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

Akala’s F64 lyrics transcribed

There have been some amazing F64s (big up SB.TV for the initiative and a whole lot of hard work), but the one that really got people talking was Akala’s. I honestly can’t think of an example of a rapper dropping so much knowledge in such a short space of time. And the best thing is: it’s Akala – one of the most talented and widely-respected rappers on the scene! It’s not patronising, it’s not neeky, it’s not coming from someone who’s paid to ‘teach’ a curriculum full of irrelevant bullshit designed to put kids off learning; it’s just 100% relevant, interesting ideas from a guy who’s studied a lot and lived a lot and who loves humanity.

Thankfully Akala took pity on me when I told him I was going to transcribe the lyrics, and emailed them over. Here goes.


The lyrics for Akala’s F64

Sorry kids let me apologize before I go further
Unfortunately I don’t rap about how many man I have murdered
And you may find it boring appalling and I ain’t scoring braps
From your little rat packs for just stating facts
See I lack not the ability to murder man lyrically
I just thought that killing should not be glorified, silly me
Apparently murdering man has become an aspiration
But what would happen if you reversed the situation?
Every black rapper claiming he clap a black in the face, talked about killing white people as much, would he still get embraced?
Or would you find the applauding would quickly turn to appalling and you got no career here by the next morning
I ain’t saying you should do that, it is true that would be just as dumb
I am just pointing out how absurd it has become
If a Chinese rapper were to say die ‘Chink’ die
Everybody would be like ‘What is wrong with this guy?’

But some of us have become so accustomed to just behave disgusting
We think it’s just our behaviour and it ain’t worth discussion
Or worse yet that it is cultural expression
But who owns Baretta and who owns Smith and Wesson?
Who owns the car you’re driving that you think’s defining who you are
Running from yourself you’ll find there is no hiding
So you can boast about your Prada and your Christian Dior
Still security will follow you when you’re in the store
And you can boast about your platinum chains and your diamond rings
While kids in Sierra Leone keep on losing limbs
Act like you got no brain and you ain’t got no shame and say so what I am getting dough
But you’re pawns in a game
They are laughing at the little coons
Who really think they are goons
Real goons don’t wear platinum chains they wear ties and suits
They don’t live in estates and sell flake
They invade with guns and tanks and take your whole state mate
So pardon me if I don’t find it funny
You boast about it but do you even know what is money?

See it’s hard to act dumb when you have read a couple hundred books
But still in anybody’s hood so tell me who is shook?
When you have been to Brazil and stood in favela streets next to kids holding hand grenades and M16s when you come back to London it ain’t serious
The ghetto is in our heads
We are delirious
If you lived in a real slum without food or running water
Where police drive by and kill sons and daughters
You would give your right arm just to go to school
Instead what do we do?
The killer the trigger the play the fool

I ain’t saying school is the answer, educate yourself
See it’s not the money you make, you are the wealth

I ain’t saying we ain’t got a struggle right here in Britain
But you’re taught to act inferior and play position perfectly
It’s disturbing me, the verbal murder be absurd to me
It occurred to me if you have not heard of me
It’s probably because I do not rap about Gucci and booty
Quite enough for the urban scene to fully salute me
But I don’t really care, I’m too busy writing my master thesis
It’s hard to play the stereotype when you study Egypt
Plus urban scene we’re racist to ourselves
Elevating words of hate we’re merely hating ourselves
And if you are musically broad or dare to speak intelligent
People look at you like who the hell you think you are better than
I’m better than no-one on this earth and I know I’m not
But I refuse to play small just to fit in your box

And I don’t hate none of these other rappers
In fact it’s quite the other
Look at me as your bigger wiser older brother
And as a brother should I tell you you’re in trouble
If they clap when you’re talking of killing do they really love you?
If record label bosses kids were dying, would they sell us violence
As quickly as they are ready to desensitise us?
They tell you to shit on your floor while holding all the scoops
Then throw you a bone like a dog jumping through a hoop
Don’t take it as a compliment because it is not that
If I tell you that you’re African you tell me it’s not that
But humanity is African even if not black
The truth can be painful
Sshhh better stop that
It’s so inconvenient
For those at the top that you talk too much truth and you might just get popped at

And if women are such hoes that we do not want to kiss them
What does it say about us that we want to put our dick in?
I’m done with the lies third eye open wide I see the tougher that you act the weaker you really feel inside
So all the killer the trigger and when we call ourselves niggas
And want platinum chains bigger than jigga’s
It’s just to run from the fact that we feel insecure
Get as many things as you want but you cannot restore
The core of who you are truly that will surpass beauty
That comes from knowledge of yourself and a sense of duty
So all my brothers pretending that we are thugs
Know if we are honest we just want to be loved

