Saturday, December 20, 2008
"You know how the game be/ I can't let em change me/ Cause on Judgment Day, you gon blame me/ Look God, it's the same me"
Kanye West-"Two Words"
Kanye is dropping what might be his most provocative musical work, in what might be one of his darkest personal periods. All while society is in one of the most politically, economically, and socially-charged times in recent history.
Is 808s and Heartbreak Kanye's official "Declaration of Independence?" Or is it a living testimony of his personal anguish?
Is this new found sound still Hip-Hop? And can the Hip-Hop community handle this "New Wave Hip-Hop?"
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Can All the M&M's Remain Together: Thinking About Obama's Multi-racial Coalition in Victory and in Defeat
On The Root.com yesterday, Wendi C. Thomas (metro columnist for Memphis, TN's The Commercial Appeal) wrote an article titled "Will White People Riot?"
Thomas hashed through the perpetual idea that Blacks act and behavior en mass, in response to a White man from Memphis asking her: "Would Black people riot if Sen. Barack Obama didn't win the election?"
Her article brought forth a thought-provoking analysis which posits that a more likely population to worry about rioting would be the loathing, race-baiting crowd seen at McCain GOP rallies (you know the one's that shout "TERRORIST!!!" and "KILL HIM!!!" at the mention of Obama's name).
For Thomas the question is not whether Black people can handle an Obama defeat, but can racist Whites handle an Obama victory.
When thinking about Obama, I always think about how he has this "multi-racial" thing going for him. We see it among supporters; we see it among campaign volunteers; we even saw it in Iowa.
We've seen it in good times, we have seen it in bad times, but will we see if it gets UGLY (or rather, uglier than it has already been)? Meaning IF (and I emphasize that it is an IF we really, really don't need), IF Obama loses the election on Nov. 4---what will happen then? What would a defeat do to the multi-racial Obama machine?
I know, I know. At this point we need to be putting all our positive energy and thoughts into an Obama victory. But we have to keep in the back of our mind the dark side too.
Would they rally together? Or splinter apart?
Historically in America, we have seen Blacks in rebellion (Watts '65, Detroit '68, Harlem '64, etc); we have seen Whites come together in resistance (the early 20th century race riots in places like Tulsa or East St. Louis; in racist and discriminatory legislation; hell in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan).
But we have also seen many coalitions of multi-racial, multi-issue, multi-community support. It is a progressive model that has been set forth throughout history: the abolitionist movement; radical organizers in the Communist party and others in the early 20th century U.S.; in CORE and other groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement. And such this has been the model called for, advocated for, and exercised by many organizers and activists.
But much in the way all these movements came to a head over divisive issues and events---particularly in the late 1960's---we are coming to a similar junction in these times.
This head has two parts though: first, what will happen in the event of an Obama defeat? Could all the M&M's mobilize together still? And if defeat did lead to rebellion and resistance, could all the M&M's rebel together?
But the second point is a bit more intriguing: what happens if Obama wins?
In so many ways, a Black man becoming President of the United States of America would be the fulfillment of the greater possibility so many Americans have worked, sweat, bled, and even died for. That we could surpass historic and living attitudes of racist, discrimination, and hate; and overcome injustice and inequality.
As Barack put it in early March: "that this nation is more than the sum of its parts-that out of our many, we are truly one."
But what happens next? How does the multi-racial, multi-issue, multi-community Obama movement deal with victory?
It is so crucial for all the interest-groups and all the supporters to continue to move united, progressively, and with forward-vision.
Ironically enough, victory would be the opportune time for division. And so, the bag of M&M's must begin planning for its united future.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Either Your Slinging Crack Rock or You Got a Wicked Jumpshot: Sports, Politics, and Economic Opportunity in the 21st Century's Racial Reality
Forty years ago this month, the 1968 Olympic Games was defined by the political statement of two Black athletes. With Black fist raised high, and an ode to the Black Power movement displayed, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made one of the most profound political statements ever seen at an international sporting event.
The beauty and the significance of the statement was the weight and poignancy of its symbolism. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to symbolize Black pride, and Carlos wore beads around his in recognition of the Blacks who lost their life on the Middle Passage. Both wore black socks but no shoes, to symbolize the pervasive poverty numerous Blacks faced. Each had on a black glove on the raised fists, emboldening the Black Power cry.
Smith and Carlos' act was not a "rebel without a cause" moment, but an attempt to raise awareness about the condition of those who materially have the least and work mightily to obtain more. They represented not just the Texas and Harlem neighborhoods their came from, but struggle of those in the African Diaspora. Class, race, and human rights all came together in sports.
Would Terrell Owens put up a fist for "Black Power" after he scores his next touchdown? Would Lebron James lead a voter registration drive in his home-state of Ohio? Is Floyd Mayweather going to comment on the need to restructure America's health care system?
When the Celtics visited the White House for their NBA Championship visit, did Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett talk to President Bush about his tax plan? Will Candice Parker and Lisa Leslie come out and endorse Cynthia Mckinney and Rosa Clemente for President?
And if they did, would Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and all their other sponsors take away their endorsement deals?
When Jim Brown criticized Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and today's Black athletes a few days ago, he touched on an important issue---the role of the Black athlete in contemporary society, and their responsibility to themselves and the Black community.
Certainly it isn't a new discussion. But given the times, it seems all the more pertinent to think about.
The Black athlete in today's society is perhaps the most notable figure in the Black community. They are certainly among the wealthiest; and among young Blacks, perhaps the most influential. While it may not be a position they asked for, it is one they occupy none the less---no matter who thinks they shouldn't be, and no matter how much the athletes may say they don't want to be.
The question becomes what does their social position and privilege mean in today's society. Should we expect them to be more than athletes? Do they have a greater responsibility?
