Hip Hop Artists Tackle Environmental Issues

  • Some Hip Hop artists are using their music to reach people about environmental issues affecting their communities (Photo source: Lestat at Wikimedia Commons)

When many people think of songs about the environment, they conjure up visions of folk singers and acoustic guitars. But the environment is becoming a more prevalent issue among Hip-Hop artists. Lester Graham reports they’re looking at the issue and how it affects their lives directly:

Transcript

When many people think of songs about the environment, they conjure up visions of folk singers and acoustic guitars. But the environment is becoming a more prevalent issue among Hip-Hop artists. Lester Graham reports they’re looking at the issue and how it affects their lives directly:

Environmentalists are often portrayed as treehugging elitists by conservative talk show hosts – and others.

That image really was never accurate, but the environmental movement is becoming more diverse. The environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to a wider swath of society.

Mike Cermack is a consultant for Boston’s public schools. He helps teachers figure out the best ways to teach classes such as environmental science.

He’s come to the conclusion that music can go a long way in getting the attention of kids in the classroom – especially since Hip-Hop artists started tackling the environment and not just as some distant ‘polar bears and butterflies’ issue.

“We really want to start at the corner store and ask deep questions like, ‘why isn’t there any fresh produce? Is that linked to the fact that diabetes and obesity is kind of rampant in our neighborhoods and in our families?’”

As people living in inner cities Cermack says – artists such as Mos Def did it in his song ‘New World Water.’

(clip of Mos Def song)
And it’s not just those big nationally known artists.

Mike Cermack says he stumbled into Boston’s local ‘green Hip-Hop’ movement by working with activists who were trying to stop a power plant from being built next to an elementary school.

“In talking with them further and getting to know them, also many of them turned out to be these really talented MCs, these talented lyricists who are using the new knowledge that they found working with the non-profits and kind of weaving those into their more traditional narratives of ‘this is what’s wrong with street/urban issues; this is what’s wrong with all the gangsters around/in my city.’ They’re saying how can we also bring in these environmental issues.”

And those artists are pulling in friends and bringing a whole lot of street cred to environmental issues.

Tem Blessed and Ben Gilbarg called in some of their Boston friends to perform ‘Green Anthem.’

(clip of ‘Green Anthem’)

“They’re staying true to their roots as kind of the voice social injustice and speaking out against urban problems and they’re really mixing it up with a lot of environmental issues.”

Mike Cermack says he’s been working to get students interested in environmental issues in the classroom, but Hip-Hop artists such as J-Live and Thes One get it done in a way the students know.

“They’re already used to loving the hip-hop tracks. And they know the MC. You know, it’s more important that the MC is from the community. That’s another big piece. I think it’s a really interesting start to this green hip-hop potential.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

‘Land Bank’ Reinvests in Inner City

  • Heavy cleanup crews from the Genesee County Land Bank use chain saws, wood chippers, tractors and brute force to move piles of debris on the lot of an abandoned house on the north side of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)

One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes. Those problems have led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:

Transcript

One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes.
They’ve led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the
community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up
properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:


(sound of work crews operating wood chipper)


Cleanup crews are sending downed branches through a wood chipper on a vacant lot.
They’re also removing tires, used diapers, car seats, sinks, old clothes and dead animal carcasses.
The workers are from the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Michigan. They’re trying to
make abandoned property useful again. Dan Kildee is the Genesee County Treasurer and the brains
behind the land bank. He thinks this new approach can recover unpaid property tax money and help
improve the Flint Metro area.


“The community gets to make a judgment on what we think we should do with this land. We get
to take a deep breath.”


Empty lots and rundown homes have been multiplying for a generation. That’s left the city of
Flint in a terrible economic state. But the land bank is beginning to change things.


Until just three years ago, Michigan was like most other states. No one had come up with
a solution. The state would auction off a city’s tax liens. Then conflict between the tax
lien buyer and the property owner could go on for up to seven years. In the meantime,
properties were left to neglect and often vandalized.


Under this new program, the treasurer’s office forecloses on a property and hands it over
to the land bank, which acts as the property manager. The land bank might then demolish
a house; it might throw out the owner and let a tenant buy it; or it might auction it off
to the highest bidder. A private investor can’t just buy a tax lien. He has to buy the
property along with it and take care of it.


The land bank is financed in two main ways: through fees on back taxes and through sales
of the few nicer homes or buildings the land bank acquires that bring in relatively big
profits. Treasurer Dan Kildee says it makes sense to take that revenue to fix up old
properties and sell them to people who deserve them.


“There is no system in the United States that pulls together these tools. Both the
ability to quickly assemble property into single ownership of the county, the tools
to manage it and the financing tools to develop that property.”


The land bank program hopes to change the perception of Flint. As thousands of abandoned
homes, stores and vacant lots become eyesores, people and their money go other places,
usually to build more sprawling suburbs. The perception that people are abandoning the
inner city then speeds up that abandonment. Many people who can afford to leave the city do.
And those who can’t afford to move are left behind.


According to data gathered by the research group Public Sector Consultants, Flint has the
state’s highest unemployment and crime rates and the lowest student test scores.


Art Potter is the land bank’s director. He thinks the downward spiral can be stopped.
When it is, those folks in the central city won’t have to suffer for still living there.


“Even though the City of Flint has lost 70,000 people in the last 30 years, the people who
are still here deserve to have a nice environment to live in. So our immediate goal is to
get control and to clean these properties now.”


Urban planning experts are watching the land bank approach. Michigan State
University’s Rex LaMore says Flint is typical of Midwestern cities whose manufacturing
base has shrunk. Private owners large and small have left unproductive property behind.
As the land bank steps in, LaMore says it’s likely to succeed and become an example that
other municipalities can follow.


“They can begin to maybe envision a city of the 21st century that will be different than
the cities of the 20th century or the 19th century that we see around the United States.
A city that reflects a more livable environment. So its an exciting opportunity. I think
we have the vision; the challenge is can we generate the resources? And the land bank model
does provide some opportunity to do that.”


But the land bank is meeting obstacles. For example, the new mayor of Flint who took over
in July canceled the city’s existing contracts. A conservative businessman, the mayor is
suspicious of the city’s past deals. They included one with the land bank to demolish 57
homes. This has slowed the land bank’s progress. Its officials are disappointed but they’re
still working with the mayor to get the money released.


(sound of kids chatting, then lawn mower starts up)


The weeds grow rampant in a neighborhood with broken up pavement and sometimes
no houses on an entire block. It’s open and in an odd way, peaceful. Like a
century-old farm. It’s as if the land has expelled the people who invaded with their bricks,
steel and concrete.


In the middle of all the vacant lots, Katherine Alymo sees possibilities.


“I’ve bought a number of properties in the auctions from the land bank and also got a side
lot acquisition from them for my house. My driveway wasn’t attached to my house when I
bought it. And it was this huge long process to try to get it from them. But they sold it
to me for a dollar. Finally.”


And since then, she’s hired people to fix the floors, paint walls and mow the lawns.
She’s also finding buyers for her properties who want to invest in the city as she has.
Together, they say they needed some help and the land bank is making that possible.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.


(lawn mower fades out)

Related Links