Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript of Sonnie Johnson’s address at the Freedom Center’s West Coast Retreat, held at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California from March 21-23, 2014:
Sonnie Johnson: Hip-hop didn’t start ‘til late ‘70s, early ‘80s. By then progressivism had already infiltrated our communities, and we have been going through birth pains in the hip-hop movement since then. This year, this summer, three hip-hop artists came out with albums and I put these albums – they were my favorite albums of the summer – and I put them together into one coherent thought using the names. And it tells you progressivism in black America and how we fight to get out of it. The three albums were “A Good Kid in a Mad City Will Turn a Born Sinner into the Gifted.” And that’s what happened. We have good kids being raised in bad cities, and they take what they’ve been given, and they turn it into a gift, and they put it out as a product, and they sell it, and they become multi-millionaires. And it is a beautiful thing. It is capitalism. It is the American dream.
So, I start off most of the time with a Sonnie-ism, so I want to give you guys a Sonnie-ism. This is how I mix conservatism with hip-hop, and this is one of my favorites. Created equal does not mean equal results. Because I can’t flow like Jay-Z doesn’t make it Jay-Z’s fault. And it’s a simple, basic concept that we all preach when we talk about the Constitution, when we talk about our founding principles. That’s what we’re trying to get people to see. But it goes straight over their head. But if you put someone in that they listen to and they care about then they start to understand it a little bit better. And that’s what we want to do. But we also have another thing, where we say we don’t talk about the game, we be the game. So, we’re not gonna talk about it, we’re gonna show you how we change the game, so that’s why I’m up here to do that. And I hope you like it.
This is how we plan on changing the game:
I’m a born sinner asking the Lord why me. He said it ain’t about you, so let it be. And when I question my role, he didn’t send me a priest. He sent another born sinner to sing to me.
J Cole cowrote me a love song. Freedom of jail, a purchase or sale, daughter in the womb, momma angel raised from this hell. It was the end before beginning. How you gonna change the world, curled in all its traps and sinners. Well as far as that go, it’s only natural. I explain my plateau and what defines my name.
Short story. No need to fit it all in. I live a life of compromise. Backsliding is sin. It was expected. See the hue of my skin. This sickness in my body, I don’t want to go and party. The devil claimed my soul wasn’t good for nobody. My girl is out tricking, my dude’s out dying. God bless me, would he see the doctors were denying. Then he called my name, and I couldn’t stop crying. But I stood in defiance, see.
‘Cause I’m gonna do me. Not looking for no one’s goddess, not even from he. ‘Cause God wanted perfect. And in all honesty, I was not worth it.
Then 50 said God give me style. God give me grace. God give me style and God give me grace. And God used 50 to put a smile on my face. And J said kneel before God and pray for a better cause, sometimes to no avail, and that made me wake up and stop feeling sorry for myself. ‘Cause if I went to heaven I had to escape hell.
And Kanye. Jesus walks and I thought I’ve been afraid of God for so long. What can I do to right my wrongs? And this is where the song switches. Because God said speak, so I let spoken word flow from me. I’m not a rapper, so lyrics don’t flow from me, but I’m a thinker, so a thousand thoughts flow from me. God said speaker louder. What do you want from me? Then he put a tea party in front of me.
Now I’m no longer black. My fam turned on me. ‘Cause I try to paint a picture of the world I see. That’s the meaning of hip-hop. What it’s supposed to be. How did I turn into the enemy? And on the other side it’s few that believed in me. I wear my ghetto on my sleeve. Ain’t no change in me. I’m the rough cut that God made of me. Exposing my diamond now ‘cause Cole sang to me. Hip-hop sung me a love song.
Politics are archaic, formulaic with the outcome. They don’t know. They just studied the charts. Me I studied my black. The people studied their hearts. I had a feelin’ I was killin’ with the speeches I was spillin’ out. I could change lives forever.
Keynote, big speech, Jay-Z is what I talk about. It would have been mixed tape Jay Cole, but I was like, nah, I was wonderin’ why you were full, when two years ago I was sayin’ who dat. Praisin’ hip-hop for its switch up in rap. But as my speech is slow, I thought they must be insane. But Bannen said play the game and change the game. And then I heard my love song.
‘Cause I always believed in a bigger picture. If I can get my people to stop the names, feel my core, I could open up doors. Reintroduce honesty, show them they deserve more. The difference between black leaders, poverty pimps, and whores. I wasn’t asked to fall. I was demanded to stand. MLK on a mountaintop with a cross in his heart. In his hand was a cross. Not that civil right that you bought, so his statue removes Christ, and they call it art.
If this be my last essay, know it comes to my heart. No apologies for embracing hip-hop as a art. ‘Cause I’m here for a purpose, though I doubted to start. I’m just a woman of the people, not above, but equal. And for the greater good, destroy both sides of evil, so don’t cry for me. This is a life I choose myself. Just pray along the way I never lose myself. And for those who said black conservatism is dead, I’ll go to hell to resurrect it, and I will be respected ‘cause hip hop writes me love songs.
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