For the Black community, sports have always been about more than achievement. In fact one of sports main functions in Black life during the first half of the 20th century was disproving the idea of Blacks being biologically inferior. Contest on the field, in the ring, and on the court were challenges to White supremacy (biologically and ideologically). This is why the fights of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, the races of Jesse Owens, and the success of Jackie Roberson are monumental events in American history. It is where not only did we see sports, but racial struggle played out.
For the Black community, sports was political. The 68' Olympics Black Power moment defines this.
But it was also economical.
Sports opened financial and entrepreneurial opportunities for Blacks. Successful athletes were able to open businesses in Black communities, and some members in those communities sought to use sports to create business enterprises (i.e. the Negro Leagues).
Many athletes felt a duty came with this success: a commitment to advocate for Black rights, a responsibility to stand against injustice and the violation of human rights, a mandate to use financial success and social recognition as a tool for community building.
You didn't just play a sport. You were compelled to have a moral stance, a social consciousness, and a political awareness. The lives and work of Black leaders like Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Muhammad Ali are a testament to this.
Sports, race, politics, economics, morality, community---they were not separate, it all went together.
There is no question Black athletes like Serena Williams, Lebron James, or Carmelo Anthony know about the struggle of many Blacks in urban cities today. Being raised and growing up in areas like Compton, CA, Akron, OH, and Baltimore, MD make that reality unmistakable. Living in cities marked by racial segregation; plagued by the economic troubles of unemployment, gentrification, and de-industrialization; and haunted by racial inequalities embed this reality in them. They and many other Black athletes have lived the other side of the Civil Rights Movement's success: the continuance of racial segregation, unequal access to resources, and inequality in living conditions. The issues that Smith and Carlos attempted to raise are still issue today.
Many of these athletes have a Black consciousness, constructed by living through the success, hardship, pride, and complexity of race in America. And many of them understand the economic situation of those who have the least.
It is being young, Black, and successful in America, and the burden and challenges it brings that they struggle with. It is not financial obligation or charity that is difficult for them, it is the accountability of political advocacy and the fight for justice that is the burden.
"Do You," "Give Back," "Stand Up," or "Say Something," these are the choices and pressures our Black athletes face today. A pressure added to the fact that many have to grow up and mature in front of the whole world; making their missteps, mistakes, and learning experiences subject to the scrutiny of the public.
This all combines to create a tremendous tension over what is their role---to be role models for the Black community; to dedicate themselves to giving back to those who have less; and to use their global name recognition, ample resources, and media access to advocate for social justice and human rights issues; in short, to become more than sports heroes---to become role models, and community-orientated, politically involved leaders.
There's no doubt your parents, your teacher, or someone in the community should be young people's role models; these are the people they should look up to.
The problem is how many young Black kids grow up without parents, without teachers who care, and with adults who certainly are not role models.
The fact that so many Blacks have chosen to use sports as a healthy, legal way to provide for themselves and their families should be commended. But doesn't it show that their lives and their stories, the perseverance, dedication, and determination used to reach their level of achievement, their accomplishments, doesn't those things deserve to be so much more than example of how to succeed in a sport?
This is the point we should take from Jim Brown's comments. These young Black women and men lives are bigger than sports; it means more than money. Their lives are so much more meaningful than those things.
In life we all live together, not separate. We affect each other, and we can affect anything. Jim Brown's comments attempt to explain this. Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' statement reminds of this.
This is why we must ask Black athletes to do more---because our life is more than sports.
And until we develop ways to keep more parents involved in young people's lives; until we economically, spiritually, and emotionally empower those Black communities in the deepest struggle; and most importantly, until make sure that the parents, teachers, mentors, guidance counselors, educators, sanitation workers, rappers, nurses, case worker and everyone else who deserve to be role models are seen as such, we have to ask for our Black athletes to lead the way.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE:
The Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center
(And I am sure there are more. Please feel free to mention them in the comments section)
THINGS TO READ, PEOPLE TO KNOW:
Dr. Harry Edwards
Common Bond for Uncommon Men: Roberto Clemente and Martin Luther King Jr-David Zirin
Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete-William C. Rhoden
Darwin's Athletes: How Sports Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race-John Hoberman
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I had a conversation with a couple of people the other day about the importance of Tupac. Somebody told me that Tupac wasn't one of the most globally known, or internationally recognized Black people ever. Another person said that his music wasn't politically or socially relevant; that he wasn't as important to Black music as Bob Marley.
All of this is just a couple of weeks after Blender Magazine said Pac was the most overrated musician of all-time.
So is the world coming to the end? Was Tupac really not that important, then and now?
Tupac was the most important Hip-Hop artist ever. He was important not just for what he did, but for what he said.
Whether it is twelve years after he pasted away, or seven days after the anniversary of his death, we must never forget what Pac contributed to the world in his short time here.
With the amount of books, documentaries, and articles produced on Tupac's life, I never thought I'd be put in a position to have to defend Pac's importance to Black people. I thought the fact that scholars like Michael Eric Dyson and Mark Anthony Neal, and institutions like University of Cal-Berkeley, studied Tupac was enough to justify his significance. I figured the murals of him in Brazil, the respect for him in Cuba, and the people who asked me about him in South Africa was a testament to his global impact. Perhaps being studied in a college classroom isn't enough to show Pac's importance to American history. And maybe Brazil and Cuba don't show his global meaning.
Maybe time makes us forgetful.
But for those of us that love Hip-Hop, and believe in the struggle and glory of Black people in this world, we must always remember and celebrate how important what our prince did (and the message he brought) was to this world.
Tupac was the window to the soul of the first post-Black Power/Civil Rights generation. He is indicative of that generation in so many tangible and intangible ways.
