The Hurricane Katrina tragedy has ignited a unity that United States citizens haven’t demonstrated since the September 11 terrorist attacks. While the government’s response to the disaster is up for debate, seemingly every major company or corporation in the nation has organized donation programs to help the victims. Small community groups have also contributed, conducting fundraising programs to build up their own donations. The hip-hop community has also made a visible impact on the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, further establishing the hip-hop world as a culture that must be recognized.
Hip-hop’s roots are grounded in African American struggle. While other forms of music require the purchase of expensive musical instruments, hip-hop originated in rhyming over old records, and alternatively, when executed with one person at a time acting as the MC, and one or more additional people providing a soundtrack with mouth sounds and banging on a wall or lunch table. Otherwise, the duo consists of the same MC role and a turntablist spinning records. Even though today’s materialistic nature of rap music is ironic, hip-hop is a genre of music that was custom-made for black youth who didn’t have the resources to make the music of their privileged peers (and predecessors).
With hip-hop’s history of providing a voice for the underprivileged, its correlation with Hurricane Katrina is clear. While Kanye West’s infamous comment on NBC’s relief telethon— “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” —is up for debate, there’s no question for who the disaster affected. Even Barbara Bush acknowledged that the majority of the victims were impoverished (Despite the fact that the rest of her quote, which says that the people were “underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them,” has infuriated many). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that out of the approximated 1.3 million residents of New Orleans, 28 percent were already living in poverty before the hurricane. The Center also reports, “About one of every three people who lived in the areas hit hardest by the hurricane were African American.” Hurricane Katrina has given the hip-hop community a chance to unify for a common cause, and they’ve done so in flying colors.
The fact that members of the hip-hop community contributed to Hurricane Katrina isn’t surprising. If the term “hip-hop community” refers to anyone that listens to hip-hop music or is involved in the rap music industry, finding contributors in that pool is easy. Rap music has gone from being taboo to becoming one of America’s fastest growing genres of mainstream music, with rap performers at the Super Bowl and McDonald’s restaurants incorporating hip-hop in their commercials. With the heightened popularity of the music, it’s a given that hip-hop heads would be amongst the contributors to the Hurricane Katrina victims.
What is surprising, though, is how members of the hip-hop community have worked together to make contributions. At BET’s Saving OurSelves Relief Telethon, rap moguls Sean “Diddy” Combs and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter donated a collective $1 million to the American Red Cross. At the same telethon, Lil Jon and Crunk Energy Juice contributed $250,000, and rap mogul Russell Simmons and his wife Kimora Lee Simmons donated $100,000. T.I. challenged a Magic City strip club in Atlanta to donate $10,000— which the club accepted— and donated $50,000 himself to jumpstart a pledge drive at Atlanta’s V-103 FM, a station that raised more than $230,000 in three hours. Here’s the killer: the money that T.I. was raising went to the Help The Hood Foundation, which was founded by fellow southern rapper David Banner.
The contributions from the hip-hop community go beyond monetary donations. Along with Carter and Combs’ donations, they also gave clothing from their respected clothing lines, Sean John and Rocawear. T.I. teamed up with David Banner and Young Jeezy to host a food and clothing drive for victims at a club in Atlanta. James Prince, CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records, has opened a shelter in Houston, Texas to house the newly homeless, and Percy “Master P.” Miller and his wife Sonya Miller have announced the formation of Rescue One, an organization dedicated to helping residents cope with the aftermath of the hurricane. New Orleans rapper Juvenile has teamed up with H3 Enterprises, Inc. to produce the Katrina relief effort RE-JUVE-NATION, which will include a tour and an adopt-a-family program so contributors can personally choose families from the tragedy to help. Hip-hop artists have performed at various benefit concerts for Hurricane Katrina, and everyone from new mixtape king Papoose to hip-hop veteran Mos Def have released songs that singularly address the hurricane (as opposed to one-line drops, i.e. Jadakiss’ “Why did Bush knock down the towers” quip in “Why”). Other artists, such as indie hip-hop staple Immortal Technique, have even published editorials on the hurricane and the government’s response on Web sites like
While these contributions have ultimately helped the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the contributions have also helped prove something else: the hip-hop community isn’t just a group of people who listens to music with booming bass, snapping snares, and quick-spitting lyricists. The community has become much more than impoverished youth who break dance on corners and adorn free walls with graffiti art. It is already recognized as a community with its own music, clothing, and buying power— but the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina help establish hip-hop as a powerful cultural force that not only gives voice to the marginalized but that contributes to the United States and its people.

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