‘I’m Not a Racist’: The Case for Inclusion and Diversity in Hip‑hop

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Many fans of hip-hop have commented on Joyner Lucas’ remix of Lil Pump’s hit record, “Gucci Gang.” There is also a considerable online buzz and reaction to Lucas’ video and rap song “I’m Not a Racist.”

The Facebook version of “I’m Not a Racist” has more than 34 million views and the YouTube version had nearly 10 million views in the first week or so. This is not counting the scores of pirated or “copied” versions of this video. In total, it is logical to assume that Lucas’ rap song had as many as 50 million views in its first week. For a message rap song and not what I call a “pop rap” song, this level of interest was remarkable.

Unfortunately, I am not sure how many of these people got the actual messages and point of these two masterpieces. The first song essentially is a play on words of the Lil Pump hit single for the purpose of bringing a different flavor to mainstream hip-hop. Lucas spits some hard, message-oriented verses over the instrumental to Lil Pump’s song with the stated goal of giving youth an alternative narrative to rap’s seemingly favorite topic these days, drugs. “I’m Not A Racist” is a classic “inclusion and diversity” song geared toward advancing human rights and social justice issues.

While these interpretations are clearly my own subjective assessments, I think I have earned some credibility and expertise in making such assessments. I have been conducting and publishing scholarly research (as well as research used in applied practice) on the use of hip-hop music in youth interventions for the past 22 years. I am one of the most cited authors in this area of research.

I am writing this column to solicit feedback from youth between the ages of 12-25 and young adults between 26 and 35. I am extremely curious as to what young people think about these two songs. I wonder if they would agree with my above assessments. I am equally curious as to whether or not they think the songs I assess above are “dope” (for you uninformed adults, that means really good) or not so dope.

To get a sense of what young folks think about “I’m Not A Racist,” I went to my captive youth audience, my children (ages 16, 17, 23, 24 and 29 years). All three of my girls, who are the older three, loved the song and went on to view many other Lucas videos online. My two boys were a bit more skeptical, but nonetheless endorsed the video’s cleverness and cinematography and the song’s lyricism.

Although my boys were less embracing of the strong political message, they said they understood that Joyner’s message was mainly about solutions. All three daughters had a similar assessment of the overall point of this video and song. It is important to note here that this is exactly what Joyner himself stated (i.e., the song was about finding solutions to this horrible, historical cancer called “racism”) in his Breakfast Club interview.

Some seem to think Lucas’ remix of Gucci Gang is a Lil Pump diss record. Lucas says this was not a diss. Given the current political, social and economic reality, it is an ideal example of the current cultural trends in our society, toward inclusion and away from drugs. Lucas’ main issue is with rappers who “glorify” drugs and make it more difficult to do his work, which is partly to influence young people to stay away from drugs. This is why he is one of my most favorite artists right now.

Finally, the main focus of Lucas’ song on racism is embodied at the end of each of the two people’s verses in the video: “… There are two sides to every story. I wish that I knew yours.” The #MeToo movement is all about sharing your voice because when you do, you become empowered. In this current environment, where women are making critical strides in terms of rooting out sexist and predatory privileged males from key positions of power, we can only hope that women be placed in these empty positions throughout many different industries so that true empowerment can be realized.

We need women in positions of power in hip-hop as well. I can only hope that this trend toward inclusion, as evidenced by Lucas’ work and other recent events, such as the Senate race loss of the racist, sexist child molester down in Alabama, will change the landscape of power and inclusion. We need women and black and brown and Hispanic and Muslim Americans and nonheterosexuals in positions of power in order to realize true inclusion. I think this is one of Joyner Lucas’ goals as well. Peace.

Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York. He has been a researcher and educator for 14 years and a practitioner, specializing in treatment of high-risk and delinquent youth, for the past 22 years.

