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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Bambu

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By: Gus Navarro

I want to start where Bambu de Pistola ended his show. Drenched in sweat after ripping up the stage for a solid forty-five minutes, he spoke to the crowd. With Dead Prez’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” thumping behind him, he stressed to us that while artists such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and himself make music from a radical perspective, it doesn’t start and end with the music. He explained that if you’re simply into the music, you’re just a fan. There is nothing wrong with being a fan, but in order to demand change, people need to go out and take it. Communities have to organize and come together around the issues that are important to them. Hip-hop is absolutely a powerful manifestation of this, but it can’t end when your favorite album reaches the outro.

Representing Los Angeles and currently residing in Oakland, Bambu walks and talks the life he raps about. Whether it’s on his 2012 release, …one rifle per family., or his recent album, Party Worker, you will find an MC that reps his Filipino-American heritage to the fullest and is unafraid to tell it like it is with politically charged, and at times, humorous lyricism. Following the show, we sat down and chopped it up over the creation of his new his record, his work as a community organizer, raising a child and some of the albums that were most influential to him. Being on tour can be hectic, so I appreciate his willingness to sit down and speak with me following his performance.

Bonus Cut (BC):  Based on your experiences, what has hip-hop meant to you?

Bambu:  It’s been positive. I grew up around hip-hop so it was just always a part of my life in some form or fashion before we even labeled it hip-hop. It was just always around. It’s difficult to figure out where it fits in because it runs parallel with all the significant moments in my life. It’s a difficult question to answer, but I think the bottom line is that it’s been a positive experience for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s saved my life, but it’s given my life direction.

BC:  Do you want to talk about your time in the military?

Bambu:  I mean there’s not much to say. It was a strong suggestion I was given. I had been getting in trouble, a lot. I got locked up for armed robbery. I was let off house arrest and on probation and upon my release from house arrest I moved in with my adopted family. Then joined the military. I started to become politicized only because I was starting to see things from within. I went to East Timor, and saw people that looked just like me. I heard what people said about them, and came home with a different fervor. And you know, George Bush was in office so it was pretty easy to put a critical eye on things.

BC:  I work with youth in underprivileged communities and the military is presented as a viable option as far as getting out of the hood. For me to even say that is just wrong.

Bambu:  Yeah I mean it’s calculated. It’s marketed that way to us. And they specifically target low-income, marginalized communities. I was talking to a security guard yesterday, a young kid who had just turned eighteen. He was working security at the venue we were at last night, and he was going to boot camp in a few days. We were talking about what he was going to experience and go through. He was telling me how they just brought the ASVAB test to him. They make recruiting so easy.

BC:  And this is something we see throughout history.

Bambu:  Right. It’s the school-to-prison pipeline system, but also the school-to-military system as well. It’s one or the other.

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BC:  As you’ve already said, hip-hop is a positive thing, and was for you specifically. That being said, is there a side of it that isn’t positive?

Bambu:  I mean there’s a lot of lying in hip-hop. That’s something I don’t need to speak on that much. I think anyone with intelligence knows that half of these cats out there are lying. I’m hoping we don’t believe it. Yeah, it can influence kids. But I don’t think it influences kids more than what’s actually going on in their communities. It’s their life. The problem is that somebody else is getting paid from exploiting them. That is the negative side, and that usually comes with the business side of hip-hop. All of this is very calculated. I don’t think it’s an accident that record labels put money behind and push certain kinds of music.

BC:  As a community organizer, what is the work that you’re involved in?

Bambu:  As of recently, I’ve been working a lot on my music. I did youth and student organizing. I started working for a non-profit that I love dearly called People’s CORE, People’s Community Organization for Reform Empowerment, where we would go out to the community and try to create small people’s organizations and help facilitate that. We would try and find communities that needed us. We’d go in and try to identify issues. The last campaign I worked on with them was a smoke-free multi-unit housing project. We taught about the tobacco industry, how they work, their marketing ploys and things like that. While I’m in Oakland, I’m a full time dad, a “domestic engineer” if you will. My partner, Rocky Rivera, she does a lot of the community organizing. There was one year while I was doing it, and now she’s doing it. We just try and balance it out with being at home with our son. It’s too tough to have two community organizers going full time with a kid. 

