For better or worse, hometown pride is as central to hip-hop as misogyny and marijuana. Ever since day one, the most storied rap feuds have been territorial pissing matches — the Bronx versus Queens, East Coast against West. Countless lives have been lost over threats to sacred turf, whether real or perceived. While it can be dangerous to ignite geographic drama on record, storming enemy soil could be a death sentence.
Yet over the past decade, most rappers have stood silently as some of America's deadliest disasters in recorded history ravaged two paramount hip-hop stomping grounds: New York and New Orleans. Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina rained like missiles on those meccas, while subsequent denial from the architects of climate change has been tantamount to disrespect of every momma in both regions. Despite this, there's been little retort from the rap world.
There have been exceptions. Kanye West spoke truth when he said that George Bush didn't care about black people. Likewise, Lil Wayne's accusatory post-Katrina lament, "Tie My Hands," pinned deserved blame on bureaucratic inaction. But they didn't go far enough. It's time for all these gun-toters and shit-talkers to look beyond big oil's congressional cohorts, and to put square in their crosshairs the baron thugs who profit at the peril of urban sanctity.
I challenge every hip-hop artist to start beef with major oil bigwigs. I'm calling for MCs to suspend their petty feuds against whichever foes they're bound to reconcile with anyway, and to direct their rage at more deserving punks like Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. Haters should despise him out of jealousy alone: he earned more than twice Eminem's $14 million take last year.
And it would all be in self-defense. Because of Big Energy's fight against carbon-emissions caps, poor areas that tend to spawn rap talent are exposed to disproportionate pollution and extraordinary ailments. According to the Center for American Progress, African Americans suffer from asthma at a rate of 35 percent higher than whites, and are about three times more likely to die from asthma than Caucasians. Environmental racism runs rampant — from housing projects built on landfills to toxic waste illegally dumped in blighted neighborhoods.
As for contemptible energy titans — look no further than BP's slow response to the mayhem they caused in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. If a Texas rapper would have wreaked half as much havoc on New Orleans, the Hot Boys would have reunited, borrowed camouflage onesies and a tank from Master P, and rolled to Houston to lace Bun B's sizzurp with a cannon shell.
Some stakeholders are already sniping. Oakland activist Doo Dat packs an admirable environmentalist bent, while reliable rebels like Jasiri X are belligerent toward big industry. That's hardly enough though; hugely influential icons need to join the chorus and lambaste the evils behind annihilative fossil-fuel fuckery. Sandy's one bitch that is Jay-Z's problem.
To be clear — this is not a call to throw rims on a Prius. Consider it a plea for influential artists to catch the same community spirit — and justifiable outrage — that has already pulled so many individuals together through extraordinary circumstance and tragedy.
As noted, some subterranean cats are already leading by example. Still, it will take heavyweights like Snoop Dogg and Staten Island's own Wu-Tang Clan to motivate hip-hop America to aim its collective pugnacity at Tillerson and his ilk. They know how to beef. At this point, it's just a matter of rearranging priorities, and of re-imagining that trusty Tony Montana mantra: "The world is yours."