Category Archives: Interviews

A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner (Part Two)

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By: Gus Navarro

You can view Part One here

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies, and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner

By: Gus Navarro

Part 1

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

Bonus Cut (BC):  When you hear the words hip-hop, what does it mean to you?

Dylan Miner (DM):  For me, hip-hop is an ontology; it’s a way of being in the world. I think a lot of times we think of hip-hop as a form of music or even a lifestyle. I think its both of these things but as someone who grew up involved in hip-hop and punk rock, I also see these as parallel movements of underground, alternative, anti-capitalist movements that have grown up in resistance. For me, hip-hop embodies a way of being in the world that goes against the dominant mode. We know that it comes out of the Bronx, out of New York City with Black and Latino communities in resistance to white colonial rule. If you look at it now, hip-hop is what youth movements are using throughout the world. You go meet with kids in Australia, I’ve worked with aboriginal kids in Australia and they’re listening to hip-hop. Young MCs are producing excellent music.  Everywhere you go kids are making hip-hop as a way of expressing themselves and resisting. So I see the five hip-hop elements as a way of being in the world that connects people.

BC:  Growing up as a kid you were involved in the hip-hop and punk rock scene, what does that mean exactly? How were you involved?

DM:  I tried my hand at being an MC and a DJ and wasn’t good at that. I tried breaking and wasn’t good at that either. I also wrote graffiti for a while with a couple of different tags, names and monikers but wasn’t good at that either. I’ve been involved in it in a variety of ways. In punk rock I made “zines” which are alternative magazines and published those and communicated with other people that way. I grew up in a small rural town in Michigan, out in the woods. Punk rock and hip-hop were a way that I was able to connect with people my age and people form other places and I thought that was important. I was involved on a variety of levels in my younger days but I was never anybody that was of importance. So now one of the things I do with my artwork is I work with youth and have a bunch of different projects that use hip-hop as the starting off point and as a way for us to speak of our shared experiences.

BC:  What is an example of how you use hip-hop in your art and with youth?

DM:  One of the more well-known projects I have is called Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag which means “Native Kids Ride Bikes.” Basically it’s a low-rider bike project that works with urban-indigenous kids throughout North America and takes hip-hop as a shared relationship and goes from there. We build low-rider bikes that allow us to talk about the origins of low-rider cars and bicycles. If you know the history, there are some conflicting histories, but many people say that the origins of the low-rider can be traced to Española, New Mexico. However, other folks say East Los Angeles, California. The low-rider is central to west coast hip-hop if not the east coast. It’s also an automobile and it’s a thing that runs on fossil fuels which is a way of transportation that is built off of the burning of deceased and fossilized animals that is creating a huge systematic climate change. So we have a conversation of hip-hop, a conversation of transportation, think about sustainable transportation and traditional forms of movement. We look at the low-rider bike as something that’s tied to ways that Native people moved in this continent before the automobile. For my community, we had something call the “Red River Cart” which is a two-wheeled cart.  In this part of the continent, people traveled by jimaan, which is a canoe. So this project uses hip-hop and then looks at the low-rider.  We then bring in fluent speaking elders in the traditional languages who impart their knowledge with the youth. We bring in “young professionals,” often times DJ’s and hip-hop artists and MCs. Through that multi-leveled, multi-aged, multi-generational collaboration we put together these low-rider bikes that are based in traditional knowledge, traditional ways of being in the world, as well as ones that are very much about contemporary indigenous lives. For many of these kids it means growing up in hip-hop and being involved in the hip-hop world.

BC:   As you said, hip-hop is being used as a jumping off point to promote collaboration and resistance. What are some of the other projects that use hip-hop?

DM:  That’s obviously the most central one. But as I’ve traveled and met people, I’ve done a little bit of collaborative work with Sacramento Knoxx who’s an Ojibwa-Chicano MC from Detroit. I recently did a project working with Latino and Native youth on both sides of the U.S. and Canada border. I worked with one group in Detroit and one group in Windsor, just across the Detroit River. We put together these mobile screen-printing carts, from bicycles created to function as work tricycles in Mexico, which we retrofit to be mobile screen-printing units. Those are now being used by a group of primarily Latino and Native MCs, graffiti artists and DJ’s in southwest Detroit called The Raiz Up. Southwest is primarily a Latino neighborhood in Detroit that in some ways is gentrifying, that has a large art world. The Raiz Up is an activist based collective of folks involved in hip-hop. Now they’re using this vehicle in community events at Clark Park and in other places in the neighborhood. I don’t see myself as an MC, DJ or graffiti artist anymore but I use the modes, the different elements as a way to influence what I’m doing now. I’ve collaborated with people all around the world. There is this great Sami artist in Northern Norway, in the Arctic Circle, in this community called Trømso. The Sami are the people once known as the Lapplanders, the indigenous reindeer herding peoples through Scandinavia and Northern Russia. This dude, Joar Nango, is putting together an archive of indigenous hip-hop. He’s archiving songs, meeting with artists and putting together a mix-tape. You’ll see these amazing events or moments emerging all over the world.  I don’t know if you or your readership is familiar with A Tribe Called Red, a three person DJ collective out of Canada that is blowing up right now. When I had a show up in Ottawa, Bear Witness, one of the three DJ’s played the reception. My bikes are also traveling as a part of this wonderful show called Beat Nation which is a traveling exhibition of all indigenous artists, primarily from the U.S. and Canada who have made art that was inspired by hip-hop. It’s not just me, but with urban-Native communities and Tribal communities throughout this continent there’s a relationship with hip-hop that I think is really important.

BC:  We’ve talked about hip-hop as a way of being and as a form of resistance against capitalist societies. However, there is this large presence of capitalism within the pop-culture realm of hip-hop. Why is that?

