Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hip hop and its influence: An Interview with David Kirkland (Part One)

Photo credit: Ian Anderson

Photo credit: Ian Anderson

By: Gus Navarro

When Dan came to me with the idea of starting a Hip hop blog, I loved the idea. Could there be a better way to combine my passion for music and writing? As we began to formulate ideas for our first edition of Bonus Cut, I felt it was important to reflect on Hip hop and it’s meaning to me. I was drawn to Hip hop because of the heavy emphasis on rhythm and percussion in the music. It was not until college that I began to consider Hip hop as something more than just a musical genre. This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a conference put on by the Urban Literacies Institute for Transformative Teaching (ULITT). ULITT is an educational initiative through Michigan State University and its College of Arts and Letters. The event was put on through collaboration with CAITLAH, the college’s Center for Applied and Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Arts and Humanities, the MSU Writing Center and New York City’s Urban Word. The conference focused on Hip hop, social justice issues and transformative education. The ULITT event forever changed my perspective on Hip hop. In turn, it transformed my view of education and my schooling experience up to that point. I have wanted to share my experiences and ideas on this topic and Bonus Cut provided an ideal opportunity to do so. With this in mind, I sat down with Dr. David E. Kirkland, one of the coordinators of ULITT and directors of CAITLAH to speak with him about Hip hop and its influence on education in the hopes of moving these thoughts forward.

Excerpts taken from an interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland on February 26th, 2013…

GN: I just wanted to talk with you about Hip hop mixed with education and the work that you’re doing right now. I wanted to start with: when I use the phrase Hip hop, what does that mean to you?

DK: Right, so usually when people think of Hip hop, they think about music. They think about a specific music genre-type of music and I think that’s all fucked up. I think it’s fucked up in the sense that Hip hop includes so much more. You know…the next definition is the textual products that come from Hip hop and the physical products. Like the “graf,” the graffiti that you see, the tags, the tattoos that artists get, and the type of tattoos that people get from the teardrop to the cross. You know people think about B-boyin,’ DJ-ing, and the elements of Hip hop, right? So they latch on to these things, but that’s not even Hip hop to me. To me, Hip hop instantiates a way of thinking, and a way of believing. It’s a worldview. It reflects a theory of reality. When I think about Hip hop, I think about ideology. A counter ideology to the hegemonic dominant ideology that is behind so much other stuff. So if you have a Hip hop imagery that exists outside of the mainstream, its going to drive how you practice and its going to drive the product of creation because one thing that we know is that any type of production, textual and otherwise, is an artifact of belief, its an artifact of ideology. So lets say for instance, Americana, and the ways that we think about Americana and what Americana is. The argument here is there are certain ways that organize American’s thinking, that group us. There are certain ways and dispositions that suggest who we are. So when we think about those certain ways of being, thinking, doing, and experiencing, the reflection of that is in the products that we create. The products we create aren’t necessarily that thing, so I can’t say that Hip hop is the practice. I can’t say that Hip hop is the product, but I can say that Hip hop is counter-oppressive ideology. It’s a way of thinking. It reflects a theory of reality and everything that comes after it. The texts, the culture, the various forms of creativity feed that and I’m also going to say that given this, Hip hop has been around for a long time. When the Holy Bible says that “In the beginning there was the word, and the word was God, and the word was with God,” God was spittin’ from the beginning of the universe, during creation. It insists on this power of the word, like Nommo, the elemental power of the word; that words can change things, that words matter, that words can create things. One thing that we know within the word “cypher” in Hip hop is this idea that through utterance and through improvisation and through performative utterance that we can change things. That we can speak to our conditions of oppression. Not only speak to our conditions of oppression, but also speak change. As a constant, against oppression we can also, through the energy of bodies, collect it together on one thought. We call it, “one mic.” We can insist on space, and so we see this throughout history. When Chaucer wrote Canterbury Tales, he didn’t write in the language of oppression, he didn’t write it in the language of the conquerors. Had he wrote it in the language of the conquerors he would have written it in Norman, or what we now would call French. Instead he wrote it in the language of the tribe, the language of the people, he wrote it in that ghetto dialect that they called English. Same thing with Dante, when he wrote the Divine Comedy, he didn’t write it in the high language of the time–the high language of the time was Latin–but he wrote it in the language of the tribe, he wrote it in the language of the street, he wrote it in Italian. Shakespeare, when he started The Globe, he didn’t follow orthodoxy. Instead, he followed the street movement where people were performing with bodies outside of it. The imaginary then is that through an organic movement, that’s rooted in the people. Giving the people voice and space, we can change things. And so that’s Hip hop. Hip hop is the imaginary of change, this idea that the individual, organic, political rooted voice of the masses matters. And it’s that collective voice, its one.