But we feel that we are not worthy and that we are not smart
So we act aggressive to protect our fragile little hearts
But we’ve got to deal with this pain or it will consume
That’s enough honesty now lets resume…

Turn this off go back to rappers that tell you kill
But inside of yourself you know that this is real
Akala on sbtv DOUBLETHINK May 3rd check the CD
If you want a little knowledge bigger than college
I PROMISE YOU the metaphorics that will offer you solace like…

The Great Pyramid alone 2.3 million stones
If you took them apart and placed them in a row
They would stretch 2/3 way around the earth
That is more stone that there is in every single British church (put together)
Each one cut to a degree of accuracy of 1/1000 of an inch
Well what does that mean?
In 1978 the Japanese ran an experiment to rebuild them with modern technology and failed terribly

But anyway that’s enough for today.


Follow Akala on Twitter
Download ‘Doublethink’ on iTunes
See Akala on tour this autumn

Revolutionaries on the stage! Dead Prez, Akala, Skinnyman and Sway in London

If you’re into conscious hip-hop (or political rap, or freedom rap, or whatever you want to call it) and you live in or around London, it was always gonna be the night of the year. The legendary Dead Prez – true veterans of the scene – supported by some of the brightest and best UK hip-hop talent: Skinnyman, Akala and Sway.

The show got off to a great start with the help of the one and only MC Skinnyman – the man behind what to my mind is the best UK hip-hop album of all time, ‘Council Estate of Mind’. Skinny was at his brilliant best, giving an energetic performance with Mudfam collaborator RTillery. They came on to the massive hit ‘Ballistic Affair’, before Skinny went into acapella mode, dedicating his performance to the oppressed and dispossessed youth. The crowd didn’t hesitate to join him in chanting “F*** the police” :-)

Skinnyman and RTillery’s performance of ‘Music Speaks Louder than Words’, a new track from Skinny’s forthcoming EP, was definitely one of the highlights of the night. A near-perfect beat is laced with an uplifting vocal, cursing out the politicians and putting forward the truth for the youth in the language everybody understands – music.

Next up was Akala – without a doubt one of the smartest and most talented people on the scene. Sporting an impressively large Africa medallion, he moved the crowd with several bangers from his new album, Doublethink. Never one to stick with the tried-and-tested formulas, he came on with a live drummer, which definitely helped to make his set stand out.

An impassioned performance of the beautiful ‘Find No Enemy’ had the crowd eating out of his hand, but he saved the best for last, bringing out Lowkey, Black the Ripper and Sway for a live performance of the ‘Yours and My Children’ remix. For anyone into UK hip-hop and particularly the revolutionary brand of music that people like Akala and Lowkey are pushing, it was an inspiring, deep moment to see some of the scene’s best talents uniting to make music that uplifts the people!

As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, Akala then brought out one of the kings of Brazilian hip-hop, MC Marechal, who delighted the crowd with a big track. I’d love to know what he was saying, but it was in Portuguese. I’m pretty sure he’s on the right side ;-)

The last act before Dead Prez was Sway, who put in a very solid performance including tracks from his most recent ‘Delivery’ mixtape as well as some classics from his first album (I’d almost forgotten how good it was).

Now don’t get me wrong, I like and respect Sway. He’s a talented brother, a great lyricist, a positive human being and a capable performer. However, one of my few gripes about the gig was that I don’t think Sway should have performed directly before Dead Prez, simply for the sake of continuity of content. Dead Prez, Akala and Skinnyman are revolutionary in their lyrics. Sway’s a good guy, but his lyrical focus is not consistent with the lyrical theme of the other artists on the night. That small gripe aside, Sway definitely put in a lively performance and got a great response from the crowd, so all respect due.

Next up was of course Dead Prez. Well… actually, Sway was followed by around an hour of waiting for Dead Prez! DJ 279 took the chance to get the party moving, playing some utter classics, including ‘Nas is Like’, Mos Def’s ‘Mathematics’, Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook Ones’ and Klashnekoff’s ‘Murda’. It was kinda funny to see the conscious rap crowd shockin’ hard to a Snoop track though!

