Yo Gotti On Parchman Prison Reform And Noname On Hip-Hop's Abolitionist Future : Louder Than A Riot Yo Gotti grew up in Memphis just across the state line from Mississippi State Penitentiary (aka Parchman) — so this year, when he learned about the squalor its inmates were living in, he wanted to help. Gotti enlisted Jay-Z and Roc Nation to sue the department of corrections for human rights violations. In our finale episode, we ask how much celebrity activism really helps the prison reform movement, and sit down with rapper Noname and organizer Mariame Kaba to consider the alternate solutions proposed by prison abolition.

Making Revolution Irresistible

Making Revolution Irresistible

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Noname. Dale Edwin Murray for NPR hide caption

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Dale Edwin Murray for NPR


Dale Edwin Murray for NPR

Earlier this year, Yo Gotti's DMs were blowing up: video after video from inside a massive prison complex just across the state line from where the Memphis rapper grew up. The men incarcerated at Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman, were at a breaking point, capturing squalid conditions on contraband cell phones and uploading them to social media. Gotti was appalled by what he saw: black mold crawling up the walls, human waste in the corners of cells that hadn't been unlocked in days, men wrapped in blankets to stave off the cold.

The rapper felt he had to do something, so he enlisted the help of his management, Jay-Z's Roc Nation, and its philanthropic arm, Team Roc. Together with prison reform heavyweights like political commentator Van Jones, Team Roc decided to sue Mississippi's department of corrections for human rights abuses, which they argued violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This summer, the legal effort took on further injustices at Parchman, as COVID-19 spread through the prison with little protection or care given to inmates.

In this episode, we look at the history behind the Parchman suit and examine the broader landscape of prison reform in hip-hop. From Meek Mill's advocacy work to Kanye West lobbying President Trump, Team Roc's effort isn't the first time rappers have taken concrete steps to address prison reform. But critics argue that this cult of celebrity might actually harm the movement to undo the prison industrial complex.

We round out our finale with a conversation between Chicago rapper Noname and abolitionist Mariame Kaba about the potentials of abolishing prisons for good. Is reform a means to that end, or a hindrance? And, as Toni Cade Bambara says, is it the artist's job to make revolution irresistible?

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