Hip-hop has always served as a compass for showing the direction that urban culture has taken on a variety of issues—and Africa is no exception.
Although, the Motherland has always been a tricky topic for U.S. audiences to embrace.
Mainstream America was fed a steady diet of images featuring naked tribal men living alongside lions, tigers and elephants while bare-breasted women tended to emaciated children. Disease, famine and refugee camps became synonymous with the continent because of those infomercials that begged Americans to donate a dollar a day to feed an African child. Just this week, Delta Air Lines experienced a social media faux pas when it put up an image of a giraffe as a way to represent the West African country Ghana. Twitter graciously took the airline to task for the error since giraffes are not indigenous to the country.
Through hip-hop, black American artists began educating the mainstream about Africa by singing praises about its people and its culture. At times, they’ve even self-identified as African—which is a pretty major feat since the continent is not always depicted in the best light. For African-American Music Appreciation Month, The Root decided to point its hip-hop compass at the artists and lyrics that provide a sense of how attitudes and perceptions about Africa have evolved.
1. Lil Wayne
When the natural-hair movement exploded a few years ago, the kinks and curls that Type 4 black girls once subdued with relaxers and texturizers were set free. YouTube instructional videos and articles in mainstream news outlets documented this phenomenon in great detail.
But caring for kinky hair is not for the faint of heart. It requires lots of moisturizing, gentle detangling and an understanding that each luscious strand can think and act independently from the rest, which is what New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne presumably meant when he called it “tough” in his 2008 release A Milli. His reference to one of the more popular countries on the continent, Nigeria—currently the richest and most populous country in Africa—is fitting, too.