Hip-Hop Needs an Intervention

The regularity of these killings has us concerned and thinking, Who’s next?  

A picture of a young black man wearing chains and a hoodie but his face is blurred.
Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic; Prince Williams / Getty

As told to Jenisha Watts; edited for length and clarity.

In the 1990s, hip-hop had a shocking moment with the loss of Christopher Wallace (Biggie Smalls) and Tupac Shakur—both shot to death in the street within six months. We carried that trauma for years. Biggie was an incredible storyteller and a budding entrepreneur. Tupac was making an impact as an artist, actor, and activist. After they died, many music lovers thought there would be an East Coast–versus–West Coast war, but thankfully a battle didn’t happen.

Back then, you could expect a fistfight or a backstage brawl, but those incidents seem mild-mannered compared with the surge of violence in hip-hop now. In 2018, the rapper XXXTentacion, just 20 years old, was shot dead. Hip-hop has since lost an artist every year. The frequency with which we are losing rappers to gun violence is painful: Nipsey Hussle. Pop Smoke. King Von. PnB Rock. Young Dolph. And now Takeoff. These rappers were young, successful, talented individuals, millionaires creating generational wealth for their loved ones.

Losing someone at the peak of their career is always a trip. Nipsey was an innovator and a positive dude. We were honored when he talked in interviews about trying to follow our blueprint; it felt like he could really expand on what we started as independent artists. We’re proud of the work his family and business partners are doing to grow his legacy and share his message.

And just like with Nipsey, images of Takeoff’s death circulated online—so it’s not only the loss that’s hard to process, but the visuals. The crazy thing is that Takeoff dropped an album with Quavo just last month. The regularity of these killings has us concerned and thinking, Who’s next?

Jazz musicians weren’t routinely murdered in the street at the height of their career. Nor were rock stars. We just want the same truth for our young superstars. The inner city is like the MMA Octagon—it’s the cage, the trap. A lot of violent shit goes down, but it’s still home for many hip-hop artists. And there’s still a lot of hope, hunger, and love in the streets. We just need to find better ways to support each other. This is our generation’s responsibility as much as it is for the young MCs.

One reason the violence has gotten worse is social media. Rappers are trying too hard to flex online to the detriment of their safety. These dudes are getting money at a faster rate than we ever did. We’ve been to the strip club when a rapper was sitting with walls of money—like, walls: Each stack was three feet tall. How can you throw that much money in one night? We have no idea. Some of these artists spend thousands on an outfit and millions on jewelry, then jump in their Bugatti or whatever and show off so much money that they can barely hold it in their hand for an Instagram photo.

We aren’t trying to bash our peers. We love guys getting money. But with success comes jealousy and anger. Social media amplifies those feelings—a beef can start over an innocuous Instagram “Like.” You might follow two rappers and innocently “like” one of their posts without realizing they are beefing, and that can turn into “Man, why you like that nigga? I’m going to fall back, bro. You need to pick a side.” But it’s like, “Man, I’m not in y’all shit. Don’t put me in y’all politics.”

Rap has become a pretty dangerous profession compared with when we were first on the scene. We need an intervention. As OGs in the rap game, we have seen several during our career. When Tupac and Biggie were murdered, members of the Nation of Islam sat a lot of us down. We went to Louis Farrakhan’s house in Chicago, had a meal, and talked about the state of hip-hop, our responsibilities to the culture, and how we should fix things.

It’s time for us to come together again. The industry needs change. Artists need to move more carefully and strategically. Labels and music executives need to invest more in educational resources to protect the artists they work with. Managers must hire skilled security teams that can efficiently defuse tense situations. Rappers have to minimize their social-media activity and be more vigilant when they’re out of their house.

We have to turn the corner. We don’t want to fall in love with an artist and then have to mourn them. We don’t want to go to a hip-hop show and then die.