GN: Excellent, thank you. So based off that, how do you feel you’ve been able to develop this worldview. In contact with different artists, whether it be a musician or maybe a painter or a writer. What are some the artists that have influenced you as you have developed this worldview?

DK: So, the worldview develops me. Foucault said that “we’re not born outside of the waters of knowledge, in fact, we’re born to them, swimming in them. Swimming in it. Messy and saturated in it.” So when you think about where Hip hop come from–I grew up in Detroit, in a brothel, the term “crack house,”–in a situation that reflected the social plight, not the individual plight of the people. This was a plight that was by design, because of forces of injustice, like slavery and racism, because of economic oppression, misogyny, and other things. So I was born in those waters, and those waters were silencing and oppressive waters, and Hip hop gave individuals like me voice. So I was born to Hip hop, (and it) influenced and shaped me from the ground up. We don’t know what comes first, the chicken or the egg but we know that you can’t have a chicken without an egg and you can’t have an egg without a chicken. And so, the conversation about how I participate in Hip hop is creation, Hip hop is creation in some ways. It creates the ways we behave and think. In terms of artists I have to use the term broadly when applied to Hip hop because I can’t think of Hip hop only as music. The music is one manifestation. It’s a powerful manifestation. The first time I heard Eric B. and Rakim’s “Check Out My Melody” was life changing. When I heard Sugar Hill Gang when I was young, it was life changing. Like “hip, hop, hippity hop” in a condition of poverty, it was life changing. Post civil-rights, post industrialism, at the height of chronic economic oppression after the militarism of Vietnam and the various wars that Nixon and Ford waged we get this thing. This thing is not just responding to those forces, this thing is also buffering and protecting the people from these alienating and oppressive forces, giving people a place to create and play. It’s like “wow!” So the various people that came up in Hip hop at that time have influenced me. Tupac and the way that his Hip hop is influenced by what happens on the street as well as the larger struggle of people around the globe has been influential. There are other people who are not necessarily deemed “Hip hop” artists that write within the Hip hop tradition. People like Junot Diaz when he writes Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or This is How You Lose Her, he’s writing within that Hip hop tradition, he’s breaking the standard rules. But, in a sense he’s paying attention to the rules of nature, that things change and that the most potent weapon that we have is to speak to one another. Steve Biko said that, “the most potent weapon of the oppressors is the mind of the oppressed.” That means that when you latch on to your own mind and you steal it back, when you enter the psychic space of the masses you take away the weapon from the oppressor and you give yourself a weapon that will empower you. So its Hip hop artists like that. Hip hop artists like Alice Walker when she wrote The Color Purple and she decided that she wasn’t going to use correct punctuation or quotation marks meant a lot to me. Hip hop artists like individuals that started making clothes like Karl Kani back in the 90’s. The first big, black-owned clothing industry that looked at urban gear not as a bad thing, but as something that people were interested in, that would revolutionize our identities as American. Now we see the reflection of these clothing choices around the globe. I’m thinking about the Hip hop artist that chant like Fela Kuti and this notion of infusing hybrid sounds in order to give voice to new possibilities. So these are the individuals who have been most influential to me. Toni Morrison when she writes Jazz is very much a Hip hop artist. There is one scene in Beloved where Sethe, Ma Suggs, and Beloved herself are flowin’ and Morrison doesn’t use any type of ellipses but she lets it flow like rap down the page and you feel the rappin’ enrapturing you, and coming up.

GN: It’s like Ursula Rucker, she’s a poet and yet she has music behind it.

DK: That’s right.

GN: Right, so music is just one manifestation of…

DK: Musicality is part of everything, like there is music to everything. That’s what Hip hop said. Hip hop said there is music to everything. So if you take the rhythm of the train as it moves past you every five minutes, against the beep of the horns that you hear in the street, against the sounds of people stomping on pavement, against the sounds of mothers yelling at babies. Little girls jumpin’ double-dutch in the street and boys playing paddle ball next to them. You know, all of it created a music. A rhythm. And then the voices that spoke to that was rap. And it’s always been that way; it’s always been there. Hip hop just gave us a way to explain it, a way to listen to it, a way to channel it in order to work towards the franchise of justice.

Hip hop is more than simply a musical genre. Hip hop has the power to change lives, and at the same time defy the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and classism. However, record labels and the mainstream exploits the Hip hop experience. We see this from popular artists such as Flo Rida, 2 Chainz, Lil’ Wayne, and Macklemore. Just like everyone else I can sing the chorus to “Thrift Shop.” However, as we listen to artists that top the charts, it is important to ask questions and be critical. What is the message of their songs? Are they saying anything of substance? Are they advocating for social justice in creative and clever ways, or are they glorifying drugs, sex and money? Does every artist have to be an activist? Hip hop can be a form of expression that gives voice and provides space for those that are disenfranchised from mainstream culture. To take Dr. Kirkland’s term, there are “Hip hop-graphers” that use the genre as a way to challenge the status quo and injustice in their art. These are not just musicians. They are writers, philosophers, artists, filmmakers and even clothing designers. We must seek them out and support them. Finally, and most importantly, Hip hop is a way of being, a way of living one’s life for liberation, change and humanness. The music of Hip hop is a powerful expression of this, but it is essential that we recognize the multiple artistic disciplines that are Hip hop.