His name shows his ties to the African Diasporic tradition: Pac was named after the Tupac Amaru, the leader of Peru's indigenous rebellion against the Spanish Empire's conquest of the Inca people. His mother (Afeni Shakur) and stepfather (Mutulu Shakur) were Black Panthers, and instilled in him a Black consciousness that showed him the history and power of his people. He enjoyed the best that America had to offer: Pac had a childhood education that allowed him to read Shakespeare, study Theater, and participate in the arts; he was well read, as evident by his reading and studing of political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince leading him to name his last recorded album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. His music allowed him to reap the financial benefits our society offers.
Growing up without a father, raised by a mother battling a drug addiction, and living in Harlem, Baltimore, and Oakland, he also saw the dark side of his generation: Drugs, poverty, and broken homes.
Education. Success. Poverty. It's indicative of the struggle; the gift and the curse.
This story, this complexity, came out in the way Pac lived his life and in the music he produced. He wrote about how much he loved his mother despite her addiction (Dear Mama). He was misogynistic, sexist, and vulgar. He displayed sophistication and militancy in his music (Rebel of the Underground), while expressing charisma and intellect in his interviews. He crafted stories of urban Black life that was resonating for the time (Brenda's Got a Baby). He could uplift and inspire (Keep Ya Head Up). But most importantly, he wasn't afraid to be vulnerable (So Many Tears, Pain); Pac wasn't afraid to bear his soul as witness to the struggle and pride of being Black in America.
Author, educator, and artist Dax-Devlon Ross gives perhaps one of the most poignant testimonies to what Tupac meant in his book, "The Nightmare and the Dream: Nas, Jay-Z, and the History of Conflict in African-American Culture:"
"I was a 21 year-old college student the night 'Pac died. I wasn't a thug or a gangsta. I hadn't grown up in poverty. My parents hadn't marched with King. I'd never been to jail. I'd never been shot. I'd never sold drugs...Existentially, though, we were kindred spirits. He showed me that I didn't have to be the most intelligent or gifted person to bear my soul on the page...He let me know that it was ok to be vulnerable.
More than any other artist, Tupac explored the tensions stemming from our generation's desire, and in some senses demand, to 'keep it real.' Hip-hop was born and bred by those people and in those communities that were left behind; by the children and grandchildren of those who didn't make it to college and couldn't enter the middle class...For Tupac that cultural experience wasn't embedded in a single community, but in the soul of every community that knew poverty and the chaos it wrought."
It is all these things that endeared Tupac Shakur to a generation, to the public, and to people all over the world.
This is why the life of Tupac Shakur is so important.
Many of us know this; millions of people across the world know this. And that is exactly why we must continue to remember him, and never downplay his significant because he is that important to us...Until The End Of Time.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
“…So untitled it is
I never change nothin'
But people remember this
If Nas can't say it, think about these talented kids
With new ideas being told what they can and can't spit
I can't sit and watch it”
It is that very spirit that makes speech important; so important that it is the first right protected and ensured in the United States’ essential legal and organizational framework: The Constitution.
The controversy behind the title of rapper Nas’ ninth album pushes the greater public, the Hip-Hop community, and (most specifically) the socially-conscious members of the African Diaspora to examine how significant words are to societal ideas. They are asked to consider what censorship does to artistic expression that is rooted in cultural practice. How is art (and the artist) tied to social change?
In several interviews Nas cited his reason for naming his album Nigger was to create critical discussion on the term’s historical development, and how that relates to the variance in its contemporary usage. Subsequently, the album would highlight why the current usage has created oppositional, mutually-exclusive views on the word.
In an October 2007 interview with MTV News, Nas’ discussed what he felt was a rush judgment on the album, based on stereotypes associated with rappers. "If Cornel West was making an album called Nigger, they would know he's got something intellectual to say," he said. "To think I'm gonna say something that's not intellectual is calling me a nigger, and to be called a nigger by Jesse Jackson and the NAACP is counterproductive, counter-revolutionary."
Illuminated here is the challenge: to see Nas’ work in the proper context.
Is this attempt any different than Richard Wright’s or James Baldwin’s work of social fiction? What differentiates Nas’ album about the history of the word nigger from Kara Walker’s provocative artistic exploration of race relations, sexual practice, and gender politics? Would Nigger be more like The Lost Poets’ “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution,” or Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy’s “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word?”
The deeper question though, is can an artistic treatise on the word Nigger produce social change?
The artist’s role in political matters is a topic much discussed. One of their greatest powers is the ability to reach multitudes of people; they have a number fans, supporters, critics, and detractors as their audience. Hip-Hop artists are prime examples of this, as the culture has created music, art, fashion, and aesthetics that speak for the post-Civil Rights generations and for some of the most under-represented populations in America. Some Hip-Hop participants use this great stage as artistic license to create individual forms of expression that somehow speak for the under-represented. Some take the treads of political consciousness that are historically intrinsic to the legacy of the African Diaspora, and contemporary societal issues, to deliver social commentary.
Nas’ attempt to name his album Nigger tries to do all of these things. In fact it also highlights an important moment in Hip-Hop music.
While Hip-Hop contains a large range of perspectives and personalities, a stigmatized, stereotyped, misconstrued image of the culture is still pervasive in popular society. This image is produced partially by the immature, brash, sexist, vulgar nature of some Hip-Hop; and partially due to the one-dimensional, narrow, and judgmental view of conservative critics and older Black leaders (most notably those older Blacks who were leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement) who reduce the complexity and breath of the art form to “hoes,” drugs, “bitches,” and…”niggas.”
Conversations around the “N-Word” often produce heated debates and divisive results. It shows an aspect of the Black community that fragments the group cohesion needed to address the large scale problems still faced almost forty years after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
This is what makes the Nigger album important: that it attempts to push the younger generation into a constructive discussion of the word by using the forum that speaks to a large number of its generation, and allows those older members of the community to revisit the complicated usage the word has in today’s youth culture. If seen in a broader scope, the album is a form of community organizing.
