How are you using your voice?.
I recently watched Snoop Dogg’s documentary “Reincarnated” (where he becomes “Snoop Lion”) on Netflix.
In it, he talks about how he realized that he had never really made any music that would “help people”. His legacy was all about violence, misogyny, and illegal activity, and that bothered him. He realized that his musical success had made him an icon, with global reach. His voice had influenced millions of people around the world and he wasn’t happy with what he had done with that influence so far. These aren’t his exact words. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what I feel he was getting at in the film.
Snoop wanted to make a Reggae album to try to access another piece of who he is and say something different. He does not apologize for being “Snoop Dogg”, but he explains that he had reached a point in his life where he wanted his legacy to have another side to it. He realized that his music was the way it was because of the life he had lived growing up. He identified with the struggle of poor, disadvantaged kids who grew up in bad neighborhoods and didn’t care about authority because he had been one. His “reincarnation” is about the realization that that he had a chance to do something about that.
So, he went to Jamaica… and smoked a lot of what is smoked in Jamaica (in almost every minute of the documentary, so you’ve been warned) and made an album called “Reincarnated”. Of course, the album (which I liked) is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (nor is the film, which I also liked) but for me it struck a chord. Here’s why.
I grew up with Hip Hop music and loved every aspect of it, including the sometimes questionable lyrics. As a teenager, I didn’t recognize the mysoginy for what it was. The lyrics were fun and I knew better than to take them seriously or to think about women that way. The music was also violent, but I didn’t grow up in the “ghetto” and although I was around gang violence (and my friends and I were racially profiled and regularly harassed by the local Police Department*), the violence in songs like N.W.A.’s “F__K Tha Police” or the rebellious anger in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” were just forms of expression to me. I had enough support from positive role models in my life to have some perspective on the difference between the music and the reality. The music touched on things that I could identify with however, and no matter how it made some people feel, I believed that it needed to be heard. I would defend this music when challenged by people that wanted to label it, or the people that liked it in ways that I didn’t agree with. Like every generation feels about the music which defines it, Hip Hop spoke for me and for people like me.
As I got older, and especially once I became a parent, I started hearing lyrics differently. (This is also when I completely stopped using the N-word, which I stupidly used among my friends for years).
I began to wonder if people like Snoop Dogg ever thought about how many people their lyrics had impacted and what exactly that impact had done to people’s lives. I had friends that went down the wrong path because they wanted to be seen “big pimpin”, or thought it was cool to be a “thug”. I wanted Snoop (and all of the rest of them) to realize what a powerful force they could be if they changed their message and used their voice as a vehicle for helping people to get out of the struggle, rather than to perpetuate it.
I wasn’t completely hating. The world needs people to shine a light on what goes on in the places that most people would rather pretend don’t exist. It always will. These stories need to be told. And there’s no getting around the fact that some of them aren’t very nice stories to tell. Art does that, and Hip Hop is art. What I wanted, was for these successful global artists to stop glorifying the struggle and to use their voice to help people gain some perspective and to get out of that way of living. And then to help someone else in their community to do the same. Each one, teach one.
Today, a friend asked me to watch a video of Ben Drew or “Plan B” (musician, actor, writer-director) who is a British Hip Hop artist and writer/director of “Ill Manors” (an amazing film about “the struggle” in East London). The video is a TedxObserver video in which he gave one of the most inspiring talks I’ve ever seen anyone give about this very thing.
If you have 20 minutes, you should watch this video. It will make you think twice about a lot of things. It will make you think differently about our society and how quick we are to judge people for being born in the “wrong part of town”, or for dressing a certain way. It will make you look at the London riots in 2011 a little differently and cause you to question all of the things said about “today’s youth” by the media. It might also make you think a little differently about certain words that you use to describe people from the wrong part of town, and how you regard those kids in “the streets” that we are all a little too quick to discount.
It should also inspire you to do something about it, like Plan B has done. He started the Each One Teach One Trust in the UK and is helping create opportunities for those that need them. Not just opportunities to make music, or star in films (though he’s done that too). His organisation is about creating opportunities and enable positive, long-term changes in the lives of young people. Watch the video. It’s a must.
It definitely inspired me. Not only to write this post today, but to remember that each of us in our own way has the ability to influence people. And not just as individuals in our personal lives, but in our businesses and governments and in the clubs and gangs that we belong to. It’s in the stories we tell. In the ads we make. In the movies we see and the songs we listen to. It’s in the news we read. It’s in every post we send on the Internet. We all have a voice and our voices influence people.
My blog is about marketing, creativity and technology. That’s what I do. I know not many people read it, but today I wanted to shine a light on one little organisation trying to make a difference. It just struck me that everyone (from Snoop to Plan B) at some point starts to think about how what they have made of their opportunities, both good and bad. Both Snoop and Plan B struggled in poor families and bad neighborhoods. Both had a talent that gave them a chance to be heard, by millions of people. One made a Reggae album**, so that the world might see him differently. The other took a reggae song (see below) and used it to build an organisation that helps disadvantaged kids to see themselves differently.
We all have a voice. What will you do with yours?
*The Glendale Police Department stopped me nearly 20 times over a 2 year period in high school. The majority of the time I had at least one other “ethnic minority” in the car with me. Once I was asked to take my backpack (which happened to be full of purple and white pom pons that we were selling to raise money for my H.S. Baseball team) out of the car and to place it on the roof so that the officer could stand at a safe distance while he waited to check my license. Another time, two of my latino friends and two black friends were in the car and we had a flashlight shone in all of our faces and were then asked if we were all brothers.
**I’m sure that Snoop Dogg has used some of his money and influence to create programmes and organisations in the community that help people too. I will gladly share his TED video when it comes out.