*Catch the second part of this interview with Dr. David Kirkland in the next issue of Bonus Cut as he expands on the transformative and libratory power of hip-hop education.

**You can check out Dr. Kirkland’s blog at davidekirkland.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter: @davidekirkland.

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Dear Readers: An Open Letter From the Editor

Dear Readers,

First off, I must tip my hat, give a bow and thank you personally. If you are reading this letter, then you are reading Bonus Cut, and for that I thank you immensely. It means so much to me just to have readers and people viewing Bonus Cut and I am blessed with everyone that visits and continues to visit in the future (I promise that every issue will have great stuff).

If you’re wondering what Bonus Cut exactly is, I will try to help. But first: did you read our “about” section? If not, I suggest you do that, because really, that’s what we are. If you’re still confused, then here’s a short story for yall.

I initially came up with the idea for Bonus Cut about two years ago, although it was nothing like it is now. Back then I had become part of a small thread online that discussed Hip hop, shared music and introduced new artists. It was a relief at first, but as time grew I soon realized that I wanted to delve further into the culture. A year later I started a small blog that posted music and photos, but that wasn’t enough. Simply sharing music had good intentions, but there was so much more to this great culture that I wanted to share and discuss.

By the near end of 2012 I came up with the idea to start a site that touched on more than just music. I wanted to it to discuss Hip hop culture in general, its impact on worldview culture, worldview culture’s impact on Hip hop, the genre’s reflection on politics and humanity and its portrayal of everyday life. Of course, I also wanted the site to share new and old music alike, but I wanted to make sure that wasn’t the only thing Bonus Cut was after.

I realized soon that I couldn’t do this alone. I’ve tried running sites and blogs by myself, and slowly they became monumental to the point where it was too much for me to handle.

With that on my mind, I contacted one of my good friends, who was perhaps the one guy who understood the underlying theme I wanted Bonus Cut to reflect. It’s taken quite some time for us to prepare this, but Gus and I are finally ready to unleash Bonus Cut to the public.

It’s quite weird sitting here now, because I want this to become something people look forward to every week, and I want it to succeed beyond my imagination, but that’s not the most important thing about Bonus Cut. The most important thing to me is that no matter how many people will read this week by week, we’re going to be spreading the love of Hip hop to at least someone. And for that I’m grateful.

With that being said, the buck doesn’t stop here. There are improvements to be made, more writers to contribute and ideas to be shared. I expect this to be a gradual process, but a successful one, and once again, thank you readers. Thank you.

Also, not to sell myself here, but if you’re a fan of Hip hop and want to talk about it and what it means to you, why not write for Bonus Cut? Information can be found under the “about” drop-down box near our header!

-Daniel

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Show Review: Talib Kweli at The Pyramid Scheme

kweliintersection

By: Gus Navarro

For me there are two factors above all else that determine the talent of an MC. Their abilities in the studio are clearly important, but also their capacity to rock a live show. I have seen groups such as the Cool Kids–that while I love their music, didn’t have a great live show. I still enjoy the Cool Kids and listen to their music often, but would think twice about paying to see them again. To a certain extent, a Hip hop show is expected to be loud and you’re supposed to feel the thump of the bass in your chest. However, with the Cool Kids it was impossible to hear their lyrics, and difficult to figure out which song was being played. Recently, I saw Talib Kweli at the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To put it simply, the night was a bit wild.

Forty-five minutes after the second opening act, a female MC by the name of Mama Sol that is worth checking out, Kweli still hadn’t come on stage. Rumors started flying around that he was held up and would not be coming to perform at all. After a solid hour, there was still no sign of him. By this time, people were becoming agitated and some considered leaving. Then out of nowhere, his Dj showed up, and about five minutes later Kweli was on stage and the show began. Sporting sunglasses, a blue hoody and green hat with the word “ninjas” across the front, he proceeded to “rock the mic.” He performed new music from his upcoming album Prisoner of Conscious, and the classic material including “Get By,” “Move Somethin,” “Definition,” “Re: Definition” and “In This World.”

