Last week the powers that be came for one of our own in our community and y’all know we don’t play when it comes to our own. But after we all collected ourselves and took time to recalibrate, we had one main takeaway: “Why do we think we are free enough to be free?” I mean shit. Hov said it best:
“Niggas always asking me the key
‘Til you own your own you can’t be free
‘Til you’re on your own you can’t be me
How we still slaves in 2016?
Key to life, keep a bag comin’
Every night another bag comin’
I ain’t been asleep since ’96”
Last week marked the 21st anniversary of Jay Z and his first album Reasonable Doubt as well as his ascendance into the songwriters hall of fame, introduced by Obama. Pretty good for a rap artist and someone who doesn’t write his lyrics on paper. BROOKLYN WE DID IT BABYYYY!
Not one to be stuck in old accolades and memories, HOV’s new album 4:44 dropped today.
Who got that Tidal?
Pardon my French but it’s gonna F**K THE STREETS UP. We’re talking about someone who has never shied away from greatness and who spoke life into his dreams when very few people believed he could.
I want you to remember the early 90s when the gritty tales of rap were just starting to break through to the mainstream. The will and confidence it took for this young 26 year old from Brooklyn to actually feel empowered and “free” enough to start his own label is the meaning of audacious. Jay knew what Boyce Watkins is teaching us:
How did Jay respond to people telling him to be humble and deny his own destiny? He started Roc-a-fella Records alongside Kareem “Biggs” Burke and Damon Dash. And when most rappers just wanted to buy they mom’s a crib, he started a movement. On Diamonds are Forever he said, “I’m not a Businessman. I’m a Business, man. Learn about how much of a businessman he is in the YouTube documentary Jay Z- The Rise To Success.
So back to the question: Are you free? Are you free enough to be free?
I’m talking more than just the financial freedom that we all strive for every day of our lives, but actual freedom, the freedom that has somehow eluded us since the end of slavery in America, through reconstruction, from Jim Crow and segregation, through the Civil Rights movement, and even through 8 years of an Obama presidency, the type of freedom that White people enjoy. You know, the freedom to live where you want, freedom to move through this country without being killed at the hands of the police. The freedom to be proudly Black, without backlash from white Americans. The freedom to usher in a new generation of young black free children.
In the speech “The Negro is still not free,” Dr. King lamented:
That was 1962. It’s 2017. How much has changed? And how free are we?
How then do we attain actual freedom? Abraham Maslow created the psychological theory which posited this hierarchical 5 tier model of human needs. It states that we are driven to fulfill these needs, shedding light on certain behaviors we exhibit. Above the need for things like food and shelter, and gradually shifting through thoughts of security, relationships, and other psychological needs is the need for self actualization and the larger fulfillment of our potential.
For me, self actualization speaks to our purpose in life and the way in which living and working with a greater sense of purpose empowers us with autonomy in ways we could never imagine. When you know your purpose or your reason for existing then your thoughts and actions have a levity that is beyond reproach. Only when we find our reason for being can we make strides towards true freedom. Life without purpose, without self fullfillment, is merely a life lived within systems and the parameters of everyday life.
Purpose is what sets one free. From Malcolm to Jay Z, having a sense of urgency in discovering and working towards one’s true purpose is the key to truly feeling and moving freely. After starting Roc-a-fella Records, Jay Z kept powering forward, making unprecedented moves for a Black man in both the music and business world. But with all of his accomplishments, I think the true testament of purpose and being free can be seen in Jay’s equity work in the realm of social justice and criminal reform. His work to shed light on the horrific death of Kalief Browder due to inhumane treatment and the psychological trauma of being wrongfully imprisoned in the Rikers Island Correctional facility. I believe Hov’s experience with Browder’s deepened his commitment to his people. That Father’s Day, he was bailing out men who were stifled and kept imprisoned by the “Exploitive Bail Industry”
True to form, purpose guides your movements and gives you the freedom to be free in ways that people only dream of. Free to live, love, and laugh unabashedly and without restraint. The way in which Hov is able to make moves for his people speaks to the level of freedom he’s gained. We should all hope to find purpose in our lives that affords us the same autonomy.
As you relax into your Summer break, I want you to think about the ways you are, or are not free and even more, how can one who is not free teach others how to be? There’s a reason why our students love rappers and athletes. They provide visions of freedom.
Have we used our major key? Till you own your own you can’t be free.
But ayyyyyy, before I get outta here on this last day in Black Music History Month I gotta do two things.
Shouts out to my boy Dj Khaled alongside his adorable son Asahd. Yall know we can’t forget about Asahd. Khaled released his tenth studio album Grateful, which is sure to be a part of our summer soundtrack. You got Another one (Khaled voice)
I also want to take a moment to honor our fallen brother and rap legend, Prodigy aka Power P of the iconic duo Mobb Deep, who lost his long fought battle with sickle cell anemia on Tuesday June 20th. Stay In Peace my brother and watch over us.
SB: It’s pretty unbelievable that people are dying from sickle cell in this day and age. I have faith that, much like 10 year old Bishop Curry who just invented a device to help prevent hot car deaths, the mind that will cure this disease is sitting in one of our urban classrooms. I just pray their educators are free enough to allow them the freedom to innovate.
That’s it for me yall.
Hold it down good people!