Photos courtesy of Xphaqtor and ISocialHouston

Religious content, artistic integrity, creative responsibility, censorship, parental accountability, political issues: these were a few of the topics on Bun B’s agenda during his panel discussion on “The Ethics of Hip-Hop” at Houston’s Venue Nightclub last night (April 12).  The co-professor of the "Religion and Hip Hop Culture" class at Rice University moderated the second public session in a continued effort to close the cognitive distance between rap culture and academia.

The Professor of Trill—as he’s come to be known on campus—played aggregator of content as fellow MCs Tre9, Trae the Truth, Malice of The Clipse, Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco spoke openly for three hours about their collective views on how they approach hip-hop artistically and socially.

On the topic of ethics and the long-standing phrase in hip-hop, “keeping in real,” Talib emphasized the importance of staying in your own lane as an artist.

“I think my responsibility as an artist is to be honest with my craft first,” Talib said.  “What I get paid to do is to be honest with my music.  If I have knowledge, it’s my job to share that knowledge.  I can’t share what I don’t have.  You have a responsibility for the knowledge that you have.  But because of the type of music I make, I don’t expect every artist to make that type of music.  I make the type of music based on what I know how to make and if I was to try to make something else, it wouldn’t come across as genuine.  But I don’t put the burden of that on the art, I put it on myself as a man.”

And as the discussion veered towards spirituality and religion, which is par for the course considering the title of the class, Christian rapper Tre9 spoke on how the perceived strange bedfellows are actually more of an integrated phenomenon than most fans realize.

“There are people out there that want to be encouraged through hip-hop,” Tre9 said.  “There are people that want to have their faith strengthened in hip-hop; to have positivity in hip-hop and buy and consume the music.”

It was Malice, known for rhyming about coke as one half of The Clipse and newly published author of the spiritual awakening book Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, and Naked, that hammered home the most profound testimony of religion and hip-hop.

“I had a life changing experience and Jesus Christ definitely saved my life, so when that happened, I couldn’t deny it,” Malice said.  “In the industry and this music game, if you don’t have the discipline—and I thought I had a lot of discipline—you can get caught up.  I can honestly say that this world definitely tried to kill me and take me out of here.  Definitely.  And Jesus definitely saved my life, so I have to give him all the glory.  It doesn’t matter to me what anybody thinks.  Fortunately, my brother [Pusha T] loves everything that I’m doing.  He tells me that he appreciates what I’m doing, he definitely has my back, and I have his back as well.  I definitely have a lot of support.”

The discussion reverted to the secular rap realm when Bun asked Lupe about the challenges he faced releasing his latest LP, Lasers, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 in March with over 204,000 copies sold.

“I hate injustice and I hate dishonesty,” Lupe said.  “I demand honesty.  Just keep it honest with me.  If you want me to be a commercial artist, then just tell me that and we can do that and I’ll do it in my own way.  This is music; we can do whatever we want.  If I’m trying to make you dance, then we just gon’ dance, but if I’m trying to tell you the truth I’m gonna keep it raw and educated and intellectual because I know that the world understands that from the little kid all the way up.  And they’re gonna react to it and feel a certain way about it and have their critiques and comments.  So with my label situation, you have people that when they see injustice, they act upon it.  Injustice is just something that I always stood up against.  Even my own injustice.”

Things got especially heated, though, during the audience Q&A when a public school teacher took the panel to task for leading so many children astray with their lyrical content.

“It’s OK if teachers don’t understand what we do right now,” Bun said.  “Trust me, there isn’t a rapper up here that wants a 12-year old kid to go out and commit crimes, smoke weed, drink liquor, fight or any of that. But we all have to work towards a solution together.  And who’s to say that your voice as a teacher isn't louder than mine as a rapper just because I’m on the radio?  That’s a misconception because here’s what you’re telling me: you’re telling me that you can sit in a classroom for seven hours a day talking to a child and a three-minute song can erase that?  I don’t believe that.  I believe that before that child got in the classroom there was an issue.  So let’s speak to those issues and then once we get rid of these issues, then we can talk about rap.  Rap is not here saying that we didn’t do it.  Rap is here saying we’re not alone.”

Lupe fired back and took the teacher and the school system to task. “The school system is very much to blame,” Lu said.  “The way that we’re taught how to teach kids and the system that you came up under is very archaic, ancient and 60 or 70 years past its time.  So you should go into school, take all those antiquated textbooks, meaningless tests, throw them all away, and teach these kids something meaningful.  Teach them how to grow and plant their own food as opposed to teaching them English or Math they ain’t never gonna use or teaching this history that’s backwards.  Miseducation is miseducation no matter how you put it whether it’s coming out of a radio station or it’s coming out of a teacher.  Miseducation is miseducation no matter who’s saying it.  Just because I can make it rhyme and you can’t that makes you better than me?”

The panel discussion ended with Lupe’s comments on political rights and wrongs, but it was his comments to an aspiring female rapper in the crowd about her disparaging views on Nicki Minaj that cemented the power of hip-hop that goes beyond preconceived notions of its social reach.

“Don’t knock Nicki Minaj and I’ll tell you why,” Lupe said.  “I was in Detroit and everybody needs to take a trip to Detroit.  If you think where you’re at is bad, go to Detroit.  In Detroit, I went to this high school, there was a radio thing with a DJ set up, and while I was driving to this high school, you literally pass by miles and miles of houses gutted out.  There’s literally nothing.  There’s no hope, no nothing.  I’ve been to Africa where they make huts out of cowshit and I’ve never seen poverty like this.  I go to the high school, they’re playing some music, you see the kids, and the way these kids live in this despair, they live in this place.  But then they played the Nicki Minaj “Moment For Life” record.  So you got all this chaos, a Nicki Minaj verse comes on, all the girls stopped, and you see all these girls reciting this record out of all the negativity and ass shaking and the whole thing that Nicki puts out there.  And to see those kids reciting that verse; to know that that verse got through and she had to shake her ass and do whatever she had to do to get that verse to them girls in Detroit to sing that and have pride about themselves?  I hit Nicki that night and said, ‘Yo, I’m just sending you some positive vibes because you had these girls in a high school in Detroit singing your song and it was beautiful.’  So you never know what’s on somebody’s mind or who they’re touching.  So you should aspire to be like that.” —Maurice Bobb