Why Haven’t You Heard This Song?

by Caleb Zigas on September 28, 2004

In an election season where passion seems hard to find, where musicians have created a concert solely to benefit a single candidate, and when marginalized voters are at once the most sought after and most feared electorate, why aren’t we talking more about Jadakiss? Because perhaps more than anything else right now, he’s asking the right questions.

The newest single from Jadakiss is a blistering rap with a searing chorus from Anthony Hamilton and an additional remix with some help from Styles P, Nas and Common. It’s hardly the artistic collaboration that one would expect to be the most political and most insightful mainstream song available, but then again, why wouldn’t you expect it?

“Why”, the title of the song, is at the heart of the issue here. Jadakiss and his collaborators ask a series of unanswerable questions that speak to some of the larger inequalities and contradictions in our society. The song itself is not without its flaws, nor are all of the questions that unanswerable, but the force with which they are presented demonstrates a passion that is too often missing from mainstream musical and political convergences.

Jadakiss’ rough and gravelly voice asks a series of questions that are both political and personal, often to the detriment of each other, but at other times confirming the nature of contradiction in all of us. He asks pointedly, “Why did Bush have to knock down them towers?” and, similarly, “why’d they have to let the Terminator win the election?”. When he asks, “why they stop lettin’s n—– get degrees in jail,” there seems to be no good answer available. When he moves into cultural criticism he asks, “Why Halle have to let a white man pop her to get a Oscar/ Why Denzel have to be crooked before he took it?” For anyone who saw Monster’s Ball or Training Day these are questions that too many people easily ignore, and questions that not enough people ask loud enough.

The contradictions, however, lie in the fact that much of Jadakiss’ career is grounded in his self-portrait of rugged thuggishness-a poet rapped in violence. The album title, Kiss of Death, is not only a playful twist of his name but also a reference to the artist’s hardness. It’s a hardness that he doesn’t back away from in the song either. “Why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets,” is the first line we hear, and the artist rarely backs away from the glorification of wealth when he asks, “why the didn’t make the CL6 with a clutch?” But this contradiction shouldn’t distract us from the general idea of the song-a serious interrogation of the way that we all sort of accept injustices on a daily basis. His questions, and the ceaseless “why” of the song-“why they ain’t give us a cure for AIDS”, “why did crack have to hit so hard”, “why they kill Tupac and Chris”-compounded with the anguish that Anthony Hamilton’s chorus gives the listener is not just any thug anthem, it’s a force.

These are unanswerable questions, and the very lack of a response is where the power of the song lies. When Styles P, Common and Nas join Jadakiss in the remix, it becomes clear that the questions will only keep coming. Common asks, “why is Bush acting like he trying to get Osama? Why don’t we impeach him and elect Obama?” And the question lingers, along with the feeling that much of Black America has felt an absence of political power for so long that there might not be a good answer. Similarly, when Nas asks, “why do schools care more about your son’s braids than they do about his grades,” we are reminded, painfully, of the ways that we allow much of our discussion about education policy to revolve around the aesthetics as opposed to the academics of our education system. Styles P also echoes Common as he starts the remix asking, “Why vote Republican if you black.Why the country ain’t flip when they jerked the last election?” Jadakiss focuses a little more in the remix, his lone verse asking perhaps one of the most important questions today, “why the Democratic party ain’t getting with me?”

The power of the song lies in the series of questions with no answer, and the moment that comes in the chorus that sounds like a giant void of answerables compounded by the sorrow of Hamilton’s hook, In these moments we are reminded of the helplessness that many of us feel when confronted with some of the larger political questions out there. There are, of course, countless contradictions within this reading. Jadakiss is hardly a rapper known for his sensitivity, and his own history of violent lyrics and gangster glorification don’t set the best precedent for a critical analysis of systemic failings. On the other hand, the very fact that the demographic of voters that seem so often the most disenfranchised are speaking their mind on mainstream radio with such power speaks volumes.

And his questions linger. Why isn’t the Democratic Party playing this song? Why isn’t Jadakiss playing next to Bruce Springsteen at MoveOn’s concerts? Why haven’t you heard this song? Henry Louis Gates has spent the last couple of weeks editorializing in the New York Times about the politics of Black America, and I’d be curious to see how his questions and those of Jadakiss stack up. It’s too easy to point to an artist’s flaws and not listen to his message. In the midst of an election season that concentrates on voter registration, it’s no small gesture that Jadakiss’ website links to voting sites. But questions still remain. Why aren’t we doing anything about it?

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