In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita tore apart the state of Louisiana (especially New Orleans). During the hurricanes I lived in Vernon Parish, a part of the central Louisiana region. Even though the region I lived in was a fair length away from the coast, there was extreme devastation surrounding me.
I lived without power for weeks. I stood in a FEMA line to get canned water, food rations, and ice. I was out of school for a month. Houses in Vernon Parish were destroyed by downed trees, flooding, and looting. Although I didn't live in New Orleans, I can surely say that I was affected physically by the hurricanes.
Survivors of Katrina and Rita, or any major natural disaster for that matter, have a strange bond. The people of Vernon Parish turned almost tribal during the storms. We would gather in the cul-de-sac at night around the neighbors generators and share food, water, and stories. The damage was horrible, but the sense of community was akin to the sense of community I have felt in a fraternity, writing circles, or ethnic groups. We were living through something a select group of people have lived through.
Based on the reasons I have listed, I have to say how obnoxious I find it when celebrities use natural disasters to market themselves.
This has weighed on my mind for a long time, but most recently came back to me when I listened to the song "Pray For Me", from the new "Black Panther" soundtrack. In the song, Kendrick Lamar raps the lines "I fight pain and hurricanes, today I wept/ I'm tryna fight back tears, flood on my doorsteps". The rest of the subject matter is related, to what many would call, "the black plight" (shootings, government aid, blood in the streets). The song and movie both are meant to be an inspiration to all black people, not just African Americans.
I am all for "Black Panther" and "Pray For Me" addressing black issues and being a source of pride for all black people, but the "hurricane" lyric struck me as odd. Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper alive, and I love him, but I don't understand how he gets validation to talk about being in hurricanes.
I might sound petty, but it isn't just Kendrick that does this. In the music video for "Formation", Beyonce is seen lying on a flooded cop car in New Orleans, an obvious reference to Katrina. "Formation" was released almost a decade after the hurricanes (which she didn't even experience). She didn't reference Katrina for timeliness, she referenced it to give her unearned credibility.
Mos Def released the song "Dollar City" as a critique on George Bush and Katrina, while he was in New York, safely away from the wreckage of the hurricane. Not to mention, Mos Def stole the instrumental from the New Orleans group UTP, people who actually lived through Katrina and Rita.
I don't think rappers, or any artists, have to live through the things they form art about, but referencing Katrina is obvious pandering of the worst kind. Katrina is primarily seen as a "black issue", and it is, for the black people who actually lived through it. A rapper who hasn't shot someone can get away with rapping about shootings because every city in America has had gang crimes and shootings.
Hurricane Katrina was something that damaged a select area only one time, it was a special happening. The singularity of Hurricane Katrina is what makes artists hiding behind it so egregious.
I love the fact that people aided Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. I also think the love that was going across Texas during Hurricane Harvey was amazing. Americans need to band together when natural disasters strike.
The global reach celebrities had during Harvey helped to bring donations to the region, but that is vastly different than using the hurricane as a crutch to pander and increase album sales. People need to be more aware of the difference between "helping" and "ripping-off".