Archive for May, 2012

Mixtape review: Akala – Knowledge Is Power Volume 1

When it comes to dropping knowledge over hip-hop and grime beats, who can do it like Akala?

Knowledge Is Power Volume 1 is definitely one of the highlight releases of 2012, and sees Akala on top form, educating, elevating, entertaining and inspiring over fresh hip-hop and grime instrumentals.

The first track, Educated Thug Shit, sets the tone nicely, challenging the listener’s notion of what a “thug” is, in collaboration with English Frank.

“Do you really really really know what a tug is? Think it’s just a man that moves on the road criminal? I think it’s a man that’d die for his principles.”

This gets to the core of what Knowledge Is Power is all about. Akala is constantly challenging his listeners to re-evaluate their concepts of what is ‘cool’, what is ‘gangsta’, what is ‘hard’; he wants us to see how these concepts are shaped by a mass media and corporate record industry that are fundamentally anti-poor and anti-black; he is helping to move the culture back to a place where knowledge is valued, where it is a weapon to be used against oppression, where it is ‘cool’ rather than ‘neeky’.

Akala gets on a laid-back, reflective vibe with Absolute Power, talking about the sense of powerlessness which is deliberately created in oppressed people in order to ensure they don’t rise up against the system that oppresses them.

What do they fear more than a working class black male with a brain
When our energy is harnessed, everything change
Look at Pac, look at Marley, look at Hendrix, look at Garvey
This is the potential that is wasted on a daily basis
A racist, classist world that we live in
Still we come from nothing and we educate millions

Who’s The Gangsta picks up a similar theme to Educated Thug Shit, over a heavy grime beat from from Ripperman. Akala looks at all the ‘gangsta rap’ and asks: who’s the real gangsta? Is it kids making bait rap videos claiming to be killers? Is it street hustlers? “Do we make the straps and the scales or just pack the jails?” And why do the real gangstas want us to think that we are the gangstas?

The last thing they want is for man with road energy
To stop killing one another and think cleverly
Ask why you’re living, where you’re living, how you’re living
Did you create the condition that you were raising a killing
If you didn’t, who did it? Is it really for the hood if our oppressors like our lyrics?
Only by crushing your aspirations can they maintain this here situation
Only by destroying the dreams of your kids, can they keep their unearned privilege
And that’s what it’s all about…

I’m So Cool is Akala’s unique take on rap braggadocio, that you have to hear to believe!

In A Message, Akala goes waaaaay beyond the limits of ‘acceptable’ hip-hop subject matter, exploring the issues of patriarchy, single parenthood and the the corrosive effect of male supremacy on the family. Selah’s chorus helps to make this a very moving, thoughtful piece of music.

On Otherside, Akala works with the legendary Jaja Soze to tell the ‘other side’ of the story – not the glamourised portrayal of the hood that you get from the music videos, but the tears, the pain, the contradictions.

The other side that you never see on television
The other side when a killer shed a tear in prison
The other side ain’t written in gold, it’s really cold
The other side is the truth, but it’s never been told
The other side ain’t no fake rap video
Just jail cells, funerals and mental homes
This rap shit used to be the news for the hood
Now everyone’s jumpin round like it’s all good

Really sees Akala showcasing his verbal dexterity over a Lavar-produced 6/8 beat and letting the wannabe rappers exactly how threatened he feels by their claims to be on his level ;-)

Get Educated is another Lavar banger, this time on a heavy boom-bap tip. The message is loud and clear:

The most rebellious thing you can do is get educated
Forget what they told you in school, get educated
I ain’t sayin play by the rules, get educated
Get educated, get educated
Get educated, break the chains of their enslavement
Get educated, even if you’re on the pavement
Get educated, what a weapon that your brain is
Get educated, get educated

On Behind My Painted Smile, Akala and Lowkey give their listeners a glipse of the vulnerability and contradictions that lie behind the exterior of confidence and contentedness that they both project.

Behind my painted smile, when all the revolutionary noise is nothing but a lost little boy
Confused and insecure, arrogant and oversure
Egotistical prick, so come on, please praise me more

The echoes of Aimé Césaire, Steve Biko and Franz Fanon can be heard in Lowkey’s verse about being a victim of mental slavery:

Behind my smile there’s generations of pain
Self-hatred ingrained, miseducated my brain
Decimated the place where my dead relations were slain
Not just physically but mentally penetrated our veins

The last verse where the two rappers go back to back is a definite high point of the mixtape, and the laid-back Last Resort beat works perfectly.

Your Time is Over Now is a fitting eulogy-in-advance for colonialism, imperialism and western/white supremacy. Rapid-fire knowledge, moving chorus from Selah and a dope, energetic beat make this another standout track of the project.

