The Mixes is a Bonus Cut series that focuses on themed mixtapes. The purpose of this series is to share music in hip-hop, but also to share the ability to express feelings through mixtapes. The premise takes after Rob Sheffield’s book Love is a Mix Tape, but unlike his book, these mixes will vary in theme. Although I will have notes explaining why I included each song, the overall interpretation of the songs and the mixtape as a whole is on you. Music is fickle because it triggers different emotions, and one of the greatest feelings is determining your thoughts for specific music on your own. Although Bonus Cut provides The Starting Five, a weekly list of songs the creators are currently digging, The Mixes is an individual entity because of its focus on certain themes.
The theme behind this mixtape is that of fulfillment. It’s an ode to the songs that make you breathe and take everything in; it’s an ode to certain tracks that captivate the liveliness of space and illusion; and it’s an ode to those who create masterpieces that impose multiple branches on the tree of a certain song. The “Dreamin’ in Color” mixtape has a lot of themes and variety, but all of the songs are centered on a single track of greatness. Enjoy.
“Down for the Underground” -Lord Finesse
“The same guy gotta maintain my remain fly / That’s here to be, produced and arranged by / Buckwild, Lord Finesse the double-header out to flip cheddar / Stars on the rise like Chris Webber”
Depending on how you listen to the production, Buckwild either reminds you of starry skies or dreams full of Cheshire Cats and the Ace of Hearts. Or, it could remind you of something completely different. “Down for the Underground” is a testament to Buckwild’s skill behind the beats, and to this day he is still underrated. Lord Finesse supplies the track with hard-headed and precise flow, and overall, “Down for the Underground” is that perfect blend of herbs and spices.
“Bluebird” -One Self
“Drinking wine reminds me of what honest is / Making me wonder where the hell the logic is”
As if this track glides on an ice field of groovy bass stabs and twangy guitar riffs, “Bluebird” gives you the feeling of doing anything.
“Gold Soul Theory” -The Underachievers
“Freeze, repeat, rewind, back to the time I was blind / Never, I always incline the Third Eye”
Maybe it’s because this track is soaked with MJ, but “Gold Soul Theory” flies higher than a lot of other new age hip-hop tunes.
“Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers”
If there’s one thing you should know about Tupac, it’s that despite his changing styles throughout his career, he was always able to succeed as a poet. It wasn’t just his lyricism or his cadence that grabbed the attention of millions, but it was the way he presented himself on each and every track. His attitude is something often overlooked by critics, but in reality this is why he stood out. “Changes” may be one of those tracks you’ve heard too many times, but it perfectly exemplifies Tupac’s grit.
“Yoke the Joker” -Naughty by Nature
“I can snap, rap, pack, click-clack, patter-pat-pat / Take that ass to the point you have to ask for your ass back”
After hearing Treach’s opening verse, this song fully takes you.
“Orbit Brazil” -Flying Lotus
“Orbit Brazil” is Flying Lotus doing what he does best. His composition of blips and beeps mixed with experimental percussion and non-regular patterns is odd but fulfilling. The main synth breakdown is purely a takeoff into the outer reaches of space, and while orbiting over Brazil I’d love to blast this.
“Daddy Fat Sax” -Big Boi
“My daddy told me it was mine for the taking”
The pulsing introduction, Big Boi’s presence, the shrieking background synths, the joy. This song gives you the confidence to do anything. Walk into work or class with this blasting and the results will come.
By: Harry Jadun Bracket graphic designed by: Rollin Baker
The hip-hop alter ego tournament introductions and first round happened last week! In case you missed it, don’t skip ahead, click here!
Last week we introduced you to 16 dynamic, warped alter egos for our Alter Ego Tournament. We told you that only the strong will survive. 8 have been weeded out, 8 are left. Now we separate the contenders from the pretenders; the champ from the chumps. Feelings will be hurt, egos will be shattered, tough decisions will be made, but only one will be left standing. The greatest hip-hop alter ego of all time. Let’s get to it!
Slim Shady vs. Wolf Haley
Slim Shady and Wolf Haley are very similar. And that’s because Tyler, the Creator has admitted that he modeled Wolf Haley after Slim Shady. I’m not a big fan of imitators, I want the real deal. Slim Shady is the real deal. In the early 2000’s he made it cool to be crazy. He made it cool to say “fuck the world.” Wolf Haley has a similar message, but Slim did it better, and he did it first. Slim Shady wins.
Roman Zolanski vs. Sasha Fierce
I’m torn with this one. Both of these alter egos have the Taylor Swift effect. You want to hate their music with all your guts, but you can’t help but love it, and soon enough you’re singing along. Roman Zolanski gets the edge in this matchup though, because of his in-depth backstory. Nicki really went out there in creating Roman, a gay man from London, England who constantly fights with his mom and is locked up in an insane asylum. Sasha’s backstory is a little bit more murky; nobody really knows where she came from. Because of that, I feel more of a connection to Roman Zolanski. Oh yeah, he also advances because his flow’s “tighter than a dick in the butt” (another one of his inappropriate but extremely catchy punchlines).