DM:  I think there’s always going to be those elements. It’s the same thing with any movement, any social movement and I think hip-hop is and has always been a social movement. Hip-hop is important because it’s not simply one aspect; it has five elements to it. It has the visual arts, it has the music, the performative, the lyrical or written word and then of course the fifth element. Depending on who you talk to, the fifth element is what I always talk about as knowledge. Other people talk about it as entrepreneurship or as community development. All of these things together make it an important social movement. Within social movements there’s always moments of cooptation, moments of disagreement, there’s always moments and space for differing voices and different perspectives. When you hear what’s on the radio and see the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine is that hip-hop? It’s an element of it, but it’s not central to it. What did KRS-ONE say about the difference between being a rapper and an MC?  The same happened to punk rock when it became mainstream. Especially with early groups like the Sex Pistols as they came of age and even in the 90’s with things like the popularization of Green Day. Now they have a Broadway show. Is a Broadway show punk rock? Not really but that doesn’t diminish what the roots are because the roots are important. For me, that’s what’s crucial about hip-hop. At the roots, these five elements when you think about them, when you understand them and they become a part of how you live your life, that really is in resistance to the dominant way of being in the world.

BC:  You’ve mentioned punk rock and groups such as the Sex Pistols and how they started out as group that embodied resistance. In a sense, hip-hop and punk rock are similar in that they are about defiance and struggle. Is there a way to group them together?

DM:  For me it’s all about youth sub-cultures. If we look globally and historically, young people have always been one of the most oppressed peoples in the world, especially in the modern nation-state. If you’re not eighteen, you really don’t have any rights. You can’t vote, you don’t have a say in governance, you’re forced to go to school whether or not you want to and in some ways these are meant to protect and create a specific form of society. At the same time, they’re very repressive. I think for me, hip-hop grows out of youth resistance and punk rock grows out of youth resistance. Initially, hip-hop was a black and brown collaborative effort in New York. Punk rock, depending on if you’re looking at it in the States or England, was mostly a white working-class movement. You could even say the same thing about elements of heavy metal. All of these genres are about youth creating a space for themselves in a world where they haven’t been allowed a say. For me, that’s the core that brings them together.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this interview! 

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Immortal Technique

Immortal Technique is a figure in hip-hop that needs no introduction. As a forceful character in hip-hop activism, Tech is one of the rare few that unveils the realities of our world first-hand. His cutting delivery and intelligence on government, poverty, religion and institutional racism has not only opened our eyes to real-world problems, but it has furthered our grasp on actually understanding how to deal with them.

In a recent interview with Bonus Cut, Tech talks about media bias, terrorism, institutions around the world and the hip-hop human condition.

Bonus Cut (BC): In your song the “4th Branch” from Revolutionary Vol. 2 you touch on a lot of important issues regarding the corruption and double standards that exist within the political sphere of the United States. This song was written in the middle of George Bush’s presidency. Ten years later, where does our government stand on these issues and have we made any significant progress?

Immortal Technique (IT): In terms of corruption? I don’t think that even requires my insight or political acumen to see that. It’s just gotten worse and people have been conditioned to receive it without shock or action. Now it’s a complacency that perhaps was not there in the beginning. I think that people are becoming more self aware here, however I don’t know that the way the government is structured now will make it any easier for them to change things.

BC: In light of recent events it seems as if there is a divide between what is considered an act of terrorism, and what is not. Why were the events in Boston immediately labeled as an act of terrorism when the shootings in Newtown, Aurora and Columbine were not? Furthermore, in your opinion, what constitutes an act of terrorism when the United States has been responsible for countless atrocities to push it’s own interests around the world?

IT: Terrorism is not just committed by individuals, loners and such. People need to understand that a state, its counterparts and such, are capable and are actually probably more likely to commit acts of terrorism on each other. The manner in which it’s interpreted in the U.S. though will have obvious bias for a reason that I think we’re all familiar with here. We have been engaged in constant wars since the birth of the Republic; in all truth we have only had 20 some odd years of peace. Presently we are at war in the Middle East, before we were restructuring Central America, crushing the remainder of Europe’s old regimes or encroaching our influence in Southeast Asia. The average American was once trained to see the German people, the Japanese people, the Vietnamese as their enemies. If someone went on TV ranting about those 3 people now we’d have them committed to an insane asylum. However, if they do a lecture series about the evil of Islam, the evil of Arab culture, they find themselves being economically breastfed by a bevy of right wing groups and are invited to speak on college campuses. People find this logical in this day and age, whereas in the future it will be a joke. But it won’t be funny.

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Immortal Technique on stage via http://tristanstefanedouard.com.au

BC: Going off of that, how have your travels to the Middle East and Latin America shaped your views on American foreign policy and its relationship with other nations?

IT: I think I feel a lot more grateful for what I have now. I tell people, if you don’t like the Justice system in America, you’re really not gonna like it in China. If you dislike the bureaucracy here, then you’ll hate it in South America. Dislike Corruption here? You’ll despise it in Russia. Don’t like American prison? Spend a day in jail in the Middle East and you’ll cry for home. I get first hand accounts of these things from the people, I am shown around wherever I go and I explore on my own. I have the ability to see things with my own eyes. I experienced some of these things as a child returning to the so-called “3rd World”.

BC: How does hip-hop fit into this equation?  How can hip-hop be used to process the pain that people experience everyday at home and abroad?

IT: Hip-hop is about the human condition; it’s about people’s lives. It started out speaking on what it was like growing up in a slum in the Bronx, the trials and tribulations of living in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island. Then it spread to the West Coast, to the South. Now it is a global phenomenon. Why shouldn’t a child reading this looking over Mogadishu, Tirana, Lagos, or Aleppo tell the world of his struggle and his pain? We had drug dealers, war torn streets and poverty that the other side of the country almost seemed oblivious to, ironically since the majority of all hip-hop sales. No matter the artist or the region come from middle class European America. So why shouldn’t the rest of the world be just as interested as they were in how people live? In the end it is entertainment, let’s not embarrass ourselves by not admitting that, but entertainment can be used to educate, to ennoble, or to distract and mislead. This form of entertainment has the ability to reach far beyond the Bronx. And whether we’re willing to admit it or not, it connects people from across the word. In the end a human being just needs one thing to start the process of healing. To have their pain acknowledged.

