Archive for September, 2010

Jasiri X interview

Jasiri XTake a few minutes to read this in-depth interview with the very talented revolutionary rapper Jasiri X, which appeared on examiner.com a few days ago.


Gone are the days when rappers actually had something of substance to say when they picked up the microphone. The late 80′s and early 90′s were filled with Hip-Hop acts that raged against the machine while most of today’s acts are simple and overly hedonistic. I guess everything is all good.

Pittsburgh MC Jasiri X is a throwback to acts like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Paris, and X-Clan. His lyrics are not about being combative but more about doing the right thing. With rhymes steeped in factuality Jasiri X is a breath of fresh air to Hip-Hop in 2010.

I spoke with Jasiri X about the Tea Party Movement, police brutality in the inner city, his upcoming album Ascension, and why Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame are part of a modern day minstrel show.

SS: I first heard of you from your song What if the Tea Party was Black? Talk about why you decided to record that song and explain the meaning behind it.

Jasiri X: It really came from a conversation that I had with Paradise the Architek from X-Clan. He sent me an article written by a gentleman named Tim Wise. The article basically said, imagine if the Tea Party was black. I read the article and I thought it was decent. I saw Paradise later on and he asked me about it. I said it was cool, and he said that it would make a great song. I was like, “Wow, it would.” At that point in time it was instantaneous and I just started writing.

The purpose was to show media bias. It wasn’t about the Tea Party as much as it was about how they’ve been covered. It’s interesting to me when you hear them talk about revolution and see them with guns. We know the history of our revolutionary organizations and how the government conspired to destroy them, but what if black people decided to march on Washington with guns? How would they treat us? We know it would be a lot harsher treatment than the Tea Party gets. I’m somebody that always analyzes and studies the media. It was right along the lines of what I like to do as far as exposing the biases that I see in the media–especially when it comes to our people.

SS: Race has been in the news recently with people like Shirley Sherrod, Jesse Jackson, and Mel Gibson making headlines. Recently I had a discussion with my 15-year old cousin concerning Jesse Jackson’s allegation that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had the mentality of a slave master. My cousin said, “Why are people still talking about slavery? Why do people still bring up race?” I’ve heard similar comments from people of all colors recently but it shocked me coming from a young black man. What would you say in response to my cousin’s questions about why race and slavery are still brought up in 2010?

Jasiri X: Wow. I would talk to him about how race matters. It’s sad because you would think that in 2010 we would have witnessed Dr. King’s dream by now. Especially with the election of President Obama, we would have moved beyond it. What you see with the election of President of Obama is it’s gotten even more racial. I’d talk to him about Oscar Grant because everybody missed that when LeBron James made his decision on ESPN. Grant was a young brother in Oakland who was shot point blank in the back on video tape. The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter. I would show your cousin how statistics say that young black men born after 1991 have a 91% chance of going to jail at least once in their life. The percentage for white people is just 5. I’d talk to him about graduation statistics and employment statistics. Even today when we go before a judge after committing the same crime we get longer sentences than white offenders. The reality is, race is still a problem.

Here in Pittsburgh we were called America’s most livable city. At the same time a report was issued saying that we have the poorest black community of any of the major cities in the United States. Black children under 5-years old are poorer in Pittsburgh than anywhere else in the United States. That’s the disparity right there. If your cousin lived in the hood I’d say look at your neighborhood and ask why is it not like the neighborhoods of others.

SS: He does live in the hood! He’s on the west side of Chicago and it’s serious over there…

Jasiri X: Wow. Oh yeah. I’m originally from the south side so I understand. I would say look around your own neighborhood, you know?

SS: Tell me about the American History X mixtape that you dropped a few months ago.

Jasiri X: The idea came about from watching the movie. The movie deals with race which is a topic that I deal with often. The white student writes a History paper about Hitler and the black principal takes him into the office and says, “I’m your history teacher now, our topics are going to be about current events, and the class is going to be called American History X.” This Week is a video blog where I was dealing with a lot of current events and issues–the mixtape was right along those same lines.

SS: Earlier you mentioned Paradise the Architek; how did you hook up with Paradise?

Jasiri X: Man, just found out he lived in Pittsburgh! I’m someone who is definitely inspired by X-Clan. We ended up hooking up but what’s interesting is when we did it wasn’t about rap. Paradise is someone who has a tremendous love for our people. He’d call me every time a young person lost their life in Pittsburgh and ask me, “What are gonna do?” We ended up getting with some other young brothers who love Hip-Hop and love working with young people and formed a group called 1 Hood.

After organizing with 1 Hood and doing the anti-violence things in Pittsburgh we got to the music. I almost gave up Hip-Hop because I didn’t think people wanted to hear conscious rap. It changed for me when I wrote the song Free the Jena 6. It ended up being played all over the country and Michael Baisden was the catalyst for that. I ended up in Jena and people responded well to the song saying it touched their lives. It showed me that people really wanted to hear Hip-Hop with substance and a message. That’s when Paradise and I really started working on music together.