BC:  Things must change when you have a child.

Bambu:  Yeah, it definitely puts things into perspective. Even to your ideology and political work.

BC:  How so?

Bambu:  Ideology wise, you start to realize that you gave a shit before. Now that you have a child, you really give a shit now. This means something to you. Not that it didn’t before. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve had a child. You see your child, and you start to genuinely care about what happens in the future. For that reason alone, the way I thought ten years ago compared to now isn’t necessarily different, but it’s more mature.

BC:  What are some of the books that influenced your thinking and that you really learned from?

Bambu:  The first book I ever sat and read, front to back, was in the day room of the Los Padrinos Detention Center. You had the option to either go outside and play basketball or stay inside a read books. I stayed in there and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. Wonderful book. I felt like it related to me. This was before even all the hype around the nation (of Islam) through hip-hop and what not. That book made me feel powerful. For a long time I just felt worthless and stupid and dumb. Here was a guy who came from worse conditions and he managed to transform that same energy, not change, but mature that attitude and that energy into something that was structured and uplifting. That was beautiful to me. That’s where little things started to spark in my mind. What I will say is that along the way, hip-hop influenced a lot of my life. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate is an album I praise like some people praise the Bible. I pull verses from it, you know? I wrote a whole song about it on …one rifle per family. It was powerful for me and forced me to read books. It forced me to read Native Son because I was searching, I was looking and that really opened the door for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have even read those books and I’d rather talk about that.

BC:  What are some of those albums?

Bambu:  Kam’s Neva Again blew my mind the first time I heard it. The Coup’s first album, Kill My Landlord, love that album front to back. Let’s Get Free by Dead Prez. As a youth, I would hear what they were rappin’ about, and I’d want to take that bar or line and research it. Where does this come from? Why is it this way? I learned so much before I even traveled the country. I already knew about some of the cultures. I had a sense about the mid-west, northwest and east coast, all because of hip-hop. I understood that there was a different language, but our struggles were the same. Jeru the Damaja’s first album, The Sun Rises in the East, developed my sound so much. I come from a time, in the Freestyle Fellowship era, where rap was a lot of giant words for no reason. I say no reason because I sucked at it. Those brothas, Freestyle Fellowship and Project Blowed did that to the utmost. We were mimicking it, we thought we just had to use giant words just to mimic them. That’s where I came from. Then I listened to things like Mobb Deep’s The Infamous. Prodigy was saying such powerful things with such a short amount of words. He wasn’t killing you with all these bars, just throwin’ em at your face. He would say, “My gun shots’ll make you levitate.” That’s it. That’s all that I needed to know! That was poetic in just one bar. We gotta stop there or I’ll just keep going…

BC:  What was some of the music that was in your house growing up?

Bambu:  Carlos Santana was in my house a lot. My dad was a huge Santana fan. I remember a Tower of Power LP. My mom listened to horrible shit like Doris Day. My mom was corny with that whole music thing.

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BC:  Speaking of family and heritage, can you speak on some of the history of American colonization and how that has affected Filipino-Americans living in the United States but also in the Philippines?

Bambu:  Yeah so the Phillipines was a colonized territory, a strategic launching point, militarily and tradewise. Everyone wanted to be on those set of islands, it was a gateway to the Orient. The United States came in, put their puppet in play and did what they do best; colonize. All this began during the late 1800’s, but the U.S. still has a very strong influence on the islands, monetarily and even through the government. Militarily, the Philippines are very dependent on the United States. Land is getting exploited by companies that stem from the United States. For example, Nestle. All these companies come and what happens is that you force people to leave their homes. There’s nothing there for them anymore, the land is depleted. What you pay them is not enough to survive and the wealth is owned, just like here (the United States), by a very few. So then there’s this move to migrate. The way that it’s connected is that a lot of the money that is being recycled within the Philippines, especially on the neighborhood level, comes from the United States. Now there’s this huge push for tourism in the Philippines, which is just going to fuck the country up. You’re going to allow the Hiltons, which Paris Hilton already has a club there, and the Trumps to build on this land and ultimately push people out and force people into the service industry, and then they won’t have any self-sufficiency.

