Tiffany Red is a Grammy-winning songwriter and songwriter advocate who has written hits for Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Jason Derulo and Zendaya, among others. She is founder and executive director of the 100 Percenters, a 501 c3 organization with the stated goal of advocating “for all music creatives with a focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and marginalized creatives.” She has spoken at length about the challenges faced by songwriters and has written two Juneteenth essays for Variety.

A famous rapper is gunned down, the music industry mourns, makes a few statements, and then returns to business as usual, promoting content that glorifies Black murder and trauma.

How could anyone believe that these images and lyrics don’t impact the already traumatized psyche of Black America, and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Black people? I recently posted a clip from Pastor Michael T. Smith’s TEDx Talk on my Instagram, where he speaks on how Black murder is a marketing strategy. Could the music industry prove him wrong? Unfortunately, right now, the answer is no. He says, “It doesn’t take action to keep racism going. It takes inaction.” 

So many are seeking a more gradual approach to address anti-Blackness in the music industry, which I refuse to make. We’re in an epidemic! We’ve run out of time. Gun violence prevention group Brady states that “Gun homicide (mass shootings, so-called “everyday” violence, and police-involved shootings) is a universal American threat. But Black Americans are 10 times more likely than White Americans to die from it. And Black youth fare even worse. Black children and teens are 14 times more likely to die from gun homicide than their White counterparts.” 

Based on recent media coverage, it may seem like the number of rappers drying from gun violence is increasing — but in reality, this plague is ravaging the entire American Black male population. In 2020, 52% of all homicides in the U.S were against Black men — and they represent just 6% of the U.S population. After the September murder of Rakim Hasheem Allen — known to the world as PnB Rock — I began to educate myself on gun violence in the Black community, and folks, and the numbers are devastating. In the city of Philadelphia alone in 2020, 80% of homicides were against Black men. It should come as no surprise that the most dangerous cities in our country are also the most impoverished.

So how can the music industry help? Well, just last year, the U.S. music business made $15 billion in revenue, with hip-hop being the No. 1 genre — so it is only right that this industry do a better job of supporting the communities where the music comes from. This can be accomplished in several ways, such as better funding for community-run outreach programs, conflict-resolution programs, mental-health programs, schools, and after-school programs.  

Over 7,000 schools around this country no longer have music programs, and those schools are predominantly Black. The music industry generates far too much money off the backs of Black artists and Black culture, so there is no reason that it should not be significantly aiding our communities.  

The violence, the drugs, and the gangster rap result from a lived experience in an inhumane environment. Living in these conditions significantly impacts one’s mental health. Our community is suffering from PTSD, paranoia, anxiety, depression, and so much more without the support needed to work through these issues and heal properly. If you consciously listen to lyrics from some of the current gangster rap songs, you can hear their pain and trauma. My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters fighting to make it out, trying not to succumb to all the negativity around them, and trying to make a way for themselves when they don’t have many options in the first place. It’s tragic.  

So, what can we do? Here are four things I’d like you to consider.  

1. Use appropriate language; replace “rappers are dying from gun violence at a rapid rate” with “Black men are dying from gun violence at a rapid rate.”  

2. Read the lyrics to some of your favorite gangster rap songs. Take in what the song is saying without the beat, and ask yourself if you still think the message is healthy for the Black community.  

3. Invest in the underserved Black communities that gangster rap comes from however you can.  

4. Sign the 100 Percenters anti-Blackness open letter.