SS: Going back to the era when X-Clan came out, acts like X-Clan, Public Enemy and Brand Nubian were at the forefront of rap, now acts like that you won’t see on BET. Why do you think that’s changed in less than 20 years?

Jasiri X: The powers that be of the industry will say outright that that music doesn’t sell. A group like Little Brother who you might not even classify as conscious, I would say they’re conscious or have intelligent music; BET wouldn’t play their video because they said their music was too intelligent for their audience. I think what happened was this industry created a formula for a hit record. People began focusing on making hit records instead of music that inspires and educates. It was like if you don’t fit into this formula that equals hit we aren’t going to support you. The industry is saying we won’t invest in you because you won’t be this big monster hit. This is actually why we started putting our videos on YouTube to show that people want to hear this type of Hip-Hop. It’s good to be able to negotiate a contract and say we have a half a million views on YouTube and people want to hear this type of music.

If you look at the history of the representation of black people in the industry and the media its always been this negative portrayal. It seems to me that now the industry says we only want two representations of black men. Either you’re this unintelligent gangster super thug or you’re this effeminate non-threatening person with super tight jeans. It seems like the media has always had a problem with an intelligent strong black man. Women have it worse. If they don’t want to get buck naked they don’t have a place for you in this industry. This is why me, Paradise, and others have said that we’ll do it independently. There is a market there. There are people that want my music, there’s people that want good conscious Hip-Hop with a message. Look at what’s happening to the industry, it’s collapsing on itself because it’s not producing real good music that people want to listen to. What really destroyed Hip-Hop was when people went into the studio and tried to make hit records instead of making good quality music. What you get out of that is junk. You get a whole bunch of attempts at a hit record and they’re terrible. I took the opposite approach and said I want to make quality music that has an impact and talks about what’s happening.

You’re in Chicago the violence is off the chain! Violence, poverty, the recession, the intense attack on President Obama; all these issues we have and we’re still talking about making it rain? We’re talking about swag? I tend to also get mad at Hip-Hop fans because the fans don’t demand real good music. If the industry is pushing you the fans will accept you. We’ll accept Rick Ross even though we know he’s lying. We know he was a C.O. and he wasn’t a big time hustler. We accept it because the industry is pushing it.

SS: I interviewed Scoop Jackson from ESPN and I asked him why Hip-Hop changed from conscious rap to mostly gangsta rap. He said Hip-Hop didn’t dictate that but the people did. He said in the late 80′s and early 90′s Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton played a much bigger role in the community then than they do now. There is no so-called black leader now so the rappers are a reflection of the people…

Jasiri X: I love Scoop but that’s just absolutely ridiculous. The reason I say that is because I live in the hood. Everybody is not a killer. Everybody is not selling drugs. When you analyze it, it’s a small segment of the people in the community living that life. It’s not everybody. I was just in London Homes; I got a lot of family there. Are there people there doing what they gotta do? Yeah. Sure. But it’s not everybody that lives there. What happens is it’s glamorized. At 1 Hood we walked the worst neighborhood in Pittsburgh called Homewood. Before we started walking it was five shootings in a 21 hour period– a three and a four-year old got shot. We said enough is enough, black men we’re going to get together and walk these streets. What we found out was it really wasn’t that bad. There were a couple of trouble areas but it’s not what’s portrayed. My thing is, yeah we have violence and hustling in the hood but definitely not at the level that these rappers talk about.

SS: On the block that I grew up on there was crime, but there was literally like two houses that people sold drugs out of. Everybody else on the block went to work every day and minded their own business.

Jasiri X: [Laughs] Exactly! Did what they had to do to survive.

SS: Drugs bring guns, people who use drugs steal, and it’s a never ending cycle…

Jasiri X: It’s definitely a vicious cycle. What we saw in Pittsburgh is a change in the policing. It went away from a community policing where people knew the officers and they were from your community. Most of the people that police our communities are white. They’re these hyper ex-soldier type guys that come from the suburbs and rarely have interaction with black people therefore there is no relationship there. That’s why they’re pushing for people to snitch. It used to be where people in the community had a relationship with the police and would talk to them.

An honor student in Pittsburgh named Jordan Miles was beaten severely by the police. He looked like Emmitt Till. He had his locks ripped out of his head. He’s an honor student and a violinist who played for Michelle Obama when she visited Pittsburgh. He was just walking to his grandmother’s house and some undercover cops jumped out on him so he ran. He didn’t know they were cops and they gave him the beat down. The police are defiant in the face of that and the head of the F.O.P says they followed their training. They charged this young brother with resisting arrest and he’s an honor student who never had any history with the police–as if beating him down and ripping the locks out of his head wasn’t enough. Look at the history of America, sex and violence is what America is founded on and what America loves to digest.

