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One of my favorite rappers in the world is Vigalantee out of Kansas City, KS.  Vigalantee has hot music, of course, but that’s the easy part.   What I like about Vigalantee is that in addition to producing good music, he understands that music always has a message.   With that message is the broader opportunity to have a significant impact on the minds of everyone listening at the time.   Vigalantee is a respected leader in his community and has created the “Nojangle Movement,” which is designed around motivating black people to give up the bojangling that some of us feel we need to do in order to get ahead.

Music affects our subconscious minds in ways that are simply magical.  Songs have been written to inspire revolutions, break-ups, drug use, murder and a plethora of other life-changing activities.   The more times the listener hears the song, the more they are affected by the message. So, if the message is “Party party party let’s all get wasted,” this will literally lead to thousands more college students risking death from alcohol poisoning, rape, drunk driving and all the other side effects that come with getting wasted on a regular basis (I’m a professor, we see it every year on every campus).

So, what I would like for rappers to consider doing is the following:

1) Always ask yourself what message is being sent by a particular song: Are you telling the listener that killing is a good thing?  Are you inspiring them to become more promiscuous and do you think this affects the high HIV rates in the black community?  Are you telling them that having money makes you a better man?  If so, then would you still be just as good of a man without the money and do you feel that you’re better than other men because you have money in your pocket?  How much money do you really have anyway?  Most rappers I know are broke or very close to it.

2) Never underestimate the power you have to change the world: It’s OK to use your music to get ahead and “get your paper,” but why not show your real power by changing the world in a positive way?  Can you get other brothers out of the hood or prison by encouraging them to work as hard in the classroom as they do in the studio or the basketball court?  Artists like TI, Lil Wayne and others have a level of talent that effectively makes them pastors spreading their own version of the gospel.  If people buy into your message so readily, why minimize your impact by simply being a well-paid artist?  Muhammad Ali understood this best when he realized that all the millions of people watching him box might also be interested in hearing his political views.  That’s what made him truly great and not just another Michael Jordan.

3) Keep educating yourselves:  As Spiderman’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  When the world is listening to you, you can’t use that platform in a reckless fashion.  God has endowed you with the chance to either build or destroy in astonishing magnitude.  When you make a song that encourages black men to engage in illegal and unethical behavior, many of those men will be bumping your CD when the police car pulls them over.  Be better than what the world has taught you to be.  There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness.

In Vigalantee’s latest album “A Second is a Lifetime,” he writes songs that serve as tributes to black women, brothers in the street, the power of knowledge and the mandate for men to be strong.  That’s how an artist uses his platform to take control of his destiny and shape the world around him.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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