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Off the chain

By Quibian Salzar-Moreno

For years, hip-hop artists have lauded the life of the rich and
famous. Along with expensive cars and large homes, jewellery
has always been a hot topic.

From gold chains in the ‘80s to platinum and diamond
jewellery today, getting the most “ice” has been a priority for
artists on their way up the ladder of success.

But in the past couple of years, some artists have come out
shedding light on where some diamonds are coming from and
where the profit from those diamonds are going.

Most recently, artist Kanye West spoke out on the subject. In
the remix to his song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” he takes
on “conflict diamonds” (also called blood diamonds), which
were mined in unstable African countries such as Sierra Leone
and Angola.

Profits from the smuggled diamonds were used to fund the
Angolan UNITA rebels and the Sierra Leone Revolutionary
United Front rebels.

In Sierra Leone, the rebels fought for more than a decade in a
war that took the lives of approximately 200,000 people.

Children were recruited as soldiers and threatened with
death. They were forced to fight and commit violent and
disturbing acts of war.

Some of those children are now war veterans at age 15 and
16. At the same time, other children were mining diamonds
and losing arms and legs in the process.

The war in Sierra Leone ended in 2002, at the same time the
U. N declared that the sale of conflict diamonds financed
armies fighting against legitimate governments and
perpetrating human rights abuses.

Sierra Leone is now on a path to peace but is facing an uphill
battle. Millions of dollars worth of diamonds are still smuggled
out of the country every year, corruption is rampant, and
thousands of commissioned soldiers are out of work and have
nothing to do.

In the remix to “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” Kanye spits:

“Good morning, this ain't Vietnam still/
People lose hands, legs, arms, for real/
Little was known on Sierra Leone/
And how it connects to the diamonds we own…

See, a part of me sayin', "Keep shinin'"/
How? When I know what’s a blood diamond/
Though it's thousands of miles away/
Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today/
Over here it's a drug trade, we die from drugs/
Over there they die from what we buy from drugs/
The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses/
I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless/
'Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless…”

“I wanted to do whatever I could to learn more and educate
people about the problem,” West told Billboard about the

One of the first artists to touch on the subject was Ms
Dynamite, in 2001. In her song, “It Takes More,” she says,
“Who gives a damn about the ice on your hand, if it’s not too
complex / tell me how many Africans died for the baguettes on
your Rolex?”

When I talked to Dynamite, she said she was surprised that
more people have not spoken out.

“I think it’s cool to see my fellow brothers and sisters on the
TV talking about what they’ve accomplished and what they
have, whether it’s materialistic or whatever,” said Dynamite.

“It’s cool for me to see people better themselves, and I totally
appreciate that. But I do think that the constant overload of
people in the music industry talking about what they own,
and specifically diamonds, isn’t cool."

"I don’t understand why someone hasn’t said it before.
Because it makes perfect sense. It’s like this whole thing of
Black people dying while we get up on the stage and promote
the things that killed them, or injured them, or a business that
has enslaved them. It doesn’t make any sense to me, so I
had to say something.”

Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli tackled the topic in 2004 on his
song, “Going Hard,” from his album, Beautiful Struggle. In the
song, he said:

“People ask me how we wearing diamonds/
When there's little kids in Sierra Leone/
Losing arms for crying while they mining/
Probably an orphan who's momma died of AIDS/
He built a coffin working often but he never paid/
Forever slaving in the world that's forever cold/
Becoming the man of the house at 11 years old…”

One of the first artists to dedicate an entire song to the
subject was Baby Blak with his song, “Diamonds (Diemons)”
from his 2003 album, Once You Go Blak. In the song, he
criticizes the people who value diamonds more than life.

“You wear the blood of your people on your neck and your
wrist/I said the blood of your people/Ain’t no love for your
people/South African government put slugs in my people so
ya platinum chain can have a stud you can see through ….”
Blak said that it was something he had to let people know
about and is a topic that is important to him.

“Basically, that song is about anybody who advocates or
glamorizes diamonds,” Baby Blak told MVremix.com. “They
really don’t know the facts on how they accumulate the
diamonds or the civil war going on in Africa. People don’t have
clean water or a good food supply."

"They fight over land. They have coal mines and people’s
hands are amputated. They die. People fight over the
diamonds we glamorize and use as a status symbol. I’m not
really feeling that.

"That’s just my personal opinion. Austrian diamonds are cool
but all the war and genocide from other countries is
something that I cannot advocate.”

The diamond industry says that nowadays only legitimate
diamonds are traded in the open market. With the help of the
U.N., the diamond industry introduced a ‘certificate of origin,’
which helps stop the sale and trading of conflict diamonds.

The industry believes the number of conflict diamonds in
circulation has dropped below one percent and that it is
almost impossible for any legit dealer to sell them.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

The writer is the former news editor of SOHH.com and he
is currently a freelance writer covering music, business,
sports, entertainment and community. Q frequently blogs at

Q on Hip-Hop and Diamond

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