SS: I haven’t been stopped by the cops in a while. I’m 34-years old but when I was a teenager I was stopped constantly. It was always humorous to me because I was never in any kind of trouble but the house across the street from me was flooded with drug dealers and the police never bothered them. A lot of these cops work with drug dealers. They take payoffs or shakedown these small-time dope dealers so they aren’t concerned about policing the community. Earlier you mentioned that there should be more black police officers in black neighborhoods but in my experiences the black cops are way worse than the white ones. So how would you propose to change this?

Jasiri X: Yeah, yeah. You’re absolutely right. Pittsburgh was one of the first cities they used the RICO Act on. To talk to those brothers who were victims of that they didn’t get hit until they actually stopped selling drugs [laughs]. I think ultimately what we have to do is begin to police our own communities. It’s like education; do I send my child to this school that really doesn’t care about my child? Or do I take it upon myself to home school my child? We’re being pushed to do for self and practice self sufficiency. Ultimately it’s our neighborhood. On the block that I live on if I see someone breaking into my neighbors’ house I have a responsibility to say, “Nah, you’re not breaking into my neighbors’ house,” because the next house you’ll break into is mine.

The solution is we have to organize block by block and community by community to say we’re going to watch out for one another. Sadly people are afraid to approach these young brothers–they’re approachable. You can say, “Hey, on this block right here we’re watching out. It might be wise to leave us alone.” At the same time our tax dollars pay the salary of the police. With this organization 1 Hood we went up against the police a few times. When we first went up against the police an officer pulled a gun on a 7-year old girl and said he was going to blow her brains out. There were five witnesses to this account. What they tend to do is drag the case out and what we tend do is get real hype when it first happens and then go back to sleep. We have to begin to organize for the duration and hold the police responsible for what they’re supposed to do. What happened was the mother was charged with disturbing the peace because she was calling on Jesus to save her from the wicked police officer. They ended up dropping the charges against her but the judge said he did not believe that this officer would do something like that even though there were five eye witnesses. Less than a year later that officer shot and killed a mentally disturbed man. When we go and speak we bring that stuff up. We have to hold the officers accountable for the jobs they’re supposed to do and not be afraid to do that as well.

SS: Back to the music, I heard a song of yours called Blackface and another song called Just A Minstrel. How do you differentiate between someone having fun and being themselves versus someone putting on a minstrel show?

Jasiri X: Being yourself, are you really being yourself? To me that’s the $64 million dollar question. I read in XXL magazine that Gucci Mane had an academic college scholarship for computer science. So when we see Gucci Mane playing this role is he being himself? Obviously this dude is super-intelligent. Lil’ Wayne is very intelligent. When you see them acting out like this are they being themselves? I would say no. T-Pain? No. They’re playing a character. When they get caught and get on that witness stand like The Game you can tell. The Game’s lawyer said, “Do not call my client a gangsta rapper. That’s not what he is.” They’ll get on that stand and say that’s not really me, I’m playing a character.

Why is it that the character that they’re playing resembles a minstrel act from the 1920′s and 30′s? Why can’t you being an intelligent man reflect that in your music? If Gucci Mane would be goofy in one video and an intelligent business man in the next I would say OK, in this video he’s having fun and in this video he’s handling business. If in every video you’re showing all your teeth and high on pills that’s not real. Especially when you’re going in front of the judge and talking about how you want to change your life and be a role model.

SS: Waka Flocka Flame…

Jasiri X: Lord have mercy.

SS: [LAUGHS] He got into some minor verbal thing with Method Man. One of the things he said was that people don’t want to hear intelligent lyrics, I’m paraphrasing but that’s basically what he said. I’ve actually never heard one of his songs..

Jasiri X: You don’t want to hear it [laughs].

SS: I don’t think that guy is playing a character. I think that’s really him.

Jasiri X: No. To understand who Waka Flocka Flame is… Do you know who his mother is?

SS: No.

Jasiri X: His mother managed Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj. How hard did you have it if your mom is managing Gucci and Nicki Minaj? You got some money now! That’s the mentality that the record labels have. The record label will say Soulja Boy had a million hits, did a dance, and sold some records so in their mind this is proof that people don’t want to hear lyrics anymore, but explain the success that Jay-Z and Eminem have. To me that’s a cop out. This is somebody who has no respect for the culture of Hip-Hop. He just wants to make money. His mom is managing Gucci so he can get Gucci and Nicki Minaj on a song so it’s like why not put some songs out there and you can make money too. He didn’t have to go through what most rappers have to go through to get on.