15 thoughts on “‘I’m Not a Racist’: The Case for Inclusion and Diversity in Hip‑hop

  1. Habari Gani
    Today is Kuumba, the sixth day of Kwanzaa. My gift from Allah is writing and compassion. I am not even going to pretend I know who Lil Pump because my recent music choices includes preschool rock and funga alafia. I had to research him and Lucas Joyner, then I got caught up on YouTube with all of the videos available. “Gucci Gang remix,” “I’m not a racist,” and “I’m sorry” got me holding my head like wow. I had to listen several times because I was a bit offended, then enlightened, and finally overwhelmed with empathy and even grief.

    I run a men’s group at my field placement and these men are struggling with self identity, self image, communication, and poverty. Their struggle is real and these songs effectively expressed the conflict of dual responsibility as an American and a minority. And when all else fails, even after getting a job and new apartment, suicide seems like an escape from the mental torment of existing in a society and family where these men feel belittled and feel unloved.

    Let’s love our men and show them they are useful as educators, storytellers, nurturers, and not just providers so they do not have to disrespect each other but rather hold each other up.

    Imani is the last day of Kwanzaa- faith I have in humanity I was depicted in that hug of “I’m not a racist.”

  2. Joyner Lucas song “I’m Not Racist” is thought-provoking and genius. Although he has over 22 million views on YouTube. The song Motorsport by Migos, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B has 41 million views, which is a good example of what message is preferable by youths. That is the reason Joyner’s music applies to the society we live in today. African American youths need guidance, and unfortunately, Hip Hop replace parenting. Not to say Hip Hop is a negative influence but the conscious rapper that spit positive lyrics are often fronded on by the youths, the largest consumer of Hip Hop. His lyrics are bringing awareness to the serotypes that African American’s face. The most important line in the song, in my opinion, is “it’s hard to elevate when this country’s ran by whites.” Social control policies have been emplaced in the United States since the birth of the country. Hence the reason I dislike the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstrap.” The Fair Housing Act of 1968, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Brown vs. Board of Education are some of the legislation that was necessary to give African American the same rights as Whites. If possible name me one piece of legislation that was necessary to give Whites the equal rights as African Americans, because I could not find any. The Hip Hop genera is about 40 years old which is fairly young when compared to other genera’s of music. However, it’s influence is tangible throughout the world. Therefore, rappers should understand the influence they have on youths and provide a positive message. There are many other issues affecting African American beside police offices unlawful shooting. Five statistics that bother me are:

    1. According to the most recent government figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention African Americans accounted for 50% of HIV diagnoses, though they comprise 12% of the US population.

    2. According to the most recent government figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “72 percent of black mothers are unwed which eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans.”

    3. According to the US Department of Education, “Nearly half of the nation’s African American students attend high schools in low-income areas with dropout rates that hover in the 40-50% range.”  “Dropout factories” (i.e., high schools that routinely have senior classes with 60% fewer students than their entering freshmen classes) are estimated to produce 73% of African American, 66% of Latino, and 34% of White dropouts, respectively.

    4. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic), and 6.06% Other.

    5. According to recent US Census Bureau data, “24.7% of all African-American live in poverty in comparison to 8.6% of all non-Hispanic White, 11.8% of all Asian-American and 23.2% of all Hispanic.”  

    Rappers have a decision to make on how they use their influence, is it about money, drugs and sex or the welfare of youths. Jay-Z 4:44 album talked about investing, wealth, mental health, family, social injustice and other positive topics however that was very little fan fair due to the lack of media coverage. Only a few of his songs off the album made it to the radio; which were criticized. I felt the album was shunned by the popular media outlets. However, every media outlet was excited to show the elevator video of his fight with his sister in law a few years ago. African American need to be more aware of the “system” we live in and educate themselves to move up the ladder to make changes and influence government. Food for thought: How was the crack epidemic perceived when compared to the opioid epidemic?

