Seattle Times features ‘op-ed rap’ in response to local shootings
Sharon Chan, associate opinions editor/digital at The Seattle Times, asked local hip-hop artist Prometheus Brown to write about his reaction to several recent shootings that have occurred in Seattle -- including a rampage that killed five people and wounded another at the end of May. Instead of writing a traditional editorial, Brown created a rap song that's been getting a lot of attention on social networks.
The Times ran the lyrics to the rap in the Sunday print edition with a QR code that linked to an online video of Brown performing the song. The video, Chan said, is part of an ongoing effort to diversity the opinion section's content and readership.
"We want to showcase content that resonates with younger readers," she said via email. "Music has a long history of social commentary. This piece spoke to our readers in a way that no news story could."
To give the lyrics and video some context, Chan did a short Q&A with Brown about the song. Since Jan. 1, seven people have been shot in a four-block section of Rainier Beach, where Brown is from.
Brown, who is the vocalist for the Seattle hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, told Chan he'd driven by the scenes of two recent shootings "minutes" after they happened. "It’s something that’s been happening for a long time in the south end. It’s become normalized."
In the song, Brown talks about how the location of shootings can affect people's reactions to them.
Shots fired in the south end, nobody cares.
Shots fired in the north end, everybody scared.
Shots fired in the parking lot, nobody cares.
Shots fired in the coffee shop, everybody scared.
Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley said reaction to the video was mixed in the comments section, but mostly positive on social networks. "It was among the most commented pieces, and people were sharing it quite a bit, so I think that speaks to the power of it," she said by phone. "We also got a lot of emails from folks who really appreciated it." (Brown compiled some of his favorite comments on his Tumblr.)
Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess tweeted: "This poem is powerful and filled with truth. Watch it."
Riley said she wants to continue experimenting with new types of content in the opinion section.
"I think our rule of thumb over the last several months has been, why not change it up? We're trying to appeal to readers of all ages and ethnicities and walks of life," she said. "Hearing [Brown's] perspective is pretty powerful. It's good medicine for the city."
The Seattle Times is holding a live chat with Brown about the shootings on Wednesday at noon PT.
Correction: This post originally misspelled Blue Scholars' name.