America's drug laws are racist; acknowledging hip hop's contributions to cannabis reform could fix that, says rapper and activist Killer Mike.
No single person can take all the credit for the cannabis legalization movement's gains over the years. But some are getting more kudos than others. Black artists need a lot more credit for the influence they've had on the current wave of progressive cannabis reform, according to Killer Mike, who says rappers in particular have been at the forefront of the cannabis reform movement for decades but have yet to be properly acknowledged for their contribution to the cause.
"We know that with national decriminalization of marijuana now, a lot of people are going to get credit for it—a lot of activists, a lot of workers, but I can show you a line that leads straight back to Cyprus Hill, that leads straight back to Snoop Dogg, that leads straight back to people like Rick James," Mike said during a panel conversation on free speech hosted by The Washington Post last week.
But instead of being given credit where credit is due, rappers often face prejudice and discrimination in return for their efforts. Rap is often dismissed as a genre that does little more than glorify drug use. But you don't hear people saying that about country and western tunes, even though it would be more accurate. Compared to all other genres, it's not rap but country music that has the most drug references in its song catalog. Yet there's no moral panic over Willie Nelson or Toby Keith corrupting today's youth by popularizing drug use.
Killer Mike believes that the difference in the ways country artists and rappers are treated for dealing with similar topics in their music is indicative of a broader culture of racism that fuels the War on Drugs. You don't have to look very far to find out that Black Americans are arrested and incarcerated at levels grossly disproportionate to their white peers. And given that cannabis use rates among white and Black Americans are largely the same, it seems pretty clear that the American justice system is swayed by racial prejudice.
And as long as the media fails to acknowledge Black artists' part in moving cannabis legalization forward, Killer Mike thinks society will perpetuate the double standard that sees so many white Americans consume cannabis without fear of the legal repercussions that many of their Black peers face.
"If it's not duly acknowledged publicly—if the media isn't pushing the line of that narrative, if the media isn't giving us that freedom, if the media treats rappers differently than they do country artists—then you're going to see a galvanization of the prejudices that we already see," explained Killer Mike.