As far as I can see, western supremacy’s the most anti-human force that’s ever lived
And we can all see the holes in the bottom of the tin
Right now the ship’s gonna sink
So we paint the Global South as the terrorist
Been living on their backs for half a millennium
It’s over now, explain that to these leaders
It’s nuclear war or accept new teachers

For Are You An MC, Akala brings in the undeniable skills of Durrty Goodz – one of the most gifted lyricists the UK has ever produced – and Dexplicit – one of the most respect producers on the grime scene – to provide a lesson to some of the up-and-coming MCs who might think that becoming an MC is a shortcut to respect and money. Heavy, heavy track!

Insert Truth Here is another very thought-provoking and philosophical track, its venom directed at those merchants of ‘absolute truth’ who want you to believe that everything they say is correct and there is no other truth. Particularly harmful are those ‘absolute truths’ that tell you to be happy with a system that oppresses you and to accept it as the natural order of things. As ever, Akala encourages his listeners to be active in learning and discovering truth for themselves, not just lapping up whatever’s put out on a plate for them. The intense beat from Skilloso works beautifully with the lyrics.

The final – and title – track is a spot-on ending to the mixtape. Akala fires off unforgiving triplets over bouncing drums and filtered strings, dropping knowledge about some of his favourite subjects: the African origins of hip-hop, and how corporations have bought control of the culture in order to promote racist, sexist, classist images. How do we fight back? We arm ourselves with knowledge: “C’mon my people stand up. Knowledge is power. Don’t let them tell you about yourself, never dash your wealth.”

The mixtape is an undeniable classic. I’m already looking forward to Volume 2!

The CD can be purchased exclusively from Mamstore.

You can buy the MP3s from iTunes, Amazon UK and elsewhere.

Akala’s blog has a useful note for anyone who buys the MP3s.

Follow @AkalaMusic on Twitter.

Jaja Soze – The Rape

Serious depth once again from Jaja Soze, talking about the transatlantic slave trade and the rape of Africa, how it feeds into black inferiority complex today, and how it can be overcome with economic and cultural empowerment.

Follow @JajaPDC on Twitter.

Dope track from newcomer Afrocentric rapper, Trench Farda

Check it out.

Akala ft Selah – A Message

How many musicians are willing and able to talk about the corrosive effect of male supremacy on the family?! Big ups to Akala and Selah on this one.

Wonderful video as ever from Global Faction. Love the cameo from the excellent Lez Henry also.

Follow @AkalaMusic
Follow @SuperstarSelah
Follow @GlobalFaction
Check out Lez Henry’s site, Nu Beyond

Akala raises the bar yet again

Akala’s new Fire In The Both shows once again that Akala brings the full package of lyrical skill, content, flows, relevance and personality. Forget all these wannabe gangsters and autotune bubblegum rappers! Akala has set the standard. Who’s rising to the challenge?

Akala’s mixtape ‘Knowledge Is Power vol 1′ will be released on 28 May. Preorder it here.

“Made You Die” – Trayvon Martin tribute from Dead Prez, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and MikeFlo

Militant Trayvon Martin tribute over the classic Nas ‘Made You Look’ beat (produced by Salaam Remi). Great video by Bmike.

Heartening to see top-level established artists coming together to make a statement, raise awareness, educate and organise.

Follow on Twitter:

@M1deadprez
@MosDefOfficial
@mikeflorbg
@2cent_bmike

‘Soy Rebelde’ – great track and video from Rebel Diaz

Single taken from the forthcoming album, Radical Dilemma.

The song samples a late 60s Spanish pop ballad, “Soy Rebelde, porque el mundo me hecho asi..” (I’m a Rebel, because the world has made me this way…”).

Produced by G1 of Rebel Diaz. Shot and edited by Pocho1.

Follow @rebeldiaz
Follow @rdacbx

RIP Adam Yauch (MCA); Thoughts on the Beastie Boys and Tibet

Adam Yauch

First things first, RIP to a Adam Yauch, a hip-hop innovator whose contribution to the art form is widely recognised. The Beastie Boys form an important chapter in hip-hop history. Even as white, middle-class kids whose main effect was to make hip-hop more accessible to other white, middle-class kids, they were generally respectful of the art form and of the communities that created it. Chuck D commented on Twitter:

“Adam & the boys put us on our first tour 25 years & 79 tours ago. They ARE essential to our beginning, middle and today. A very real cat R.I.P MCA”

While Yauch deserves respect as an artist and innovator, the aspect of his life that has earned him the most praise in the liberal press is his activism in favour of Tibetan independence. This is interesting. While the press censors musicians who call for Free Palestine, it lauds artists who call for Free Tibet. And while western governments actively support the Israeli government against the Palestinian movement for national self-determination, they actively support the Tibetan independence movement against the government of the People’s Republic of China. Why the discrepancy? In short: because Israel is a ‘friend’ and China is an ‘enemy’. The west has consistently used the issue of Tibet in order to paint China as an evil, ruthless coloniser, thereby making it morally abhorrent, even to those that support other aspects of Chinese politics (you know… little things like the most significant poverty alleviation programme of all time).

