20 Years After Illmatic, Nas Says American Gun Culture Needs a Remix

Twenty years after his groundbreaking debut, Illmatic, Nas offers wise words on the worsening culture of guns in society—and hip-hop.

Rapper Nas attends the Time Is Illmatic premiere during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre April 16, 2014, in New York City. Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

Clearly, rappers aren’t responsible for all the gun violence in America, despite what Mississippi GOP Senate candidate Chris McDaniel recently claimed. But many are culpable for perpetuating—and getting rich from—the destruction and misery caused by guns. To get a cut of the money, aspiring rappers are flooding YouTube with music videos that simply involve black teens pointing guns at the camera and threatening to kill other black teens.

Three Virginia teens calling themselves the Stain Gang were recently arrested after posting their gun-infused video, and teen rapper RondoNumbaNine posed with an anti-tank missile launcher—now he’s awaiting trial for murder.

Using hip-hop to market guns as cool, authentically black and macho is plainly irresponsible. As the now 40-year-old Nas told a packed auditorium of college students, a lack of social and artistic consciousness has overshadowed the positive aspects of hip-hop.

But it’s going to take more than wise words from a rapper to challenge the entrenchment of guns in American culture. It may require the courage, as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens argues in his new book, to add five little—but crucial—words to the end of the Second Amendment in order to better define the right to bear arms: “ … when serving in the militia.”

Nas’ Illmatic needed a reissue after 20 years. After 225 years, the debate about constitutional rights regarding guns could use a fresh new remix, too. It would save 88 lives every day.

Travis L. Gosa, Ph.D., is assistant professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, where his research focuses on racial inequality and African-American youths. He has written for Ebony, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fox News and a number of academic journals.

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