BC: Considering all of this, does hip-hop always have to be political?

IT: It doesn’t have to. But it always is.

Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 was the Bonus Cut Album of the Week on May 22nd.

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Detroit Rapper Red Pill (Part Two)

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Chris Orrick (aka Red Pill) of BLAT! Pack is a rapper from Detroit, Michigan who is emerging as a positive voice in hip-hop. Pill’s delivery is both sophisticated and to-the-point as it treads on parallels to the likes of Blu and Atmosphere. Red Pill’s releases Please Tip Your Driver and The Kick (with Hir-O) helped formulate a monstrous repertoire, and his recent project with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent called Ugly Heroeshas further backed his immaculate career in hip-hop. In a day and age where people are still struggling to find consistent artists in an ever-expanding culture, Red Pill brings content that hip-hop truly needs.

Red Pill recently sat down with Bonus Cut to discuss issues within hip-hop, the art of writing, his influences, South by Southwest (SXSW), the status of hip-hop today and his Ugly Heroes project.

Part one can be viewed here.

(Excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Orrick on June 3rd, 2013…)

Bonus Cut (BC): How do you view MCing? What does it take to be an MC?

Red Pill (RP): For me it’s just being yourself. The cover is so big now. You got every different kind of person in the world writing or trying to be a rapper and it’s being reflected in who’s actually making it. So you have Mac Miller’s and Schoolboy Q’s and they’re hanging out together. I don’t really listen to Mac Miller, but there’s a place for it because everyone comes from different places and hip-hop is so wide-reaching. I don’t know what it means to be an MC or rapper anymore, in fact I think that idea (has been) sort of overdone for a long time. In my stalling last night of the show somebody was like “freestyle” and I don’t freestyle. My writing all started as this loser kid in his bedroom writing. I wasn’t banging on tables in the lunchroom and hanging out and rapping; none of my friends rapped. I was the only one that rapped, so I wasn’t doing all that shit. So I don’t freestyle. And there are probably some older people and some younger people too that would say, “if you can’t freestyle then you’re not an MC.” To me I don’t understand, you put definitions on something like that and it doesn’t matter. To me I’m more interested in songwriting. I love when rappers are sweet at the skill of rapping. I try to do that sometimes and I pride myself at attempting to do that and hopefully be good at that. At the same time, if you say shit that doesn’t relate to me, then I don’t care. Some people just like hearing rappers be sweet at rapping. For me I’m going to put on something that feels real to me, that connects with my life, something personal and that doesn’t even have to be deep and heartfelt, it can be anything relating to your life. Writing can be anything.

BC: Who are some of those artists that you find relatable?

RP: In terms of hip-hop, the rappers that I’ve found the most relatable to me have been Blu. I mean, I grew up watching Atmosphere and Rhymesayers and what they did. Kendrick to me is another guy that came up. If I had to pick my favorites: Blu, older Atmosphere, Kendrick, Ab-Soul. Outside of hip-hop I’m into this band right now called Andrew Jackson Jihad, they’re like a folk-punk band from the Southwest. Dude’s writing is some of the best Americana folk writing I’ve ever heard. It speaks to this generation. It’s something that to me, I’m trying to steal whatever I can from him and put that into my music. He’s a genius for how he’s writing, and it goes back to this: are you saying something that I can feel? I don’t care what it is. I mean, he has songs that talk about what people get off on, and I think the chorus is “whatever gets your dick hard” or something like that, and it’s funny and it relates to me, because there are a lot of people like that. So it’s funny, it’s relatable, and shit like that is important to me, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my newer writing. The seriousness of my writing has always been what I’ve done, but I want to put a new feel on it. I want to have something that more describes who I am. Cause it’s not like I’m this guy in this dark cellar angry, writing, drinking and dying. Sometimes it’s like that. But for the most part I have a different side of my personality that I don’t let into my music and I don’t know why, but it has to come out and for the next full-length solo shit I do I’ll try to find a way to be more relatable by showing off me as a whole verses just me as a serious therapeutic writer.

BC: What about names. Bonus Cut was recently at Philthy’s show where he officially transitioned from Philthy to James. So what’s in a name?

RP: As far as me, if I had a cooler name, if my actual name was cooler, maybe I would go by my real name, but it’s Chris Orrick, it’s like Scottish and it’s just not a cool name. To me there’s nothing in a name I don’t think. I mean you can have people that have cool names and make up these cool names and I thought about dropping Red Pill, but it’s already done, it’s there, that’s what I’m going to be now and it’s fine. I don’t think there’s much in a name. I picked my name, which is from The Matrix obviously, because I was making sure I wasn’t just falling into the system and that’s a lot of what I do with music. I don’t want to be this human zombie that does the same thing with the rest of his life, and that’s fine I mean a lot of people are content with that, and that’s awesome, some people are happy with that pretty standard life, and there’s a part of me that wants part of that too, but I can’t imagine doing a 9 to 5 forever. That’s like the worst thought in the world to me. So I wanted my name to represent staying out of The Matrix, getting out of this whole thing it’s created. Looking back on it, it doesn’t even matter and that’s what I’m saying, there’s nothing in a name. I was probably 18 when I named that name. So I don’t care now, I mean I do and I have this name and I’m going to have to stay with it forever now, but it’s nothing. What I will say about a lot of rappers in general now is a lot of people are going back to just using their name and I think that’s telling of, especially in hip-hop, just being you and completely saying, in Philthy’s case, “I’m James Gardin” and J Young “I’m Jahshua Smith” and stripping that whole stage show mentality. You can’t do that anymore. You have twitter. You have facebook. There’s no allure about artists anymore. We know where they are all the time. You can’t sit and think I wonder what Jay-Z’s doing right now because he just tweeted it, so you know where people are, you know what they’re like and it’s not this big grand stage anymore of entertainers, it’s these people that are real life people that we can see and find any information about them at any point and so I think that might be something to do with it.

