Rap and hip-hop music has a rich and diverse culture with its roots linked all the way back to the era of slavery within United States history.  Hip-hop evolved into a music genre in the 1970s when DJs performed at block parties in the boroughs of New York City using the breaks of popular funk, disco and soul music.  As the genre progressed, hip-hop became an outlet of artistic expression for the youths growing up in the inner cities.

Hip-hop blessed the world with popular artists such as 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., KRS-One and Eminem, among others.  The lyrical content gave the rest of the world a lens in which we could try to understand and empathize with the people living in impoverished conditions within the inner city where kids had little to no economic opportunity, faced rampant drug infestations and constant battles with authorities.

As hip-hop music gained popularity, it gave some individuals a chance to make a living while creating work that inspired millions.  Since the hip-hop genre is directly infused with the universal struggle of the worlds poor and underprivileged, it is always great to hear about those individuals that were able to escape that life and use their fame and fortune to benefit others.  Here are a few prominent members of the hip-hop community that do just that:

  • Russell Simmons – the co-founder of the influential hip-hop music label Def Jam,  Russell Simmons is involved with over 20 different charities and foundations.  He is the founder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund which supports education initiatives in African diamond mining countries.  Simmons also created the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation which provides art and educational programming to New York City youth.
  • Nas & Damian Marley  These two artists collaborated on an album called Distant Relatives which features themes related to African ancestry and poverty.  Proceeds of this album were donated to various projects in Africa including building schools and raising AIDS/HIV awareness.
  • Immortal Technique – This underground artist combines gritty hip-hop with politically conscious messages in order to raise awareness of social issues plaguing the inner city and underdeveloped nations.  He collaborated with Omeid International to open the Amin Institute in Kabul, Afghanistan, an orphanage, school and medical facility for children.
  • Akon – Akon created the Konfidence Foundation to help kids in Senegal and the United States have a chance at an education and healthy life.  The foundation assists undeveloped schools in constructing key infrastructure projects so that they can become operational.  In Ecole Elementaire P.A.Y. Unite #3, the foundation completed construction on unfinished classrooms, drilled drinking wells, and provided educational materials.

 – Sunny Bhatt

Sources: Look to the Stars, Konfidence Foundation, Omeid International, Culture Bully
Photo: DrJays

Most entertainers shirk social responsibility until they have struck commercial gold and attained stardom. In general, it is only then that they suddenly claim to be steadfast supporters of children in Africa or staunch opponents of animal abuse.

Up-and-coming rapper, Pepper Boy, defies this trend. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Pepper Boy is the definition of “real.” With a no-frills lyrical style, he is perhaps best known for the sincerity in his tone and the intensely personal nature of his music.

Although his latest mixtape, “Days of Grace,” has garnered critical acclaim–and though hip-hop heavyweight, Lil B, has recognized his music by rapping over his 2010 song, “Tha Parts”–Pepper Boy has yet to score a major label deal or perform at well-known venues. His relative lack of recognition by the masses, however, has not deterred the young rapper from making his activist voice heard–as both a musician and a philanthropist.

On his mixtape track, “Child Soulja,” Pepper Boy tells the story of a young child fighting in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army through a first person perspective. The track, which features a sped up loop of Cutting Crew’s 1986 hit, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” opens with the emotionally rousing lines, “Civil war changed everything … Joseph Kony—that’s the man. As a child, he put a gun in my hand. AK-47, almost tall as me. They burned the whole village; then, they took me.”

Similarly, despite lacking a million-dollar recording contract, Pepper Boy has made much of his music available for download via ReverbNation, through which 50 percent of proceeds for sales of select songs will go toward Keep a Child Alive–a non-profit supporting the welfare of families and children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization currently works with individuals in Kenya, India, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa.

Pepper Boy’s openness to releasing unorthodox songs pertaining to international affairs is refreshing. Conversely, his selflessness in relinquishing potential profit in the name of charity is admirable. Few independent artists have taken such great strides in distancing themselves from material culture and raising awareness for the side effects of global poverty.

One can only imagine the impact Pepper Boy could make if he had a greater audience and more resources at his disposal.

Melrose Huang

Sources: SPIN, Mishka NYC, Reverb Nation, Keep a Child Alive

Can Soap Operas Help Fight Poverty?While the era of the soap operas may be coming to a close in the United States, in many Arabic countries soaps are becoming more and more popular. This increase has come from the unusual mix of American melodrama characteristics (love, family turmoil, deceit, etc.) with cultural values that audiences can identify with.

Surprisingly, soap operas have a history of influencing impoverished communities for the better. In South Africa, a soap opera addressed safe sex and it was found that the viewers of the soap were four times more likely to use condoms than non-viewers. In Mexico City, a soap opera aired that discussed the issue of child literacy. This caused enrollment in literacy programs to skyrocket throughout the entire city.  Even in Colorado, many low-income families increased their child’s health insurance after viewing a soap opera discussing child health problems.

One of the ways in which soap operas can aid in the fight against poverty is through awareness. With such a large audience, a soap opera could be an incredible tool used for spreading awareness about social, health, and economic issues facing impoverished communities. In this way, altering the content of a soap opera to contain relevant content for viewers would only increase ratings.

Although the effectiveness of soap operas being used as an educational tool isn’t full-proof, the idea of altering soap operas, at least slightly, to educate impoverished communities on governmental and social issues seems like an effective strategy to raise awareness about social issues, injustices, and aid in the struggle against poverty.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Al Jazeera