Skip to content Skip to footer

Music and gentrification: 5 raptivists find power in their craft

The influence of a music artist can extend far beyond the reaches of art itself. Oftentimes the artists turned raptivists we look up to will make the empowered decision to utilize their platforms to advocate for change, like gentrification.

What does advocating against gentrification in the music industry look like?

Gentrification is a capitalistic phenomenon that plagues many communities today, including ones that our favorite music artists have grown up and developed their sounds in.

Nipsey Hussle, Wale, Cardi B, Jay-Z, and Noname have all been known to speak up about and fight against gentrification’s impacts in their own communities

1. Nipsey Hussle bought back the block

Before the late rapper’s untimely death, Nipsey Hussle had been proudly advocating against gentrification within his own community. The Crenshaw District in Los Angeles has seen a large increase in the median house cost, which has actively pushed out Black residents and Hussle found many ways to combat this issue.

For instance, he invested in many properties and created jobs within the community through Marathon Clothing. He also took action on a political level by planning on using a tax incentive to support his neighborhood and met with Senator Tim Scott to propose an investment fund.

2. Jay-Z flips the definition of gentrification

In April of 2019, Jay-Z performed a freestyle honoring the late Nipsey Hussle and his work against gentrification. His lyrics stated “Gentrify your own hood before these people do it. Claim eminent domain and have your people move in. That’s a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing.

For anybody still confused as to what he was doing.” These lyrics didn’t sit well for a number of fans because of the strong negative connotation towards the word “gentrify” – many felt that Jay-Z shouldn’t have used the word “gentrify” because it is strictly defined as marketing neighborhoods to more affluent classes.

Ultimately, Jay-Z’s message was to clean up your own communities for the good of the people already living there, as opposed to the government doing so while displacing current residents. Through the music, he refers to how Hussle would combat gentrification while improving his community by creating jobs and investing in properties.

3. Wale remains the outspoken voice of the unheard

Similarly, Wale is very outspoken against gentrification, especially within his own music and DC neighborhood.

One notable incident that he has publicly spoken out against on Twitter involved a Metro PCS vendor being forced to stop playing the go-go music that he had been playing in that very spot for decades, because of a noise complaint from a luxury apartment building nearby – Wale says “This is wild to me. U knew what u signed up for.”

He emphasizes that gentrification is an issue of entitlement from the part of white Americans that target Black Americans by acting as if they don’t have as much right to ownership of land in this country.

4. Music artist Cardi B hit Twitter with the truth about gentrification

Another instance of a celebrity speaking out against gentrification through social media involves Cardi B – she says “The gentrification in Harlem and Washington Heights makes me so sad. It truly breaks my heart.”

This began an active conversation on Twitter in which many decided to give their input on the issue and what they feel celebrities like Cardi should do.

Twitter user @JHart04 says “buy property and give it back to the families. That’s the only way. Many families try to work hard but find the fine line in making too much to keep their benefits and homes. That’s what needs to be fixed.”

5. NoName reminds us of the void we need to fill

Noname touches on the topic of gentrification often in her music album Room 25. She opens Prayer Song with the lyrics “Gentrify all my people, there’s emptiness on the table,” before continuing by addressing more political issues such as police brutality.

Additionally, Noname has started a book club as well as opened Radical Hood Library within the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. While many question the library’s true intentions in terms of gentrification,

Noname clarifies “we don’t own the building and our landlord has been on dirt with us ever since we got there lol. it’s crazy cause we have been afraid of him kicking us out to have some white folks come in and replace us with a cafe or something.”

Honorable Mention — Ted Hearne and Saul Williams

Ted Hearne and Saul Williams dropped their project PLACE to capture the erratic changes taking place in our neighborhoods by highlighting gentrification through music and poetry.

The poet Williams writes in one selection, “A Thought,” recited in back-and-forth syncopation by him and the singer Ayanna Woods:

Gentrification is a generational conversation that has gone by many names. We should not discuss what brings you back to the city without acknowledging why you left. White flight. White flight. White flight. Now that winter is over, you’re flying back. Will you bring your old viruses with you? Will you push us away? Are you capable of playing and living with others? Or will you find reasons, very sane and honorable reasons, for pricing us out, for placing us in camps, prisons, squats…. eraaaaaaaaaasure.

Watch the whole body of work by clicking here.