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BC: How does Blat! PACK work exactly?

RP: It started as just a collective of artists in Lansing (Michigan). Initially it was only Lansing. Jahshua and James basically started it with Will Ketchum and everything about it was just to strengthen resources. You have this, I have this, let’s work together now we both have those things. It’s worked out. I think that part of what our success and what we’ve been able to do is based entirely on the fact that we’ve worked as a team for a long time. It goes through phases like any group of friends. Sometimes it’s stronger, sometimes you’re not even thinking about it to be honest. Some people have had ideas of it being a label in the future, and to me it’s just like: if we just help each other, I love all those guys they’re all my friends, we’ve expanded and included some people from Detroit, some people have moved away, so it’s like any group of friends and we just have a name. We wanted to work together and make sure that we looked out for each other and we could approach people with a title and it seemed like it was better and it puts the Blat! PACK logo on shit. It makes it just seem a little more professional. At this point it’s not heavily functioning as an entity that’s working together, we just tweet each other stuff and hang out. I was right in the middle of getting into it. I love all those guys, I’ve been friends with them for five years which is actually crazy to say. It’s helped us. We’ve been able to travel to South by Southwest (SXSW) three years in a row and do shows because of that, strictly because we’re able to all pull our resources together and say, “okay let’s rent a van.” There’s 12 of us we can pile into this van, it’s a horrible trip, it’s like the worst thing ever, but we can all get down there. We can go all-in on hotel rooms and when you pull resources even in that sense it helps. When you can split gas to drive to Chicago or Milwaukee and do a show that’s a huge help.

BC: So how was SXSW? How has it been?

RP: First year it was awesome. It was really good. The show that I did was not that great but it was cool because at that point it was the quality of the crowd. At that point Jake Pain (at the time the editor-in-chief of HipHopDX) who Will Ketchum knew came out to that show, and that’s how I was able to secure my HipHopDX Next feature which helped generate some good buzz for me. I got to meet him, I got to put a CD in his hand, we talked so I got to make an impression on him, and then I started getting my shit posted on that site, and it’s one of the biggest hip-hop sites in the world and it’s cool. The second year was a better show and I think it’s where Apollo Brown really backed me and solidified me doing the Ugly Heroes project. And then this year, a couple of months ago, was terrible. I had one show and no one was there, it got cut-off at the end, and all sorts of dumb shit happened. I rented a car and Hir-O just like smashed it into two cars in an alley. The worst part about what happened is that SXSW is this long party, there are plenty of shows you can go to, there’s free alcohol, there’s free food, and it’s awesome, but it’s not this independent artist thing anymore. Corporations have jumped on it really heavily. There was a Doritos stage this year. To me I’m not going back unless I have something major happening. From a fans perspective, if you can get the tickets, they’re expensive, it’s a great great time. I can’t justify spending money to go down there and not be able to get anything done. Everything’s very exclusive now. If you don’t pay the three or four hundred dollars for a damn ticket to be able to go to the shows and get a wristband it’s hard to get into things now. I was really turned off by the whole thing. The worst part for me really was that we’d get up early, try to get a whole bunch of work done, and then by 8 o’clock at night I’m dead tired, I’ve just worn myself out, so now I can’t even go party, I’m like too tired to go party and this is the worst thing ever. I felt like an old man getting to bed at like 10 o’clock in Austin, Texas.

BC: So where’s hip-hop right now?

RP: I think hip-hop is at a great place right now. There’s a ton of good shit out. I don’t stay on top of it enough honestly. I think you’ve got plenty of people doing good music. There’s an overall vibe that I’m feeling that is a changing tide to more personable and relatable and smart actual lyrics again. And not that I’m saying that this has been bad or that hip-hop sucked, I don’t believe in any of that either, I just think it’s good right now. For fans and artists that like smart hip-hop that’s saying something, I think that’s becoming trendy again. I think people want that again. It always has been what it is. It has its moments and music changes, music is always going to change, it’ll start to sound different again, it’ll continue to sound different and evolve and do different things, and you’re going to like certain eras better than others. That’s the same thing with rock, with anything. Hip-hop is old enough now that there’s the 80s, there’s the 90s, there’s the onslaught, so you can kind of pick what these things all sounded like and what you like more about every different part of it. And looking back on it you can kind of pick and choose who were the best acts of that time in hip-hop or what was special about that era. I think most people point to the 90s as the really big birth but to me that’s like talking about the classic rock era and the 60s, late 60s early 70s, where people look back to rock, and that doesn’t mean that rock just sucks or that there’s nothing good out in rock, it just means that maybe was a really interesting and innovative time in rock. And I think people are really going to look back on this era of hip-hop that people have been hating on the last five or six years as a very innovative era of underground hip-hop. I really think people are going to look back on this as a really interesting time in hip-hop where so many different influences were coming in. It wasn’t just a soul sample anymore, it wasn’t even just electronic shit, it was blending all that shit together and throwing influences in from indie rock, from punk, from everything. People are just experimenting like crazy with hip-hop right now and it’s awesome.

For more on Red Pill:

Red Pill’s Blat! PACK page
Red Pill on Twitter (@redpillrap)
Red Pill on Facebook

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Detroit Rapper Red Pill (Part One)

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Chris Orrick (aka Red Pill) of BLAT! Pack is a rapper from Detroit, Michigan who is emerging as a positive voice in hip-hop. Pill’s delivery is both sophisticated and to-the-point as it treads on parallels to the likes of Blu and Atmosphere. Red Pill’s releases Please Tip Your Driver and The Kick (with Hir-O) helped formulate a monstrous repertoire, and his recent project with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent called Ugly Heroes has further backed his immaculate career in hip-hop. In a day and age where people are still struggling to find consistent artists in an ever-expanding culture, Red Pill brings content that hip-hop truly needs.

