“Hip-hop has always presented a voice for the revolution,” Common said, somberly addressing the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards. The revolution, of course, isn’t necessarily what you see on TV: In the current issue of The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb recalls how an earlier generation of once-pacifist civil rights activists, frustrated by lack of power at the ballots, began to warm toward bullets. Lauryn Hill‘s breathtaking “Black Rage (Sketch),” no doubt helped by the fact it was written at least some two years before police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed police officer Michael Brown, has become the most powerful expression yet for this type of righteous, fear-reversing fury; her radicalization since the Fugees arguably echoes Nina Simone’s in another era.
G-Unit‘s “Ahhh Shit” lacks the stealthy beauty of Hill’s “Black Rage,” but it’s another bracing manifestation of the anger that police-involved killings like Brown’s has invoked. With 50 Cent barking the exasperated hook, the song — originally shared last week, but now with an intense video — includes Young Buck rapping, “Ever since Mike Brown went down, my whole city like, ‘Fuck a cop.’” Another member of the long-running New York crew, Kidd Kidd, alludes to Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner — a sample of Garner pleading with New York police last month before dying from a heart attack features on the song. The rap world has hardly been a uniform bloc when it comes to these killings, and Buzzfeed recently questioned where the voices of Jay Z, Kanye West or Lil Wayne are on the issue. It has been a while since 50 Cent was at their level commercially, but he’s speaking, and though the words might not be pretty, the feeling they convey deserves to be heard.