The challenge is to open the lens wide enough to understand this view.
In a May 2007 interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers, Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell spoke about the need to have a broad understanding of contemporary race relations and to embrace new ways to actively resist and change the inequality it causes. She asked that we re-examine our approach stating, “…I often say that Jim Crow, we could think of Jim Crow as a nail. And the protest against Jim Crow was a hammer. A hammer is an extremely effective tool when you're dealing with a nail...Contemporary racial inequality is a screw, and if you take a hammer and start pounding on a screw, you just end up with a mess which means we have to live with the fact that a new generation is going to have to innovate a screwdriver to deal with the new problem. And that screwdriver might not look anything like the hammer. And we can't keep yelling at them to use a hammer for a new problem.”
Hip-Hop artists arguably have the closest, most intimate connection with young people of color. Instead of suppressing the movement, perhaps there needs to be a more collective attempt to cultivate it. Maybe with more historical context taught and with more encouragement and mentorship from veterans of past movements the political potential of the culture can be tapped.
Maybe a Nas album that quotes James Baldwin, critiques Fox News, explores the hypocritical nature of American society, reflects on the possibility of a Black president, and expresses stories of racism, poverty, and struggle by young Black people has the power to inspire.
Can we afford to have the power to create, explore, and inspire suppressed?
What opportunity can censorship in this issue afford us?
Friday, August 29, 2008
“They said this day would never come.”
Those were the first words of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on January 3th, 2008, the night that he won the Democratic Party’s Iowa primary. Eight months later, those words are metaphoric for the perseverance of Black people in this country. It is a perseverance that was exhibited by the conscious citizens and dedicated activists of the Civil Rights Movement, and defined by the inspirational leadership and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a perseverance that is emblematic in the work of the Hip-Hop Community and young Blacks today.
The discrimination, injustice, and inequality that people of the African Diaspora have faced in the over two hundred plus year history of the United States are among the ugliest scars inflicted in history. Yet these scars could not destroy the splendor seen in the spirit of these people.
The bravery of slaves to escape the oppression of slavery; the determination of abolitionists; the passion and fire of activist like Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X; the bravery of Freedom Summer volunteers to be beaten and bloodied for the sake of continuing the mission of voter-registration for Southern Blacks; the courage of Civil Rights leaders to march in Selma, Alabama and cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, knowing the violence that waited for them. And through the pain, the character that Blacks have shown displays the beauty of their spirit.
It is this beauty that could allow rappers like Talib Kweli and writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates to describe the Black experience as “The Beautiful Struggle.”
This exact struggle, this exact experience, is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr described on August 28, 1963, in his “I Have a Dream” speech. One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation claimed to free Blacks from slavery, and set the course for their equality, Dr. King explained how “the negro still languishes in the corners of society… and still finds himself an exile in his own land.”
Yet while King eloquently and poignantly narrated how the rights that America claims to protect, and the promises it claims to ensure, had been intentionally and systematically denied to Black people, he also explained how it was not an undefeatable situation; for him, it was not a permanent condition. On this day, Dr. King championed a call to defeat this injustice. He announced to the world that a movement was underway, filled with citizens who would no longer stand for the indignity of racism to continue.
Most lasting though, was how Dr. King explained that this movement would be the fulfillment of a dream. A dream steeped in Blacks having equal rights; a dream where racism would be eliminated; a dream where Blacks would be apart of the American promise: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Martin Luther King, Jr wanted the future to have “the America dream.”
On the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Barack Obama’s accepted the nomination as the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate. In becoming the first Black to receive the Presidential nomination from a major political party, Obama embodies a piece of King’s dream.
In his nomination acceptance speech Obama laid out not only a political agenda, but a vision for a transformation of America. One that focused on Americans seeing their common humanity, and which highlighted that the “change” his campaign has focused on means developing a communal effort to make America’s promise available to all its citizens. This speech set forth a plan.
It is Barack’s ability to do grassroots organizing on a national level; his way of transforming words about tomorrow into actions we can do today; and his capability to make many believe that we are not bound to where we are at and that we can turn this society into what we want it to be, that makes Obama’s leadership apart of Dr. King’s dream.
And as Obama’s leadership attempts to continue Dr. King’s dream, it is the Hip-Hop community that can guide the change on ground.
The Hip-Hop community is the quintessential example of “the beautiful struggle.” The range of Hip-Hop music serves as a narrative that speaks about the post-Civil Rights Movement Black experience, through the voice of its youth. The music tells stories of pain, struggle, fun, isolation, poverty, success, exploitation, violence, coming-of-age, and sexuality. For many, the culture became a tool for survival; an outlet used to express the complicated dealings and circumstance a new generation was (and is) dealing with.
Hip-Hop is also intrinsically tied to the ideas of optimism, hope, and dreams. In its formative years, the music was seen to be nothing more than a fad. It was not viewed as viable. They said the day would never come when Hip-Hop would be more than a pasting trend.
A generation of young people believed in it. They saw its potential and worked not only for the art form to be respected, but for it to be sustained as well. They were not afraid to dream.
Now, the dream is a global cultural phenomenon, a respected musical platform, and a source of economic opportunity.
The strength of the Hip-Hop community is its ability to be innovative, creative, determined, and…to organize. Often the culture does not receive the credit it deserves for its ability to bring young people together.
Hip-Hop has an outstanding ability to disseminate information, spread a message, and organize itself. It is an art form that requires constantly being attuned to the latest cultural trends in urban communities, and to the work being done by a number of artist in the genre (regardless of whether they are famous or not). Hip-Hop fans are among the most technologically astute communities. Viral marketing, social networking, message boards and blogs are how members develop fan bases, share news, pass along information, and expand its audience. All of this shows a tremendous ability on the part of the Hip-Hop community.