Just as we were all starting to wonder if Dead Prez were ever going to make it, the RBG soldiers ran on stage to start off a phenomenal performance that showcased tracks from across the range of their 14-years-and-counting existence. M1 and Stic.man’s endless energy and their profound devotion to freedom were shining brightly as they performed classics such as ‘Mind Sex’ and ‘Hip-Hop’, as well as hits from their 2009 album ‘Pulse of the People’ such as ‘Gangsta Gangster’ and ‘Stimulus Plan’. A couple of numbers from their most recent mixtape (‘Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz’) got a fantastic crowd response, including the epic ‘Malcolm Garvey Huey’ and their Drake cover, ‘Far From Over’.

M1 let slip that he and Stic.man had spent the previous night in the studio with Lowkey, recording a follow-up to Lowkey’s enormous ‘Obama Nation’. Definitely something to look forward to! I was hoping Lowkey might join DPZ on stage for a tune or two, but it wasn’t to be.

To close a mindblowing set, Dead Prez turned down the tempo a little, playing Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and leaving the stage to loud cheering from the crowd. Safe to say they rocked the party. It was a privilege to be there, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of one of the greatest LPs in hip-hop history, ‘Let’s Get Free’.

All round a great night. My only serious complaint would be that the sound quality was far from perfect. HMV Forum, please fix up!

Heads from the scene spotted in the crowd: Ms Dynamite, Genesis Elijah (good to meet you bro), Logic (you disappeared!), Stylah and DJ Gone. Big up!

Download DPZ ‘Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz’
Follow Dead Prez on Twitter
Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow Sway on Twitter
Follow Skinnyman on Twitter
Follow Lowkey on Twitter
Follow Black the Ripper on Twitter
Follow RTillery on Twitter
Follow MC Marechal on Twitter

Uhuru!

Skinnyman interview

Via Rhyme and Reason

Great interview with a true innovator of the UK hip-hop scene. Big up Skinnyman for representing the marginalised and disenfranchised youth! If only more artists took some responsibility for their communities.

In part 1, he gives some insight into his outlook on life, how he got into hip-hop and why he raps the way he does.

In part 2, he gives a great rundown of the cipher culture and how the ‘battle’ within hip-hop plays a positive role. He also addresses his charitable work with WaterAid.

Much respect to a legend. I for one am looking forward to his performance in London tomorrow night!

Jasiri X – Real Gangstas

In a thought-provoking video, Jasiri X and Paradise compare real gangsters – the corporate criminals that rule the world with violence – with the people that label themselves (or are labeled by the media) as gangstas.

Jasiri doesn’t hold back, with lines such as these:

“Real gangstas make billions making slaves of civilians, making slaves of your children, making slaves through they killings.”

“800 billions in bailouts is what the banks get; Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch – throw up your gang sets.”

“If your land got resources, you’re getting attacked for it, cos real gangstas run the world on the backs of the poor.”

The video ends fittingly with a clip of George Carlin’s classic sketch: “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Jasiri X is a talented, militant rapper with a message that needs to be heard. That’s why no major label would be stupid enough to give him a deal!

Follow Jasiri X on Twitter.

Join his Facebook group.

Book review: Jeff Chang “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – A History of the Hip-hop Generation”

Can't Stop Won't StopIn under 500 pages, Jeff Chang has managed to give a detailed, fascinating and relevant history of hip-hop culture, covering almost every important aspect: the social conditions that gave rise to it, the stories of the people and communities that pioneered it and moved it forward, its transformation from a primarily party-oriented movement to a culture of resistance, its re-transformation to a culture of individualism and consumerism, and a peek into its future.

While many (probably hundreds) of books have been written about the history and sociology of hip-hop and the people who listen to it, I can’t think of any that cover quite as much material as “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”, and there are very few written in an accessible style. Jeff Chang combines the detailed knowledge and big picture understanding of the academic world with the passion and politics of the street (fittingly, he describes his location as “Brooklyn and Berkeley” (Berkeley is a university in California with a reputation for student activism)).

Chang devotes the first few chapters to exploring the social conditions prevailing in New York, particularly the South Bronx, in the years leading up to the birth of hip-hop. In many ways, although it is not directly about hip-hop, this is the most important section of the book, as this history gives some important clues as to what makes hip-hop so special, so important.

Chang describes one of the most crucial events that shaped the early hip-hop generation: the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, between 1948 and 1972. This single road, designed to decrease travel times for rich suburban commuters, forced the relocation of some 60,000 working class Bronx residents. While many white residents “moved north to the wide-open spaces of Westchester County or the northeastern reaches of Bronx County”, the majority of African and Latino residents had little choice but to move to the South Bronx, where there was a boom in social housing but a near-total lack of jobs.

