....There is certainly more than enough blame to go around, be it the actions of the wealthy to oppress the poverty stricken, the greed and sleaze of the liberals, and/or the corruption of government at every level within the U.S., corruption from the inner-city to the Halls of Congress, the message is being spread, and the world is listening.
"Can't fight this power
From Baghdad to Baltimore, Big Boi, Young Jeezy and countless upstart rappers are changing the world.
By Ryan J. Smith and Swati Pandey, researchers on The Times' editorial pages.
November 27, 2005
Tomorrow's most powerful political voice won't be yammering on CNN.
Tune in to your iPod.
In 1939, Billie Holiday crooned against the lynching of black men in her banned song "Strange Fruit" (MP3 (00:37) ). In 1969, Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" blasted peaceniks out of their drug dreams and into the streets. Then, in 1989, came Public Enemy's "Fight the Power": MP3 (00:41)
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
That inchoate shout of rage against all forms of oppression is growing into a force of real potential. The hip-hop nation has gone global, and it's going to change the world.
It wasn't Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson or Louis Farrakhan who cranked up debate about bigotry in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was Kanye West's "Bush doesn't care about black people."
Michael Moore's a mere whiner compared to Eminem, who raps: MP3 (01:23)
Strap [Bush] with an AK-47
Let him go fight his own war
Let him impress daddy that way
No more blood for oil.
And listen to poet and singer Jill Scott as she rails: MP3 (00:28)
Video cameras locked on me
In every dressing room ...
You neglect to see
The drugs coming into my community
Weapons coming into my community
Dirty cops in my community
Crispin Sartwell, a political science teacher at Dickinson College, says of the phenomenon: "If Thomas Paine or Karl Marx were [here] today, they might be issuing records rather than pamphlets." Consider:
West's words inspired Mississippi rapper David Banner and radio powerhouses including Big Boi of Outkast and Young Jeezy to play a concert in Atlanta to support Hurricane Katrina victims.
The Hip Hop Caucus, based in Washington, helped organize a march with black politicians into Gretna, La., to protest police efforts to keep Katrina refugees out of the mostly white city.
Hip-hop organizations such as the National Political Hip Hop Convention started large-scale voter registration drives in 2004, and thousands of young men and women donned Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' "Vote or Die" shirts while voting for the first time.
Russell Simmons' Hip Hop Summit Action Network mobilized 100,000 students, teachers, parents and hip-hop stars in a successful fight to repeal a proposed budget cut to New York City schools. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the protest helped change his mind on the issue (and presumably helped persuade him to seek Simmons' endorsement in his reelection campaign). Simmons' group also registered 2 million young people to vote and estimates that 1.3 million of them voted.
Think these efforts are just marketing schemes? The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, an organization that follows voting trends, reported that in the 2004 elections "youth turnout increased substantially, and much of this increase was driven by an increase in voting among African American youth." A similar voting bloc helped reelect Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit "” the nation's first "hip-hop mayor."
But hip-hop's greater potential comes from its technology-fueled border-hopping power, with the Internet and iPods plugging the beat straight into the minds of U.S. military personnel in Baghdad and militant young Muslims alike. Globally, hip-hop merchandising, by one industry estimate, seduces $10 billion from an estimated 45 million consumers ages 13 to 34. Listeners have an annual spending power of $1 trillion, according to Forbes magazine. The genre is defining the war in Iraq the way psychedelic rock shaped our memories of the Vietnam War "” not only because it has become the music of protest but because it is the language of the soldiers, who make it themselves on simple equipment. Words over a beat.
Michael Tucker's documentary, "Gunner Palace," tracks 400 troops lodged in Uday Hussein's former digs as they spend their time off free-styling, beat-boxing and drumming on tanks:
IEDs be going off while we out on patrol
scrap metal be ripping through your skin and your bones
Muslim and Jewish Israelis rhyme about the intifada.
In Britain, the Asian Dub Foundation sings about Tony Blair's entanglement in Iraq, while Ms. Dynamite gives hip-hop a feminist touch: MP3 (01:16)
How could you beat your woman till you see tears?
Got your children living in fear.
How you gonna wash the blood from your hands?
Hip-hop came naturally to most of Africa, where people know all about putting stories to a drum beat. In 2000, Senegalese rappers, who compare their craft to tasso storytelling, helped end the 20-year rule of President Abdou Diouf and continue their political efforts by organizing rallies against the mass unemployment and corruption that plague their country. In Ukraine, the band Greenjolly strung protest chants over a beat "” the anthem of the Orange Revolution. And during last month's Azerbaijani elections, rappers warmed up the crowd at Freedom bloc rallies.
Hip-hop travels like no other music. Any rapper can use a computer to layer an American beat under a native melody and a rap about local politics. With every rapper who turns from "bling-bling" to protest, hip-hop comes closer to being a global force for change.
This political potential revealed itself in the recent riots that shuddered through French suburbs. Young people from these immigrant ghettoes, like Disiz la Peste, have been rapping about neglect and hopelessness for a decade:
For France it matters nothing what I do
In its mind I will always be
Just a youth from the banlieue
Disiz spoke out against the rioting recently "” "Burning cars and schools, it only harms ourselves because it's happening in front of our own homes" "” while still calling France out for inequality of opportunity.
Hip-hop leadership in the making.
Can hip-hop overcome its occasional embrace of the thug life and "bling-bling" image and become a true political movement? Of course. It's ready to take on failing schools, the effects of drugs, the despair of a low-wage economy, warfare on city streets and on foreign battlefields. The imagined world of get-rich-quick schemes and candy-colored Escalades is not credible. The calls for accountability are.