About halfway through the set he apologized to the crowd for being late and explained what had held him up. According to Kweli, he had three different flights cancelled out of New York due to the east coast blizzard. Because of this, he took a taxi down to Philadelphia, flew to Detroit, and then was driven from Detroit to Grand Rapids. I can only imagine how exhausted I would have been after such a travel fiasco. Despite this, Kweli came straight from the road to the stage and had the crowd rocking with him within his first song. He left the stage with huge cheers from the crowd that quickly became a chant for him to return. After about five minutes he came back and did about six more songs that included his verse from the Kanye West classic “Get Em High” and finished the encore with “I try” from his 2004 album The Beautiful Struggle. With that, the concert ended and my friends and I headed home, later than anticipated, but in awe of what we had just seen.

I realized on the way home that I had just witnessed Hip hop in its purest form. Talib Kweli was able to find energy to perform after a long day of travel because sharing stories with an audience is his craft. Beyond that, rapping is his vocation. He has reached the point in his career where his lyrics are not simply “memorized,” rather his words and lyrics are a part of who he is. Talib Kweli was able to share his artwork with crowds across the country because he understands that an important part Hip hop is engaging a crowd while spreading the messages of revolution, decolonization, love and progress. This is not a mainstream message, and will not be heard on the radio, which is what makes Kweli revolutionary in his own right.

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Album of the Week: “Power in Numbers” by Jurassic 5

"Power in Numbers"

Daniel’s Thought:

One of the most influential aspects of an album comes from within, spreading as if controlled by the sprawl of a story or concept. Usually constructed through varying themes and messages and having them intertwine, these albums have added value, something that is harder to achieve than the ones that simply go through the motions. Jurassic 5’s third studio album Power in Numbers not only strides high on this characteristic, it winds it into a complex that rises as one of the best themed hip hop albums of our time.

Perhaps the biggest credit to this should be given to Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark and their approach to Power in Numbers’ production. Unlike Quality Control, where the beats were more of a front-stage showcase, Power in Numbers grants more freedom to the group’s four emcees as they sling tales of poverty, urban remembrance and government enforcement. On “Thin Line,” which features Nelly Furtado, Jurassic 5 strikes passion in a deeper sense. “Man too bad that we became friends first,” Zaakir spits, “I’m not an expert on how relationships should work/But from the minute it was known/It changed the whole tone on how we spoke on the phone.”

Further on, Power in Numbers also makes you realize how great these artists are when they’re together.

Songs like “If You Only Knew” and “Freedom” display the group’s ridiculous skill at twisting four-bar verses effortlessly, and even when these songs eventually feel like they should be dragging, someone steps in and pushes it along with force and viscosity. Whether in the delivery, flow or cadence, Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir and Mark 7even keep everything fresh, while at the same time bombarding the listener with interweaving storylines from lush thematic landscapes.

On the surface, Power in Numbers may play like any other culturally bright Hip hop album, but after several listens it becomes apparent that it’s much more than that. In every sense this album consists of capacity whether it be the flow of the verses, the plinking and plunking production, the special guests (Big Daddy Kane, JuJu, Kool Keith, Nelly Furtado, Percee P) or the messages themselves. Hitting so many platforms and launching like the unique vector it is, Power in Numbers is a must for any definitive Hip hop fan.

Gus’ Thought:

The first song I heard off of Jurassic 5’s 2002 album Power in Numbers was “If You Only Knew.” I was captivated by the fresh jazzy boom bap that to this day makes me nod my head every time I hear it. I feel this way about most of the songs on this album; “What’s Golden,” “Break,” “One Of Them” and “After School Special” are bangers. If this were an instrumental album, Power in Numbers would stand out. However, once you take a step back from the syncopated beats, jazzy guitar samples and hard-hitting synth chords you realize that MC’s Chali 2na, Akil, Soup, Marc 7 and Zaakir are providing important social commentary though their lyrics in critical, honest and clever ways.

In “Freedom,” Chali 2na explains, “Got people screaming free Mumia Jamal/but 2 out of 3 of ya’ll will probably be at the mall.” In the hook of “If You Only Knew,” we hear, “If you only knew the trials and tribulations we been through/But if you only knew, we’re real people homie, just like you/We humble, but don’t mistake for some corny-ass crew/What we do, is try to give you what you ain’t used to.”

They aren’t bragging or boasting about their escapades with women or proclaiming themselves as the best rappers of all time. Instead, J-5 is explaining what they’re about musically, and the struggles it took to arrive on the scene. In this album, you will find poignant critiques of our social and political institutions. The group also takes the time to discuss matters of love, romance and friendship in the song “Thin Line” featuring Nelly Furtado. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, “A Day at the Races” will play. This song features rap legends Big Daddy Kane and Percee P, that show they can still hang with any of the young guns in hip-hop.

This album is an essential listen to anyone interested in Hip hop because it is an illustration of how a group can combine original musical production with inventive lyricism that moves the conversation about how we live, and what we value to the next level.

Must-Listens:

“If You Only Knew”
“What’s Golden”
“Freedom”

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