Every western liberal knows that Tibet must be free. And yet 99.9% of them haven’t got the slightest clue as to the history of Tibet, or the relationship between Tibet and the rest of China. Wearing that ‘Free Tibet’ t-shirt is simply the easiest, most acceptable and least confrontational way of saying “I am a good person”, absolving the wearer of all responsibility for developing their knowledge and understanding.

In fact, the issue of Tibet is not an open-and-shut case of Chinese colonialism. And perhaps more importantly, there are better ways for people in the ‘first world’ to be active in pursuit of a fairer, more peaceful world. The Beastie Boys were/are privileged white Jewish kids from affluent families in New York. They have made a fortune, and built a musical legacy, on the basis of a culture created by people of African descent in the poorest districts of New York. Instead of taking up a cause celebre which poses zero challenge to the US ruling circles, surely it would be more appropriate to use their privilege and wealth in support of the oppressed communities that hip-hop grew out of?

Incidentally, New York wasn’t always called New York – it was given that name by English colonisers in 1664. Native Americans have lived in that area for an estimated 12,000 years. Wealthy European settlers could consider supporting indigenous rights and power as an outlet for their activism. But that would be a bit difficult. It would mean standing up to their government; it would mean getting labeled in the press as subversives rather than lauded as heroes; it would mean taking on corporate interests; it would mean not sharing the same views as George W Bush. It doesn’t take any courage for a wealthy North American or European to stand up to ‘Chinese tyranny’. The Chinese are an easy target. The west is generally anti-China to begin with, and there’s a prevailing sense of indignation that they are no longer our colonial subjects (things were soooo much better in China back when we fought wars for our right to get the Chinese masses hooked on opium). In the US this sentiment is mixed up with the intellectual legacy of McCarthyism, which means that anything called ‘communist’ is automatically considered demonic. The prevailing hatred only grows as China is developing into an economically and politically strong country, the number one challenge to the total dominance of US imperialism.

One international cause which doesn’t typically attract the support of many wealthy western celebrities (especially Jewish people from New York) is that of Palestinian national self-determination. Why not demand an end to Israeli oppression of Palestinians? There are few such clear-cut cases of ongoing colonial occupation, organised and paid for by the west. Opposition to Israeli occupation is a lot more valid than joining in with the fashionable Hollywood-liberal cries of ‘Free Tibet’. However, I can’t find any record of the Beastie Boys voicing their support for Palestine. Indeed, they played concerts in Israel in 1995.

So in celebrating the legacy of the Beastie Boys (Paul’s Boutique is playing in my headphones as I write this), I suggest we emulate their creativity rather than their activism. Be an activist, for sure, but pick the right side!

Tribute to the legendary Lloyd Brevett

A sad day for ska as one of its originators, Lloyd Brevett, passes away at the age of 80. The following tribute is from Billboard.

Lloyd Brevett the upright bass player and founding member of the seminal Jamaican ska group The Skatalites passed away this morning at Andrews Memorial Hospital in St. Andrew, Jamaica where he was being treated following a stroke and a series of seizures. Brevett was 80 years old.

The Skatalites were the preeminent collective in popularizing ska, an early 60s creation melding R&B, jazz, calypso and Cuban musical influences, and characterized by its distinctive emphasis on the after beat, as opposed to the down beat of R&B.

Together for just 18 months between 1963-1965 The Skatalites recorded many timeless instrumentals including “Eastern Standard Time” and “Guns of Navarone” for a variety of producers, most notably Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.

Backing virtually every singer of note during that era, including teen sensations The Wailers on their 1964 hit “Simmer Down,” The Skatalites’ pioneering efforts at the dawn of the island’s recording industry laid the groundwork for the development of rocksteady and reggae later in the decade and the subsequent international embrace of Jamaica’s various indigenous genres.

Considered the grandfather of Jamaican bass players Brevett was taught by his father David who built and played his own basses. A recipient of several awards throughout his long, highly influential career, Brevett was bestowed Jamaica’s fifth highest honor, the Order of Distinction, in October 2001 and the Silver Musgrave Medal for his contribution to music in October 2010.

According to a recent report in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, close family friend Maxine Stowe (former A&R at Columbia Records and Clement Dodd’s niece) said Brevett’s health had rapidly deteriorated following the fatal shooting of his son Okeene Brevett on February 26, near the family’s home in Seaview Gardens area of St. Andrew. Okeene was returning home after accepting an award on his father’s behalf from JaRIA (Jamaica Recording Industry Association) for his contributions to the development of Jamaica’s music industry.