Even if you were the hood rapper you have to have some skills. You have to be able to say some rhymes to make the people in the hood say, “That’s him–he’s the one.” He never had to go through that. Because of how he got on and how quickly he got on he doesn’t have the same appreciation and respect for the culture and the music because he didn’t have to pay those dues. He’ll go out as fast as he came in–just watch. People that have an easy time getting on don’t last long. Look at the stories of Jay-Z, Eminem, and Diddy. They had a hard road, they fought. Every record label turned Jay-Z down and he financed his own record. They worked hard just to get their foot in the door. Their grind level is different.

We have an artist here in Pittsburgh named Wiz Khalifa. I’ve known him since he was 16-years old and when I met him he was dead set on being a professional Hip-Hop artist. He had a mindset like a 25-year old. He was in the studio back then, he wasn’t playing the block. He signed with Warner Bros, it didn’t turn out like people thought it would and it made him grind even harder. There was a time in Pittsburgh when there was a hate campaign for Wiz. He used to have to have a bodyguard.

SS: Why?

Jasiri X: It was two reasons. He’s young and his management is young. They made a mistake by marketing him as the only thing that’s happening in Pittsburgh. He also had a couple of street type songs. A lot of the rappers are heavy in the streets and they had a problem because they knew he wasn’t heavy in the streets. Wiz just hadn’t found himself yet and now he’s found himself as an artist. His management learned from those early mistakes. They reached back to Pittsburgh and when Wiz comes back to the city he’s like the Steelers now. It wasn’t easy and that dude went through a lot. I think he’s going to have a longer career than these dudes who just got a co-sign from a big star to get on. Wiz built his own machine and he’s going to be around a lot longer because of what he went through that I witnessed first hand.

SS: Talk about the album you have coming out.

Jasiri X: I’m really excited, it comes out in January. It’s really to me my first real album. American History X is a good album and we got the Pittsburgh Hip-Hop album of the year award but it was more like a compilation of my episodes. What you’ll find on American History X is me talking about things going on around the world and things that affect us. This is the first album where I get to get a little more into myself and just spit on some stuff. I put a couple songs out where I just spit and I’m nice with it. I can spit on this mic. It’s produced entirely by a producer named Rel!g!on out of Vancouver, Canada. He did a song last season that was very popular called Silent Night. I got with him and this new company called Wandering Worx — myself and Planet Asia were the first acts signed to it.

I’m just excited about an album that’s separate from me doing political stuff. As an artist you get more of a wider range of me on the album. It’s called Ascension. When we do the This Week with Jasiri X series we do nine episodes, nine weeks straight. So it’s nine new songs and nine new videos. I pushed myself to a point where I was ready to give up. It was like boot camp times fifty. I edit the videos too so I wasn’t sleeping at all. We kind of changed it up this year. It was a dark time for me so Ascension represents me coming out of that and finding the love for Hip-Hop again. I had to get off Twiter and Facebook and just wrote. Rel!g!on is a super producer as far as his beats and I’m really excited about people hearing it.


If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Jasiri’s classic ‘What if the Tea Party was Black?’

JasiriX.com
Jasiri X on Twitter
Jasiri X Facebook group

Remembering George Jackson on his birthday

Soledad Brother

George Jackson, Soledad Brother

A massive happy birthday to George Jackson, martyr of the struggle for freedom, leading intellectual of the Black Power movement, and a major source of inspiration for many of the best hip-hop artists.

Aged only 18, George Jackson was imprisoned for the petty crime of stealing $70 from a petrol station. In spite of the lack of evidence, he was convicted, and the judge threw the book at him, giving him a sentence of one year to life. In prison, he became known as a radical, and for that reason he was never released. When he started teaching other prisoners about the conditions that had got them into prison, and when he started organising the other prisoners to defend themselves, he was put in solitary confinement, where he did seven and a half years.

While in prison, he joined the Black Panther Party, and became one of its leading intellectuals and public figures. His books, ‘Soledad Brother’ and ‘Blood in my Eye’ are essential reading, even today.

On 21 August 1971, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard, who claimed George was trying to escape. As the famous writer James Baldwin put it: “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”

Jackson represented an important ideological thread within the international movement against colonialism, imperialism and racism. He was sickened by the traditional ‘left’, and felt that their lack of courage, their refusal to keep up with new developments and their comfortable middle class backgrounds prevented them from organising real change in society. He took to the Black Panther Party quickly, because he saw that it was an organisation that spoke to the street, to the dispossessed, the downtrodden; an organisation that *organised*, not just talked. In ‘Blood in My Eye’, he puts it very simply:

“We are faced with two choices: to continue as we have done for forty years fanning our pamphlets against the hurricane, or to build a new revolutionary culture that we will be able to turn on the old culture”

The historian Walter Rodney summed up George Jackson’s contribution brilliantly:

“George Jackson, like Malcolm X before him, educated himself painfully behind prison bars to the point where his clear vision of historical and contemporary reality and his ability to communicate his perspective frightened the US power structure into physically liquidating him… The greatness of George Jackson is that he served as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.” (see this article)

George Jackson and his brother Jonathan – who was killed while leading an incredibly audacious courtroom breakout – have been mentioned in many a hip-hop track. Check out Nas’s ‘Testify’, which he dedicates to George and Jon:

George would have been 69 years old today. We can only guess what he might have achieved by now.

