In our “Black Art Matters” series, I talk with Black artists about how local and national protests are inspiring and fueling their work. Here is my conversation with Versailles, Kentucky hip hop artist Devine Carama and how the power of hip hop is his tool for honoring and bringing attention to the case of Breonna Taylor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MICHELLE TYRENE JOHNSON: Could you tell me your name and tell me a little bit about your art?
DEVINE CARAMA: I guess you would call me a socially conscious hip hop artist, although I don’t like labels as much as I’ve gotten older in regards to the art, but there’s definitely an intentional focus on trying to uplift or trying to be a mouthpiece for the neighborhood through my music. I kind of transitioned from the music into activism. So I try to combine both primarily to work with and inspire young people.
I think the music is more or less a tool that I use, as opposed to trying to make it in the music industry, I’m using the music, not only to tell my story, but to tell other people’s stories.
JOHNSON: You were saying music is your tool. Tell me a little more about that.
CARAMA: Being 39 and almost being the same age as hip hop itself — I was born in 1980; hip hop was born in the early 70s — I’m well-versed in the origins and just the foundation of hip hop culture. So obviously hip hop is here to entertain. You know, it is here for people to escape from their problems, but a large part of the original foundation of hip hop music was to be a voice for the voiceless.
JOHNSON: So why and how do you use the art of hip hop to pay honor to Breonna Taylor? [Taylor was killed by Louisville Metro Police in March.]
CARAMA: One thing I always tell young people: we’re given these templates on what difference makers or leaders are and oftentimes you got to have a certain amount of education or be a certain age, sometimes even a certain race, have a certain job title. So, when kids grow up, especially our kids, Black kids, they grow up, they may not see a lot of people that look like them that fit into that template. Therefore, they just assume off top, I can’t make a difference or I can’t be a leader. But I’m of the belief that we just need to lead from where we are. We all have different gifts. We all have different experiences. So we got to lead from there. So for me, I’ve been to some of the protests. But my gift isn’t to lead the protest.
I’m an artist. So for me when the Breonna Taylor thing happened, and obviously being a father of girls, and dealing with the tragedy of losing one of my girls this year, for me, I just connected to the story so much. And I was like, how can I use my art just to pay homage but then also just keep her name in people’s timelines. And that’s just what kind of led me to the idea. Let’s just do a song, a verse a day, until her killers are arrested and it’s just getting on peoples nerves or, you know, they keep seeing these songs every day, maybe it will lead them to do research or engage in direct action or just anything just to keep this thing going. So for me, I felt like that’s the best way that I could serve.
JOHNSON: I’m so sorry. You said you lost a daughter this year.
CARAMA: Oftentimes even in tragedy, you know, God gives you purpose. So, as we’re healing and dealing with that, and COVID and everything else, her spirit has really given me a lot of energy and just a lot of purpose in doing this for Breonna. Because I know if she was here she would be on the front lines and trying to fight for justice. So yeah, we’re still healing but we’re still fighting, which is what Black people have been doing for centuries.
JOHNSON: Why do you think Black art matters?
CARAMA: I think Black art matters because we are telling the full story and we’re telling the untold story. Again, the African American experience in America has always been kind of swept under the rug. We’ve never had the opportunity to heal. White fragility, white guilt has always kind of minimized the full African American story, because we’re in a rush to get over it. You know, the biggest sin in the history of this country, we want to sweep it under the rug. But Black art says “Hold up, not yet. There’s still healing to be done. There’s more context to be provided.” And I feel like Black art can do that.