Missiles on the Blocks

This week we’ve heard that not only have the Olympics disrupted our transport system more than snow blizzards on top of autumn leaves, but that they also meant that our city is to be militarised, quite literally, out of the money this whole country, not just London, pays in tax. The Royal Navy have deployed their largest assault vessel, HMS Ocean, in Greenwich, Marines encircle our coast, in the city centre itself there will be 12,500 “Olympic Police, 13,500 armed services (2,000 of which fully armed), 5,000 specialist police, 1,000 in logistical support, not to mention the 7,500 private security forces roaming the street. A combined force of 23,700 security forces will restrict liberty for the “safety” of us all. Security on such a vast scale will be overseen by that beacon of democracy G4S, the private security company that has recently made inroads into schools, prisons and roads– big societing it up.

As if that wasn’t enough, Typhoon fighter jets and military helicopters will be in our skies, just to deter those terrorists that have no aerial power in their own countries, but of course have full capabilities to breach British aerospace. Add the cherry on top of the cake is of course the surface to air missiles that will be placed on top of residential blocks. While this may make that xenophobic, patriotic, Falkland war loving Brit feel safer at night, those with a little more sense and self-consciousness will move beyond inherited jingoism to feelings of caution, worry and dismay at the need to deploy such capacities for destruction to fight an enemy that at his worst operates using over the counter chemicals cooked in basements with crude equipment. The notion that such enemies can be fought with full military might is not only erroneous, as the Afghani resistance proves daily, it also evokes the great satire of Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stones scathing critique of over-militarised responses to terrorist threats.

The film starts with the destruction of Paris by American forces seeking to neutralise a jihadi with a suitcase. In response, missiles are fired and destruction is wrecked at comically disturbing levels. When I hear of the measures taken to keep London safe, all I can think of is that opening scene. Imagine a terrorist does make it through the net of GCHQ, Mi6, Mi5, Special Branch and the SO15’s intelligence. Does the aforementioned security infrastructure fortify London even slightly? I fail to see how. If I work on mainstream perceptions of this world, there’s some math that just doesn’t work.

Since 9/11, attacks upon Western power have come in numerous forms, but mainly suicide bombings. With the exception of car bombs, the only difference I can think of is the gunmen in Mumbai. Now, tell me how the jihadi at the gates can be taken out with a missile? I don’t think he can and I do not believe the measures of security that we will be subject to have been conceived with the quintessential “Islamist extremist” in mind. While some on the right will engage in fantasy and provide a long-list of conjecture over potential security threats that warrant such disturbing force, I think we must consider these measures as a message more than a response to need.

What we are witnessing is the normalisation of militarisation of our cities. We accept the surveillance infrastructure to keep us safe, we accept our actions being logged, so why not accept armaments on top of buildings? It’s not too far of a jump and has hardly been met with critical commentary. When such actions were taken in China, it was used as a stick to beat the central committee who were going mad with paranoia and continuing to “abuse human rights”. But instead of seeing this through the prism of state repression, we are made to feel that “our boys” provide us with comfort, their presence on our streets in the thousands embraced. And that’s the most troubling part – as we’ve seen countless times across this world, military deployments come quickly and are dismantled slowly. Imagine London is attacked – imagine the attackers breached security in a way that is sensationalised, imagine that the enemy at the gates was said to be upon us and knows more about the inner workings of our system than we thought. Imagine a world of suspicion. Imagine that as well as having your movements logged and your texts and emails read – you are also in the crosshairs of weaponry countless times a day. It is not the world we are living in, but it could be round the corner.

I do not believe this is the final stage in the building of the dystopia – it is merely a lunge towards it. The greatest threat London faces is embarrassment. With movement restricted around this city, an increased cost of living and a depletion of resources, the disenfranchised youth who were so combustible last summer will have powder kegs beneath them. The Olympics have long been a tool of dispossession and neo-liberalism and London’s 2012 is no exception. Public money has been pilfered into private hands and for generations the urban poor will be paying for their own displacement. Military deployments are about scaring the radical elements to make the elites feel safe. The Olympics is accelerating the processes by which London becomes a sanitised investors paradise, civil disruption would hurt the magnetising effect the Olympics would have on business with the Big Smoke. With the coalition’s austerity measures failing, they are reliant upon a lucrative Olympics to pull in the private businesses that their economic plan hinges upon. With recession being the consequence of their foray so far, there is very little room for complacency. London 2012 must generate money.

So, like the abusive father inviting friends over for dinner, certain punitive measures are put in place to ensure that once guests are in the house, everyone will act civilised – or will have hell to pay. That’s the message I take from the militarisation of my city – and like the petulant kid grown use to abuse from power – my response is this: go fuck yourselves.

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