The first time I met Ess Be, I thought he was a rapper. This was at the ULITT Conference at Michigan State University back in March and he was participating in a cypher workshop led by the incomparable Toni Blackman. His rhymes were on point and to be quite honest, I didn’t know any better. As it turns out, he is in fact a producer and member of the Lansing-based hip-hop collective, All Of The Above (AOTA), and a recent signee to illect Recordings. Although he has been making beats for over ten years, you probably haven’t heard of Ess Be unless you’re aware of what’s going down hip-hop wise in the Lansing area. This is because he just recently released Bag Fries, his first official instrumental project. Spanning only seven tracks, Bag Fries is a project that demonstrates his varying production styles and abilities.
Not only is Ess Be a good producer, he is a great person that is passionate about music and developing his craft. In this interview he speaks about playing pots and pans as a young one and the moment when he first picked up a pair of drumsticks. From there we learn about the beginnings of his hip-hop production, something that he would come to work on obsessively, locked away in his room for hours on end. Bag Fries is the result of the work he’s put in over time and is something that he can bring back to the students he teaches at AOTA. It was a pleasure to sit down and talk about Bag Fries, hip-hop culture and Fruity Loops. With more music on the way in 2015, stay tuned to what Ess Be has in coming down the pipeline.
By: Nicole DiMichele, Philip Mcguigan and Gus Navarro
Based in Detroit, Michigan, the Foundation is a women’s hip-hop collective that operates out of the 5e Gallery in Corktown. The 5e Gallery is a space where artists teach, celebrate and expand on hip-hop culture and how it can be used as a means of liberation for youth and adults alike. The 5e prides itself on being a safe space for everyone to come and learn about and hone their craft, whether it be learning how to MC, produce a beat or break dance. Despite the heavy emphasis on masculinity within much of hip-hop, the members of the Foundation work tirelessly as a unit to continually create avenues for women to make their voice heard and engage in community within the Detroit hip-hop scene.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with four members of the Foundation, Miz Korona, Nique Love Rhodes, Insite The Riot and Jaci Caprice. These incredible women could not have been more welcoming to us and gracious with their time. When you talk with them, it is so clear that they care for each other on a level of friendship that is grounded in warmth and love. It was an honor to be around that and to hear what they had to say about the various issues related to the art they produce and community projects they are a part of. In the interview we discussed various issues such as community engagement, education, gentrification, feminism and hip-hop, feminism and the ways in which these things related to their experiences within the Detroit hip-hop community. Based on this interview and our own visit to the 5e Gallery, it became clear that the Foundation is one of the only safe spaces for hip-hop artists that exists outside of normalized heterosexual and binary gender identities.
Given the continual drive towards gentrification in Detroit, the Foundation and The 5e Gallery are a vital piece of a community that was in existence long before the supposed rebirth of the city. Taking that into consideration, we feel that it is important to highlight the grassroots movements in Detroit that are doing important work, while at the same time lying in tension with the corporations and young professionals that are flocking to the city, ultimately perpetuating the marginalization of people, predominantly those of color, who have been living there for generations. Given our interview, we strongly believe that the corporate world and the grassroots world could work together to achieve a more sustainable movement to bring the city back. By combining the monetary resources that corporations have access to and the knowledge and experiences of the established grassroots movements, Detroit could be an example of a type of gentrification that is not oppressive or destructive, but rather inclusive and ultimately equitable.
On the evening of April 25th 2014, I witnessed hip-hop in the rawest form: DJing, MCing, B-Boying and graffiti along the dome of my mental. It was unlike any show I’d ever been to. The sense of community vision and celebration was all around. It all started as I walked into the Loft, a local venue in Lansing, Michigan, and met up with fellow Bonus Cut member Gus Navarro. DJ Ruckus spun classics as people slowly filled the dance floor. I began to recognize a lot of familiar faces: the great people of All of the Above, friends, classmates and co-opers of East Lansing.
On Sunday, via The Guardian, hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey released a video of protest in which he voluntarily underwent standard operating procedures for force-feeding in Guantánamo Bay.
This past February, the detainees in Guantánamo Bay went on a hunger strike, refusing the food placed in front of them. This was in response to when a search of cells by guards turned up hidden contraband among the prisoners but also led to accusations of heavy-handedness. The number of people participating in the strike has grown significantly since February and has now reached a total of 106 people and is continuing to grow. Of those involved in the strike, forty-one are now being force-fed so that they will be kept alive.
