Today, August 17th, the world celebrates what would be the 126th birthday of Marcus Garvey, a frequently-ignored person in contemporary American education. Garvey, whose influence and presence resembles that of Hobbes' Leviathan, finds his teachings and philosophy intertwined within many of hip-hop's most-cherished movements and figures. With 95 references to Garvey on the site, not compiling the best of these in tribute would be a great disservice to this monumental man.
On the Wu-Tang Clan's third studio album The W, rapper and producer RZA feels insecure over his messages of black power because of the responses the United States' government has had to many powerful black figures before him, including their treatment of Marcus Garvey: "Exported Marcus Garvey cause he tried to spark us / With the knowledge of ourselves and our forefathers", RZA raps; despite Garvey's physical presence being deported out of America, his spirit and ideas latched onto many movements. The culmination of many of these, hip-hop, has paid homage to Garvey in a massive number of ways.
Even with the rise of artists who have shelved lyricism for raw energy and presence, rappers have still lauded Marcus for his intellect and articulation, being able to communicate to those on all ends of the spectrum. With this in mind, artists have used the Jamaican as a comparison to themselves. "I live the spirit of / Gentlemen Crispus Attucks and Mr. Marcus Garvey", claims Common's father, retired basketball player and spoken-word poet Lonnie "Pops" Lynn, while Nacho Picasso fuses another pair of brains and brawn with "Haile Selassie with a splash of Marcus Garvey". Selassie was more than just a celebrated general and leader, he, like Garvey is regarded as one of the key figures in the Rastafarian movement.
From sampling and referencing Bob Marley, to Snoop Dogg's iconic change into "Snoop Lion", the Rastafarian religion and culture and hip-hop have long enjoyed an intertwined relationship. In this religion, Selassie, his wife, Menen Asfaw, along with Jesus and Marcus Garvey, are regarded as the four central figures. But this religious reverence is not where Garvey's Rastafarian references in rap come in, instead, his link to the Rastafarian faith is brought up when rappers discuss an integral part of the religion: marijuana. The movement finds a spiritual experience when using cannabis, and this is not overlooked in the lyrics of many rappers; seminal weed rappers Curren$y and Smoke DZA refer to Garvey on the track "Life Instructions", with DZA's line "Twistin' like a Rastafari Marcus Garvey on the track, and I'm faded". These are only minor aspects of the Garvey fascination in hip-hop, as mainly, rappers see him as they wish to see themselves: powerful and influential black men.
Materialism in hip-hop contradicts Rastafarian values, but as Garvey was not immediately involved in its formation, the claim that this facet of the genre bastardizes Garvey's philosophy cannot truly be made. Instead, rappers have looked towards the power of the man, not his assets, as to why Marcus has become such an inspirational figure. Hip-hop group Dead Prez, long champions of black pride and black nationalism, released a song entitled "Malcolm, Garvey, Huey", in which they praise countless black figures, though it is no secret why they chose who they did for the hook: they gave the greatest figures the highest praise. In continuation with this theme, Das Racist included Garvey on a list of important black figures on their song "Jungle Fever". Few rappers can deny his sphere of influence.
The birthday of Marcus Garvey may go overlooked by the majority of the world's population, as he lacks a national holiday, is rarely mentioned in high schools or below, and was frequently at odds with the American government. His vision, as most rappers have come to realize for themselves, is not that of a conformity for any race, but instead finding paradise in the place they love the most. For Garvey, this was Africa, and while his Back-to-Africa movement never gained the traction he had hoped, it has not yet been lost upon rappers. One could imagine the smile on his face when Kendrick Lamar rapped "Last time I check, we was racing with Marcus Garvey / On the freeway to Africa 'til I wreck my Audi". RZA claimed that Garvey was "exported" out of America, but decades after his death, hip-hop has been exporting his views throughout the very country that shunned him.
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