Art, mirroring our evolving consciousness, provides a form with which to reflect social sentiment back to us. By exploring the resultant cultural super-structure through emotional feeling and cognitive understanding, we are able to critically assess the direction of what society itself is becoming, creating frameworks to interpret the meaning of these works while appreciating and anticipating where this communication may ultimately lead. Thus, when radical consciousness is diffused into mainstream activity through the medium of song, music can become a weapon for agitators to undermine dominant paradigms, heralding new ideals as responses to the public’s distrust of the arbitrary authority asserted by an outside force.
“The radical is characterized by visions of a future society and by rational plans to bring his dreams to fulfillment. In youth’s idiom a radical is not merely turned off; he must be turned on to alternatives.” (Evolution of the Protest Song, pg. 28)
With radicalism targeting the fundamental origin, or root of a given social problem, its manifestation in various artforms can provide a powerful spiritual experience that aides in the public’s mass conversion to a particular belief structure. This emotional connection implies an evolving cultural history, offering a reevaluation of purpose while signifying through its symbols an escape from persecution, or at the very least boredom, bringing generations together in the common pursuit of freedom and excitement.
It is then not difficult to see how such a process would resonate with the youth of the culture. Growing up without the ability or knowledge of how to direct social circumstances for themselves, the wonder many young people feel might belie a sense of disillusionment with a social system unrepresentative of their own values. In such an arena, existential qualms with authority, spiritual dissatisfaction, and desire to seek solidarity to organize resistance find expression in the protest song. As disenchanted youth find resonance with singer/song-writers whose description of tragedy inspires communal action, the intangible is manifested in the real-world, with the ego’s intention constructing new realities that offer unique character and different lifestyles altogether.
Take for example the song, “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)” by Wyclef Jean featuring Akon, Lil Wayne, and Niia. Drawing from the underground hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan’s song “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me),” and lyrics from the performance of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, “Sweetest Girl” portrays Wyclef (Haiti’s now roving ambassador), Akon (a Senegalese-American singer), Lil Wayne (a tattooed Grammy winning artist on Cash Money records who was imprisoned for a weapons violation) and others in a refugee camp trying to get Niia through the customs process while preventing her from being deported. The song depicts the graphic nature of what people do for money—killing, stealing, stripping, dealing drugs, prostituting etc…with Niia, once the sweetest girl, now corrupting her morals to survive in a harsh climate, preferring it even to working an “acceptable job” where the money is not as great.
At a time when many of the songs today are about sex, material possessions, drugs and alcohol, “Sweetest Girl” displays people being sprayed with hoses by the authorities, the real risks of long prison sentences for illegal enterprises, molotov cocktail burning down buildings, and the violent beat-down of immigration officers. What’s more, the song peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007, after 15 weeks on the charts and became an international sensation. It remained the most popular single off Wyclef’s album “Memoirs of an Immigrant,” and made reference to two slain rappers, Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac, signifying how life in poverty and the use of gun violence to protect business interests is to a large extent inextricable: “They got they mind on they money, money on they mind, they got their finger on their trigger, hand on their nine…”
This video ultimately suggests that environment is not separate to self, and material reality essentially emerges from a subtle, causal consciousness. If this is true, and individuals are indeed the products of their surroundings to a large degree, then it seems not to be enough to simply intend to solve problems through the rational and cognitive process of the ego. Rather, aligning one’s own actions and consciousness to the greater cosmic consciousness that drives our social being may be what is required. That is, we should realize that our desperation to survive might not in fact oppose a counterforce seeking to destroy or prevent that success, but instead, transformation is the eventual conclusion of our own empowerment, so that by fully realizing how to express ourselves through the work that we do and the art we produce, society will begin to mirror our own intent as we solidify and concretize our consciousness within it, accelerating evolution as it simultaneously inspires our own. At that point, a global resistance network can move from merely criticizing culture to generating it anew.