BC:  Have you been to the Philippines before?

Bambu:  Yeah and I’m going back this December. I try and go once or twice a year.

BC:  That’s cool. What’s it like there?

Bambu:  It’s beautiful. I have kind of a different experience when I go there. Usually when I go home it’s in a performance capacity. What’s great about that is that I have access to a different world while I also have one foot in the organizing community, and I have one foot with the masa, with the people. I can go and see that side, do the work there, and then go to this club in a nicer part of town and perform. I’m privileged to see both worlds. The corrupt, the shitty and you know, the people on the ground.

BC:   Do you see your new album, Party Worker, as a continuation of your previous record, …One rifle per family.?

Bambu:  No, no. If you look at my album catalogue, and this is calculated, I always have ellipses that go with my titles. So if you notice, One Rifle Per Family has a period at the end (…One Rifle Per Family.) because that series of albums is done. I felt like One Rifle was it for me. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it does for a (Brother) Ali or somebody else who’s done this for a while. Making this kind of music took me a long time. To figure out my path, I had to be in a group called Native Guns. I had to learn a lot of things before I could do an album like …One Rifle Per Family. I did it and I was like, “Dope. I said what I wanted to say. That Bambu is done.” Party Worker is a whole new venture. I wrote three versions of this album. The first version I wrote was a party record. It was a lot of party music on stupid ass beats. It was dumb. I had received all of this money from a kickstarter campaign I did. The label (Beat Rock Music) has always taken care of me, so this was the first time money like that was in my account. I was like, “Oh shit, party time!” So I’m writin’ this party music and it was shit. Then I decided to throw the party outside the window and go with the worker. So then I wrote this really pro-union, socialist record that was heavily influenced by punk. And I didn’t like that either. Not that it was a bad record, the party version was horrible, but this worker one wasn’t what I wanted to project. Then I put the two together and realized a rapper is essentially a “party worker.” The DJ is the party and what we do is help them along. Then I said, “What if rappers had a grassroots people’s organization, what would that sound like? What would that meeting sound like?” And that’s all I did.

BC: I totally got that vibe when I listened to it. Some of my favorite moments of the album are the interludes because you really do feel as if you’re sitting and participating in this meeting.

Bambu:  Thank you, man! That’s exactly what I was going for. Conceptually, Party Worker is similar to Barrel Men, the Native Guns album we did. It starts with a kid getting jumped into a gang, and the gang was the Native Guns. He gets jumped into it throughout the album. It goes from this really hard stuff to this more cultural stuff. Party Worker kind of mirrors that through the meeting interludes. I’m very proud of it and I got to work with Phatty, man! I always wanted to work with DJ Phatrick. If you like the album, half of it is all him. I entrusted that album to him. We wrote and we recorded in this hotel. We shut down this hotel floor and we had rooms for recording. My boy Roy Choi hooked it up! He gave us two rooms and we built up this studio in there. I slept, woke up, wrote and recorded there for four days. We had guests come in, we put them on album and it was great.

BC:  So it kind of was like a meeting.

Bambu: It was, it was. And then when I was done with that, I left it in Phatty’s hands and went on tour. The record was really put together by Phatty. I wrote it and he did what I wanted him to do. It was beautiful and I’m very, very proud of that of that record. I’m never doing a kickstarter again, though. Never. That shit was tough. I still haven’t talked to the IRS about it. I can’t wait for that conversation.

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The Return of Dave Chappelle and a Look Back at His Block Party

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Starting on June 18th and running through the 26th, Dave Chappelle will be performing in New York City for the first time since 2004. Over the course of eight days, Chappelle will be at Radio City Music Hall, reminding audiences why he is one of the great comedians of our time. While the first five nights will not soon be forgotten, the last three will be monumental. On the 24th, the program includes a performance by the Legendary Roots Crew. The following night, Chappelle will be joined by Busta Rhymes, DJ Premier and Janelle Monae. Finally, the one and only Erykah Badu will grace the stage as Chappelle’s return to NYC comes to a close. With these last three nights, the goal is to bring back the magic that occurred ten years ago.