“To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It’s aggressive. It isn’t ‘cool’ or cautious. It’s bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred! It can hardly be any other way without raising a fundamental contradiction. If revolution, and especially revolution in Amerika, is anything less than an effective defense/attack weapon and a charger for the people to mount now, it is meaningless to the great majority of the slaves. If revolution is tied to dependence on the inscrutabilities of ‘long-range politics,’ it cannot be made relevant to the person who expects to die tomorrow.” (Blood in my Eye)

Brand new video: Akala ‘Yours and My Children’

Check out this powerful and moving new video from Akala, for his track ‘Yours and My Children’. Shot on location in Rio’s favelas, the video is definitely a major step up from the average hip-hop vid. No bling, no phat cars, no bragging or bullshit; just regular scenes from the Brazilian hood, interspersed with clips from various live performances, all very slickly and professionally edited.

No doubt you’ve heard the track before, so I don’t need to tell you how deep it is. Akala kicks some of the realest knowledge, with breathtaking skill and passionate delivery. His simple message of unity is one that we need to take up! Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics:

Even the fact that I call myself black
Social conditioning and that’s a fact
The idea of races has no factual basis
It was made just to serve racists
To justify doing to some what couldn’t be done to others
But they all are all of our sons
BLack or white, all of our sons
Muslim, Christian, all of our sons
Look up in the sky, that’s all of our sun
Last time I checked, we only had one
So if some were inferior, others superior, based on exterior
Well then surely the sun would know and fall into line
It would rain on your crops and not mine
Air would prefer to inhabit your lungs
Food would prefer the taste of your tongue
If that’s not the case then nature’s declared
Despite what we say, the world’s in fact fair

Kids in Iraq, yours and my children
Kids in Iran, yours and my children
Afghanistan, yours and my children
Even Sudan, yours and my children
Kids in Brazil, yours and my children
Police drive by the favela and just kill dem

Spread the word! Let’s get the view count up and make sure the music industry knows Akala cannot be ignored.

Big ups to SB.TV for premiering the video.

Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow SB.TV on Twitter
Buy Akala’s latest album, DoubleThink, on iTunes
Read our review of the recent Dead Prez and Akala gig

What we need is Nueva Canción – Remembering Victor Jara

Victor Jara

Victor Jara

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the murder of the great Chilean revolutionary musician, Victor Jara.

Victor Jara was one of the leaders of the Nueva Canción (spanish for ‘New Song’) movement – a movement based around “socially committed” music; music that takes a clear stand for freedom, against poverty, against imperialism and against human rights abuses. Nueva Canción gave voice to the millions of peasants, workers and indigenous peoples of Latin America who were being crushed under the weight of US economic and political dominance.

The date 11 September causes most westerners nowadays to think of the World Trade Centre attacks. However, for many, it will forever be remembered as the date on which, in 1973, the Chilean military overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende in a bloody coup. That coup, which brought the fascist Augusto Pinochet to power, was in large part planned and 100% supported by the United States (Henry Kissinger is on record as saying: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”)

On 12 September 1973, Jara, along with several thousands of Allende supporters, was taken hostage by the military and taken to Chile Stadium (now known as Estadio Víctor Jara). Along with many others, he was beaten and tortured; his hands were broken, but his resolve was not. When soldiers taunted him and told him to play something on his guitar (in spite of his broken hands), he played Venceremos (We Will Win). On 15 September, he was murdered.

Across the world, Victor Jara is remembered as a hero and a martyr; an exemplary musician who put his skill and his passion entirely at the service of the struggle for a better life for humanity. In commemorating his death and celebrating his life, we should remember the principal lesson he teaches us: that culture is a weapon, one which must be wielded effectively in these times where oppression and repression are so prevalent. As Paul Robeson said, “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery”.

Here is one of the last songs recorded by Jara:

And here is a poem he wrote during the last days of his life, about what was happening in the stadium. The poem was smuggled out of the stadium in a friend’s shoe.