  3. I listened to both songs and read this article shortly after and I believe that the author is right about several points. I believe that people are looking for excuses to be hateful to one another as if it is a fad that will just pass us like bell-bottomed pants. Unfortunately, when you hate, even though you may unlearn the hate, that does not mean that person who was hated forgets. These songs are building blocks of a future at which people will make a choice. This choice may not be conscious but it will be made. I agree with the author in regards to there needing to be more women of power within hip-hop. One voice makes noise, but a collective can make change. I am thankful that my husband Steven Donohue had me listen to the songs and read this article. I will not continue to keep my eye on the story and my ear to the music. Great article!

  4. I took the time to listen to the music and apply perspective from different lenses. I can appreciate the effort and artistry that went into the music. I stand with the author in regards to the messages are clear and purposeful. I believe that there are many people that would agree but may view this from a skewed perspective due to a lack of appreciation of insight to the genre of music. When hip-hop artists go out and walk to the edge of the proverbial plank I believe it is viewed differently than many other mainstream artists. This is an example of someone who can identify with a culture of oppression and has a voice and platform to project that unfortunate experience and make into a positive lesson to help each other understand him and support the youth that will be following this in the present or near future.

  5. The first time I heard the “I’m Not a Racist” video was a few weeks back scrolling through Facebook. Before this, I have never heard of Joyner Lucas or any of his music. Initially seeing the video on my newsfeed, I automatically thought to scroll past it without giving it a second thought. Having stated this, I now know that would have been a HUGE mistake.
    I believe this is one of the core problems in today’s society. The fact that a message so strong and much needed in our “current political, social, and economic reality”, could be so easily unseen and scrolled past due to the “hype” mainstream hiphop has created for the younger generations. For one, I 100% agree with the message Lucas conveyed in his song “I’m Not a Racist”. In my opinion, it was a creative, influential way of relaying a harsh reality to a society that thrives on biases and close-minded views. Having this message relayed through a rap song and illustrating the “Trump supporter” White man versus a Black man, made it easy for the viewers to possibly consider the other side of things and confront issues they weren’t even sure they had in the first place. I think it Lucas took a brave stand in creating a video that initially hit hard with such powerful and controversial lyrics. I feel the ending of the song was the most important message to send to the public; “there are two sides to every story..wish that I knew yours”. I 100% agree that when you let your voice be heard, you become empowered. In due time, this chain of events leads others into having the courage to raise their voice and become empowered as well.
    As for the “diss” track to Lil’ Pump’s song, I did not feel it was directed at him in any malignant way. I believe Lucas used the song as another way to show another side of the hiphop industry; which goes without saying that a change in the hiphop’s atmosphere is a good change in the air. I believe that it is necessary to send these messages through the hip hop culture because so much of its glorified use of drugs, sex, and vulgar language.

  6. Screaming “All Lives Matter ” as a protest to my protest, what type of shit is that? First off, when Joyner said that he won me over; I’ve downloaded all his songs. It is so sad that the pain, sorrow and outrage of the African American community makes some people more uncomfortable than the killing of black men. I’ve had the black live matter argument over and over because I don’t understand how people couldn’t get the basic concept of what the movement is about. Anyhow, I love the song!! It talks about the micro-aggressions that minorities deal with almost everyday. It’s so ironic how every time someone says I’m not racist, they say something racist and hide behind the I know black people comment. Secondly, Joyner express his thoughts about cultural appropriation. Although it’s cool these days to pretend to be black. People like the Kardashians and others that imitate the way we look, or style and culture nobody really wants to be black not even other minorities. A person may have never met a black person but they know to be afraid of them, or something negative about them. Why? This is what I mean when I say nobody wants to be black. However, nobody wants to be looked at as dangerous for no reason, to fear being killed by the people that sworn to protect you, to be seen as aggressive or ghetto because you express anger about unfair treatment. I can go on about the song but I will end saying this song summarizes the current state that this country is in. Also, be the change you want to see.
    Joyner remix to lil pump was a interesting twist and what the young people really need to hear. Lil Pump, xxxtentacion and others have songs that today’s young people think real hip hop/ rap is. Its so sad and if these young people aren’t strong minded they will be influenced by the things these new rappers talk about, which includes lots of doing drugs.
    Lastly, it you love Joyner you’ll love Jcole.