Force-feeding is a brutally invasive procedure where the prisoner has an IV inserted, is strapped to a chair and a tube is thrust into their nose. This allows the nutrients to flow into the body. More important to note however, is that this is a process that causes immense pain for the detainee and could easily be considered torture. In a New York Times editorial released through his lawyer, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a detainee since 2002, explains that he has yet to receive a trial, proclaims his innocence and describes the process of being force fed:
“Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
The situation continues to intensify as the Obama Administration has made it clear that they would continue the force-feeding—even with the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan. On top of that, as stated by the Huffington Post:
“A U.S. federal judge ruled Monday that she lacks the authority to halt the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, while pointedly noting that the practice appears to violate international law and that President Barack Obama can resolve the issue.”
Regardless of your opinion on Guantánamo Bay, it is undeniable that these prisoners are being subjugated to outright cruelty. With that in mind, this circumstance must be critically examined and stopped immediately.
In the video, Yasiin Bey is seen in an orange jump suit, apprehensively eyeing the situation as he is strapped to a chair. As the procedure begins it is impossible to not to feel his nervousness as he begins to squirm and scream out in total suffering as the tube is shoved up his nose. Bey is unable to endure a second round of feeding, hysterically refusing between uncontrollable breaths and tears, a luxury clearly not provided to the people of the high security prison.
This was a socio-political demonstration from an artist that cannot be overlooked. It is here where Yasiin Bey is using his status as a respected MC to lead the charge against the injustices that people are facing all around the world, and in this case the prisoners of Guatánamo Bay. These are people that deserve a voice. As conditions at the prison and around the world worsen, Howard Zinn’s words come to mind,
“Very often rebellion starts in the culture. It starts with the poets and the writers. I’ve always been heartened by the fact that that the artists in society have almost always been on the side of peace and justice.” (Zinn, 2012, p. 158)
This was true in the 20th century as musicians, artists, actors and writers such as W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell played a huge role in providing the necessary expression of discontent that fueled social change. With their work, they were able to bring people together and move as one.
As the world begins to take notice, it is apparent that we need this again. It is of the utmost importance that we, as global participants come together and demand more from our institutions of government. Where are we getting our news from and why is this story surrounding the hunger strike, force-feeding and the Obama Administration’s promises to close Guatánamo Bay not getting significant play in the United States? We cannot wait for the media to provide us with information; we have to seek it out ourselves. On top of that, we as a society must demand more as our fellow human beings are being submitted to unspeakable atrocities that degrade and diminish their humanity. Don’t these incarcerated individuals deserve to at least have their voices heard and in some cases, receive a trial? We have to ask these highly critical questions of our society and hold people accountable in order to strive for a transformation of our culture. We can’t wait for our “leaders” to do it for us. As citizens of the world, we have to come together. Yasiin Bey’s video is shedding light on a situation in need of attention and serves as a poignant example that the platform provided to artists are essential for social change.
Hip-hop is poetry, whether you’d like to admit it or not. I equate a great 16 bar verse to a great 14 line sonnet; sure, they are stylistically different, but both rely heavily on sound, meter and vivid imagery. Most people wouldn’t necessarily make this connection (imagine Shakespeare and Tupac freestyling with one another), but these two art forms are very intertwined. I feel the masses—especially Fox News fed White America—viewing hip-hop as a degrading art, not only to society, but to music and grammar as well. Being a poet, this frustrates the hell out of me. Some of the most honest and thought-provoking rhymes to come out in the past 20-30 years were from hip-hop artists; they are the poets of the people, the poets of the struggle. To combat this injustice in the hip-hop world, I bring to you The Art of 16 Bars. Every couple of weeks, I will break down one of my favorite MC’s lyrics.
To begin fittingly, I will discuss the poetry of Common, who is basically the poet in-residence of hip-hop. I mean, he got invited to Poetry Night at the White House, which freaked Conservatives the fuck out. They said he was a “thug” that supported “terrorists” (Assata Shakur)—man, could they be anymore off? Seriously, it’s time to set the record straight; this man has the heart and soul of a poet, spitting holy words of wisdom and health: that holistic language.
1.)Pharoahe Monch- “The Truth (featuring Common & Talib Kweli)”
Despite being a Pharoahe Monch song, Common’s verse is too good to pass up. This song gets into some real shit, real quick—by the time Common spits, my mind is already unraveling. His verse has two key elements: the internal rhyme scheme and the extended metaphor.
Common flips the internal rhyme on its head and gets meta as fuck:
“But the false prophets by tellin’ us we born sinners / Venders of hate, got me battlin’ my own mind state / At a divine rate, I ain’t in this just to rhyme great.”
In these lines, Common literally rhymes great while rhyming great; he rhymes multiple words with great (hate, state, rate), and by doing so, rhymes in a great way. Taking a step back from the words, the full poetic meaning comes into context: Common isn’t rapping just to rhyme, he’s rapping as a messenger of The Truth. He steps beyond aesthetics, unraveling a deeper meaning, by using aesthetics. Poetry!
