Killer Mike + Hip Hop's Relationship with Guns

By Jaylin Paschal

When rapper Vic Mensa tweeted fellow rapper Killer Mike asking to debate his gun control stance, I admittedly had to do some research. I knew Killer Mike had been an advocate for gun ownership, but I had yet to view the NRA video.

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Now, I have no problem with black men wanting or even feeling like they need to own guns. That's their right, and frankly, it's reasonable for any black person to want to be armed with this country's history and tendencies. But as far as the ownership of military grade weaponry and assault rifles goes--I don't think any civilian should have access to them. I can handle people disagreeing with that point. I personally don't understand why anyone would want guns of that grade, but I can agree to disagree on that front.

What I can't let go of, though, is the support of the NRA which has never given a single fuck about the gun ownership rights of black people. The NRA that completely ignored Philando Castile's case; the NRA that picks which citizens' rights they want to support largely on the basis of race; the NRA that convinces white people to buy guns by using dog whistle politics with subliminally anti-black terms like "gangs" and "inner city violence." Furthermore, I can't look past the minimizing of the trauma mass shootings have caused an entire generation to withstand.

Since the interview aired, Killer Mike has apologized. I'm not buying that Killer Mike didn't know how the NRA would use his "advocacy." He's too intelligent to be "tricked" into tokenism; to be manipulated by a known and boastful manipulator. He knows that the NRA-TV platform he used will not ever reciprocate the support if, God forbid, he is arrested or murdered for possession of his weapons. So how did he find himself in that room, doing that interview?

It's worth examining Hip Hop's relationship with guns, and whether or not that long and complex relationship is what would make someone as aware and politically logical as Killer Mike drift so far right.

One could argue that the same conditions which birthed Hip Hop--drugs, violence, poverty, marginalization and racism--are the conditions which make black gun ownership necessary.

Racism leads to poverty; poverty leads to violence or a willingness to go to extreme and even illegal measures to survive, all of which lead to the emergence of rap and the prominence of gun culture within the Hip Hop community. Black people wanting to defend themselves in a country that was designed with no regards to their lives is not only reasonable, it is almost the smartest thing to do.

As Hip Hop journalist Xavier Handy-Hamilton (@FNR_ZAY) writes, "Like Harriet's revolver, for the oppressed, the right to protect one's self is vital in maneuvering the systematic obstacles placed on their march towards freedom."

Self defense within the black community has long been villainized, and Hip Hop has been characterized as a violent genre that celebrates and promotes crime. White, conservative America often deflects the discussions surrounding gun violence to "black on black crime," or to Hip Hop explicitly. There is additionally the prejudicial belief that black people, especially men, are more likely to be violent criminals.

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Today, even the softest of rappers, like Drake, for instance, allude to gun violence. It's so deeply integrated in Hip Hop culture that it's almost surprising to hear that a rapper has never held a gun, rather than the opposite. We see them with guns in music videos and photos, on album and magazine covers. We have faves who have shot and even killed people, and yet continue to assert them as our faves. We've come to expect gun possession from our industry icons, and even expect for these guns to be obtained illegally. So perhaps gun rights advocacy from a Hip Hop figure shouldn't be even the least bit surprising. And to you, maybe it wasn't.

But what should absolutely shock you is their willingness to go damn near alt-right, lobbying alongside people who don't care if they live or die. Hip Hop has never been about abandoning your core.

Jaylin PaschalComment