“What I’m sowing today, I be reaping tomorrow
So here’s some joyful bars, to replace your sorrow.”
--LL Cool J (from Old School New School)
It was very difficult not to laugh when reading Robbie Ettelson’s satirical rant, “Being Positive is for Chumps,” in last week’s online Acclaim Magazine, against celebrity rappers for their inspiration-oriented tweets. In fact, I’ll admit it. Even though the sarcastic tirade was based in large part on a quote from The River of Winged Dreams, the subtitle of the piece almost sent me rolling on the floor:
“If Robbie of Unkut comes across one more inspirational tweet from a rapper he's going to vomit rainbows.”
At the same time, I smiled at the realization that the quotes which apparently have threatened to turn Robbie’s tummy inside out were often, for the rappers who shared them, not just quotes at all. They were testimonials to what it meant to battle the demons that nearly derailed their own lives and which did destroy the lives of some of their peers, relatives, lovers, neighbors, and friends.
Gold and Rainbows
Specifically, Ettelson pointed out in his comical piece tweets from MC Lyte (who is fond of the hashtag #unstoppable), Russell Simmons, and LL Cool J (who is on the March 2013 cover of ESSENCE Magazine). While acknowledging LL Cool J as “the greatest rapper of all time,” he found that title inconsistent with this tweet:
“Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.”
(Aberjhani, from the poem Angel of Healing:
for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying)
Ironically enough (or maybe even intentionally so) the art graphic of LL Cool J with a rainbow in the background and surrounded by pots of gold is pretty inspiring itself.
Take a look at the period Mr. Ettelson focused on––the 1980s–– and you might find yourself tempted to go beyond applauding the performances of the celebrities he named and express heartfelt gratitude that they not only “made it through” but currently thrive in some fantastic ways. Early on into the 1980s, hardcore drugs made their way into American communities like an invisible toxic sludge with chain reactions of cataclysmic results.
The Word “Survivor”
African-American communities were targeted both as dumping grounds for quick mass sales and as profiled scapegoats for arrests made in the subsequent “war on drugs.” The result was an escalated breakdown of stability within Black families, the disproportionate arrest and sentencing of African Americans for the same crimes committed by Whites, increased suicides, higher drop-out rates among high school and college students, and yes, a whole lot more. Add to these the chronically high unemployment and under-employment rates that have plagued African-American communities for decades and an extremely tragic scenario takes shape.
It would be great if everyone could sigh and exclaim with relief,” Man, it’s a good thing all that back-in-the-day crap is over with.” Except that it isn’t. It’s back on this day. As lame as it may sound, a shared positive word has been known to make all the difference between a life destroyed and a life saved.
As for those hip-hop icons who survived to tell their tales and pass on some degree of empowerment: the word “survivor” carries a weight of remembrance that has broken the minds and bodies of more than a few men and women. It also contains a humbling light of recognition that compels many to do whatever they can to help reinforce the efforts of those who might be “at risk” of not just giving up on their dreams, but of giving up on their continued existence. Some take the time to try to make a positive difference that could help swing the balance in a more life-sustaining direction. Some do not.
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
More on the Positive Vibes of Hip-Hop Icons