The death of DMX wasn’t caused by an inability to deliver his words, his message. He was, fortunately, able to have the opportunity to do that and the world is better for it. But, too many young rappers never get that opportunity in the music industry.
Tendencies to fall prey to the toxic masculinity of proving how tough they are catches them in a spider’s web of guns, drugs, violence and sometimes crime and murder. Sometimes, it’s their own murder.
The world of Hip Hop and Rap has given us a plethora of artistic wonders but what we actually get to hear and what actually is pushed by the industry is only a fraction, a tiny fraction of a world of truly gifted poets and auteurs, who aren’t seen as marketable by an industry only concerned with scraping dollar-sized slices of their flesh into their coffers but if you’re an artist that has climbed that mountain and achieved success, you have my respect and I congratulate you for that.
The list of Hip Hop artists slain because they were caught up in the bullshit of fame, fortune and machismo is miles long. Since 1987, that we know of, only 17 were aged 30 or above. From Tupac to Pop Smoke to Nipsey Hussle, the murder game amongst Hip Hop and Rap stars is a young person’s mouse trap. In fact, in 2015, the website The Conversation did a study that showed 51.5% of American Hip Hop musicians’ deaths are from homicide. 
|Name||Date of death||Age at death||Cause of death|
|Scott La Rock||August 27, 1987||25||Shot and killed|
|Paul C||July 17, 1989||24||Shot and killed|
|D-Boy Rodriguez||October 6, 1990||22||Shot and killed|
|Charizma||December 16, 1993||20||Shot and killed|
|Stretch||November 30, 1995||27||Shot and killed|
|Seagram||July 31, 1996||26||Shot and killed|
|Tupac Shakur||September 13, 1996||25||Shot and killed|
|Yaki Kadafi||November 10, 1996||19||Shot and killed|
|The Notorious B.I.G.||March 9, 1997||24||Shot and killed|
|Fat Pat||February 3, 1998||27||Shot and killed|
|Big L||February 15, 1999||24||Shot and killed|
|Freaky Tah||March 28, 1999||27||Shot and killed|
|Bugz||May 21, 1999||21||Shot and run over|
|DJ Uncle Al||September 10, 2001||32||Shot and killed|
|Jam Master Jay||October 30, 2002||37||Shot and killed|
|Sabotage||January 24, 2003||29||Shot and killed|
|Camoflauge||May 19, 2003||21||Shot and killed|
|Half a Mill||October 24, 2003||30||Shot and killed|
|Soulja Slim||November 26, 2003||26||Shot and killed|
|Mac Dre||November 1, 2004||34||Shot and killed|
|Blade Icewood||April 19, 2005||28||Shot and killed|
|Proof||April 11, 2006||32||Shot and killed|
|Big Hawk||May 1, 2006||36||Shot and killed|
|VL Mike||April 20, 2008||32||Shot and killed|
|Dolla||May 18, 2009||21||Shot and killed|
|Lele||July 1, 2010||23||Shot and killed|
|Magnolia Shorty||December 20, 2010||28||Shot and killed|
|Bad News Brown||February 11, 2011||33||Beaten and shot|
|Adán Zapata||June 1, 2012||21||Shot and killed|
|Lil Phat||June 7, 2012||19||Shot and killed|
|MC Daleste||July 7, 2013||20||Shot and killed|
|Pavlos Fyssas||September 18, 2013||34||Stabbed to death|
|Depzman||September 21, 2013||18||Stabbed to death|
|Doe B||December 28, 2013||22||Shot and killed|
|The Jacka||February 2, 2015||37||Shot and killed|
|Flabba||March 9, 2015||37||Stabbed to death|
|Chinx Drugz||May 17, 2015||31||Shot and killed|
|Bankroll Fresh||March 4, 2016||28||Shot and killed|
|3-2||November 10, 2016||44||Shot and killed|
|XXXTentacion||June 18, 2018||20||Shot and killed|
|Jimmy Wopo||June 18, 2018||21||Shot and killed|
|Smoke Dawg||June 30, 2018||21||Shot and killed|
|Young Greatness||October 29, 2018||34||Shot and killed|
|Feis||January 1, 2019||32||Shot and killed|
|Kevin Fret||January 10, 2019||25||Shot and killed|
|Nipsey Hussle||March 31, 2019||33||Shot and killed|
|Pop Smoke||February 19, 2020||20||Shot and killed|
|Huey||June 25, 2020||31||Shot and killed|
|King Von||November 6, 2020||26||Shot and killed|
Now, I’m perfectly aware that gang violence, diss tracks, beef and murders aren’t going to just vanish but all of these artists are all equally talented and this list is just a very small sample size of lyricists that have been cut down in what, at its core, is the pursuit of expression, getting their message out to others and connecting with others who have experienced what they have experienced or to enlighten and educate the ones who have not.