In 2004, Chappelle set up and hosted an all-day concert in Brooklyn with some of the the most respected and explosive musicians in the business back then and currently. To name a few, Kanye West, The Fugees, Dead Prez, John Legend, Yasiin Bey, Talib Kweli, Common, Erykah Badu and The Roots were all there sharing the stage. The footage of that day was eventually released in 2005 as Block Party, a feature length documentary film written by Dave Chappelle and directed by Michel Gondry. Dedicated to the memory of J Dilla, Block Party gives us a glimpse into a day of hip-hop that was full of dope artists, great music, a loving crowd and an amazing concert. Whether you enjoy or dislike the comedy of Dave Chappelle, the man knows his music and how to bring artists together. In anticipation of his run at Radio City Music Hall, we take a look back at ten of our favorite hip-hop moments from his show on Comedy Central and from Block Party.

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Digging Deeper: Martin Luther King Jr. And His Revolution Of Values

By: Gus Navarro 

On April 4th, 1967, Dr. King gave one of his most important speeches: “Beyond Vietnam.” A year to the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee he spoke from New York City about the hegemonic implications of the Vietnam War and the racism, materialism and militarism embedded within the political, social and economic ethos of the United States.

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All Eyez on Me: The George Zimmerman Trial and Hip-Hop’s Defense of Trayvon Martin

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By: Daniel Hodgman

All Eyez on Me

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In the 17 days since the beginning of the George Zimmerman trial, I have tried to keep in touch with everything that has been going on. Like millions of Americans, I’m invested in this case. From the very start of the Trayvon Martin story we’ve delved deep down into the rabbit hole of topics that range from race to national gun laws to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Out of all these topics—which are all important in their own right—I still can’t get over one simple thing: George Zimmerman, after being told not to follow someone he deemed “suspicious looking,” decided it was in his best interest to continue pursuing his target, which ultimately lead to a 17-year-old black male with Skittles and Arizona Tea dead on the grass with a bullet in his chest.

And yet, the more I think about this story, the more it isn’t surprising.

I’m sorry for such a pessimistic view on the nature, but if we look at some things—more specifically the slayings and unjust nature against young black youth and minorities in America—how are we at this point surprised by these events when our country is yet to progress? Need I mention Oscar Grant? Or what about Nicholas K. Pert’s riveting story about N.Y.P.D. behavior against black males in New York City? In a day and age where we are almost 50 years removed from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963), it seems that our progression as a whole doesn’t even come close to what civil rights activists in the 60s had hoped for in a 50 year span.

So with that, this is why the George Zimmerman case and Trayvon Martin story are important. And although it’s far from being the only one worthy of discussion—it’s amazing how mainstream media will invest everything into a certain story without focusing on others as well—it’s the closest America as a whole will get to understanding the core issues of civil rights in the 24 hour news cycle.

Stakes is High

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Maybe it’s because we’re in an age of technological advancement and online everything, or maybe it’s because news outlets realize the magnitude of this case, but everything in the George Zimmerman trial is being taped and broadcast. This itself is a beauty, because we as a nation don’t have to take a reporter’s word or script to pass judgment; we can literally sit at our television and watch this unfold. And maybe, just maybe, this will ease the aftermath.

See, the Casey Anthony case was stunning, and the Kermit Gosnell trial was frightening and just, but the George Zimmerman case is extremely important in that the verdict will extend far beyond the reaches of the courtroom. Whatever verdict is decided at the end of this trial, it is a guarantee that this won’t signify the end of the story. If taping the entire trial for people to follow and judge for themselves as it unfolds helps ease some, then this is needed. More importantly, getting this first-hand look at the trial gives us a sense of actually knowing the story from witnesses and accounts.

The trial itself, at least through the first 17 days, has been patchy on both sides. From the jury selection, to the opening statements, and to the witnesses, both the prosecutors and defense team have gone through each and every ring a case could possibly throw.