He then concludes the verse with an extended metaphor, which I’m pretty sure contains the meaning of life:
“Took a picture of the truth and tried to develop it / Had proof, it was only recognized by the intelligent / Took the negative and positive, cuz niggas got to live / Said I got to get more than I’m given / Cuz truth’ll never be heard in religion / After searchin’ the world, on the inside what was hidden / It was the truth.”
He uses the metaphor of taking a photograph to the art of hip-hop, which led Common to his own understanding of the universe—in a sense, he is creating a “still life” within the poem. In the art of photography, it takes time to “develop” a picture, just as it takes time to develop MC skills; his “proof” are the words right in front of you. The “negative and positive” not only symbolizes the duality of life, but refers to developing negative and positive photographs. He ends the metaphor by bringing it back to The Truth, which he uncovered within himself through rapping—not through religion like commonly believed.
Just listen to this damn song. The assonance. The alliteration. The puns, punch-lines and metaphors. Everything about this track is on point. I’ll leave the poetry to Common.
Electric Circus is such an amazingly weird experience, and “Aquarius” is definitely one of the best cuts on the album. It is poetic in it’s odd delivery and interesting use of syntax. Common begins the track by comparing his wisdom to that of a revolutionary high:
“Nigga deep in the rhythm, experience speak / Some keepin’ the wisdom, the life hustlers seek / I seeking it with ‘em, I’m dope the streets need me to hit ‘em / With some of that (revolutionary rap) / Revolutionary blunted rap / My peoples want hits, I hit it from the back / Under the cherry moon, I hold notes and carry tunes.”
These lines are another example of extended metaphor; Common carries the metaphor of dope through multiple changes. It starts in the streets, representing his wisdom, as what the people need. Then, it becomes “that/Revolutionary blunted rap” that gets passed around—revolving—to whoever wants a hit. He ends the metaphor as “the cherry moon,” giving it multiple meanings; one being the cherry of a blunt, holding in the hits, and the other being the red recording light, which shines as Common “holds notes” and raps in studio.
He also uses Aquarius very nicelyas a reoccurring concept. Aquarius is an astrological sign, whose symbol is the water carrier; Common literally carries water as a metaphor throughout the song. He begins by mentioning “the Age of Aquarius,” which represents a shifting of human consciousness. He is making a connection between his knowledge, and the knowledge obtained during the Age of Aquarius: “water that arrives/to purify the world.” In the second verse, Common floods the verse with water metaphors and consciousness:
“Between churches and liquor stores, my mic leaks.” (…) “I flow over water that’s as troubled as teens / For the love of the team, trying to double the dream.” (…) “The black human genius will never play out /I take you way out, where you never been before / Been it since birth, sent to replenish the Earth.”
All in all, this is one of Common’s strangest moments, but it’s truly a beautiful, empowering song. He’s got those “punch-lines like Roy Jones poems.”
4.)“I Used To Love H.E.R.”
Like seriously, this is THE HIP-HOP POEM of all time, ever! This was one of the first songs that really made me realize that hip-hop is poetry; it functions as a poem much better than most rap music. He uses the trope of a young girl to explain his relationship with hip-hop, while in turn telling a story about the history of rap. It is thought-provoking and an example of why Common is that motherfucker. This man is a poet. He even starts the song with that classic hip-hop refrain:
“Yes, yes, y’all and you don’t stop / To the beat ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / 1, 2, ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / And to the beat Common sense’ll be the sure shot.”
This song is just the gospel of life. It is one of Common’s finest moments, and Cee-Lo just makes the experience that much sweeter. If “The Truth” and “Aquarius” doesn’t solidify Common’s Buddha mind, “G.O.D.” seals the deal—I literally feel like an enlightened angel after listening to these golden bars. Just play the damn song, paying particular attention to these lines:
Understanding and wisdom became the rhythm that I played to And became a slave to master self A rich man is one with knowledge, happiness, and his health My mind had dealt with the books of Zen, Tao, the lessons Qu’ran and the Bible, to me they all vital And got truth within ‘em, gotta read them boys You just can’t skim ‘em, different branches of belief But one root that stem ‘em, but people of the venom try to trim ‘em And use religion as an emblem When it should be a natural way of life Who am I or they to say to whom you pray ain’t right That’s who got you doing right and got you this far Whether you say “in Jesus name” or “Hum do Allah” Long as you know it’s a bein’ that’s supreme to you You let that show towards other in the things you do Cuz when the trumpets blowin’, 24 elders surround the throne Only 144,00 gon’ get home