Kanye West's Bush remark stated a perception fed by the reality of the administration's policies. Speaking truth to power, igniting passion and inspiring people to action "” this is when music has always been most potent.
Hip-hop is a global party with a platform that's just beginning to take shape. What it already has is a mike and millions of ears.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times"
Don't believe the hype -- rap anger isn't a meaningful message
By John McWhorter, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; his "Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America" will appear in January.
November 27, 2005
Word on the street is that hip-hop is a message, the black CNN. Anyone who questions that winds up at the bottom of a verbal dog pile. Such traitors, we're told, just don't listen to enough of the music "” that, in particular, the work of "conscious" rappers would change their minds.
Please. One can take a good dose of Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def and Kanye "Bush doesn't care about black people" West and still see nothing that resembles any kind of "message" that people truly committed to forging change would recognize. Hip-hop, "conscious" or not, is music, and that's it.
For one thing, a lot of the "conscious" work sounds as much like street fighting as the gangsta stuff "” an upturned middle finger set to a beat. Yes, Mos Def and Talib Kweli decorate their raps with calls to stop smoking and drinking, starry-eyed timeouts when they sing the praises of their baby daughters and vague calls for black Americans to look sharp. But there's a decent amount of that even in so-called gangsta rap, such as Tupac Shakur's chronicle of the vicious cycle of urban poverty in "Papa'z Gong," or Nas' hope that he will be able to redeem his past through his child in "The World Is Yours."
Meanwhile, Kweli tells us that when he's at the mike "you get hit like a deer standin' still in the light" and how in one competition he "smacked them in they face with a metaphor."
OK, he means it in the abstract. But why so violent? Why, exactly, must "consciousness" so often sound like a street fight? The "conscious" rappers just relocate 50 Cent's cops-and-robbers battle from the street to the slam contest.
I know: "Politics" means questioning authority. But street battle is not the only metaphor for civil rights activism. Since the '60s, millions of black people have achieved middle-class or even affluent status, founded businesses and attained higher degrees in this country, and very few of them did so by smacking somebody, literally or in the abstract.
It's true that violence is a matter of atmosphere in the "conscious" work. But I have a hard time gleaning exactly what the "message" is beyond, roughly, "wake up" "” which does not qualify as constructive counsel in times as complex as ours.
Take Kweli again, in "The Proud." The "message": Blacks are worn down by oppression, the cops are corrupt thugs who either killed Tupac or know who did, and "we survive." But how we get beyond that is, apparently, beside the point.
Mos Def's "Mr. Nigga" first shows us the improper black thug we all could do without, but then argues that whites see all blacks the same way many blacks see the thug. It's a great piece in the formal sense. But how many people's "consciousnesses" in our moment are unaware that racist bias still exists? How does saying it for the nth time teach anyone how to make the best of themselves despite reality's imperfections? Or Kanye West's famous "Jesus Walks" cut is less "inspirational" than catchy. It's about Jesus; that's nice. But one more announcement that black America is in a "war" against racism inspires, well, nothing, nor do other bonbons West gives us on "College Dropout," such as the notion that crack makes white men rich or that blacks are only placed in high positions as window dressing.
Maybe these "conscious" lyrics are better than gangsta raps about tying women to beds and shooting them dead. But the politics are a typical brand of self-perpetuating, unfocused leftism. It sounds good set to a narcotic beat full of exciting cut-ins, but it offers nothing to the struggling black woman with children trying to make the best of things after her welfare time limit runs out.
Yes, her. In 1991, Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby" told about a single mom who tries to throw her daughter in the trash, turns to prostitution and is murdered. Many Brendas at that time went on welfare only to find that in 1996 it was limited to a five-year cap. So, these days, "Brenda's Just Off Welfare" and is one of the working poor. How about "consciously" rapping "” a lot "” about the difficulties Brenda faces today.
We do not look to raps for detailed procedural prescriptives, like government reports on how to improve school test scores. But there are places raps could easily go, still blazing with poetic fireworks. What about the black men coming out of jail and trying to find their way after long sentences in the wake of the crack culture 15 years ago? There would be a "message" beyond the usual one simply deploring that the men are in jail in the first place.
Why do "conscious" rappers have so little interest in the political issues that directly affect poor black people's lives? Could it be because those issues do not usually lend themselves to calls for smacking people and making the streets run red? If so, then chalk up one more for people who do not see hip-hop as politically constructive.
The "conscious" rappers themselves make the "message" analysis even harder to fall for because they tend to squirm under the label. "They keep trying to slip the 'conscious rapper' thing on me," Mos Def says. "They try to get me because I'm supposed to be more articulate, I'm supposed to be not like the other Negroes, to get me to say something against my brothers. I'm not going out like that, man." So it would be "going out" even to question the theatrical savagery that hip-hop's critics fail to see the good in?
"Conscious" rap, like gangsta rap, is ultimately all about spitting in the eye of the powers that be. But this is precisely what the millions of blacks making the best of themselves in modern America have not done. And contrary to what we are often led to believe, spitting is not serious activism. It's merely attitude.
There is not a thing wrong with "conscious rap" fans enjoying the beats and the rhymes and even valuing the sprinkles of an awareness of something beyond guns, Hennessy and women's behinds. But if we have gotten to the point that we are treating even this "conscious" work as serious civil rights activism, then black America is in even worse trouble than we thought.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
John McWhorter, is a living example of that misguided university educated Black middleclass who choose to take no responsibility for the university educated Black middleclass's part in keeping the Black community in the dumps, while pointing the finger at the underclass as being solely responsible for the demise of the Black community
Sure can't continue to fool or dupe the many young people around the world, because the young people are very intelligent. Change or reform is in the making and very necessary.