In addition to this tremendous skill-set there is a political consciousness fermenting not just in “progressive” Hip-Hop circles, but in mainstream music too. This summer has seen Rap superstars Young Jeezy and (infamously) Ludacris both make politically-charged songs like “Obama is Here” and “My President is Black.” These songs show keen connectedness to the current political climate.
There is also historical awareness as well. West Coast artist The Game teamed with Nas to record a track entitled “A Letter to the King.” With Hip-Hop’s large youth audience, these are powerful messages.
During the Civil Right Movement and the Black Freedom Movement, young people were at the center of the work and vital to spreading the movement’s message. Groups like SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) were founded and/or maintained by students and young people. They were inspired by leaders like King, Ella Baker, and others to organize and work for the cause.
It is undoubted that Barack Obama is in the mold of these great Black leaders. It is also undoubted that in this campaign he has seized an overwhelming majority of not only Black voters, but young voters as well; and this was mostly due to a campaign team filled with young people that utilized the internet and technology in ways never seen before in a Presidential election.
But the involvement of the Hip-Hop community could not only expand the audience, but also actively engage many of the young Americans who are the most furthest removed from the promise of America. Not only could this help them become politically involved and lay the seeds for change in some of the largest areas of concentrated Black poverty, but it could provide the leadership training and political mentorship that creates a structure for organizing. And while the Hip-Hop community has exhibited political awareness, how powerful, and how much more skilled, could it be with Barack Obama’s mentorship?
James Baldwin once said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”
Barack Obama is a leader prepared to bring America past the terrible history that is still present. The day has come for those who have endured the beautiful struggle to be fully included. That will bring the dream to reality.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Last night HBO showed a documentary entitled, "The Black List, Volume One." The program features Blacks from various backgrounds talking about their life, their memories, their hopes, their fears, their opinions, their present, and their future. It was candid in that it truly conveyed the variety of people from the African Diaspora, and allowed them an uninterrupted opportunity to just talk.
On the show, Chris Rock spoke about something his father use to share with him. His father said that "you can not beat the White man by a point or two; you can't have 6 and he have 5. You can't let the scorecard go to the judges, because you'll lose. You have to knock em out."
That story made me think of something my mentor Fordham University professor Dr. Mark Naison said this week. He cited how Barack Obama needs to follow the example Harry S. Truman and James Brown by tirelessly working. To be at every single place were you can find working-class people. He said this is how Barack can win over working-class America.
Chris Rock’s story made me think of Dr. Naison’s analogy: Barack Obama is going to have to knock out his opponent; and the only way to do this is to outwork him.
My other mentor, Dr. Brian Purnell, pointed out that he needs to out work him in a way that is meaningful. Dr. Purnell spoke about the work of Bobby Kennedy. He said
“Before his decision to run, Bobby spent time in some of the poorest, most struggling sections of not only the country, but the world!
As Senator Kennedy, before he was the official candidate, Bobby visited America's urban and rural impoverished ghettos; he even toured mines and slums in South America.
By the time King was murdered, Bobby was able to speak…to people who were enraged and hurt and they felt him in a way that would have been impossible if he did not learn to empathize, internalize, as well as intellectualize people's economic and social pain in an honest, direct way.”
Indeed, this comment brought me back to the work Senator Obama did before he was even a senator; when he was a community organizer in Chicago. And it reminded me what Obama needs to continue doing.
He needs to be in the housing projects of the Bronx; in Atlanta's or Michigan's troubled school systems; in the streets of urban Philadelphia and Baltimore; in towns like Flint, MI, or Youngstown, OH; in the communities of Liberty City, FL. Senator Obama needs to be there not for photo-ops, but to hear and (most importantly) feel the struggle.
What makes a leader great is their ability to feel their people's struggle enough that they can resonate it to any crowd, to any audience. And that feeling within them, becomes strong enough for the people to believe in them.
Barack's brilliance is that he attempts to convince all of us to be leaders, by trying to make us see the best within ourselves. Obama is trying to follow in the spirit of what a great leader does: Love us at our worst, because you want to help us be our best.
Racism, sexism, patriarchy, elitism----all of these show America at its worst. And all these things have been salient over the past twelve months of this Presidential election. It has been really ugly. But most illuminating, it shows we may not be as far past prejudice, inequality, discrimination, and segregation as we would like to believe.
On Charlie Rose yesterday, Connie Schultz of the Cleveland's Plain Dealer said how people that say "they don't really know Barack Obama," "is he patriotic," or "is he really one of us," are all code for race. For me, it sounds like "I don't know this Black man; and I don't trust him either."
For nineteen months Barack has been trying to transcend the idea of race. Even his Philadelphia speech attempted to directly face his own identity within America's racial construct, but to confront it in a way that allows us to move past it. And as Schultz evaluation points out, it hasn't quite worked out.
Obama can only attempt to inspire change. The rest is left for us: to really look inside ourselves, and examine our beliefs and behaviors.
In the face of mainstream press coverage that over the past ten days has ridiculously emphasized every negative and every doubt that exists about Barack's resonance with "working-class America" (AKA White people who are not convinced yet); in the face of still being bombarded with rhetoric about a Democratic candidate who lost already, but yet the media still harps on every single day; in the face of a Democratic political dynasty that is still visibly upset about their improbable lost during this campaign, and still will not exhibit a visible, sincere advocacy for the winner of the contest; in the face of all of this, last night Michelle Obama still found a way to give a exceptional opening night speech that exulted her roots, her husband, her political party, and even the unyielding Hillary Clinton.
She was truly inspirational.
And so tonight, my only hope is that Hillary Clinton is gracious. Gracious enough to humbly acknowledge her defeat head-on, to recognize the large constituency that still clings to her, and to be self-less enough to turn it into a sincere call to support Barack Obama.