There are five thousand of us here
in this small part of the city.
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country?
Here alone
are ten thousand hands which plant seeds
and make the factories run.
How much humanity
exposed to hunger, cold, panic, pain,
moral pressure, terror and insanity?
Six of us were lost
as if into starry space.
One dead, another beaten as I could never have believed
a human being could be beaten.
The other four wanted to end their terror
one jumping into nothingness,
another beating his head against a wall,
but all with the fixed stare of death.
What horror the face of fascism creates!
They carry out their plans with knife-like precision.
Nothing matters to them.
To them, blood equals medals,
slaughter is an act of heroism.
Oh God, is this the world that you created,
for this your seven days of wonder and work?
Within these four walls only a number exists
which does not progress,
which slowly will wish more and more for death.
But suddenly my conscience awakes
and I see that this tide has no heartbeat,
only the pulse of machines
and the military showing their midwives’ faces
full of sweetness.
Let Mexico, Cuba and the world
cry out against this atrocity!
We are ten thousand hands
which can produce nothing.
How many of us in the whole country?
The blood of our President, our compañero,
will strike with more strength than bombs and machine guns!
So will our fist strike again!

How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment

Read the full story behind the poem.

Conscious Classic: Skinnyman ‘Fuck the Hook’

Right, I’m going to try and post a ‘conscious classic’ every week. To kick things off, check this incredible lyrical performance from Skinnyman, taken from his 2004 album ‘Council Estate of Mind’. Three minutes of pure knowledge and depth – with no hooks!

In a relentless indictment of the music industry, Skinny explains why UK hip-hop artists have difficulty getting signed – because they talk too much realness! No doubt the likes of Lowkey, Akala and Black the Ripper will relate to this, given that they get a bare minimum of exposure on commercial media, in spite of having massive underground popularity.

One positive development over the last few years is that good artists don’t have to be as reliant on the music industry as they once were – the internet gives new opportunities for guerrilla marketing and distribution that mean you can get music into people’s ears without having to spend tens of thousands of pounds. Without a doubt, some of our best conscious/political rappers are using these opportunities with great effect.

Anyway, check the lyrics.

I don’t wanna blow up, throughout every era I’ve been here
So far the underground circuit has been fair
The home of hip hop, can you say you’ve been there?
Home’s where the heart is so hip hop lives right here
I’m from UK, to you that might seem rare
I’m steppin’ up now to make sure I seem clear
In every council estate we’ve got pure talent
No one don’t care because they’re seen as a challenge
I suppose we’ll never be the balance that you’re lookin’
You wanna dilute the realness then sling a hook in
Most A&R cats I’ve ever met was all shookin’
I’m lost for words if they don’t bring a chequebook in
I’m livin’ in a place where you can get your life tooken
For half steppin, by kids that’ll blast weapons
Pull up at the lights they’ll have you out in half seconds
Think your rough hang around if your ass reckons
Don’t have to look for trouble, trouble it’ll find ya
Don’t turn around it’ll be right behind ya
Maybe September the 11th will remind ya
Nobody ain’t too major nor minor
If you’re bruck in the street or in a brand new recliner
Grab ya dicks and girls rub your vagina
Pay the pound I’ll provide the punch liner
Might look young but I’m a real old timer
Been around ever since the days of Boogie Down
You can check my résumé, the evidence can be found
Forever been blessin’ eloquence over sound
Before they had the lino for spinnin’ on the ground
Since then shit’s changed man, shit goes down
But we’re still gettin’ down to the same old sound, it’s hip hop
It’s good shit for rockin’ a crowd
Where there ain’t no space for mistakes allowed
I feel proud if I’m leaving crowds crying for more
This year I’m really thinking ’bout trying a tour
Is hip hop worth dying for, if your life’s on the line and your only crime is being poor?
This time around I feel I want more
I wanna see my son’s future set secure
Without havin’ to go out and start breakin’ the law
I’m sick of being sat in the flats shotting the draw
I’m sick of watchin every day come and go by, tellin’ titch and fat boy, hold ya head high
See others come and go, watchin’ their mothers cry, singing “why did my boy have to die?”
And still we try
As others might choose to get high
But we must up rise through to get by
It don’t take too much to figure out the facts, who’s bringin in all the coke and the crack?
This week an 82 year old got her throat slashed in the flats, cats are lookin’ cash for their crack
And we’re the kids whose left facing the facts
Now used for lookin’ mobiles that match their straps
As if it’s fashion, everybody’s ready for the action
Ready for the mashin’ and thuggin’ it with a passion
Only takes two egos to start clashin, bullets start flyin then the blood’ll start splashin’
Social rage is really climaxing
Everyday I see it getting worse by a fraction
Droughts for the weed, but ‘nough of that crack thing
Nobody round here is gonna be relaxin’
And this ain’t a whites or a blacks thing
It’s if you’re livin in the council flats and on a brack ting
They got us on a lab rat thing
And it’s funny to me how easily we’re all adapting
So I’m jus gonna keep on rapping
You lot keep ya next snapping, but fuck the hook
Just say fuck the hook, fuck the hook.

Massive respect to the one and only Skinnyman! Please please please give us another album!