Red Pill recently sat down with Bonus Cut to discuss issues within hip-hop, the art of writing, his influences, South by Southwest (SXSW), the status of hip-hop today and his Ugly Heroes project.

(Excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Orrick on June 3rd, 2013…)

Bonus Cut (BC): Do you have an agent?

Red Pill (RP): I have a couple guys that work as my management. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Will Ketchum? He went to (Michigan) State too for music journalism. He’s interviewed tons and tons of people in hip-hop. We all work with BLAT! Pack and Will is the manager of p.h.i.l.t.h.y. (AKA James Gardin), Jahshua, Jasmine, myself and Hir-O. The reason that I was interested in doing that was because of all his connections. Through journalism, he’s made all sorts of connections through the blogs and all that stuff. Anything that I’ve been able to do before Ugly Heroes—getting on websites and stuff—has all been based on connections that Will had and just pushing us to these people that he knew, which has been awesome. That’s part of why I’ve been able to generate a little buzz and get my name out there. That’s that “who you know kind of thing.” That’s really what it all amounts to in a lot of cases. You have to have talent to back it up but it’s really about who you know. So, I do have him (Will) and he works for me, does some stuff for me. But I’m trying to figure out what to even do. I need booking, that’s my biggest concern; how to get on the road, how to get on tour. I was actually just talking to Open Mic Eagle that I opened for last night. I was just talking to him about how he got started because that’s my big thing, you gotta get on the road and he’s just grinding it out. I know they didn’t make much money last night, it was a decent show but there wasn’t a whole bunch of people there. They probably got a hundred to a hundred-fifty bucks and they just gotta keep going. He said he started by asking touring rappers if he could do their merch and follow them to shows and if they had 15 minutes, let him get on stage. And I was just like, “that’s crazy.” It’s cool and its something I never thought of, and something I might have to do.

BC: Do you know how long he was doing that for?

RP: I think it was a little over a year or so that he was doing that, and then finally was offered to actually be an opening act. But at the same time he was still required to get himself to every show. He was not getting paid but he was following these guys around. He did a tour from L.A. to Chicago in his own car, his own gas money just trying to sell merch at shows. I think that’s like a “rights of passage” kind of thing with touring and to really understand it you have to do that, cause this Ugly Heroes shit put me on tour in Europe, which is awesome, but it’s not going to be the same because Apollo Brown has just got such a good following out there. I mean, he can make good money touring out there so it’s just set up, its there. You know, it’s like being a fucking rock star out there. He goes to St. Petersburg, Russia and sells out a 2,000 capacity venue. Which is crazy and that’s amazing if we get to do that in the fall, which it looks like we’re probably going to, but I want to be able to tour the U.S. Apollo Brown, his fan base is so international, he has a lot of fans here in the States, but a lot of it is international. I want to be able to make sure that with me that I can sell out a show in Detroit that I can sell out a show in Chicago. Even just the small clubs and venues, doing that and going on a tour here is really important.

BC: Is that because you’re from here?

RP: Yeah, I think at least being able to sell out in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids or wherever in this area is important to me because the home crowd is supporting you. To me that’s important. I want that. It’s amazing to be able to go over to Europe or wherever and tour and do that, but I want it here. I want to be someone that’s important in the scene here, someone that can affect change in the scene here and really be someone that is really a known figure. I’m not mad or bitter at them, but a lot of my predecessors in this scene—you don’t see a lot of them out at shows, you don’t normally see them. You know, they help certain people here and there and that’s fine. But I don’t think you’re going to go to a show right now and see Danny Brown or Black Milk pop up randomly on some supporting local talent. It depends, maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never been to a show where I’ve seen that.

BC: Does Apollo Brown?

RP: You know, I’ve seen him at some stuff. I’ve seen him, but it all depends. Really, the only place I’ve seen him is in Grand Rapids because that’s where he’s originally from. I saw him at a show; I’ve seen him at a couple of the shows I’ve been to.

BC: Going on tour in Europe would be sweet, but it makes sense wanting to be here. It’s the home team kind of thing, this is where you’re from, this is what your music is about and this is what you rap about. Ugly Heroes is about here, about home. It’s interesting and cool to have Europeans that dig the music. There’s obviously some relationship with the music and they understand oppression and shit like that. But they’re not from here.

RP: Yeah like I said, I talk to friends that say the European tour will be amazing. I tell them that I won’t be content unless I can tour the U.S. and do well out here too. They look at me like I’m crazy or like I’m whining or something. It’s not that I’m bitching; it’s an incredible opportunity and if it happens it will be insane. But for my own value and for what I want to do with my music, I’m not going to be happy unless I tour the U.S. and especially Michigan.

BC: That’s a lot of what hip-hop is about. It’s about home and identity.

RP: Right, and that’s huge. Like you said, hip-hop and identity is one of the fundamental parts. I think that applies to everybody though. You are defined in a lot of cases by where you’re from and that definitely shines through in my music I think.

BC: How would you say that you first really got into hip-hop and music in general?

