I always knew there was something of a revolutionary in the rapper T.I. Yes, he’ll always hand it in with commercial candy-coated hits, but somewhere deep in there is that Trouble Man – that same troubled spirit that led Marvin Gaye to ask, “What’s Going On?”
As I predicted in my last article covering hip-hop’s reaction to the Michael Brown police shooting, more hip-hop celebs are coming forth. Following in the footsteps of J.Cole’s haunting (but excellent) “Be Free,” T.I. just released his own take on handguns, police brutality, and being a black man in America in “New National Anthem”. His lament paints a picture more grim than CNN news.
“I know radio prolly ain’t gonna play this….but chopper going off in the hood man like Afghanistan or the Gaza strip somewhere man… After all, it’s the American way right?” T.I. begins.
Then singer Skylar Grey bursts out with, “Home of the brave and free (It’s America) / Free just to murder me (Land of the handgun).”
Well, there it is.
With her declaration still ringing in your ears, Skylar asks, “Is this the new national anthem?” Is point blank murder (allegedly by the police) the new creed America stands for? They pose the question against a driving staccato drum beat and African-like chanting. Definitely a change of pace from the somber “Be Free,” but no less arresting, this song is obviously a call to action.
T.I.’s “New National Anthem”:
To rouse that uprising, T.I. spits some real sh*t: economic disparity and impoverished upbringings in the black community, systematic injustice in the court system, and then, of course, the hate-on-hate relationship young black men have with the police (including his own).
“I was raised in a decade of hate young n**ga / Always dodging polices because they hate young n**gas / And we hate them too, 38 in him shoe / All the changes the system will take him through / He ain’t a killer but he will if you make him do it.”
What’s more, T.I. even re-enacts a typical run in with the po-po for a black man; “Hold up man, don’t shoot!…What the f**k you know about being a black man in America? / And you wonder why we walk around with straps.”
As T.I. points out, it is often all too easy to characterize African-American men as angry violent thugs – people to be feared. But rarely do these characterizations look at the injustice and angry violence being done to these men – often by white officers – on the daily.
What makes this song go balls out is that not only does T.I. name drop victims of injustice (Trayvon Martin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X), and culprits of grand crime (Edgar Hoover for killing Malcolm X); he literally gives a public address to the whole of America’s systems (education, gun, prison) on their double standards. He calls America out for creating a monster they now can’t ignore. This is T.I. the politician.
He then gives a private address of encouragement to “his people”: “Stop waiting on folk to help you.” And like Kanye West said, “[The government] don’t give a f**k about us”. This sentiment is probably deeply felt right now, especially in Ferguson.
With his gliding bravado, raw lyrics, and righteous passion, T.I. spits many of the societal views that members of the black community have held for years about this country. He asks the same questions many are now asking in the wake of the Michael Brown murder. Is this the new national anthem? This song is not only a lament, it’s a searing indictment. As T.I. lets rip his own anger, he also reflects the anger of millions of black men like Michael Brown who undergo injustice in this very twisted system. Most importantly, he shows this anger originates from a very real place.
“We are a product of the environment you placed us in…we ain’t do it…we just lived through it”.