The South Bronx was a place of rapid economic deterioration, having lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the late 60s and early 70s. Youth unemployment was said to be around 80%. “If blues culture had developed under the conditions of oppressive, forced labor, hip-hop culture would arise from the conditions of no work.”

Chang gives vivid descriptions of the social degeneration that followed the economic degeneration, as the most prominent face of the South Bronx became the gangs, the slum landlords, the insurance scam fires, the race tensions, and the drugs. The social policy response from the government was, basically, to ignore the ghetto, to pretend it didn’t exist. With the black power movement of the late 60s and early 70s defeated for the time-being, the state shut down the social programmes and replaced them with the fiction of ‘trickle down’ economics.

Gang life had become a central feature of many young people’s lives in the Bronx. “When African-American, Afro-Caribbean and Latino families moved into formerly Jewish, Irish and Italian neighborhoods, white youth gangs preyed on the new arrivals in schoolyard beatdowns and running street battles. The Black and brown youths formed gangs, first in self-defense, then sometimes for power, sometimes for kicks.”

Back in those days at least, the gangs and the major movements for political change were not a million miles apart. The Black Panthers, for example, had taken some important steps towards turning gangs away from the path of self-destruction and towards the path of revolution.

Chang writes that, in Chicago, legendary Black Panther Fred Hampton (who was murdered in his sleep by police in an unprovoked raid on his home) was “forming alliances with the powerful Blackstone Rangers, Mau Maus, and the Black Disciples gangs. He believed that the gangs collected the fearful and the forgotten. If gangs gave up robbing he poor, terrorizing the weak, hurting the innocent, they might become a powerful force for the revolution.”

In New York, the Puerto Rican revolutionary group The Young Lords had started as a street gang and had transformed themselves into an organisation for helping the community. They also had a powerful effect on the South Bronx gangs, especially when the gangs and the revolutionary groups discovered a shared enemy: police.

As the gangs found common ground in their opposition to police, to heroin dealers and junkies, and to poor social provision in their neighbourhood, a new era of unity started to emerge. It became suddenly possible for kids from different blocks, different gangs and different races to mix. All were drawn to the emerging block party scene, where young DJs like Kool Herc – generally considered to be the creator of the hip-hop movement – were making their names, putting on big parties much influenced by Jamaica’s sound system culture (which Herc, a first generation Jamaican immigrant, had grown up with).

The mix of African-American, Puerto Rican and Caribbean youth cultures – strangely vitalised by poverty, awash with rebelliousness, heavily inspired by Black Power and Puerto Rican socialist movements, in this North American cultural capital that had given birth to swing, be-bop, disco, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X – was explosive. Impoverished young people, struggling to survive in a deprived area that the world had chosen to ignore, gave birth to a culture of music, dance (breakdancing) and art (graffiti) which the world couldn’t ignore, and which it eventually would have no choice but to adopt.

Saying something

Having written about the social origins of hip-hop, the early innovators such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, the emergence of graffiti, the emergence of breakdancing, and other important topics related to the ‘early years’, Chang turns his attention to the emergence of ‘political rap’.

Hip-hop had originally emerged as a party movement. It wasn’t overtly political, although it was implicitly political in that: 1) it brought young people from diverse impoverished communities together and gave them a way out of a culture of self-destruction; 2) it gave a powerful voice to oppressed people who weren’t supposed to have a voice.

However, by the time the mid-80s rolled around, there was no escaping politics. Reaganomics – the set of anti-poor economic policies associated with the Reagan government – was in full effect, and social welfare budgets were being cut left, right and centre. The gap between rich and poor, and between people of colour and whites, was growing at an incredible rate, as was the prison population. US foreign policy needs (principally their desire to give financial support to the fascistic Contra movement in Nicaragua) had created the conditions for the rapid and devastating spread of crack cocaine in the black ghettoes of Los Angeles and elsewhere (“Nearly half of America’s largest cities is one-quarter black; that’s why they gave Ricky Ross all the crack”, says Mos Def in his classic ‘Mathematics’).

Now that the poorest sections of the population in urban US had a voice, it was natural to use it to decry the corporate/government attack on their communities, especially when the older generation of black radical politics – the civil rights and black power movements – had gone quiet (or had been ‘quieted’). “In the new crisis time, as it had been for Jamaica’s embattled roots generation, rappers were increasingly being recognised as ‘the voices of their generation.’ The centre of the rap world swung decidedly in a radical direction. Hip-hop culture realigned itself and re-imagined its roots, representing itself now as a rap thing, a serious thing, a Black thing.”