RP: As a kid, I remember always being drawn to music. It was something that I always really enjoyed. I wasn’t huge into sports or really anything else. It wasn’t like at seven or eight I was thinking in terms of I want to be a rapper. But I loved music and I wanted to be involved with music. I think when I was in second or third grade I played saxophone in band. I was in choir in elementary school and then money, my family money, kind of limited that. I used to live right across the street from my elementary school in Redford, but they moved our practices over to the high school and I couldn’t get there in the morning so I had to stop doing it. I do remember as a young kid just really being drawn to music of any kind. At that point, it didn’t matter. We’re young enough where I don’t remember this specific moment where I was like, “Oh, I’ve just now been introduced to hip-hop.” It just was. It was on the radio; it was just what people listened to. It already controlled the mainstream by the mid 90’s. I don’t recall being like, “Oh, I love hip-hop now.” But, I do think that it really strongly took over my taste at a young age. I liked everything and I still like everything. But with hip-hop, something about it was speaking to me more than other things and I don’t know if it was growing up without a lot of money. It’s not like I could put on Get Rich or Die Tryin and relate with what 50 Cent was saying but there were bits and pieces where you could kinda bridge those gaps. The rags to riches story or something where you don’t have much and you don’t like that about your life and you see this guy—just to keep running with that example—where he rose out of that and was able to do something positive with his life and make a lot of money off of it. That’s what I related to most about anything like that. That was early, listening to like just pop radio. You know, pop hip-hop. Early on, I was probably listening to Ja-Rule, Ludacris and just shit that was on the radio. Dr. Dre, when The Chronic: 2001 came out, like that stuff. Whatever was on the radio. It was the shit that me and my friends were listening to and we would talk about it. I remember going to school and watching MTV before school and talking about it right when we got into school. In elementary school, we would talk about what video just came out. Eminem was a huge influence on me, for a number of reasons. I related to him when he came out. He was from Detroit and whether I admitted it or not, the white thing, he looked like me so it was easier to relate. When I really got into writing though, I was like twelve or thirteen. I can’t remember exactly but I moved form Redford to Howell with my family. My grandfather owned the house that we lived in and my dad couldn’t pay. He was having trouble with money, he had lost his job and was trying to start his own cell phone business and that was really bad. Money was just terrible and so my grandfather evicted us. He gave us a time frame; he had to get his money and shit or whatever. I haven’t seen him since then. We ended up moving to Howell in this apartment and I just felt—I didn’t like it—I didn’t like Howell at all. It didn’t feel the same to me; I grew up in Redford. It’s not like it was a bad neighborhood or anything but it felt like the city to me, I could ride my bike to Seven-Eleven. All my friends lived within a certain couple of blocks of me and shit. In Howell, everything was spread out and it wasn’t diverse. I’m sure you know a little about Howell’s history where there’s old KKK shit out there. It’s a different world and I was very opposed to it and felt like I didn’t belong there. I ended up meeting a lot of good people, my girlfriend now, but at the time I was young and I guess the move impacted me enough that I was like, “I don’t care, I’m not going to school, fuck it, I’m not doing any of this shit. I’m just going to write and just be rapper.” And I didn’t tell anyone about it, like no one, I wasn’t embarrassed but it was something I did personally and come up with this idea in my mind to do this. I just started writing, like all the time. That was probably the most I’ve ever written, ever. I don’t write nearly as much as I did when I was thirteen, fourteen.

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BC: When you’re talking about writing, what is the process? Are you literally talking about writing rhymes as your fourteen or you talking about writing stories? What is writing to you, what does that mean?

RP: It’s everything. For the most part now I’ve really just gotten to writing raps. I write very small amounts of poetry, I don’t share that. It’s in my notebooks, its there. For me, it was writing raps for the most part. It was stuff like that or ideas or writing about how I felt. That was the biggest thing for me. I was able to use writing, as cliché as it is, for therapy or whatever. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t have people to talk to; I didn’t have any friends in Howell. I was too young to drive, so I couldn’t go visit my friends all the time. I was just alone. I didn’t want to make friends first of all, even if people tried I was like, “I don’t like these kids, they’re not my friends. I have friends.” So, I would sit in my room and listen to beats. I think for most people you start out emulating. Whether it was trying to write like Xzibit or whoever else. It was all about writing songs.

BC: How were your first raps?

RP: I’ve looked back on some of the stuff and I can see where I started to understand how to actually write a rap song. It would just be like free-flow. It made no sense, it was just writing, it would rhyme in weird spots and it made no sense at all. Eventually, I started figuring it out. I don’t know how it happened but somehow I taught myself that this free-flow of nonsense wasn’t actually a song.

BC: Do you go back sometimes and use ideas that you might’ve had back when you were fourteen to influence you?

RP: Not recently. I used to a lot more. It’ll be like a period of time where it’ll be like four or five months that I might go back and revisit lines. If I had an idea for a song, I’ll write it down. I guess in a sense I still have ideas for songs that I had from back when I was fifteen that I just haven’t done yet. I still want to do them but I don’t know if I’m good enough yet or would even approach it. I pick from other things. At work now, at the plant, we have these sheets that we’re supposed to be filling out and doing inspections on. I have stacks of these papers that are just folded up and greasy, just covered in dirt and shit that just have raps on them. It’s actually terrifying to think about because I know there’s a lot of good shit in there but a lot of my writing’s actually happening now at the plant. I don’t know why, I think it’s like the repetitiveness and the horrible boringness of standing at these machines all day that’s generating what I’m thinking about or getting me creative. There are just stacks of that shit and I gotta go through those and figure out what’s good and make sense of what’s in there. We’re supposed to just be working so I’m like scribbling these as fast as I can and shoving it back in my pocket. Notebooks, for a while I was in between like five or six notebooks. In general I’m scatter-brained and not organized. It sucks; it’s fucked me up in school. So with my writing I’m trying to fix that. I stick to one notebook now, but now have these stacks of greasy plant pages that are just piling up now and I don’t know what to do with them.

BC: How do you deal with writer’s block?