  7. Upon first listen to Joyner Lucas’ remix of Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang”, I had thought it was most certainly a diss to Lil Pump, and artists that use similar rhetoric. While some lines could be interpreted as direct insults to Lil’ Pump, there is no reason why both songs cannot exist without placing the focus on hostility. Joyner is successful in captivating a young audience with both his style and his content, which does not glorify drug use. The need to speak out against drug promotion reflects how prevalent drug promotion and use is today.
    His song “I’m not Racist” explicitly addresses an issue that many also find difficult to talk about (specifically in predominantly white areas). Where I live, these conversations are had in defense of racist comments or microaggression that occur daily. Defending against those racist microaggressions mostly occurs when confronted by someone who does not share those beliefs. However, many are with adult men and women above the age of 40, and Joyner Lucas’ music may not reach that audience. But, the content of his songs could help younger generations start that conversation.

    • Ery well said Devon. I agree that these songs can both be stand alone songs and not diss songs. Joyner has stated that he was not dissing lil pump but was simply doing his thing. The Im not a Racist song is a classic justice song and will live forever. Thank you for your comments.

  8. Thank you for allowing us to express our thoughts of this. Unfortunately, both sides are equally right and that racism exist and it’s on both sides. Joyner Lucas’ is pointing on how we are our own worse enemies, and until we as Black people acknowledge that we do have a problem, race will never go away. We as backs do not stand up for one and other, in other words, we refuse to become our brothers keepers, and the white man knows that and uses it against us. You see, We destroy one another, while the White man encourages his kind in doing well. Until the black man come to terms with it and work towards change through wisdom, they will always have power over us. See this! The mass production of merchandise is targeted on which population? It’s all about mind games. They come richer and we become poorer. We go after things that we do know we shouldn’t. Joyner Lucas’ is saying things that his kind deemed not to say but are thinking everyday. Change will only happen if we stand up for one another and accept one another’s success.

  9. Joyner’s original video and lyrics are very interesting, they depict common feelings on both sides of the white-black racism issue. The video enhances this idea with its choice of actors, and setting. His work serves as a rap themed display of both sides expressing how they feel about the topic, in the end the two actors “hug it out” showing this was not fighting but an animated discussion. I’d like to see further work in this modality aimed at collaborative solutions. Adding to the collaborative note future work with perhaps Latino, Asian, and other ethnic rap/hip hop artists would further enhance the cry for diversity and inclusion.

  10. First of all, my sister asked me to read and comment. I agreed, assuming this would be something I could easily do to help her without expending much effort. I should have known better. Yet still- I appreciate the chance to really think on this, and to be stunned that I’m so out of touch that I had not yet listened to Joyner Lucas. Just like your daughters, I will be looking up much more of him.
    In my college days, I thought I knew what racism looked like when I saw it. After all, I went to school in North Carolina– a southern state where it was just as likely to see a “salt life” car window decal is as popular one of the confederate flag. Yet- when I moved home to New Jersey, and more specifically, when I began working at my white collar job in the medical field, I began to more deeply understand, confront and handle the individual prejudices everyone carries. Women I spend my day with, women I care for and (for the most part) respect… I have heard them say such negative things about others based on ignorant beliefs– ideas spread by vitriolic social media, clickbait news, and overall inability to research, to, as Joyner Lucas intones ‘find out what someone’s story truly is’.
    Before the election, I was appalled by the number of respected coworkers who voted for 45. Opening a dialogue… opening any dialogue, is vital. I know this comment is focusing on the “I’m not Racist” video only, but it struck such a chord in me. If rap music can open a channel, any channel, and illuminate the haters, the hated and the hatred in general, than it is important. It is f**king dope.
    I think this year in pop culture has done well to elevate the #metoo culture on many levels. There’s a reckoning in Hollywood, but also in Washington and across the US. I’m glad to see that reflected in our art. Thank you for giving me something interesting to think about tonight.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your sister is my student and she is actually one of my favorite students since she Aced my final exam. But your comments are what urged me to respond. I am very curious to hear more about what your co-workers are expressing to you. The fact that they are expressing their views at all is what is interesting. In most workplaces people do not share too many political or social views. Thank you form your comment

