“They got him, yo. They got Bin Laden.” That’s how I heard. Unlike other hip-hop journo cum Twitter pundits whose daily grind requires them to keep eyes glued to the tube (“flatscreen” just doesn’t do it for me, sorry) while thumb-typing their way into relevance at 140 characters a minute, my May Day 2011 was spent in a coffee shop, nose to the keyboard “the old school way,” hustling hard on my own projects.
“Say word. Wow.” I replied, and not even WOW in the all-caps way we now call a violation of text etiquette.
Got me to thinking: Hell of a life I’m blessed with that news of the death of the man who’d managed to explode his image and ideology upon the American consciousness so completely a decade ago now only elicits an annoyed glance at a text message on my iPhone, as I nestle in at my fave cozy Starbucks, sipping a chai latte and “working” on a writing project.
As a citizen of the world, I have that right, right? But as a citizen of the good ol’ U.S. of A., I’m afforded that very real luxury.
Nine years, eight months and twenty days ago, I was reminded of just how privileged I am, despite my “hard knock” childhood in The Bronx and whatever other “this would make a dope rap song” milestones I might have racked up. To me and my peers, growing up hip-hop in spots like NYC, Philly, Miami, L.A., the Chi, H-Town, Atlanta—or anywhere the word “urban” refers to the relative abundance of melanin among the local populace as much as it does the ratio of residents to available land—had been an accomplishment in itself. (You know that rap song: Something about making it to the age of twenty-one or thereabouts.) But on September 11, 2001, we were shocked into remembering that there’s an entire world out there where catchy descriptors like “hard knock life” are a slap in the face to the men, women and children who actually live it.
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Rappers Turned Academics
Until the 2008 Presidential Election, Osama Bin Laden’s one-day claim-to-fame did more to get the hip-hop troops rallying ‘round the flag than all of Russell Simmons’ and Dr. Ben Chavis’ years of work with their Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. From one day to the next, the average 20-something of color went from either a neutral or aggressive position on what it means to be “American” to full-blown, flag-waving patriot. From rap songs to graffiti murals, hip-hop had fully embraced the very idea that, yeah, it is indeed a very American culture, so we should be ready to ride against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
From back pockets that once hung blue or red rags, now draped the Stars ‘N Stripes. Barber shop arguments now included geopolitics (which country was on the come-up, which head of state punked out which rival, etc) and not just which Rapper DuJour bitch-slapped which Rapper DuMonth.
And much, much more importantly, military enrollment rates shot up–especially among the aforementioned young boys and girls of color.
But the fervor didn’t last, did it? Part of that, of course, is just a facet of the times in which we live. News and information from around the world now reaches us in the time it takes for someone to thumb-type 140 characters into an iPhone. When we learn that there’s a lot more to a story than what “the media” wants us to believe, we chalk it up to more of The Man’s tricknology—and move on to the next story. (For some of us, that means the next conspiracy theory, but I digress.)
Another factor, yet another result of the effects of news doled out in snack-sized bytes, is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (make no mistake; the plural is very much intended) have dragged on for so long with no clear end in sight (at least, not for us layfolk) that we now call it “over there,” as just another off-hand reference point we make while having a chat at our local Starbucks—unless you have a family member who was killed or seriously wounded over there.
And now, the man whose visage we’ve all assigned as the face of “the enemy” is dead, gunned out by Americans bustin’ American-made bullets.
“I wonder how many rap songs about duke are gonna come out in the next couple of days,” was my follow up text, sent much later, while I waited for the barista to get a move on with my latte re-up. Because to me, jaded hip-hop journo cum Twitter pundit that I am, Osama bin Laden’s death doesn’t represent much more to me than a reminder that somewhere, deep in the pock-marked mountains of Afghanistan or bombed-out neighborhoods of Iraqi or poverty stricken Brazilian favela or Nigerian ghetto or Haitian cane field or anywhere where the local color is a beautiful brown, exist millions of people for whom even the time it takes to kick back and listen to some rap song or other is a far-off luxury.