RP: I just don’t anymore. I don’t try to fight it if it’s not happening. I constantly feel lazy, which is weird. I don’t know, my girlfriend tells me I work too hard and so maybe it’s like a complex of this constant feeling that I’m not working hard enough. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but it makes me feel like shit everyday. Then I think, I had The Kick come out and then Ugly Heroes. I have another project I’m about to record next week and I’m still working on new shit with Hir-O again. So in reality I look at what I’m doing and I can see it, but it still doesn’t feel like I’m doing enough. It never feels like I’m doing enough. I get out of work and I never feel comfortable just sitting, even if I’m just not doing anything. I’m always trying to be productive, at least attempting or giving myself the illusion that I’m being productive, even if I’m not. That’s something that I realized recently. So the writer’s block for me—writing just comes and goes for me. I’m not the guy that’s on a writing regimen; I think there are writers that will go and force themselves everyday to do this and try to do it everyday. Sometimes it works for me but for the most part I’ve stopped trying to fight and if its not happening, it’s not happening. I’m not being productive by writing shit that isn’t good. If it’s not good, it’s not good. I’m not going to use it anyways. I’ve gone through bouts of like nine months where I don’t write, that hasn’t happened in a long time, it’s usually about a couple weeks. I’ll go a couple weeks where I don’t do anything and then all of a sudden I’ll write three songs in two days. It makes up for it. It’s a when it rains it pours kind of thing.

BC: So you have your raps that are words on a page. What is like when you try to transition those words into having the beats and production in the studio? Are you hearing a beat in your head when you write? How does it all come together?

RP: For the most part I write to a beat. I don’t do a lot of the whole free verse. Sometimes I do, and sometimes it works out really well but for the most part I’m writing to a beat. I need the music, the actual music itself, to inspire what I want to write about.

BC: So will Apollo Brown, for example, give you a beat and then you write your lyrics?

RP: Yeah, that’s exactly how that works. With the Apollo Brown project, Ugly Heroes, he’d send me and Verbal Kent four to six beats in batches and we’d just get to work on them. He just sent them to us, put them in a drop box for us, and we just went with it. So we’d get the beats and probably a couple hours later we’d have a conversation about the beats that we liked. There would be times where both of us would really like a beat and we’d go with it. It’s the same thing with Hir-O. I wait on him to send me a beat and then I work with it. The inspiration that I get from the sound is how I work best. I can write stuff, and I do write stuff all the time, but my writing is so dependent on the actual flow and rhythm of the beat. The patterns that I come up with are based on what’s happening with the beat and I’m trying to find my space within that. Even as far as tone and if there’s any type of melody to what I’m saying is all because of the beat. I need that to tell me how to write.

BC: When you’re working on a project, do you spend a lot of time in the studio?

RP: Apollo Brown has this formula and it works which is a huge reason why I think he’s there. It’s a very rigid formula so I didn’t spend a lot of time with he and Verbal Kent. I had never met Verbal Kent before this project; I had only heard his name like one time. I had never heard his music, nothing. But, we ended up connecting and becoming really good friends throughout the course of the project; he’s a really cool guy. We probably met like twice before we actually got in the studio and we didn’t really work on any writing together. We did a little bit, but it was just rapping verses to each other and trying to figure out choruses for songs. With Apollo Brown and his music, I really think he believes in simplicity and the good that can come out of it and I really like that about what he does. Now, Hir-O is the opposite and I see both sides and I like both. I think we did three recording sessions in Royal Oak, Verbal Kent came up from Chicago, and we spent fourteen or fifteen hours total in the studio and we just knocked it out. With Apollo’s music I wasn’t trying to be flashy. The music was there, the sound was there and the style called for just rapping. I didn’t need to get crazy or try anything weird. For me, I felt like we’re here to tell a story over these beats, I’m not going to get flashy. I think the last track, “Push,” is where if I was doing any sort of different patterns and shit, that was probably the only time I really did anything like that on the whole album. It’s simple, it’s Apollo’s formula and it’s what sounds good. It’s what his fans like because to me hip-hop is it’s own thing. There’s rock, there’s punk-rock, country and all these things fall into one category. For me, hip-hop does the same thing now. You don’t have all these names. Sometimes you do. You have “Swag Rap” or “Gangsta Rap” so they have different names for it but for what Apollo is doing it’s a classic sound. So for me it’s like Jack White saying he’s going to write a Country album or something. He’s going to go do it and he’s going to do it in the style that would be expected of that genre. You’re going to know it’s Jack White and it’s going to sound like him. It’s the same with me, you know it’s my music and it’s something I’m doing but it’s for that sound, it’s for that crowd. I try to cater to that with my writing and make sure I like what I was doing with that writing.

BC: So how did the concept of Ugly Heroes come to be?

RP: Ugly Heroes was all Apollo Brown’s idea. He approached me about it. He had the concept; he knew he wanted to do a group album with two MCs and a producer in the vain of Little Brother with 9th Wonder, Phonte and Big Pooh. He approached me with the idea and I liked it. It’s supposed to represent the everyday person. It was the same thing with Verbal Kent. We got approached by him [Apollo Brown] and got brought into his idea and what he was doing. So it already made sense to me, it was already something that I could easily speak about. That’s my life. I come from the working class like most of us so I didn’t have to change who I was or anything. Stylistically, it’s what I was doing, just straightforward hip-hop. That was the purpose of this album. Just simple, clean raps, easy hooks and that’s it. I didn’t have to think too hard about it, which is good. I could just write.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this interview!

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Hip-Hop and Its Influence: An Interview With David Kirkland (Part Two)

By: Gus Navarro

This is the second half of a two-part interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland about hip-hop and its educational impact. Dr. Kirkland is a professor at Michigan State University and one of the coordinators of ULITT and directors of CAITLAH. In this part of the interview, Dr. Kirkland comments on the transformative power of hip-hop education. For additional context, check out the first half part of this interview which can be found here.

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

GN: In what ways does hip-hop manifest itself in education and educational circles?