Commemorating Tupac on the anniversary of his death

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur was assassinated 14 years ago, on 13 September 1996. He was one of most important and influential rappers of all time. He may not have been the best lyricist or battle MC, but his voice, his passion, his politics, his background and his personality made him an exceptionally powerful vocalist.

The son of a very well-known New York Black Panther, Afeni Shakur, Tupac was exposed to the ideas of black power and freedom from a very early age (his godfather was Geronimo Pratt, one of the leading Panthers and a long-term political prisoner). Nonetheless, unlike a lot of other ‘conscious’ hip-hop MCs, Pac was from the *street*. He didn’t go to college; he didn’t grow up in relative comfort. He grew up in the projects, and he always identified with the disenfranchised, disenchanted, impoverished young people he grew up with.

Pac grew in the aftermath of an intense political struggle in which many of his family’s friends and relatives had been killed or imprisoned. In her book ‘The War Before’, Safiya Bukhari (another New York Panther who was a close friend of Afeni’s) points out that everyone who came through this struggle was, to some extent, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. To see your friends die in shoot-outs; to operate ‘underground’; to go to prison; to suffer solitary confinement – all of these things have an impact on your psychological health. Afeni, like a number of other Panther veterans, became addicted to crack cocaine in the early 1980s. As a result, Tupac’s childhood was highly unpredictable, and the contradiction of his family’s Panther legacy and his own erratic, impoverished childhood is one of the main themes that defines his life and his music.

Tupac more than any other rapper bridges the generation gap between the black power generation of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the hip-hop generation of the 1980s onwards. He brings the Panther legacy to his music, but he does it in order to bring certain ideas to bear on the struggles of his generation, rather than just giving a history lesson. Unfortunately, once he hooked up with Death Row records in the later part of his career, his music took on a much less positive, much less revolutionary, much more gangsta aspect. However, his earlier albums stand out as some of the best works of political art in recent memory.

Here is the video to ‘Changes’, one of Pac’s most heartfelt and memorable songs, the lyrics for which contain some real depth and insight. The song is an indictment of the oppression of African people in the US, and a call to oppressed people to start working together and to stop killing each other.

Pac makes an important point that many seasoned politicians (even on the left) don’t properly understand, relating the situation in the Middle East to the situation in the ghettoes of the United States:

And still I see no changes, can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war in the streets and war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs
So the police can bother me

With a note of desperation, he points out that the most vibrant struggle of black people in the US to gain freedom and equality was struck down ruthlessly by the state:

It’s time to fight back, that’s what Huey [Newton] said
Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead

But the real message of the song is more optimistic: we need to stop doing what the oppressors want us to do, and we need to unite.

I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
Unless we share with each other
We gotta start makin’ changes
Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers

Tupac Amaru Shakur, RIP

Lowkey – Terrorist?

Lowkey is on a serious roll at the moment – everything he is putting out is lyrically, musically and politically on point. The latest video from his forthcoming (and much-anticipated) album ‘Soundtrack to the Struggle’ is called ‘Terrorist?’, and it explores the true meanings of the concepts ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’.

Lowkey starts off by quoting the dictionary definitions as follows:

Terrorist: the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coersion.

Terror: violent or destructive acts such as bombing, committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.

He proceeds to compare some of the people that are labeled in the media as ‘terrorists’ (ie. Iraqis and others using primitive explosives against colonial domination) with the powerful states and corporations that are terrorising millions on a daily basis.

What’s the bigger threat to human society,
BAE Systems or home-made IEDs?
Remote controlled drones killing off human lives
Or man with home-made bomb committing suicide?

Although the ‘terrorist’ label has primarily been used to describe Muslims, particularly since the twin towers attack, Lowkey points out that resistance to imperialism isn’t limited to any one religion or racial group, and that all oppressed people are united by their opposition to the empire.

This is very basic
One nation in the world has over a thousand military bases.
They say it’s religion, when clearly it isn’t
It’s not just Muslims that oppose your imperialism.
Is Hugo Chavez a Muslim? Nah, I didn’t think so.
Is Castro a Muslim? Nah, I didn’t think so.

He brilliantly exposes the hypocrisy of western colonisers describing anybody as terrorists:

Lumumbah was democracy
Mossadeq was democracy
Allende was democracy
Hypocrisy, it bothers me
Call you terrorist if you don’t wanna be a colony
Refuse to bow down to a policy of robbery

The song is summed up by its beautiful, haunting chorus:

They’re calling me a terrorist
Like they don’t know who the terror is
When they put it on me I tell them this
I’m all about peace and love.

They’re calling me a terrorist
Like they don’t know who the terror is
Insulting my intelligence
Oh how these people judge

All in all, another very powerful track from Lowkey, with excellent production by the ever-reliable Red Skull and a highly professional, innovative video by Global Faction. Please spread the word!