Otherwise, she and the Clinton legacy will only mirror the very bitterness and resentment Barack pointed out in his March race speech.
Race is still an issue in America because of all the other issues that come along with it: prison-industrial complex, funding for public schools, etc. Race is still an issue because it underpins some of the foundational problems of this country dating back to it "founding fathers." Race is still an issue because it works at the intersection of so many of America's contemporary problems.
This election brings out the issues of the times, if you can look past the political squabbling and media rhetoric.
What we need from a President, what we need from our leaders, what we need in all our communities, are truth-tellers that help us see these issues. We need people who love us at our worst, because they want to help us become our best.
That's what we need in a President.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
"And next time you mention Pac, Biggie, or Jay-Z don't forget about me"
Lil Wayne-"Mr. Carter"
Pac, Big, Jay-Z, and Wayne...? Sounds blasphemous right...or wrong?
Does "Mr. Carter" mark Lil Wayne's "Coming of Age"? Is this his transformation from "Best Rapper Alive" to one of the "Greatest of All-Time?" And is the man arguably rap's G.O.A.T co-signing?
Lil' Wayne's come-up is almost like a folk legend now. He shoots himself while posing in the mirror; he goes to college; he teamed with DJ Drama to create the highly successful Gangsta Grillz mixtapes Dedication I & II; his infamous cup of "purp" (or "lean," "drank," "sizurp," or other names) and "smoke sessions"; the growth seen in 500 Degreez, Tha Carter I, & Tha Carter II; the incredible number of songs & guest appearances; and the acknowledgment that he kisses his Daddy in the mouth. It's excess meets success.
The success has made Wayne a Hip-Hop superstar. It's created what could be called a "cult" following, making him one of the most downloaded, listened, "googled," watched, talked about, cited, and sought artist in the game.
It also has made him a target of ridicule. His unusual rhymes, disjointed narratives, and stream-of-consciousness style either invokes praises of genius or calls of garbage. There are those who see it as his courage to be different; his ability to be creative in a way no other rapper has ever been able to; and the characteristics that make his "swag" among the best in the game.
Thus Tha Carter III is Lil Wayne's attempt to create the mainstream musical success that will transcend him to pop star status; yet also to prove beyond a doubt that Weezy F. Baby deserves to be consider not just one of the best rappers of the time, but one of the best ever.For the rest of "Mr. Carter's Coming of Age?" Read at Real Talk NY
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
The Bell Has Been Tolled, Mainstream Hip-Hop Must Answer! A Call for the Mainstream Hip-Hop Community to become Political in the Wake of the Sean Bell
By Michael Partis
“If Malcolm or Huey had the outlets our musicians have today, it’d be global. I have to figure out a way to do it myself.”
Alicia Keys- “Alicia Keys Unlocked”
Blender Magazine-May 2008 edition
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 book, “Why We Can Not Wait”
When I saw Jay-Z, the biggest artist in Hip-Hop, could put out a record dissing NBA basketball player Deshawn Stevenson two days after the Sean Bell verdict, but yet could not put out even a statement on the case, I said enough.
Hip-Hop music and culture is an often criticized, highly stereotyped art form and cultural movement. Gangsters; ignorant; selfish; destroying the Black community; perpetuators of the word “Nigga;” and vulgar, incendiary rebels without a cause---these are among the many charges routinely hurled. And typically in the dead center of the attack are Black and Latino youth; and more specifically, the Black and Latino young man.
For all the racially-tinged hatred disseminated from the narrow-minded faction of the political right, or the equally narrow, grossly misinformed analysis of the Black conservative cohort (the John McWhorter’s and Stanley Crouch’s among others), there has been an identical amount of advocacy and support for Hip-Hop. Whether it be from religious, political, academic, or grassroots sectors, people like Kevin Powell, Rosa Clemente, James Braxton Peterson, David Kirkland, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Trica Rose, Joan Morgan and numerous others have articulately, comprehensively, and thoughtfully commented on the full spectrum of the music and culture. They have ardently and courageously defended it’s legitimacy to legions of Americans who see it as a one-dimensional, hedonistic, pesticide in
But now is the time for mainstream Hip-Hop to stand-up and defend the same community of folks who help create it, support it, and maintain it.
The claim of “We’re just rappers” and the like is no longer valid.
In a music and a culture that is heavily populated and controlled by young Black and Latino men who many times laud themselves as being the authentic voice of an urban Black experience that while is extremely harsh, vulgar, self-indulgent, and misogynistic but yet claims to be “real”---it is time to talk about this realness.
It is time to speak on a how the
During the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections we have seen Black votes be treated as if they were meaningless in
We have seen how the lives of Blacks in
We have seen how the NYPD could stop the Bushwick 32 from going to a friend’s funeral. And now we see how no amount of bullets to an unarmed man warrants excessive force by the New York City Police Department…again.
Now we need mainstream Hip-Hop to talk about it. They need to tell
While R&B superstar Alicia Keys has come under great scrutiny for her comments about “Gangster Rap” in the May 2008 issue of Blender Magazine, the most profound statement she said has been lost. Keys talks about the women empowerment anthems of Aretha Franklin and the soulful, yet explicitly political songs of Marvin Gaye as being examples of the power music holds: the ability to impact society. She goes on to express how she wants her music to bridge the politically & musical gap in an effort to raise awareness on important societal issues.
It is in this spirit that I call out the most talented and successful Hip-Hop artist of our society to rise. Brothers and sisters are being killed, disrespected, and belittled to the point where many now are saying our lives are meaningless.
This is directed at your “favorite rapper” and your “favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” It is a call to go against the inclination towards profit-driven commercialism and mass media appeal. It is a call to step away from the “music is just fun,” “music as a way to escape reality,” “we’re artist, not politicians,” explanations. It is a call in the mold of Dr. King and many Black leaders of the past to look beyond your image or your bank account and into the heart and soul of our society; to look at injustice and stand against it. It is a call to use our largest communication and cultural medium to talk about the pressing issues of our community right now. It’s time to break from our regularly scheduled programming, because our community is in a state of emergency.
