocky wants to talk about his friend being killed, he can do that and frame it in the context of the human impact of violence on friends and families. With his “new inspiration in drugs,” he can speak on how to use drugs responsibly in ways that allow you to tap into your spirituality. (Shout out to the Black Dot.) He can also discuss horror stories of the dangers of irresponsible drug use. If he wants to talk about being “in these bitches drawers,” he can either do the knowledge on the powers of sex magic or describe the emotional and health-related risks of having sex with multiple partners. “Jiggy fashion” is cool. Promote economic empowerment by showing love to fly, Black fashion designers.

Celebrities don’t have to talk about politics per se in order to contribute to the cause of BLM. They don’t necessarily have to assume the responsibility of being “raptivists” if that’s not what they know or are passionate about, but they do have a responsibility to avoid making destructive music that indirectly relates to the BLM movement. Meek Mill probably won’t quote the Constitution on his next album, but he did promise to not rap about “extreme violence” anymore after Dream Chasers 4.

Rocky mentioned that he wants to promote peace and inspiration through his music, and that’s what Black Lives Matter needs more of. He may not have the answers to our police brutality, Donald Trump, and Billary Clinton problems, and I understand his frustration with social justice issues. But, that peace and inspiration may be what people need to decompress from all of the craziness that’s going on. A$AP Rocky should challenge himself to be true to that objective and push himself to take it to the next level during these trying times, no matter if it’s in the studio, on social media, or in an interview.