Social Justice and CHH Part II: Melodies of Pain by WHATUPRG, Trip Lee, and Reconcile
In my previous article from the series “Social Justice and CHH” I examined topics of prejudice, racism, and slavery as told in the music of Lecrae and Derek Minor over the past ten years. Their continual commitment to justice calls into question the purported claims that these are somehow new developments in their music or topics merely mentioned to increase their status. I invite the reader to peruse the previous article and arrive at their own conclusions.
In this present piece, I suggest that the topic of social justice and the experience of social injustice are neither one and the same nor are they convenient issues for artists to address. To assume that CHH artists are jumping on a social justice bandwagon for the sake of gaining popularity is to dismiss, discount, and ignore their real-life encounters with pain, prejudice, and poverty. In the following, I consider experiences of injustice told in the lyrics of WHATUPRG, Trip Lee, and Reconcile.
WHATUPRG is a powerful force within CHH, and his unique contribution has paved significant inroads for Latinx artists and the broader Latinx community. His songs “Glory,” “Drip Lee,” and “Wesside,” are some of his greatest hits, and fans are expectantly awaiting his forthcoming project, New Hollywood.
Tucked away in his latest album titled Raul, RG hits the listener with a very personal song. In his track “4 AM,” this young Latino reflects on a painful moment in his life:
Whole house shook when the cops knock
Whole house shook when the cops knock
4 A.M. and they want Pops
4 A.M. and they want Pops
Daddy turned around said “farewell”
Momma cryin’ on the stairwell
Little brother go look out the window, huh
“Why Daddy got handcuffs on him?”
(“4 AM,” in Raul, WHATUPRG, 2019).
In a matter of seconds, RG’s whole life changed. As he describes in this song, his father was taken from the family and deported. In an interview with Ruslan, RG details how the above lyrics mirror this traumatic event. That “farewell” was not forgotten or dismissed. It is something that RG carries with him. This was his experience, and out of it RG advocates for his community, for legal and illegal immigrants, and for those who feel the pain of losing a family member this way. As he expresses later on in the song, “forget religion and politics. Man, I just wanna have my dad back.”
Trip Lee, a long-time Reach Records artist, has openly shared his experience with racism and prejudice.
Following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in August of 2014, Trip Lee expressed his pain on a track titled “Coulda Been Me.”
In the song, Trip is candid when stating, “I do know life as a young Black man. Guess I can’t be mad that some don’t understand.” He then invites the listener to hear his experiences as a young Black man. In the second verse of “Coulda Been Me,” he details a cruel occurrence following a concert:
Or how bout that time that I flew to a show
Full of joy, finna rap for a room full of folks
Outside then I find it’s a gun in my face
Handcuffs on my hands, pat down at the waist
It’s the same old, same old
I fit the description of a criminal that they know
They showed me the picture. “Come on”
“Are you kidding? We don’t look alike”
Well the cops thought we did if you looking right
(“Coulda Been Me,” Trip Lee, 2014).
As Trip Lee describes in the lyrics above, he was forcefully handcuffed and frisked by police officers. His comment that “it’s the same old, same old” suggests that Trip Lee had similar encounters with law enforcement prior to this instance and that this treatment had somehow become routine. In the eyes of law enforcement, both Trip Lee and Michael Brown fit a particular description.
Some accuse Trip Lee of creating the song as a result of political motivation, but this assumption dismisses the reality of pain. In a short article explaining the motivation behind the song, Lee repeatedly states, “I am hurting.” Trip Lee’s song demonstrates his lived solidarity with those who have lost their lives on account of merely “fitting a description” and ongoing solidarity with others who know the threat of unjust profiling.
Reconcile is another artist that is consistently vocal about social justice. Reconcile personally knew George Floyd, which is covered in a recent Rapzilla interview, and he has witnessed the violence and poverty of underprivileged neighborhoods.
In Reconcile’s music, one senses the urgency of the gospel and how it helps alleviate concrete problems. But Reconcile is not speaking from an ivory tower. In 2014, he shared parts of his upbringing in a song titled “Can’t Take This from Me.” In the first verse, he melodically raps:
Lil dirty boy from that trailer park
From that trailer park, but you made me
No happy home, my mamma gone
That frigerator stayed empty
(“Can’t Take This from Me,” in Sacrifice, Reconcile, John Gives, Dre Murray, 2014).
Reconcile openly talks about his childhood and the abject poverty he witnessed. Raised in a trailer park without his mother and barely any food to eat, Reconcile understands the consequences of poverty in America. He further addresses his childhood in his 2019 track “Hella Fights at the Crib,” in which he describes his unstable home environment in his early years, and he discusses the ongoing consequences of his childhood and how it affects him presently as an adult, husband, and father.
WHATUPRG, Trip Lee, and Reconcile are only three examples of CHH artists who have experienced racism, poverty, prejudice, violence, and trauma. Their stories are not unique to their communities. As Trip Lee says in “Coulda Been Me,” “every Black man I know got stories like those, reaping what they ain’t sow.”
While these artists are speaking and expressing their pain, they are also speaking on behalf of their communities, families, and loved ones. To say that their commitment to social justice is merely an opportunist ploy to gain popularity is naïve at best. These artists carry real pain with and for real people, and that pain is expressed in these very melodies.
Thanks for reading this second article in the series “Social Justice and CHH.” The next article addresses rap music, social justice, and the person of Christ.