Follow Lowkey on Twitter
Red Skull’s Facebook page

Biko the Greatness – a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah

steve bikoToday is the 33rd anniversary of the murder of Stephen Biko at the hands of apartheid police in South Africa. Although only 30 years old at the time of his death, Biko had become one of the leading intellectuals and activists of the anti-apartheid movement. A talented organiser, a sharp mind, a courageous heart and a passionate revolutionary, he is one of the most important martyrs of the struggle against apartheid.

This poem about Biko is written by Benjamin Zephaniah, without a doubt one of the best poets and writers alive today. Zephaniah is also a great activist and an inspiring personal example to us all. Brought up in the Handsworth ghetto, he left school at the age of 13, unable to read or write, and soon became involved with petty crime, doing a short prison stint for burglary. However, inspired by his love for all oppressed people and driven by a great personal desire to impact the world positively, he developed his abilities as a poet and a writer. Today he continues to be one of the greatest cultural representatives of working class and oppressed people everywhere.

Biko the Greatness

Wickedness tried to kill greatness
In a corner of South Africa
Where they believed there were
No mothers and fathers
And
Where they believed
One could not hear the cries of another
Wickedness tried to kill greatness

Wickedness tried to build a nation
Of white tyrants
In a corner of the planet
They arrogantly downpressed
They did no overstand
As they suffered the illusion of the God complex
But these words are not for wickedness

These words are for greatness
The greatness that inspired doctors and nurses
To become educated in the art of freedom getting
The greatness that inspired educators to become liberators
And a nation of children to become great themselves

South Africans in the valley of the shadow of death
Feared no wickedness
Because greatness was at their side
And greatness was in their hearts
When the wind of change went south
Greatness was its trustee, guided by truth

Now we who witnessed the greatness
Sing and dance to his legacy,
We who muse his intelligence
Spread the good news in Reggae, Soul, Marabi
And the theatre of liberation,
Knowing that nobody dies until they’re forgotten
We chant Biko today
Biko tomorrow
Biko forever.

Wickedness tried to kill greatness
Now wickedness is dead
And greatness lives
In Islington
As he lives in Cape Town

Interview with Steve Biko (PDF)

Interview with Benjamin Zephaniah, Part 1Part 2Part 3

Article by Zephaniah explaining why he rejected an OBE

Invincible – The Emperor’s Clothes

This is a very potent and very slick track/video from Detroit rapper Invincible. Invincible smashes a *lot* of stereotypes, as a white female rapper, an anti-zionist from a Jewish family (she was born in Israel) who raps about gentrification, racism, Native American rights and the occupation of Palestine. Without a doubt she is a highly proficient rapper that people need to start taking notice of.

Check this interview for more details about Invincible.

Review: Mangaliso Asi – Heartbeat of the Street

Mangaliso Asi

Photo by Bruno Nguyen

Many London hip-hop heads (myself included) first heard of Mangaliso Asi at the Jay Electronica gig at the Jazz Cafe back in November 2009 when Jay hosted a short open mic segment. Mangaliso stepped straight up and, to the amazement of the crowd, absolutely merked it! Jay Electronica looked pretty much dumbfounded. “Daaamn. Most times you let people on the mic and they can’t really spit. This motherfucker can SPIT!” Jay went on to instruct Gilles Peterson, who was in the crowd, to get Mangaliso on his Worldwide show on BBC Radio 1.

A few months later and Mangaliso has released his much-anticipated debut mixtape, ‘Heartbeat of the Street’, an incendiary and emotional statement about the statement of the world and Mangaliso’s place within it.

Mangaliso Asi’s diverse cultural heritage clearly plays a major part in forming his style – his biog describes him as the “son of a Jazz singing father and a single mother raising her first child against the back drop of Apartheid South Africa.” Now living in London, the influence of Soweto is still evident in his music, as he deals with topics that the average rapper wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, such as AIDS (actually, if you think about it, it’s incredible that so few rappers are willing to talk about AIDS, given that it is one of the leading causes of death in the US ghetto – what happened to keeping it real?).

As indicated by the mixtape’s title, Mangaliso places himself firmly at street-level, representing the dispossessed and downtrodden. It’s not the type of ‘street’ that glorifies the crack industry or promotes a negative attitude to women; it’s the type of ‘street’ that rejects the suicidal prejudices that come from the corporations, the mass media and the governments.

Through me the street speaks
I am the voice that gives speech to the freedom we seek.

For a new artist, his voice is impressively well-honed and his lyricism appealing. I think it’s fair to say that his technique is strongly inspired by Rakim.

Cop the mixtape now – it’s a free download – and keep an eye out for Mangaliso. DOWNLOAD LINK

Mangaliso Asi on Bandcamp
Mangaliso Asi on MySpace
Mangaliso Asi on Twitter
Mangaliso Asi on YouTube
Mangaliso Asi on Facebook

Return top