Chuck D has responded to Jay-Z and Kanye’s single ‘Otis’ with his own flip of an Otis Redding sample. His YouTube uploader comment pretty much says it all:

This is a polite respect call to the troops, to continue to inspire but reflect the people better. OTIS Redding was a humble country man from Macon Georgia who bought a jet to work in, not flash. He perished in that plane. Here’s to hoping that the Jay & Kanye supergroup can elevate the masses and try a little bit more to reflect OTIS heart rather than swag, because they’re too good to be less.

Here are the lyrics:

Respect to you two heroes
But trickle-down got us less than zero
Respect, last I checked
Prison-industrial complex: no swagger
Millions, billions, trillions, whips, women
Is a million miles from what people’s feelin (no gas)
Try a little compassion, 2012 fashion
Style your insides, we outside
Fasten a broke seatbelt
Unemployed ride through hell

Notice! Know this. Got to… know this.

Have we all forgotten
Latinos and Blacks pickin electronic cotton, no stax
16.2% is depression inside a recession
Spending money and time on how we dressing
Losing money and homes, homes
These stats be on smart phones
Don’t need new slang to express the pain
Of what’s really goin on in the game of life
Please discuss with no education and knowledge of self
45 years of fucked up health

Notice! Know this. Got to… know this.

Chuck is making a valid but respectful request to these two legends to work harder in support of the suffering masses worldwide, especially the black community in North America. This is of course an entirely reasonable request from an innovator of hip-hop – an artform that was developed by (and for) oppressed people.

One thing I have noticed, however, is how much people *love* to criticise rappers for their promotion of crass consumerism. I mean… last time I checked, no rappers were involved in *creating* this society that’s obsessed with money and luxury.

It seems to me that the sociology of a Jay-Z is reasonably simple: you grow up as a marginalised, improverished black kid in a racist consumer-obsessed society; a society that constantly tells you that poor people and black people (and especially poor *and* black people) are nothing, and that the only way they can become something is by getting conspicuously rich. So you use your incredible skills to become conspicuously rich, and you say to the world: “Look! I *am* somebody – I have *two* expensive watches!”

So when we criticise Jigga and Yeezy for flaunting their obscene wealth, we are really just criticising them for not breaking out of the mental prison that has been built around them.

Would I prefer if more of our rappers got down like Dead Prez, Tupac, Chuck D or Mos Def? Hell yes! And the corporate colonisation of hip-hop is a profoundly negative thing. However, I don’t think the bulk of the blame lies with rich rappers, easy and obvious as it is to blame them. Advertising executives, luxury goods manufacturers, politicians, bankers, mainstream journalists – these people are all more deserving of our criticism than West and Carter. The people that run the music industry were *born* rich, but for some reason we have more to say about poor (and especially black) people who *get* rich.

I have listened to ‘Watch the Throne’ a couple of times. It’s aaaite. Couple of great tracks on there. Basically I’m not all that interested in the problems faced by supremely rich people, but we can’t forget that Jay and Kanye are two of the most important musical/lyrical innovators of our generation. Furthermore, they never completely forget their roots (as evidenced on the track ‘Murder to Excellence’, where Jay says “I arrived on the day Fred Hampton died / Real ni**az just multiply”, and Kanye says “What’s the life expectancy for black guys? / The system’s working effectively, that’s why”). As rich as they are, they still face racist judgement at many levels, and they still have roots in the black community, and these things are very clear in their music and their attitude. I didn’t hear any country and western artist saying on national television that “George W Bush doesn’t care about black people”!

So there you go. I like the respectful way that Chuck put his criticism. Chuck is an elder, and has earned his stripes in the rap game. He gave Jay and Kanye respect, and he told them how he thought they could improve. All I’m adding here is: let’s not fall into the blame-the-rappers game.