At the end of the jury selection, it was decided that six women would consist of the jury with four alternates (the jury only has six members because second-degree murder cases in Florida only call for six jurors). Five of those women are white, and one is Latina.

Now what does it matter if the six jurors are women and that five are white and one is Latina? Why should there be questions asked? Well, for one let’s look at this case: first, the Trayvon Martin shooting has and will always focus mainly on race, because the details behind the altercation make it so (George Zimmerman was a Latino and Trayvon Martin was a black teenager; Trayvon looked like a “punk” and was “suspicious”). Beyond this, the jury selection was chosen for the benefit of both the prosecutors and defense: the prosecutors agreed upon this jury because to them, women have that instinct that Trayvon was just a kid, and that this would stir feelings of “that could have been my son.” On the other hand, the defense team agreed upon this jury because they wanted to emphasize the fact that Trayvon was a black male wearing a hoodie, and that he looked “suspicious,” trying to evoke feelings in the jury that this kid could have been trouble if they were in the vicinity. From the very get-go this trial continued to play on stereotypes, no matter how big or small they were.

As the actual trial started to commence, it looked like the prosecutors were gaining the upper hand. The defense team began their opening statements with a distasteful “knock-knock” joke, and the opening statements made by assistant state attorney John Guy directly used George Zimmerman’s line he said on the phone that went like this:

“Fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”

Guy later went on to say:

“Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy who he didn’t know … Those were the words in that man’s chest when he got out of his car armed with a loaded semi-automatic pistol and two flashlights to follow on foot Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who was walking home from a 7-Eleven … Those were the words in that defendant’s head moments before he pressed that pistol into Trayvon Martin’s chest and pulled that trigger.”

After day one, it looked like justice would be swift and vigilant. It looked, at least during that very moment, that George Zimmerman was doomed for what he rightfully deserved: second-degree murder.

And yet, as the trial wore on, things started to get shaky. The prosecuting team’s witnesses thus far have failed to fully bring the information they were hoping for that would pin George Zimmerman. This is especially true with Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old friend of Trayvon Martin who was talking to him that night. Not only was it hard to understand her on the stand, she was also caught with providing misleading information and wrapping herself up in contradictions. Comparatively, other witnesses have only bolstered Zimmerman’s case for self-defense, claiming that Martin was throwing punches and Zimmerman was pinned.

So as we stand, 17 days later and still in the midst of this trial, here’s what’s important:

  1. No matter what the verdict of this case is, remember: George Zimmerman was the one who decided to follow Trayvon Martin, even after being told not to by authorities. We still don’t know who started the initial fight, but this fact is important to retain.
  2. Despite the prosecuting team’s disappointing run of witnesses thus far, remember Zimmerman’s quote from opening statements: “fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away.”
  3. At this point, it looks like a lot of the evidence is pointing towards a worthy case of self-defense by Zimmerman. Even more disheartening is that the chances of him being convicted of second-degree murder are slim. If anything, he will get charged for manslaughter and will likely get a reduced sentence. His chances of walking are still high.
  4. Most important, no matter what happens, we as a community stand behind Trayvon Martin, his family and all of the similar injustices that plague not only our country, but our world as well.

Which leads me to this.

Anthem Inc.

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If you can remember way back towards the very beginning, you’ll remember that Zimmerman wasn’t even taken in for a crime. In fact, it was Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law that actually shielded him from such an event. It took protests, petitions, “million hoodie marches,” demonstrations ,vocal output and action to actually bring authorities around to arresting Zimmerman and charging him for second-degree murder.

One of the biggest groups behind Trayvon Martin and the calling for social justice was the hip-hop community. Not only were there demonstrations and peace talks, but also artists and MCs (both high on the spectrum and underground) were making dedication songs to a story that is all too familiar in the hip-hop realm.

In an article with MTV, Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D pointed out:

“I’m pretty much not the one to be told that a trial is going to make everybody feel straight and clear … The obvious point is that this young man lost his life from an unjust situation, and it needs to be hammered home. That’s bottom line.”

In the same article, rapper Game goes on to talk about the historical relevance of the Trayvon Martin story:

“For some reason, people don’t think that they need any excuse to kill us, beat us, hit us, run us over, disrespect us or anything like that. This is just another reminder that stupidity still exists.”