DK: Right, so let me just say there are two things in education. You can talk about hip-hop in education. Some of us have talked about hip-hop in education, ways to use hip-hop to teach other things. And so you can do that. We call it scaffolding or bridging. You can use Tupac in order to teach the classics if you will. You can use Tupac in order to teach literary devices and elements like chiasmus, consonants, and other types of rhetorical literary ideas or entities. You can use rap in order to create a mnemonic device to memorize mathematics, its been done. I call that hip-hop in education. But hip-hop education is the type of education or pedagogy that hip-hop is established in. Hip-hop teaches. It works in the tradition of the African Griot. It works in that oral tradition, it works in the oral tradition of the street press where individuals would come together and they would collect stories and they would collect histories. It works in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History in the sense that it has its own pedagogy, its own moment. So the cypher becomes this space where everyone is equal but at the same time in order to be elevated within that cypher, the cypher is trying you. Its like a cauldron, it invites you in, but it doesn’t let you remain the same, you have to put your energy out there; you have to be vulnerable. So, hip-hop education suggests a vulnerability, it has its own language, its language is rap. And rap isn’t just the science of rhyme; it’s the science of truth. So when we hear hip-hop artists talking about rap, the thing that makes rap significant isn’t just a rhyme, it’s that it gets close to truth. It’s saying things that people realize. This is hip-hop education. Hip-hop education is the element of pedagogy, the element of education that exists within the hip-hop idea. And it’s not necessarily the traditional education that we understand or know.

GN: So going off of that, can hip-hop education or hip-hop pedagogy exist in mainstream schools?

DK: I think hip-hop in education can exist in mainstream schools, but hip-hop education is a school in and of itself. I think schooling should and can be informed by hip-hop. We should do school more like we do hip-hop. We should have cyphers break out that invite people, we should break down the walls of schooling and construct education and the education imagination based on how people understand and live life today. And hip-hop gives us a glimpse into that. So if we think about education and how it’s constructed today we have to go back to history. We have to go back to post-industrial history where you had labor laws that prohibited youth from working. So we needed some repositories to place these kids so we constructed these entities and the architect of these entities were usually the architects of prisons and factories. We also had this really interesting agrarian culture; what to do in the winter? So we set up this thing where you go to school in the winter and in the summer you don’t. So the imagination around how we look at schooling today isn’t necessarily the most effective way to do school for now because it was based on a society and culture that is long past. So there is an argument to re-think education anyhow. But hip-hop gives us this third space, this site of really interesting creation, both pedagogical creation as well as performative creation coming together to inform the ways that people learn; the way that the mind is impressed upon. And I think that’s important.

GN: I think it is too and off of that, what do you do at Michigan State to carry these things out? Is it just in class or are there other programs that you’re involved in within MSU? And what is the approach to these programs?

DK: Well Michigan State University is a hegemonic space. It’s a fairly traditional space with really good people in it pushing against traditions. But there is one thing about dominant hegemony is that they have gravity to them. We can pull up, but we can only pull so long before the thing gets heavy and it falls back in its place. But I have done some things at Michigan State University within my classes because I think it’s important. This goes back to the question of why teach hip-hop? I don’t want to teach hip-hop because it engages youth, that’s important. I can give the youth candy, that will engage them too and it will hurt their teeth. I teach hip-hop because it’s smart to do so. We teach Shakespeare, we teach Dante, we teach all these other people I called “hip-hopgraphers.” We teach them because it’s smart to do so. If in the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity? I teach it because it’s smart to teach hip-hop. I’m not going to wait until Tupac is dead a hundred years to say, “wow, lets reflect on this.” We need to reflect on it now. Because by reflecting on it, it gives us a way to understand ourselves in powerful and important ways and to re-shape the world that we live in, so that it can be more inviting and more beneficial to more people. So I say that to say, I teach it in my class because I have to, because its what makes us smart by studying and examining hip-hop today. I also created a set of interventions. One intervention is our Urban Literacies Institute for Transformative Teaching (ULITT). It is a hip-hop pedagogy retreat that I brought to Michigan State University. This year is our second year into that, and we’ve seen transformative results. I got an email today from a teacher that told me that one of her participants told her that the event changed her life. That she found healing as well as strategy through it and for me, that’s important. So I’m trying to open up spaces at Michigan State University. I don’t know how long those spaces will be open before the powers that be close them, but for as long as we can keep them open, we’re going keep them open.

GN: Thank you very much, I appreciate you sitting down with me and talking.

DK: Thank you.

It is important to reflect on the purpose of schooling and education. The public school system as we know it comes from the Technological Revolution of the early 19th century. Schools were modeled after factories that were essential to the United State’s economy. Kids get union breaks too, its just called recess. As students move through school they are indoctrinated into the “American Way” and are prepared to enter the work force by the end of their education. Having the skills to find a job is in no way a bad thing, but it may be time to approach this in a different way. With the continual push towards globalization our world cannot function without things such as computers, the Internet and smart phones. Nowadays there are so many ways in which we can express ourselves and connect with people. Using hip-hop as a worldview, as a way of reading the world and interacting with others allows teachers and students to collaborate and learn together. Hip-hop education gets away from the one-size fits all educational model of testing and standardization. Hip-hop education creates a space where students are encouraged to create and learn using multiple disciplines such as writing, music, film, photography, art and dance all while pushing students to develop the agency to navigate the complex society we live in. When we focus on testing, we are not supporting students to be curious and ask conceptual questions about their communities. If we want to use hip-hop education, we have to be willing to change how we do school and how we teach students. To build off Dr. Kirkland’s statement, he is not talking about using lyrics to teach the 50 states. That is hip-hop in education and super status quo. Instead, he is talking about using the worldview of hip-hop to teach students to be curious, critical, vulnerable and to use their experiential knowledge. As Dr. Kirkland explains, “In the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity?” This is not a traditional model of education, but it is time that we at least consider what this could do for our students as they grow and learn about the world around them.

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

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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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