Tupac and Biggie. Jay Z and Nas. “Hit Em Up” and “Who Shot Ya”. “Takeover vs Ether”. This is what came to mind three days ago when I read the controversial critique of iconic scholar and activist Cornel West by Hip-Hop sociologist and professor Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson’s literary diss track caused scholars and critics to go crazy on social media, and many took to their respective studios to record tracks voicing their approval or disapproval.
Some of my colleagues felt like Dyson’s critique was tasteless, self-aggrandizing and disrespectful. I agree. Dyson took an opportunity to drop a “hot 10,000” when no one expected it, at the height of some of the most challenging times the Black community has ever faced. When solidarity within our race should be at its greatest, Dyson’s article can and should be viewed as a setback. Culturally and historically, when situations have affected us detrimentally we were always able to turn to our most influential leaders. West and Dyson are two of those leaders. Instead of dropping hot “punch” lines via articles and television interviews, perhaps a conversation could have taken place to hash out differences. Only Dyson and West know if that could have happened.
However, with all that said, the Hip-Hop’er in me was extremely jovial. Considering the fact that Cornel West is not one of my favorite “lyricist”, the “Ether” that Dyson dropped was like a highly anticipated album that I finally downloaded. I felt that many of his critiques were accurate, and regardless of his self-aggrandizing by-way-of highlighting West’s inconsistencies and flaws, it was music to my ears. When someone throws shade and subliminal shots via every outlet, every opportunity they have, they deserve to be bodied on wax. The spontaneity of Dyson’s work was as unexpected as Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Big Sean’s “Control”! And we all loved it. Like Dyson said in his interview with Marc Lamont Hill, “Public actions warrant public criticism.”
When Tupac dropped “Hit Em Up” to diss Biggie and Bad Boy Records, which was an emotional response tantamount to Dyson’s critique of West, California was rampant with gang violence and the drug epidemic. Black bodies littered the streets due to gang violence and drug overdose. Government corruption and injustice suppressed and oppressed Blacks daily. And while I understand to compare 1996 to 2015 may appear inconsistent and incomparable, we forget that Hip-Hop has always been able to engage both the art and the culture critically, while at the same time providing prophetic vision. Both Tupac and Biggie produced records that were inspiring to their fans at same time of their beef. Many critics of Dyson’s work, who are also fans of Hip-Hop, would feel differently about the article if embraced from an ethic of Hip-Hop.
While many may find Dyson’s critique ill-timed, we must also understand the necessity to provide honest critique, especially when solidarity is needed most. I believe Dyson’s article revealed our hypocrisy toward honest criticism on the road to solidarity. When West made strong comments about President Obama and others who supported him, the level of attention given to critique West does not match that given toward Dyson. I understand, as in the streets, that when someone goes hard at the “OG”, the natural inclination is to protect the “big homie”. We abandoned the ethic of Hip-Hop in this matter, and are operating with unjust scales.
Regardless of how we feel about Dyson’s work, I believe we must be honest with ourselves about issues that happen within and concerning the Black community. We must be able to address our differences and move on to the next track. Yes, sometimes beef’s are irreconcilable, but to sweep them under the rug for the sake of solidarity is hypocrisy. Let us be honest about issues we face, whether it is pretty or not. Only then will we see the influence of our leaders be true to those who follow them.