And even going past race, hip-hop recognizes that this story touches so close to the community because Trayvon was only a kid. Chuck D’s wife, Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson points out:

“We’re talking about a grown armed man who shot an unarmed child, regardless of race.”

From the outpour and concerns, the hip-hop community has also unleashed a plethora of tribute songs. And although some are better than others, a situation like this shouldn’t be judged on musicality, but sincerity.

On Jasiri X’s song “Trayvon,” he raps over the fitting beat of “No Church in the Wild” to explain the event that took place. It’s a haunting tale, especially over the churning production of “No Church…,” but its Jasiri’s vocal cadence and lyrical detail that reinforces both strength and sadness regarding this story.

“He had just came up from Miami to see his daddy / Who knew such a great weekend would end badly? / In a place where you move because it’s safe for your family / When some people gotta have grown hate for your family.”

Alternatively, on “Date of My Death (Trayvon Martin),” Tahir Jahi tells about continual injustices and the fight “for whatever is left.”

“Sick of innocent getting wronged by the ignorant / Who will benefit from this medicine / Coming from my lungs to warn veterans please let them in / Fuck Democrats and Republicans I don’t care bout your publishing.”

“Made You Die,” a song by Dead Prez, RBG member mikeflo and Yasiin Bey, takes a more revolutionary approach and expresses that the Trayvon Martin shooting is the straw that broke the back.

“Cause we do the same thing expecting different results / I’m checking the vital signs but I ain’t getting no pulse.”

These are just a few examples, but from the hundreds of Trayvon Martin tribute songs, it’s a clear-cut sign that this story isn’t simply a resurgence in hip-hop awareness. Rather, it’s a sign that the problems that plagued the hip-hop community from the very beginning are still very much alive. Moreover, hip-hop has always been something representing that fight, or that something to fight for, and this 16 month story is putting that fight on the national spotlight.

Finding Forever

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The shooting of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial are part of a bigger story. On the surface you have an unjust Florida law that allowed a grown-man to murder an unarmed boy. However, at the core you have bigger issues. There are issues on race, oppression, stereotyping and issues of our country’s growth in general. It’s been 50 years since the “I Have a Dream Speech,” and yet we as a whole are yet to fully embrace it. We have continued to see the slayings of innocent and unarmed minorities (especially the black youth), and we have continued to see the perpetrators let off unfairly. Despite the vast improvements we’re making as time goes by, it’s not enough. We need action.

When the story of Trayvon Martin first surfaced, it took action to have the Sanford Police Department even consider charging George Zimmerman. This action, which included the protests and marches, directly resulted in an arrest and a second-degree charge. Millions of people around the country, whether they were involved with hip-hop or ordinary citizens, took to the streets and voiced their say.

Likewise, in the 60s and 70s, Americans protested the Vietnam War with action. Citizens marched, musicians sang and artists unveiled works all for one common cause. More specifically, these times brought upon thousands of musicians coming together and demonstrating resistance and action through song. One such example is Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die”:

“And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam. And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates, ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die.”

These examples of action demonstrate one thing that must be recognized: unity. We cannot as people continue along our petty ways of indifference if we expect to see change. Furthermore, we need to march together for the bigger causes worth fighting for. Politicians need to stop fighting for “seats” and actually work together and listen to the constituents. Law enforcement needs to stop playing stats and work on bettering the country as a whole. News outlets need to spread attention to all the important stories and stop broadcasting from one side. Focus on education needs to start playing to the needs of the kids instead of standardized tests and statistics. People need to look past skin color, culture, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation when judging one’s character. And we as a whole need to realize hatred and injustice are a waste of time; life’s too short to be full of hatred.

We need to come together like so many cultures and people have come together in the past, and fight for these things. We need to come together like hip-hop did for Trayvon Martin. We need to express ourselves, not just vocally, but through art, discussion, workshops, demonstrations, protests and marches. If we don’t take action, we won’t see change.

Along with action, we also need hope.

