Not all rappers are meant to be community activists, or to open the populations’ eyes about important issues. Nobody wants to hear Snoop or Gucci Mane pretend like they know how to improve the public school systems. That is just not part of the identity that they have created for themselves. Yet when an MC does makes the conscious effort to educate and promote progressive thought in their listeners, I got to give credit where credit is due. They may not get as many fans as someone who raps about the clubs and the corners, but it’s a great usage of their opportunity to reach the people.
Therefore I got to give serious props to San Francisco’s Dregs One, of the Gas Mask Colony, for the fact that he is using his status as a rapper to get a worthwhile message out to his audience. Yet the interesting thing about it is that he’s doing it without rapping. Starting this December, he is creating a monthly video series called The Wake Up Report, in which he discusses important and relevant issues that pertain to our communities.
In episode one, Dregs discusses Gentrification. While for the most part it only focuses on San Francisco, anyone who has ever lived in a metropolitan area recognizes that every major city is experiencing gentrification to some degree. San Francisco is just a city where the problem stands out more than others, because due to it’s small size (it’s only 46 square miles, compared to Los Angeles: 469, Chicago: 234, and New York: 469) there are literally less and less places for people with low incomes to go.
I think the video does a good job of explaining one side of the gentrification argument. People with money move into poorer neighborhoods than they traditionally have in the past, demand new stores and services, which then raises the cost of rent and the general cost of living in that specific area. As a result the people who helped give that area a unique identity, which made the location desirable in the first place, are forced to leave, and as a result that identity is lost. Yet the video fails in the same way most arguments against gentrification fail. The best way to win an argument is to acknowledge the other sides point, and then use that point to prove that your perspective is superior. This video, and seemingly every argument against gentrification, completely ignores the other side of the story. Until those who are against gentrification can prove to local governments, city planners, and urban developers that the negative sides out way the positives, which include: less crime, and specifically violent crime, less blatant drug dealing and open drug use and abuse, less homeless on the streets, businesses doing significantly better, less liquor stores, improved access to real grocery stores and healthier foods, less tagging (I’m not talking about artistic graffiti, but just scribbling your name, gang, or set on walls), and a cleaner more visually appealing place, the movement to slow down or even stop gentrification will never happen.
Personally I feel very mixed on the issue. It’s completely fucked that the lower class never gets the opportunity to experience any of the positive things that I listed above: safe neighborhoods, access to healthy and affordable foods, etc… It’s a tragedy. The other thing I dislike is that on a more aesthetic and historical level, gentrification too often means out with the old. Classic locations full of culture are taken down to make room for shiny new “improvements”, which is lame as hell. It’s largely why America feels like it has no history. You’d never hear of people in Italy wanting to tear down old buildings, because a gigantic portion of the country’s appeal is that literally everywhere you go is ancient, and thus is in some way historically significant. Yet at the same time, the shifting of demographics in any given location is something that has taken place throughout time, and is literally unstoppable. San Francisco for example, in it’s early years was nearly 100% white or asian. Eventually new people came in and had impacted the areas they moved to. While people complain now that the Fillmore has lost it’s identity as The Harlem of the West, when African Americans started to first move in, I am sure the people living there bitched and moaned about their neighborhood losing the identity that they had created for it. Time waits for nothing, and you can either look back and endlessly talk about how things used to be better, or you can continue to hustle so that you can put yourself anywhere you want to be, rather than be a forced victim of natural, and unstoppable change.
On a lighter note, if you are interested in hearing what Dregs One’s music sounds like, check out his bandcamp page and peep this video with Equipto and FDOG off Dreg and Equipto’s Generation Gap mixtape.