Ice Cube-and-Dem are Wrong, So Very Wrong
…And Why That’s Okay
By george white, jr.
Good morning, congregants of the Church of Funk & Hip Hop! Let’s give it up for Sister Vica and the Mass Choir for that stirring rendition of “U.N.I.T.Y.” by that queenly saint from New Jerusalem. Now I want us all to repeat the reading that Sister Le’Trice shared with us after we prayed for the “COVID sick and shut in:” “In the beginning, there was the Word. And the Word came through the DJ. And the Word came from the music that the DJ played and entered the hearts of the Breakers, who popped and spun. And the Word manifest itself in the modern-day hieroglyphs of the graffiti writers. And the Word entered the eyes of all who witnessed the tags. And the energy from the witnesses and the Breakers and the rest of the gathered flock shaped the Word and hurled it back to the DJ, so that he would play beautiful cuts and all would be well. And there was no MC. In the beginning, there was the Word and there was no MC.” Ah Beloved…I always enjoy when the Sistahs read from the Gospel According to Jeff Chang, the book of “Can’t Stop/Won’t Stop,” chapters 4-6. Let the church say, Amen. “AMEN!”
Now, my sermon this morning is about how the Funk is stronger than fear. I know that many of you have become increasingly concerned about a number of rappers or former rappers who have embraced Donald Trump. Yes, there may be some self-interest that motivates these seemingly bizarre moves. Yes, some of these Black men may be trying to remain relevant as their “15 minutes of fame” begins to dwindle. Some folks might even say that they crave White love or even want to be White. But the one thing that I know is true is that these Black men left the Cypher, our precious Cypher, which birthed them as artists. It was in the Cypher that they received the Word of Hip Hop. And it was within the Cypher’s proving grounds that they sharpened their skills. Nowadays, these Black men respond more readily to the critical eyes of corporate interests. Their behavior takes me back to Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, where the well-known Black ministers were too afraid to lead the bus boycott that was already being organized by Black women. Yet, the fear of these now-nameless men seeded the ascendancy of Rosa Parks and MLK. And the reality that we confronted in 1955 is the same today: White Supremacy in America is frightening and remains virtually undefeated! But as the Apostle George Clinton once preached “When the Syndrome is around/don’t let your guard down/all you’ve got to do is call on the Funk”. “Preach the Word!” And since our friend Ice Cube used that sermon on his song “Endangered Species,” let’s use him as a guide for what has befallen our former heroes.
Ice Cube began his solo rap career by collaborating with “the Bomb Squad,” Public Enemy’s production team. Although Cube was never as Black nationalist in his politics as the socially conscious rappers of the late 80s and early 90s, his album “Death Certificate” did feature the song “Color Blind” which preached peace between the Bloods and Crips. And the “Life” side of that double-album promised a vision of “where we need to go.” But many things have changed since the height of his commercial success in rap music. To express our confusion it might be easiest to paraphrase Cube from his famous diss song “No Vasoline:” “first you were down with the AK/now you on a video for Donald J?!” “Unh Hunh, tell it!”
It’s possible that Cube has evolved over the decades. His rejectionist political impulses used to urge solidarity among some working-class Black communities, at least. But I never heard tell of Cube visiting Cooperation Jackson, down in Mississippi, and deciding that its worker-owned, environment-friendly, anti-racist economic program was unsustainable. Naw, it just seems like instead of tapping into indigenous ideas that Black laborers, intellectuals, and business experts have developed, Cube ignored them and ran straight into the arms of Trump. Cube ran into the arms of Trump after watching nearly four years of Trump’s corruption, venality, and incompetence. I suppose it’s also possible that Cube and dem were drawn to Trump because he is the immoral, lying, womanizing, xenophobic, grifter leader of a criminal organization. But unlike them, Trump’s Whiteness allows him to keep falling up. Have mercy!
Yes, I proffer to you this morning that Cube and dem stared at the horrific present moment through the terrible history of this country, just like the rest of us. Usually clear-eyed and unflinching in his analysis of race, class and power, Cube saw that we might be living in the end of the Second Reconstruction and hurtling toward a deadlier Jim Crow era. Just like the rest of us, he saw the hungry ghosts of lynchings-past return to devour Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd.
Just like the rest of us, he saw armed gangs of overstuffed White folks roam the streets with impunity, threatening activists, voters, organizers, and government officials as the news euphemistically referred to them as “militias.” In the dreadful chill of this moment, the individualistic ethos of these hardcore rappers kicked into high gear. Their hyper-masculinity shriveled and turned flaccid. They convinced themselves that they could make solidarity with someone who only loves himself. They pretended that it was possible to trust a serial liar. And y’all know the Devil is a liar!
Perhaps most grievously, they began to see only what they wanted to see. Cube imagined that a man whose immense wealth came, in no small part, from racial discrimination and fraud would somehow honestly support Black economic development. Trump’s “Platinum Plan” was not even meant for us; it is intended to bolster the laughable fiction that he’s the least racist person. Ironically, we find ourselves in the position in which we can say to Cube “Ya knew the game and you still ended up on your back/Now ask yourself, who’s the Mack?” “Ooh chile, I know that’s right!” To be clear, this is not an effort to suggest that Joe Biden will save us; he won’t. But there is a historical allegory that can help Ice Cube and dem understand the reality of our situation. And almost everyone should be able to get this, given its depictions in two recent HBO series.
If we move America back in time nearly 100 years, Joe Biden is the police chief in Tulsa, Oklahoma who abides the racial segregation in his town but is unwilling to allow a White mob to lynch Dick Roland, especially when the evidence he finds proves that the accused Black man committed no crime. Trump, the Republican Party and their partisans are the mob, drunk on that sickly sweet mixture of power and White grievance. They are determined to lynch Roland and are angered by BOTH the recalcitrance of the police chief AND the insistence of empowered Black folks who are equally determined to have justice. So when they can’t get their hands on Roland, they use lies and guns, planes and fires, and their sheer numbers to destroy Black businesses, Black property, and Black bodies in Greenwood, just so they can “feel safe.” They are the ones who memorialized their destruction of life, liberty, and property in a photograph and scribbled across it “running the Negro out of Tulsa.” But to quote the Psalm of K-dot-LaMarr, “we gon’ be alright.” That’s right!
You see, Beloved, this silly episode reminds us once again that even the biggest celebrities are just people. And they need love just like we do. Ain’t no fear in love! They’re scared by the same raging fires that we see. They breathe the same anxious air that we do. We are under no obligation to follow them blindly or hang on their every word. They are not apart from us; they are part of us. And because our role as the Cypher is to assess and evaluate, to say what’s good and what’s not, we need to be unsparing in thinking for ourselves and telling them the hard truth. So when you see them, in the flesh or on social media, call on the Funk and show them love. Show them that tough grandmother love from Reverend Chance’s “Sunday Candy.” “Yes, Lawd!” Show them that love from the encircled throng that used to rock the corner of Linden and Farmers. “Woo, say it!” Show them that “Showtime at the Apollo” kind of love. “Preach the Word, I said!” And don’t forget to shoot them with the Bop Gun! Let the church say Amen! “AMEN!!”
george white jr. is the interim Dean of Arts and Sciences at York College-CUNY.
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