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The Silent Language: Numb Tears and The Desensitizing of A Nation

Desensitize -

To make (a sensitized or hypersensitized individual) insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent.

To make emotionally incentive or callous.

From the moment I heard The Alchemist keys setting an ominous tone on Kendrick Lamar’s We Cry Together, I dreamed of Westside Gunn being magically featured. The instrumental was too reminiscent of Darringer; too cohesive with Griselda’s consistent vibe of dark moods and dope talk. Instead, we were gifted with an unexpected juggernaut in the actress Taylour Paige delivering an award-worthy back and forth with Lamar in their portrayal of couples everywhere. That’s why Monday, June 6th, was a bittersweet twist of turns. In a politically charged single titled, Welcome To The States, Buffalo’s own: Benny The Butcher, would rap about the tragedy that took his home on May 14th.

It’s obvious there’s a major issue with gun violence in America. It’s also obvious that this issue has become the “accepted” norm (“accepted” being defined by the lack of action in legislation). We are in the contemporary now - where the disregard for human life is equally consistent with the likes of ESPN highlight reels. It is lost in these algorithms of tragedy that tracks such as We Cry Together and Welcome To The States spark a certain conflict within me. While Lamar bears the weight of the perennial labels that cling to an every day “F*ckboy”, trying his best (from a man’s perspective) to equally display the woman’s tribulations in society, the track has become a meme phenomenon - ignoring its intentional efforts for progress and doing as the ending says: tap dancing around the conversation. While Benny speaks for those unheard, we still look at him as just another “coke rapper”.

Both instances represent a lack of sensitivity from a personal and societal standpoint. Have we become so accustomed to seeing toxic couples that we can only laugh? Is the entertainment of Starz’s Power series, and the musical genius of Benny’s Tana Talk 4 enough to numb us from the rising gun violence in America? Some would argue that there’s no room for comparison - no similarities between the physical and emotional that takes place in fiction. Yet, here we are, another mass shooting taking place on June 9th at a Manufacturing Plant in Maryland. Therefore, the genesis of this conflict lies within a simple question; how desensitized are we?

Thursday, June 9th, Benny the Butcher tweeted, "I learned a few things from droppin' 'Welcome To The States'.

  1. A lot of people don't like when an artist uses his voice for good.

  2. They wanna try to call me a coke rapper to discredit my bars.

  3. "Y'all don't listen to music y'all skim thru it".

A presumed response to any criticism the track may have garnered since its June 6th release. The relevancy of the tweet is within the accuracy of each gem he numbers off.

  1. We are no longer in the age of mainstream conscious Hip-Hop. The days when collectives such as the Native Tongues were still prominent when intellectual emcees like Rakim were still sources of major influence are days of the past. You have to dig "underground" to find true appreciation in music that uplifts a certain message. In the instances that pre-established artists from the 2010s such as Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole do provide bodies of work that are more conceptual (4 Your Eyes Only/Mr. Morale And The Big Steppers) they are quickly labeled "preachy". By no means is this a slight to all of the great music being made in the mainstream, but, when did it become "boring" to rap about anything other than parties and drug paraphernalia? When did album sales become more relevant than the long-lasting impact an artist has on the culture?

  2. "Guess this gon' make me a hypocrite, but considering I'm human/And also, I know the differences from street laws and innocents" - Benny on Welcome To The States. This bar and the ideas behind it tackle many layers. On one end, I witness masses of youth glorifying gang violence and drug trade - championing the likes of El Chapo, Wayne Perry, and even fictional characters such as James St. Patrick or Franklin Saint (Starz's Power/ FX's Snowfall). To them, the destruction of communities and the culmination of victims is irrelevant if a certain level of likability/popularity is maintained. It's this glorification, some would argue, that perpetuates the cycle of crime. Therefore, in what world does Benny the Butcher, an artist who has capitalized on rapping about such activity, have the audacity to write about white nationalism and violence targeted against minority communities? Then again, the fact that consumers choose to ask THAT question instead of questioning the lack of action from the government they follow is an issue within itself. It's clear that the influence of cancel culture and the privilege of having platforms where we freely project our opinions (reeking of dogmatism) have made us more accusatory.

  3. The third verse is almost extinct in rap music. "26 new hip-hop projects hit the Top 10 in 2019. 386 tracks. 773 verses. 2 verses per track. Just 64 tracks have a 3rd verse: 16.6%. 2019 has the lowest verse-per-track & 3rd verse % this decade, continuing a downward trend" (via @HipHopNumbers on Twitter). Before diving into listening to content properly for its subject matter, first, we have to address the rising lack of attention span. Whether you blame it on streaming, social media, or just the world falling apart - the people are paying less and less attention. It's comparable to the instant gratification of a high that you didn't have to work for. Nowadays you have artists such as Joey Bada$$, Cordae, and Deante Hitchcock advocating for people to listen to albums front to back the way they're designed. Have we sunken this low as consumers? Have the labels succeeded in feeding us subpar content so much that we are too lazy to work for the message? I only address this because it correlates to Benny's final point. If consumers aren't given a catchy hook, a short and sweet - straight-to-the-point song, then they critique it at a surface level. How are we supposed to progress the conversation when we aren't even disciplined enough to listen?

There are only so many words can do. I know that. Before I point the finger at anyone I'm well aware that I have to be conscious of the amount of action I'm putting towards a solution. Yet, this think piece isn't an act of accusation. It's a moment of contemplation that I hope inspires you to do the same. We as a people have to do a better job of being impeccable with our ears and our tongues. We have to carry an open mind and a level of discipline to receive the message. We have to do more than simply live at the surface level. If we adapt to properly digesting the messages these artists are projecting then maybe, just maybe, we won't be so malnourished.

Written by: Bakarii Kennedy on Instagram and Twitter.

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