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Rap Life Live at Howard University Moving Beyond the Music: A Discussion on Race, Racism and Empowerment

By Airielle Lowe, Staff Reporter

Photo Courtesy of Howard University

Howard University is home to a world renowned hub of culture and creation. Apple Music’s Rap Life Live decided to highlight this through filming their first episode on the school’s campus. Within the first five seconds of its introduction, a black and white close up of the Chadwick Boseman memorial sitting in front of the Fine Arts building at Howard University is displayed, as Ebro Darden narrates in the background. 

His last words before they cut to the first performance on campus were: “We refuse to be silent.”

This show was more than just a virtual concert on a historic HBCU campus—it included a discussion about community, race and racism. Lil Baby rapped “The Bigger Picture” and “Emotionally Scarred” throughout the renowned Founder’s Library, while Wale performed “Sue Me” sitting in the bleachers and moving on the court of Burr Gymnasium.

Rapsody, located just below in the empty pool where the university’s swim team and classes would usually be diving can be found performing “Cleo/12 Problems” with a live band. The last performer to take the stage included hip-hop legend Nas, rapping “Made You Look” and “Ultra Black” in Greene Stadium, where football games and the legendary band Showtime would march up and down the field.

“That’s why we’re here at Howard University. We want to show how the world’s overlap—music and the message,” Darden said.

In between performances Apple Music 1 host Nadeska and LowKey interviewed students such as the founder of 10 for10 Peter Lubembela, who spoke about his program and his goal to give back to the community, his rise to activism and navigating life as an immigrant child.

Miss Howard University Taylor Davis spoke about the legacy that is Howard and the importance of representation within the community. In working with children, Davis spoke about how impressionable young kids were, and the significance of representation everywhere.

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“Having diversity within entertainment and media gives people that exposure to see that I can do this.” Davis also spoke about the challenges faced by black women, and how she is utilizing her platform to uplift the black women, who are constantly caring for others without the same love being reciprocated.

Howard University Student Association President Rachel Howell, also spoke about her experience as a black woman. As a former intern for Congressman John Lewis, she shared how he was able to mold her as a leader. In addition to this Howell touched on the significance of voting, and what the nomination of Kamala Harris meant to her.

“If I can sum it up in a phrase, I would say I knew she could do it,” adding, “A lot of times as black women, a lot of people will say ok, you are too ambitious.  No, we’re just hardworking.”

The artists also had a lot to say themselves about our current political climate, and what it would mean for the youth. Sitting in Founders, Lil Baby spoke about how although we had made progress in protesting and making our voices heard; we were just in the beginning.

“I’d be lying if I said we’re getting there now…don’t get me wrong it’s a start,” adding, “It’s gonna have to take some time for this to work out.”

Wale, sitting on the floor of Burr called out those who call themselves “allies” and partaking in performative activism, just to appear as if they are with the cause but not really standing up for blacks. It’s not enough to just swag surf and post “Black Lives Matter” in your bio if you aren’t showing up to the protest and fighting for the cause in every way you can. “You got to really be with us.”

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Rapsody, fixated at the very bottom of the empty pool, spoke about the importance of making sure our voices remain heard, even if mainstream media is no longer covering our protests or have moved on from those who have lost their lives to police brutality.

She emphasized utilizing her platform for not just entertainment, but making sure her voice is also prominent in our fight for equality. “I got to speak for Breonna Taylor, cuz she’s not here to speak for herself. We got to speak for George Floyd, we gotta speak for Ahmaud Arbery, we gotta speak for Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.”

Nas, a legendary storytelling in the industry, recalled the significance in keeping some sense of happiness and relief, despite the turmoil going on around us. In a time of police brutality, protests, hate crimes, etc. it seems as if every time we turn on our TVs and look at our phones a black person is killed, and nothing is done. We shout into the voice to be sprayed with tear gas and beat with batons.

The silver lining in all this is almost nonexistent, and it’s easy to become depressed and lose your spirit. “When there’s certain things’ happening that’s trying to strip that [self-worth] away from you, this is the perfect time to remind ourselves to also smile.”

Howard University, an HBCU built on the legacy of producing “black excellence” and providing opportunities for African Americans at a time where not many other universities would, ignited the impact of Rap Life at Howard. The bridge for African Americans in music and culture has been prominent for decades, in the wake of acceptance, empowerment, and standing up for justice—a fact that still stands today. 

Whether you’re listening to the “new school” artists that are Lil Baby and Rapsody or the “old school” legends such as Nas the message relayed in the power of music will always be intact.

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