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Civil Rights Road Trip: Payton on the power of music

Thacarion Payton — Day 2 of our trip began with the group meeting Dr. Bonnette-Bailey at Georgia State University. She talked to us about “political rap” and how it affects the listener’s thoughts on various topics including feminism and black nationalism.

Typically, I listen to music as a way to escape daily happenings. However, listening to Dr. Bonnette helped me come to a greater realization that a lot of the music I enjoy highlights many of my daily struggles as a Black man in America. She focused on some mainstream rappers, like 21 Savage, that are most known for the negativity in their songs. This was interesting because the song that Dr. Bonnette chose was able to humanize 21 Savage in a way that his popular music could not. The struggles that rap artists experience, which influence their music, are usually glossed over The song, “Nothin New,” touched on issues of the government flooding Black communities with drugs during the Reagan Era and disenfranchisement.

While Dr. Bonnette focused on the outward effects of rap on those listening, Dr. Richard Allen Farmer of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church talked about how Black music is influenced by other cultures. He spoke on how the Black church will take an “anglo” song and add to it because it does not “move” enough. He stressed the importance of knowing that one version is not better than another, but relates differently culture to culture.

Overall, today reminded me of the communicative power of music. Rap, Gospel, and other forms of African American music, can be used to send various messages. Whether the music communicates fun and leisure or information and critique, it delivers messages that help progress social and political movements in positive directions. It’s only Day 2, but I feel that the remainder of our trip will open my eyes (and ears) more and assist me in better understanding how music influences my everyday judgements.