Tweeting from court Tuesday, Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton wrote: “Day 17 – Remember God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Please know I can’t give up now, I’ve come too far. Continue to keep us lifted in prayer.”

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The Ideas of the Panthers Live on in Hip-Hop (Final Installment)

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Note: this is the final installment to Kelvin Criss’ four part series on the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and its relation to hip-hop. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here

By: Kelvin Criss

Tupac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby explains many hardships in society from the perspective of a twelve-year-old mother:

“She’s 12 years old and she’s having a baby / In love with tha molester, whos sexin’ her crazy / And yet she thinks that he’ll be with her forever / And dreams of a world with tha two of them together, whatever / He left her and she had tha baby solo, she had it on tha bathroom floor / And didn’t know so, she didn’t know, what ta throw away and what ta keep / She wrapped tha baby up and threw him in tha trash heap / I guess she thought she’d get away” (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”)

This song not only discusses the problem of women, but also girls. A twelve-year-old is pregnant and, “ Brenda’s barely got a brain, A damn shame, The girl can hardly spell her name” (lines preceding those above). Tupac is trying to make everyone in the community aware of these problems; problems that don’t have to exist. These are partially self-inflicted problems, they are not caused by outside perpetrators but from people in the community. Dead Prez’s “Can’t Sell Dope Forever” addresses other problems that the youth face and are holding back the community. For example, sex and drugs are destroying the community. It was for this reason that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense kept drug dealers and pimps out of their neighborhoods. These counter-revolutionary actions not only hold back the community, but they poison it. Another problem for the community is lack a of helpful police assistance. Public Enemy’s “911 is a Joke,” which discusses the lack of police assistance when people in the community call 911, states, “Now I dialed 911 a long time ago, don’t you see how late they reactin’, they only come and they come when they wanna.”

Raising class-consciousness is necessary in hip-hop because people cannot help each other until first they help themselves. This of course cannot be done until the people realize their situation and the problems with it. This was the same for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; it was why they did so much community outreach before they tried to better the community. Before people can be educated they must learn why they need to be educated.

Implications of Findings

I have found that the ideas of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense are reborn in the lyrics of many hip-hop artists. This is because the artists are trying to help their communities just as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense did. This is evident in countless songs by Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez and the late Tupac Shakur.

“We view each other with a great love and a great understanding and that we try to expand this to the general black population and also people, oppressed people all over the world, and, I think that we differ from some other groups simply because we understand the system better than most groups understand the system and with this realization we attempt to form a strong political base based in the Community with the only strength that we have and that’s the strength of a potentially destructive force if we don’t get freedom.” (Huey Newton Interview)

This interview of Huey P Newton (Dead Prez placed this interview clip in the end of “Propaganda”) explained the shared motives of hip-hop artists who wish to bring about change through their words.

This interview is just one of many interviews of members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which Dead Prez and many other hip-hop artists include in their songs. In addition to direct clips of speeches and interviews, hip-hop songs also reference members, ideas and programs of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

The ideas and goals of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense have been reborn because of the many references to them in hip-hop. The love of the people and the lust for change is why so many hip-hop artists rap about political and social issues. Rather than using guns and police encounters to gain attention, hip-hop artists use beats and rhymes to reach the people. This is an easy way to spread the message due to today’s technology and the ability to so easily copy and transfer music on computers. Through downloading, stereos, concerts and word of mouth, the messages are spread amongst the people.

 

Work Cited

Public Enemy. 911 Is a Joke. Rec. Jan.-Feb. 1990. The Bomb Squad, 1990. CD.

Tupac Shakur. 2Pacalypse Now. Rec. June-September 1991. Atron Gregory, 1991. CD.

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The Ideas of the Panthers Live on in Hip-Hop (Part Three)

panthers

Note: this is part three of a four part series. You can read part one here and part two here

By: Kelvin Criss

“They schools can’t teach us shit” (Dead Prez, “They Schools”)

In addition to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense protecting their community, they also had a strong focus on educating their community. Many hip-hop artists educate their communities as well. They teach us about what the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was able to accomplish when the people worked as one.