      • I’m so happy to hear that she’s doing well. I’m very proud of her, really.
        Well, before the election our office had an invisible political divide- one that has slowly begun to break down, but I don’t think will ever fully dissipate. For context, I work in a sizable medical practice in northern NJ (8 physicians and an entirely female staff of about 30 people). The women I’m closest with are Latina (many different countries represented)- and these women and I were very clearly against a Trump presidency, yet we felt we had to keep our political opinions a secret (for context, these women and I are all in our twenties while the majority of the others, though not all, are 40-65). When we joked about Trump and his supporters, or criticized some of his campaign promises and decisions, we did so in whispers because the older Caucasian women were adamantly pro-Trump and very easily offended. I carry a lot of shame and doubt when I think of all the missed opportunities for real discussion. We did our best to hide the abject horror we felt at seeing these women we spend our days with gladly lauding Trump’s plans for a wall (in ear shot of multiple immigrant employees), bemoaning “crooked Hillary,” and denying Trump’s racism and sexism and crying snowflake as often as they could. It even emboldened one white woman to tell the Spanish speaking receptionists that she didn’t want them speaking their native language while at work.
        Since the election, I have made a point of noting the especially egregious things Trump has done or passed (decrying Roy Moore, the power players brought down by #metoo, helping a coworker gather donations for Puerto Rico while noting as often as possible that Trump doesn’t seem to remember that those people are US citizens, noting how absolutely insane his handing of North Korea is.) Slowly, very slowly, I’ve seen some women change their opinion on the president. Slowly, it’s become easier for my like-minded coworkers and me to have our discussions out loud as well. Sometimes, I am disheartened- like when I saw coworkers gawking at and whispering about a woman in full hijab the other day. In other moments, I’m hopeful, like when a different coworker then spoke to the patient and her husband, helped them with their issue and shared pleasant goodbyes (ma’aasalaama).
        I don’t really think I’m explaining my office perfectly– I actually have so many opinions on the attitudes and the structures in my office and how frustrating is has been for me to navigate them since leaving my very liberal undergrad creative writing dept and all the quirky artsy jobs I’ve worked previously. It’s a very strange crucible of people and ideas that has shown me, most of all, how important a two-sided dialogue can be.

  11. I believe that 100% disagree about the overall title of the song “I’m NOT A RACIST proceeds this overall statement of being racist is totally uncalled for. Being racist and hypothetically obviously uncalled for by the meaning “black”.. In this world, the issue of being colored in this generation ages from 20-30 is highly justified and people of race or age never ever get justice.. In hip hop music today we should be positive vibes based on our ancestors instead of being fed up with words like n*gga, b*tch, sl*t or THOT.. Hip-hop has changed over the last 10-20 years and being a black person.. We have to take a stand in being called names because if we don’t then who are we as a culture, people or are we just a
    people who takes and never acknowledge what…. We should as a people elevate about come to truth with our past so we can be better people in the future and the people in the future to come. We have to take a step forward instead of backwards.Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

  12. I think that both Joyner Lucas’ remix of Lil Pump’s hit record, “Gucci Gang” and his video and rap song “I’m Not a Racist” were successful in communicating the “current political, social and economic reality” to today’s younger demographic. Despite recent political, social, and economic events that unfortunately have me believing we are taking a couple steps backwards, I do believe that a lot of issues that have not been acknowledged in the past are beginning to see some light. Specific to these two songs, are racism and the mainstream glorification of drug use in the music scene. With our current world, dominated by the media, it is hard to not get overcome by what we are being fed. With creativity like we see in Joyner Lucas’ work, though, I believe we can use popular forms of media and art to communicate the issues, acknowledge our shortcomings, and hopefully achieve more peace and understanding of every side of the equation.