NEW YORK – When the latest call for a protest over Jena Six came, it wasn’t led by Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, but rapper-actor Mos Def. Mos Def sent out a viral video urging students to walk out of classrooms nationwide this week in protest of the prosecution of six black teens — initially charged with attempted murder — in the beating of a white classmate in Jena, La.
And Mos Def is not the only member of the hip-hop community speaking out in this racially charged case. When Mos Def — known as a politically and socially conscious rapper — traveled to Jena for a march on the town last month, as he spoke to the media, legendary Down South rapper Bun B was at his side. Hip-hop soul singer Lyfe Jennings was also in attendance, and rappers like Ice Cube and T.I. have lent financial support for protests.
“I don’t know what motivated the prosecutors to do what they did but what’s definitely evident to anybody who looks at the case is that he placed a bigger (punishment) upon the black man than he did upon anybody else was involved,” Jennings said.
Perhaps it’s because they mirror the faces of rap — young black males — that it has resonated with the hip-hop community. Or maybe it reflects a growing political awareness in a genre that’s been criticized for glorifying negativity. But it is clear that the Jena Six case has struck a chord.
“Right now with the situation going on with Jena Six, I got to pay my respects to them. When I was in high school there was a lot of fighting going on; I ain’t never really seen nobody get the type of punishment they got, where the dude is trying to throw the book at them,” says 17-year-old rapper Soulja Boy, who has the No. 1 song in the country with “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy).” “I feel like that’s not right, so I gotta send my respects out to those young dudes, and I hope everything go well with them and their families.”