It is not a call for the adults of Bakari Kitwana’s Hip-Hop Generation, or the activist of our past movements, or the Hip-Hop artist of today that are “underground” but making music in the “backpacker,” “conscious MC” tradition. This is a call for the biggest of Hip-Hop’s stars to stand up and say something. It is time to answer the call. Our people can not wait any longer.
We need our Hip-Hop stars to stand up beyond being artist, but as responsible men and women that are needed. Because right now, it’s bigger than Hip-Hop.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Unity's Great Inspiration and Complicated Path to Resolution-Commentary on Barack "A More Perfect Union" Speech
March 20, 2008
Obama's rhetorical ability is among the most skilled ever. Indeed, his speech on forming a "more perfect union" was prophetic. It forces us to see and create a transformative agenda for uniting a divided
For Barack to clearly & unequivocally state that racism must be addressed not only by citizens but by the
Walking the tightrope of the political major party landscape is extremely challenging; which makes his speech all the more powerful. And by juxtaposing racial inequality with the struggles of White working-class and poor, Obama does an eloquent job of trying to show a divided nation is commonality.
Arguably, the most powerful message in the entire speech was not his words on racial unity, but his outright critique of corporate business practice. While it is not the first time he has put corporate business in the crosshairs, this was indeed is strongest message towards them. In fact calling out major corporate industry's employment practices was his boldest move, naming globalization and out-sourcing as the root of American losing jobs---not immigration or affirmative action. It is clear the most sought after vote in this election is that of the White male; and criticizing corporate capital puts the bull's eye squarely on that population. In an election where we are hearing how super-delegates will determine the Democratic nomination, where “electablility” is a critical factor, and the question of can the nominee turn "red states blue" seems to be the DNC's most pressing concern, Barack's critique will not put him in that electorate's good graces.
Barack's talk about multiracial coalitions, unity, commonality, addressing the division of race, reconciling the past, and putting people before profit sets forth a progressive agenda to heal
Questions still remain though. Some critical issues are:
Private vs. Public
-Barack said "separate but equal is NOT EQUAL," reiterating the assertion of Brown vs. Board of Education while stating that American schools are STILL racially segregated and unequal. Many of the elite Private schools at the elementary and secondary level---disregard on the collegiate moment for a moment--- involve systems of "legacy," elitism, privilege, and classism that pushes free-market societies to intense moral analysis.
The Global Consequences of our Domestic issues
-Complicated systems of race, class, and gender privileges have split apart the country and severely impacted policy. While Obama's speech outlined the great work we have to do in addressing our country’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and economic issues, how does that affect American foreign policy? How do the ways we perpetuate injustice (through discrimination & racism) affect how we deal with the world?
-While Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments may have been inflammatory and controversial, it points to a real foreign policy's issue; an issues that has been neglected by numbers of American Presidential cabinets post WWI---are we exploiting foreign countries, uplifting them, aiding, or augmenting their dependence on the "First World." What is our image to the rest of the world? And what are the real consequences of this image? While Senator Obama did not address specifics foreign policy measures in his speech, his "more perfect union" must think about healing the U.S.' relationship with sections of the global world. Because along with racism, sexism, and discrimination: imperialism has been one of
These remaining questions are not to criticize Obama for not addressing them, but to speak to how we have to analysis his agenda and ACTIVELY TAKE A PART IN IT. The greatness of Barack's speech is that it simply illuminates the complicated problems
Monday, March 10, 2008
If Heaven’s Got A Ghetto, Tell B.I.G. Things Done Changed: The Legacy of The Notorious B.I.G. and Today’s Urban America
“Excuse me, flows just grow through me/like trees to branches, cliffs to avalanches/ It’s the praying mantis/ Deep like the mind of Farrakhan/ a motherfucking rap phenomenon.”
The Notorious B.I.G.- “The What”
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Mary on her relationship with Oprah
“’Oprah was like, ‘I didn’t care for you, but it was when I got to know you that I realized who you were.’ Though Oprah is now a friend, Mary is not surprised at her opinion. ‘I understand somebody like her wouldn’t even feel me at all.’ Mary says. ‘I’m a nigga, you know what I’m sayin? So when she said that to me, I was like, ‘Thank you for that honesty.’”
VIBE February 2008
So it only makes sense that the greatest symbol of Black upward mobility and financial success over the past twenty-five didn’t understand Mary J. Blige. It’s only logical that even though they shared the same condition of being a successful Black woman in American society, Oprah Winfrey just didn’t “care” for MJB.
But what do a whole generation of young people of color who were not recognized by their elders, not respected by their elders, and not “cared” for by their elders see themselves as???”
They see themselves as “niggas”. And it is within this context that the word “nigga” has developed over the past twenty-five years.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
"Excuse me. I have brief announcement. Jesus was black, Ronald Regan was the devil and the government is lying about 9/11. Thank you for you time and good night." Huey Freeman- "The Boondocks"
“Don’t make sense for Obama to win/if Hilary still getting votes from ya mama and them”
Jadakiss-“Mornings was Hashbrowns” Freestyle
“I’m not sure
The Boondocks is one of the last television shows in mainstream media that provides a honest, truthful critique of contemporary Black life. As African-Americans are no longer the largest “minority” population, and
Aaron McGruder has used The Boondocks cartoon strip and television series & to push us further then we have been pushed in quite sometime. He’s forced us to seriously think about how it would be if Dr. King were alive today; he’s forced us to remember the people from the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina (just in case we forgot about the people in the Superdome); he forces us to rethink who are our “black leaders;” he forces us to rethink hip-hop’s place in our lives; he forces us to rethink ourselves.