Chang gives a detailed coverage of the emergence of Public Enemy – without a doubt the best-known and most important political rap crew in history (I’ll write more about them when I review Russell Myrie’s biography of PE, ‘Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’). He also points out some of the major milestones in late 80s and early 90s political rap, such as Run DMC’s performance at the Columbia University campus protest against apartheid, and KRS One’s co-ordination of the Stop the Violence Movement.

For many long-time hip-hop fans, that period of a few years when political rap was thriving is considered the ‘golden era’. Here was a vibrant, rebellious youth culture that spoke to the needs of working class and oppressed people everywhere.

The backlash didn’t take long to arrive. Upset by the pro-poor, pro-black lyrics of Public Enemy (and particularly their pro-Palestinian stance), mainstream journalists whipped up a frenzy of opposition to Public Enemy and other Afrocentric and black nationalist artists, labelling them as racist and anti-semitic. When certain comments made by Public Enemy’s Professor Griff regarding the Palestinian intifada were deemed to be anti-semitic, a national storm was created and numerous calls were raised for a boycott of Public Enemy’s music (what Griff actually said is still disputed, and this issue will be covered in depth in a future post).

Artist interviews were misquoted, lyrics were taken out of context, and rappers were demonised. The threat of boycott became a major establishment weapon. The big players in the music industry (still very much controlled by the old, rich, exclusively white corporates) got the message loud and clear: hip-hop could be exploited for financial gain, but it was not to be a platform for radical politics. After all, the FBI didn’t pursue its elaborate, expensive and murderous COINTELPRO operation just so that black and working class power could re-emerge in the form of rap music.

Funding and support for radical music disappeared, and the big deals started going to those willing to promote misogyny and black-on-black violence. While quick to point out that ‘gangsta’ rap is not a simple phenomenon and that many artists are highly contradictory (Jay-Z, for example, although considered as a misogynistic and ultra-consumerist artist, has made tracks opposing police brutality), Chang points out the sea change that occurred in rap music. Even NWA’s lyrics, although problematic in many ways, had a critical seed of rebelliousness; but by the time Dr Dre’s landmark ‘Chronic’ album landed in late 1992, it seemed like the time for “guiltless, gentrified gangsta” had arrived. “No Peace Treaties, rebuilding demands, or calls for reparations, just the party and the bullshit. The video for ‘G Thang’ seemed to ask: didn’t all boys everywhere just want to bounce in hot cars to hotter beats, hang out with their crew, party all night, and spray conceited bitches with malt liquor?”

The content swing within hip-hop reached a point where, “by the turn of the century, to be labelled a ‘conscious’ or ‘political’ rapper by the music industry was to be condemned to preach to a very small choir.”

Where to go from here?

Having given a brilliant description of the hip-hop generation, charting its highs and lows, Chang resists the temptation to give a prescription as to what needs to happen for hip-hop to regain its radical essence. Instead, he concludes his book with several important examples of grassroots activists from the hip-hop generation using the music and cultural imagery of hip-hop to positive effect in their communities. This at least gives a hint as to how Chang sees hip-hop heads re-developing music as a weapon.

In his introduction to the book, Kool Herc is less humble about making demands of today’s hip-hop artists and fans. Noting that “hip-hop is the voice of this generation”, Herc also points out that this is a role that comes with responsibility, a responsibility that many leading hip-hop artists are not taking seriously. “The hip-hop generation is not making the best use of the recognition and power that it has… We have the power to [change things]. If Jay-Z comes out one day with his shirt hanging this way or LL Cool J comes out with one leg of his pants rolled up, the next day everyone is doing the same thing. If we decide one day to say that we’re not gonna kill somebody senselessly, everyone will follow…

“I don’t want to hear [rappers] saying that they don’t want to be role models. You might already have my son’s attention. Let’s get that clear. When I’m telling him, ‘Don’t walk that way, don’t talk that way,’ you’re walking that way and talking that way. Don’t just be like a drug dealer, like another pusher. Cut the crap. That’s escape. That’s the easy way out. You have the kid’s attention. I’m asking you to help me raise him up.”

For Herc, it’s all about people within hip-hop taking responsibility and working to address the issues faced by their communities. “East, west, north or south – we come from one coast and that coast was Africa. This culture was born in the ghetto. We were born here to die. We’re surviving now, but we’re not yet rising up. If we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to correct it. We can’t be hypocrites. That’s what I hope the hip-hop generation can do, to take us all to the next level by always reminding us: It ain’t about keeping it real, it’s about keeping it right.”

If you love hip-hop, you should pick up a copy of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. It’s a beautiful book.

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