Audiences are familiar with the names Jay-Z, Yo-Gotti and the organization they are associated with, Team Roc. But this time, they are in the news not for new songs or merchandise, but for a social justice cause that is earning the rappers coverage among major news organizations.
On behalf of Team Roc, rapper Yo Gotti, (real name Mario Mims) has sent a letter to the governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves. A copy of the letter is available at ClarionLedger.com. In the missive, Gotti raises the awareness of the conditions at Mississippi state prisons. His tone is calm, measured and he appeals to Reeves’ reputation as a fair person and congratulates him on his election. The letter was sent in late January 2020.
Without word of response from Governor Reeves, at least not publicly, the Yo Gotti and Jay-Z have filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDoC). Named in the suit are Pelicia E. Hall and Marshall Turner, who are the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Superintendent of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, respectively.
The rappers detail “barbaric” conditions, and vermin-infested food and a lack of access to medical care among other issues. XXL magazine and elsewhere have reported that since Dec. 29, 2019, there have been nine inmate deaths at Mississippi prisons. A wide-range of national media outlets have also noted that inmates have taken to setting fires to draw attention to the lack of medical care. Reportedly, suicides and deaths from ongoing illnesses that have received little or no treatment are among the fatalities in the Mississippi prison system.
Jay-Z and Yo Gotti: why their actions matter
Arguably, Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are two of the most clever rappers in recent years. Their ability to tell their truths, insult other rappers and use creative means to describe their hustle and the subsequent gains are inventive and represent what a number of audiences expect from hip-hop in general. With their fame, the two could live their lives without a thought to other people, especially other suffering people, but they have chosen not to. And that is perhaps the most incredible part of the advocacy roles the rappers have taken on. Both performers have songs that mention knowing people who have been to jail, and in Jay-Z’s case, the help they will get upon release. Therefore, the lawsuits (the first was filed in late December 2019) show that their willingness to help those who are incarcerated is not just lyrical fodder. The latest lawsuit represents 152 inmates; the first one represented 29.
No word yet of a court date, but the unfolding story will be one that should be of interest to both the hip-hop and humanitarian communities.