“I tried to pay attention but they classes wasn’t interestin’ / They seemed to only glorify the Europeans / Claimin’ Africans were only three fifth’s a human being / Until we have some shit where we control the fuckin’ school system / Where we reflect how we gon solve our own problems / Them niggas ain’t gon’ relate to school, shit that just how it is / Know what I’m sayin’? And I love education, know what I’m sayin’? / But if education ain’t elevatin’ me, then you know what I’m sayin’ it ain’t” (“They Schools”)

Dead Prez’s song entitled “They Schools” is about the racism found in many school districts. It describes the dire lack of relevant information taught in many schools. One lyric discussing the necessity of education that relates to the community is, “Until we have some shit where we control the fuckin’ school system, where we reflect how we gon solve our own problems? Them niggas ain’t gon’ relate to school.” This quote explains the frustration of much of the youth in urban areas. The lack of relevant information in their schools makes it hard for many students to want to learn. Immortal Technique has similar ideas, which he expresses in “Revolutionary.”

“They’re preparing your children for the prison environment / When you don’t amount to shit prison becomes retirement / But I refuse to be took in to central booking in chains / Cause sleeping on the floor in cages starts to fuck with your brain / The system ain’t reformatory, it’s only purgatory” (“Revolutionary”)

These lyrics express the distaste for the education system as well as the “reformatory” system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense understood this, and thus created their own classes to help educate the community on relevant matters such as their history, their rights, their social status and how they can change those things.

Some hip-hop artists promote illegal downloading and bootlegging of their albums to counterattack not only the record companies, but also to spread the message. In Immortal Technique’s “Harlem Renaissance” he says, “Bootleg my own album, to reach customers.” This shows that he does this because he does not care about the money or the fame. He simply wants his message to be circulated; he wants the people to be educated. The Political hip-hop artists stress education of the community just as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense stressed it. However, the problem is that most of the news that is broadcasted is extremely biased. This makes it hard for the community, especially those who believe what they hear, to learn what is really going on. For this reason Immortal Technique’s “Leaving The Past” addresses this issue. He says, “I never seen so much racism in all of my life, every program and newscast, all of them white. It’s like Apartheid with ten percent ruling the rest.” This is a warning not to trust all of what you hear. And that the listener needs to dissect the news he or she hears on the television, radio and the Internet.

Many artists such as Public Enemy have used their lyrics to work almost as news. Sometimes specific, but often broad topics are expressed in their lyrics. For instance, Public Enemy’s “Raw Shit” depicts the exploitation by big business.

“In between the government and the public that’s trained / Where white companies profit off black death / And house nigga rap thugs sell murder to kids / Where the media maintains all thought control / And fake news propaganda serve to rot the soul / We all unified to fight, keep the message and awake black / Open up your eyes, see the enemy and shake that / Bullshit lyin, free your mind, we combine” (“Raw Shit”)

This song not only explains what companies do to the people, it also addresses the problem of “fake news propaganda” and what it does to the people. Dead Prez’s “Propaganda” addresses the same ideas when they say, “filling our head with lies got us hypnotized.” The chorus of this goes, “The views that you see in the news is propaganda.” The goal of these types of songs is to educate the community, for no weapon is stronger than knowledge.

Educating the community was always one of the top priorities of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as well as some of those who are involved in hip-hop. This is because without an educated community, little can be done. An uneducated community can be violent, however they will not know what to do with the power they posses. They will be a mob rather than a political power.

Works Cited

Dead Prez. Let’s Get Free. Rec. 1998-2000. Loud Records, 2000. CD.

Dead Prez. RBG: Revolutionary but Gangsta. Rec. Feb.-Mar. 2004. Sean Cane, Stic, 2004. CD.

Immortal Technique. Revolutionary Vol 1. Rec. 2000-2001. Viper Records, 2001. CD.

Public Enemy. Rebirth of a Nation. Rec. 7 Mar. 2006. Pari, 2006. CD.

Tupac Shakur. 2Pacalypse Now. Rec. June-September 1991. Atron Gregory, 1991. CD.

Tupac Shakur. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Rec. January-March 1993. Atron Gregory,1993. CD.

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