Rapper Kendrick Lamar made history by becoming the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Lamar won the honor for his fourth studio album, “Damn.” His socially conscious music is carrying the torch of legends such as Nas, Public Enemy, X-Clan and Dead Prez for the new generation of rappers. The Compton, CA, rapper’s music documents for millennials the continued struggles of Black people. His song “Alright” became an anthem of Black youth growing up under the Trump Administration. The song’s powerful hook repeated “Everything will be Alright” after detailing the hardships of Black people’s life in America. Lamar curated the soundtrack for the movie “Black Panther,” Marvel’s first Black superhero. His hit single, “All The Stars,” from the film has generated more than a half a billion streams, four Grammy nomination, and an Oscar consideration for Best Original Song, according to Entertainment Weekly. Lamar’s other studio albums “Good Kid: M.A.A.D City” and “To Pimp A Butterfly” proved that rap is more than sex and violence. Kendrick Lamar’s has generated commercial success without compromising the craft.
Jamaican Bob Marley, a musician and composer, helped popularize Reggae music worldwide. Marley’s music produced worldwide political protest anthems such as: “Exodus,” “Rebel Music,” “Get Up, Stand Up.” His other popular songs include: “One Love/People Get Ready,” “No Women, No Cry” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” and many more. Born Robert Nesta Marley on Feb. 6, 1945, he cut his first record at age 17. He formed a group called the Wailers that included Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh, who also went on to become Reggae legends in their own right.
Beginning in 1968 Marley incorporated the Rastafarian faith into his music. Marley died of brain cancer at the age of 36. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. His children are following in their father footsteps by producing their own politically and socially conscious music.
Queen Latifah (Dana Owens) broke into the rap scene in 1989 with her first album, “All Hail the Queen.” Having created the female anthem, “Ladies First,” Queen Latifah created an identity of female authority to counteract the disrespectful rap lyrics prevalent in hip-hop music. She reinforced herself as a true African Queen by being often photographed wearing her traditional African headdress. Her second album, “Nature of a Sistah,” continued to promote powerful lyrics of both Afrocentric and female self-respect. She is more known today as a movie and television star. She currently stars on the FOX program, “Star.” Queen Latifah also manages her own music and production company.
James Baldwin, a talented author who came to prominence in the 1960s, produced essays and novels that detailed Black people’s struggles with religion, sexuality and the sense of community. Baldwin’s 1974 novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” has recently been adapted as a feature film about a mother whose daughter’s fiancé was wrongly imprisoned. His first novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” detailed the terrors of growing up as a preacher’s son in a Harlem slum when the hero fails to fit into the community’s stereotype roles. Baldwin’s writing style transform his novels into high-level narratives that combine both psychological insight and sophisticated thought.
Harry Belafonte, singer, songwriter, activist and actor, has been an advocate for political and humanitarian causes throughout his long career. In the 1950s he was “The King of Calypso,” a Caribbean music style. His album “Calypso” was the first million-selling LP by a single artist, according to industry sources. Belafonte recorded music in many genres– blues, folk, gospel and show tunes. He won three Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy and a Tony Award. He starred in films: “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Island in the Sun,” and others. Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement and one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants. He reportedly helped provide for King’s family since King made only $8,000 a year as a preacher. He bailed King out of the Birmingham City Jail and raised money to have other civil rights protesters released. He helped fund the 1961 Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. During the McCarthy era, Belafonte was blacklisted like many other civil right activists. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and he is currently an American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Spike Lee, a leading film director, helped open the door to movies directed by African Americans. The box office success of Lee’s movies proved that audiences wanted to learn more about the complexities of Black relationships, social issues and bio pictures.
Lee’s first film “She Gotta Have It” reversed the role of sex and love by featuring a noncommittal Black woman and three Black men competing for her affection. Another film, “Jungle Fever,” delved into interracial relationships. His movie “School Daze” bought the lives of Black sororities to the big screen. The movie also showed the struggles of the Black community’s issues around light skinned Blacks verses dark skinned Blacks.
Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” was a commercial success and became a cult classic for the Black community. The film tapped into the racial and generational conflicts in the city of Brooklyn. He introduced the character Radio Raheem, a teen who found peace through music, but was killed by the police. The film explores the incident, which sparked a riot that exposed all the pains of the community, and that’s how the movie ended.
The film examined interracial conflicts in America and how Whites accept Black stars but despise Black people. The movie detailed the explosiveness of America’s multi-cultural communities. Lee once again challenged the American viewers with the movie “Malcolm X,” the bio-picture based on the biography written by Alex Haley. The film chronicled the Black nationalist leader’s life from his time in prison, the Nation of Islam, founding his own Organization of Afro-American Unity and ultimately his assassination. The picture received some Oscars’ nominations but no awards.
Lee’s 2018 movie “BlacKKKlansman” has generated six Oscar nominations. The film tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, Colorado’s first Black police officer, who infiltrated local Whites’ hate group in the 1970s. Lee draws the parallels between the times of Stallworth and present-day White-supremacist movements. Spike Lee’s movies have been more than entertainment, because he has forced all Americans to look at themselves.
Toni Morrison, author and novelist, help sparked what has been called the second African American Renaissance that emerged in the early 1980s, when Black women writers took over the production of Black literature. Morrison became the first Black to win the Nobel Prize for literature. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom award from then-President Obama. Morrison’s novels tackled racism, sexism and the Black woman’s experience with an energy, honesty and imagination that haven’t been seen before, according to 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about African Americans, by Jeffrey Stewart. Morrison penned the book “Beloved” about a enslaved woman who ran away from slavery and killed her two children to keep slave hunters from recapturing them. Oprah Winfrey turned the book into a movie. In “Beloved,” Morrison weaved the voice of anger, sympathy, and the horror felt by the entire community as they witnessed slavery’s inhumanities. The novel detailed the struggles Black women faced to achieve a sense of dignity, the moral question of infanticide and the ultimate question: Is a slave life worth living? Morrison’s other notable works are: The “Bluest Eyes,” “Sula” and “Song of Solomon, which is consider her masterpiece, according to 1001 Things. Morrison’s power of language, scene setting and emotional intensity elevate her work to the highest level of writing.
The Last Poets were a varied group of poets and musicians from the late 1960s civil rights and Black nationalism movements. They produced politically charged poems over taut rhythms dedicated to raising Black consciousness. The group took its name from a poem by South African revolutionary poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed poetry was the last stop before guns would take over. The group consisted of various lineups of poets throughout the years. The original members were Abiodun Oyowele, Gylan Kain and David Nelson. Later members such as Gil Scott-Heron, Gary Byrd, Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin and Umar Bin Hassan helped make the group more popular. With songs such as “Wake Up N*#ggers,” “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “If There Is a Hell Below, We All Going to Go” bought the group success. The groups album “This Is Madness” resulted in the group being placed on the FBI’s anti-terror COINTELPRO list under Richard Nixon’s administration, according to published reports. Oyewole was incarcerated at the time.
The poets follow-up album “Chastisment” introduce a new sound the group called “Jazzoertry” using jazz and funk instead of the spare percussion of previous albums. The Last Poets’ raw vocals and innovation were early influences on hip-hop. They are often called grandfathers and founders of the new movement of rap/poetry. In the 2000s, the Last Poets members gained refresh fame by collaborating with hip-hop artists. Umar Bin Hassan was featured on Common and Kanye West to produce the song, “The Corner.” Oyewole performed on “The Final Call,” a song by Black Market Militia, a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate group. Oyewole was also a featured poet on the Welfare Poets’ compilation CD “Cruel And Unusual Punishment,” which protested the Death Penalty. The group is also featured on the rapper Nas album “Untitled” on the songs “You Can’t Stop Us Now” and “Project Roach.” Since most of the members have passed away, the group now consist of Oyewole, Bin Hassan and Baba Donn Babatunde. The have performed tribute concerts for the late Gil Scott-Heron and all former members. The group’s first album since 1997, “Understand What Black Is,” was released last year.