Of course, there are individuals who just rhyme words and desire to make bank and garner millions of views and followers but fuck them, I’m not talking about them.
In and of itself, sex, drugs and violence in lyrical, spoken word or prose are fine. They’re forms of expression but when you introduce direction to those words, such as so-and-so is a bitch or I’m gonna put so-and-so in a coffin, that expression becomes a threat. This is targeting and targeting is okay too but it’s how you cultivate it. Saying “I hate Trump!” or “Fuck Trump!” is much, much different than attaching a violent act to it.
Directional expression is also fine…again, when done in a vague, general way that still allows the writer to express their emotions but does not target an individual or group of individuals. Creative Writing is tricky sometimes but the majority of these artists put a deep amount of thought and effort and critical thinking into their works and sadly, one of the best ways, aside from social media, to fire those verbal bullets is through song and a song on YouTube or Spotify is going to go viral much faster and blow up much larger than a tweet or an Instagram diss.
But, what if there were an outlet, a way for these young writers to express themselves and have that message delivered to an audience, albeit a smaller audience than the music industry provides, not with censorship but with guidance, advice and a choice. A choice to take the lazy route, targeting someone with violent threats, or, the more intellectual route, finding a way to deliver those negative feelings in a manner that maintains their intensity but doesn’t lead to incitement and retaliation or…murder.
It can be done…and I want to do it. I want to at least try.
I want to start a business.
A publishing company.
I only used the music industry and Hip Hop as an example and stepping stone to a much larger idea. I want to sign as many young, aspiring artists, and, I’ll be honest up front, I want to sign young people who are in situations and environments that you hear about all too often these days. Poverty, hunger, a lack of employment access, substandard educational opportunities, an absence of mental healthcare, police harassment, violence, drugs, sex, teenage pregnancy and yes, crime.
The youth of our nation…the disenfranchised, the abandoned, the ignored, the used and abused. And it doesn’t matter what race, gender or genre either. I’m not interested in offering opportunities to young people with access to money or privilege either because, and, I’m not singling out any section of society but you know who you are and if you’re remotely wealthy and are a shade on the color spectrum that is treated far better than others, you have access. You have the ability. You already have opportunities.
I’m looking for young men and women that have none of those things. That have a voice that needs to be heard, that no one will listen to. That have no way to express themselves emotionally without fear. That have no direction or guidance, life skills or how to construct and further develop, to hone their creative and artistic abilities. I want to take their art, whether it be poetry, photography, painting, graffiti, I want to show them that there are multiple roads of expression and I want to put books of their words, their thoughts and their images in the hands of others.
I want to give them an opportunity to speak their minds, share their ups, down and experiences but most of all, I want to amplify their voices and existence. I want to, even if on a small scale, help change what is a bleak and hopeless outlook into possibility.
And with the right funding, the rewards are endless. From scholarships, an appropriate amount of money for their work, healthcare, educational, employment, childcare, help for their loved ones and other benefits and opportunities.
Opportunities for expression are a core concept but providing pathways to hope, self-sufficiency and a better way of life for these kids is the ultimate goal. To show them that an industry that makes a fortune off of their art, while they continue to suffer and die for it is not the only route from Point A to Point B. That dollar signs and designer clothes are just an interstate where velocity and youth are a deadly combination.
And for every artist out there that the “scene” deems irrelevant or a has-been. No. I want and need them too. To be mentors, role models, guides. To take these young people’s minds on the scenic pathways and avenues, so they can see life as it develops. To appreciate the moment, the details and to see the unseen. Not a blur of chemicals and excess.
It’s also about tangibility and reflection. Being able to physically hold a book full of your artwork and knowing that others out their are being inspired by it, that it is being appreciated and revered shows a person worth.
And that’s the penultimate goal; to show the disenfranchised youth of a repressive and oppressive society that they are worth it.