Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tireless crusade for civil rights is synonymous with the social upheaval and progressive change of the 1960s. He’s since become a global icon and figurehead of a revolutionary movement, and even though he is no longer with us, his game-changing legacy is still strongly felt — especially in the hip-hop community.
In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, MTV News reached out to a few rap names who reflected on Dr. King’s lasting impact on today’s stars, both personally and professionally.
“Martin Luther King is definitely one of my heroes,” Brooklyn MC Saigon said. “He was a black leader and he took the road and responsibility to step up and do what a lot of us other men didn’t have the courage to do. It took a lot of courage to do what he did at a time when racism was very relevant. As he did lose his life, he knew there was a good chance he would lose his life taking the stand he took. He epitomizes standing for something — he’s the epitome of that.”
Saigon, who name-drops MLK in his recently released single “Clap,”
added that Dr. King’s efforts continue to inspire him as a rapper and, as he maintained, a de facto role model for today’s youth due to his public profile as a hip-hop artist.
“That record is just an uplifting record. It’s trying to carry on what he left off, because he died untimely but he left enough for us to carry the torch,” he explained. “I think that’s what a lot of those leaders did. Rappers are the new leaders, so I think we should come in that same vein and still be about the growth and the development of our people and our community.”
UGK O.G. Bun B noted that he may feel closer to Dr. King’s struggle since he’s “probably a couple years older than the average MC.” He maintained that much of America’s race-relations progress is intrinsically linked to the late leader’s fight.
“I remember in my generation and the generation before me, the dream being that one day, being a black man, that no doors would be closed to you in this country and in this world. I’ve been around long enough to see that almost every door in this world has actually opened up, all the way up to the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States,” he said of the country’s first African-American commander in chief, Barack Obama. “There are many achievements that Martin Luther King really would be very happy to see … but at the same time I still think we have ground to cover in this country.”
Bun added that Dr. King’s work has also helped to foster an inclusive society, which prompts MCs to create music that anyone can relate to.
“We do shows nowadays in not just the inner-city community but in every community, and we see people of every color and all walks of life at our concerts now. That’s due to the fact that we try to make music that invites everybody to be a part of the movement,” he explained. “You don’t have to be black to be ‘trill.’ ”
Miami’s DJ Khaled also said that he strives to reflect the harmonious spirit Dr. King’s work engendered — especially in his star-studded posse cuts that can corral everyone from Usher to Plies on one track.
“I celebrate [MLK Day] by giving respect and just reminding people [about] the word ‘peace’ and the word ‘love’ and unity ’cause, you know, that’s what I represent,” he said. “I love bringing people together with my records. That’s why you get sometimes these collaborations that you’ve never seen before come together on a Khaled record ’cause they just got ultimate respect for what I do. Martin Luther King is a person that I respect, that we respect, everybody respects.”
Khaled added that upholding Dr. King’s legacy shouldn’t be a one-day event, but rather an effort that people should incorporate into their everyday lives.
“I think we should take every day and praise and look at what Martin Luther King did for us, for us to be on this Skype right now and kick it, multicultures and just vibe,” he said. “It’s beautiful, so shout-out to MLK, everybody that support Martin Luther King, and R.I.P.
to Martin Luther King and respect to Martin Luther King.”
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