But when he forces us to rethink what is BET about… that’s when the trouble starts. It is indicative of the classic struggle: how do we challenge the people in control? And how do we challenge ourselves to be more just, more objective, more thoughtful? The spirit of expression, resistance, and confrontation that is indicative of The Boondocks, is the same spirit we find in the essence of Hip-Hop. The question is does Hip-Hop have the courage to ignore the profits, riches, and fame, to challenge society to be better, and to change?
So when one presidential candidate runs on a slogan that reads “stand for change,” and he has convinced people to buy into, it speaks volumes. As presidential hopeful Barack Obama drives through
Hip-Hop stars say vote for Barack and P.Diddy gets on his knees to beg us to vote: SO WHAT? Is putting the 2008 Election and politics into the young hip-hop generation’s frame of reference important? YES. But it takes more than yelling “Go vote!!!!!” or telling people who to vote for. We need people to be informed about how delegates work in primaries, why the dollars is losing value everyday, why fixing the Social Security system is important (haven’t heard about that one in a while right?), and what are we going to do to integrate the brothers and sisters who were jailed in droves during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and are now coming home (look around at hoods all over America, they’re home) into today’s society and economy.
(If you have not noticed by now, or have refused to notice up to this point) Hip-Hop music and culture is the point of entry for those trying to reach, cultivate, and work together with the young people of this country (and for that matter, around the world). But all the voices in the movement must be heard: the “backpackers”, the “gangsters”, the “skateboarders”, the “old-heads”, the “hip-hop historians and scholars.” All have a part in the narrative. All must push each other address to be open, honest, and candid.
When Bill O’Reilly can sit in 50 Cent’s car, interview him, then come on the air and call him a “pinhead,” we know there’s a problem. When there are people in
Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt (I wasn't playing...)
Barack's Speech the night of the New Hampshire Primary (you saw the music video, listen to the speech)
The RootAbout Us
The Root is a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives. The site also hosts an interactive genealogical section to trace one's ancestry through AfricanDNA.com, a DNA testing site co-founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is also The Root's Editor-In-Chief. The Root aims to be an unprecedented departure from traditional American journalism, raising the profile of black voices in mainstream media and engaging anyone interested in black culture around the world.
"Girl Like Me"Color is more than skin deep for young African-American women struggling to define themselves.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Fordham University's College Shadowing Program allowed high school students to visit the university, and be assigned to a Fordham student. Thus the high school students follows the college student for a week and gets personal insight on college life.
Check out this article on it. Peace
Saturday, January 5, 2008
At The River I Stand, Watching The Wire: Black America in 2008 & Beyond
Now You Got The Juice: The People Power of The Hip-Hop Head
MY OPENING STATEMENT
SHARE MY WORLD
I have created this blog as a place where people can read more about my work and find out more about me. I will post my articles, editorials, commentaries, essays, and other writings here. This will be a way to archive my work, a way for others to reference my writing, and my way to share a part of myself with the world. Read, criticize, argue, debate freely; BUT do so in the spirit of love, in a commitment to better this world, and to bridge the racial, social, and economic problems of this world. WORDLIFE
INSIDE MY HEART
"When Brown babies emerge from the womb they passionately seek the essence of humanity. See they long for an understanding of this human condition. They babble till they talk; crawl till they walk; teethe till they eat; and alternate between long hours of wake, & long hours of sleep. All in an attempt to find what really is life's deeper meaning. Some look inside, some look outside. Some look back, some look forward. When I saw slavery, racism, Jim Crow, colonialism, segregation, and discrimination- I decided to dedicate my life to liberation. Because this brown baby decided the essence of his people is '....too be free...'" M.P
INSIDE MY MIND
Theory precedes action. We develop a way of thinking. This way of thinking affects the way we understand. And our environment affects what it is we have to understand. Once we think, once we understand, then we act. You can react without thinking. Even for the slightest of seconds, you process-then you react.
Throughout history, those people of African descent who have been identified as "Black," have had a truly distinct existance in the world. They have lived through over 400 yrs of history in which "Black" has casted as inferior, savage, barbaric, pathologically flawed culturally, and biologically short-changed genetically; they've been villianized, criminalized, and economically dis-advantaged. These are only SOME of the constructions that have hindered Blacks.
This has created a shared experience amongst many in the group. While everybody has individual experiences, those characterized as Blacks have experienced (at some point) the effects of their being marked.
Thus a large group of Blacks have been systematically put in among the lowest of socio-economic positions. We function in a system that perpetuates them being politically pandered to, economically limited, and socially stereotyped, marginalized, and isolated. Many did not reap the fruits of the fame Civil Rights Movement.
The group left behind have been given the named the "underclass." They many times live in the "ghetto."
But see agency was never lost in these people. They never lost the ability to do for themselves. They never lost the belief in helping themselves. And a popular way they displayed this belief in changing their existence, in understanding their existence, and in challenging the system... is through expression. Whether it be physical prowess in sports, expression through the "letters" (writing, scholarship, poetry, painting, fiction, etc), or political consciousness in community organizing & activism- liberation was a tangible goal; and Blacks took vested interested in improving their lives.
One form of expression and one genre of music has forcefully turned into a culture that lives, narrates,and captures this experience: Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop Culture has become a common tread amongst a generation of Blacks. It invokes their voice, their history, their lives, and their place. Thus it has grown to encompass their environment; it affects how they understand the world around them; and has steeped into their consciousness a certain way of thinking. They have "Hip-Hop Thought."
"Hip-Hop Thought" is what has affected my entire life. It has brought me to this point I am at now; for better or for worst, till death do us part. And it has affected my entire generation, and it is affecting the generation after me. As such it serves as the baseline of my understanding, and my life.
This is where I'm from...