HHAP Episode 24: Free Speech, Censorship, and Protest in China and South Africa

This podcast is the panel discussion titled “Free Speech, Censorship and Protest”, that was held at the 13th annual Trinity International Hip Hop Festival at Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut. The discussion addressed issues of censorship and free speech in hip hop, in both China and South Africa. The artists discussed their own careers in hip hop, and hip hop culture in their countries.

The panel featured 

MC Puos, a Chinese artist based in Shanghai. He is a co-founder of Bang, China’s 1st hip hop magazine, and a founding member of the hip hop collective DDM. He also launched a startup education technology company to promote hip hop culture in China, and recently released a documentary on hip hop in China.
Dana Burton (@DetroitShowtyme), an American artist based in Shanghai. After leaving Detroit for China, he became involved in the hip hop scene in China and created Iron Mike, a national rap battle that takes place in China.
Emile YX (@EmileYX), a South African artist based in Cape Town. He is a member of the pioneering hip hop group Black Noise, and is the founder of the hip hop based community organization Heal the Hood.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Msia Kibona Clark (@kibona), from Howard University

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Black Like Me

Hip Hop was borne from the oppression Black people faced in their urban communities and the outlet to this madness was found in a dope beat and intellectual wordplay. The Black struggle found in the Bronx in America can be mirrored in South Africa where Black people were similarly oppressed in their communities. The Black struggle is unique– if you’re not a member of the Black community, it’s hard to understand what it’s like living while Black. It’s a never ending struggle of escaping oppression and trying to live fully in your skin. Blacks in America in the 90s reached out their hands to their brothas and sistas in South Africa because they knew all too well what it’s like enduring the war against Black all over the world.

Dope Saint Jude, a queer South African hip hop artist and Joey Badass, Brooklyn Native hip hop artist, although growing up in two completely different places, explore what it means to live like them, live Black like them.

In Dope Saint Jude’s video for her song “Brown Baas” the focus is mainly on her and her brown skin and statement locs where she is delivering fierce lines about the oppression she faces being Black in South Africa which hints at the remnants of Apartheid still in the country. She uses the South African term “baas” which means authority figure, and proclaims herself as a “baas” or boss, saying that she’s proud of her Blackness even though others may have a problem with it. She’s owning who she is. She repeats, ”
What it’s like to be brown for a girl like me” “What it’s like to be a baas for a girl like me”

Similarly, Joey Badass invites people into his world with his song, “Like Me” that talks about the everyday struggles of being a Black man in his Brooklyn. The daily fight to stay alive and how people like him live differently and have a whole other perspective on life. “Like Me” was used as a protest song on Jimmy Fallon to shine light on the recent killings of unarmed Black men raising awareness of the pressures young Black men, and Black people in general face.

Both artists reclaim their Blackness and highlight the struggles that come with it, but also show how it’s a source of pride. Dope Saint Jude and Joey Badass both reflect on their experiences through their lyrics and are really trying to send a message because their lyrics come in clear. Joey Badass’s video is more of a cinematic piece where he paints a story for the listener and visual, while Dope Saint Jude has herself as the focus. The video that is very raw and grimy. They both are being a voice for young Black people who are trying to figure out their place in a world that isn’t always that kind to them.