Musicians, throughout history have often owned a somewhat socio political responsibility when it comes to the messages they portray in their music. From John Lennon, to Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Public Enemy and Peter Tosh; they've all been vocal in their music about issues across the globe.
In particular hip hop music, built on the premise of social commentary regularly stands firm when it comes to empowering people through delivering the hard truths of societal ills.
I remember the first time I heard New York rap duo Mobb Deep in my teens and using their emotion to get me through a hard time, whilst not being able to relate personally I was aware that what they were talking about was very real to them. Exploring New York rap and hip hop in general I found a love and appreciation for the wordplay and stories from the likes of Cormega, NWA, Tupac and Notorious BIG and then moving towards what some would call "conscious rappers" or "political rap" from Lauryn Hill, Common and Blackstarr, Dead Prez and the Roots.
Recently rapper and actor Yasiin Bey, formally and more commonly known as Mos Def took the stance through his music, from a message to a reality. Although some musicians have protested or taken trips to the respected countries they feel solidarity towards, in this instance Yasiin actualised his position pertaining to detainment and interrogation facility Guantanamo Bay. The day before the Islamic period of fasting between sun up and sun down named Ramadan started last week, he joined forces with Human rights charity Reprieve to raise awareness around the inhumane methods utilised at Guantánamo Bay and experienced the force feeding procedure prisoners on hunger strike go through.
Lawyers for four of the detainees criticised the Obama administration's "equivocal" response about daytime force-feeding and whether it will take place during Ramadan. Although authorities claimed that they intended to only force-feed during the night, a Pentagon spokesman said it "is an accommodation, not a right." It's also worth noting that prisoners released from the camp have alleged abuse of the religion including defacing the Qu'ran, flushing the Quran down the toilet and denying detainees a copy of their holy book.
The footage showed Yasiin in an orange jumpsuit, strapped down and chained to chair while being force fed through a feeding tube through his nose, resulting in him sobbing uncontrollably. This four minute highly uncomfortable video, of which around a minute and a half was him struggling and writhing in fear and distress, showed only a snippet of what takes place in Guantanamo Bay, twice a day, every day, usually lasting up to two hours, to the 45 inmates refusing to eat in protest of their detainment and conditions they live in.
It's rare that we, the general public, see these types of action, let alone by musicians or those in the public eye. In truth I find a lot of "righteous" rappers seldom go beyond words, from their music to 140 characters on twitter. It could be argued though, that in this digital age a tweet from a rapper can often provide inspiration and in the words of Mos Def's long time collaborator Talib Kweli, "discourse provides hope for the righteous".
Using his profile to highlight an important issue close to him not only a Muslim man but as a human being, Yasiin made this matter very real. I'd like to think Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and everything in between would feel the same sick feeling that I did, as someone who doesn't subscribe to any of the above religions. Music sites that support Mos Def's music also chose to report this story showing the effectiveness of such an act, allowing this plight to reach a generation of people that may not even be aware of what Guantanamo Bay is.
Amongst all of the rappers still talking their reckless talk, (Rick Ross springs to mind) while perpetuating everything negative about rap and rappers, there are some respectable artists that are creative with their platform to reach the masses.
In this age of celebrity, heightened by social media that makes them accessible in real time, for an artist to turn an issue that some consider only important to a group of society, into a visible matter using universal digital media is much needed and highly admirable.