Makaveli vs. Based God
This is a battle of polar opposites. First you have the Based God, inventor of the Based lifestyle, encouraging others and spreading optimism. Makaveli, whose name (and ideology) is derived from Italian philosopher Nicholas Machiavelli, subscribes to the philosophy of ruling with an iron fist. Rather than killing his opponents with kindness, he just kills them. That’s a problem, because here at Bonus Cut we’re huge on spreading positivity. Makeveli’s tournament life ends here, Based God advances.
Dr. Octagon vs. MF Doom
In an alternate reality where pigs can fly and Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t cost five dollars a pint, MF Doom and Dr. Octagon are best friends, sitting back and having a conversation at the bar with the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, said reality isn’t real. In the real world they are pitted against each other, battling for survival in this tournament. If these guys met in the finals it would be completely justified. They both revamped the independent rap scene with their respective albums. Their personalities are gnarly, but Dr. Octagon pulls through due to the fact that he holds the advantage over MF in the eccentricity and creativity department. If this were an EA sports game, Doc Oc would have 99’s in those categories. MF Doom gets about a 90 in both. Sorry, it’s not you MF, it’s Doc Oc. I still love you.
Slim Shady vs. Roman Zolanski
This one’s relatively easy. Roman Zolanski made it this far due to a fortunate draw and a completely subjective, biased judge. Eminem comes into the arena an overwhelming favorite, a Goliath to Roman’s David. Roman’s slingshot isn’t gonna do much to Slim’s armor either. Eminem invented Slim when he was sitting on the toilet, taking a dump. Go back and listen to the Slim Shady LP. You’ll be appalled by the fact that some of the songs were played on the radio. I remember being on the playground during recess in first grade singing along to the whole album with my friends, swear words and all. I had no clue what it meant. Now I do, and I can’t help but laugh. That’s why Slim is so cool. He had one goal, to rattle the establishment. He ended up doing just that. He had elementary kids talking about killing people and popping pills. And that’s why Slim advances.
Based God vs. Dr. Octagon
Based God, you’re awesome. You challenged Kevin Durant to a pickup game, and when he declined, you went on the best twitter rant of all time: “PEOPLE GET MAD WHEN I GET CLUTCH ON THE COURT ITS ALL FUNNY UNTIL LIL B THROW THAT FLOATER ON YO ASS AND SHUT DOWN D, KD WASUP???” You even went as far as to prophesize that KD will never win an NBA championship. This is awesome for 2 reasons: 1) Russell Westbrook gets a season-ending freak injury in this year’s playoffs, preventing Durant from winning the championship. 2) Based God was dead serious. He legitimately thinks he can beat Kevin Durant, a consensus top five player in the NBA right now, in basketball. But Doc Oc has too much firepower. He brought the rap game into the year 3000 with Dr. Octagonecologist’s super-duper funkadelic scratching and synthesizers. His office’s phone number is 1-800-PP5-1DOODOO. That’s not 10 digits, but it is awesome. Sorry Based God, but YOU GOT KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT (of this alter ego tournament).
Dr. Octagon punches through to the next round.
Bonus Cut’s Alter Ego Tournament Championship
Slim Shady vs. Dr. Octagon
Ali vs. Frazier, Magic vs. Larry, Palmer vs. Nicklaus. Slim vs. Doc Oc is right up there with the best of them. These guys are head and shoulders above the rest, looking down from the sky. I mentioned EA sports earlier in this article, and these two alter egos are the maxed out characters made playable by cheat codes. Choosing between them is choosing between a Lamborghini and an Aston Martin. But a decision must be made. And the decision is Dr. Octagon. Why? Because of his smooth flow and more comical lyrics. Eminem is funny, but it’s a more fucked up, aggressive, Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids funny. Dr. Octagon is a little bit more harmless, so I feel less guilty when laughing at his songs. With that said, even though Doc Oc was killed by Kool Keith’s other (fantastic) alter ego Dr. Dooom in Kool Keith’s Dr. Dooom 2, his legend lives on forever as the Bonus Cut Alter Ego Tournament champion. He’s not with us, but if he was I’m sure he would have an extremely inappropriate, politically incorrect acceptance speech.
Rappers love pretending to be somebody else. Ever since the conception of hip-hop, alter egos have been used as a tool by MCs to further their music, freeing them up conceptually and stylistically. Here at Bonus Cut we wanted to pay homage to the creativity and ingenuity of these artists, so we decided to host a tournament. 16 alter egos, 1 winner. Over the next two weeks we will introduce you to these insanely cool personas and then pit them against each other. Only the strong will survive. But first, like any sporting event, we have to lay the ground rules. Here goes:
1) The participants must be alter egos, not alternative names or nicknames. This means that the artist must rap from the alter ego’s perspective at one point or another and this perspective must be significantly different than that of the artist’s.
2) Only one alter ego per artist.
3) There were only 16 available spots (we wanted to keep the quality of the artists high).
4) Seeding was decided by the Bonus Cut Crew. We took into account creativity, cultural significance, popularity and obviously the overall quality of their music.
5) All matchups will be decided by yours truly, based purely on which alter ego I think is better (creativity, cultural significance, popularity and music). So yes, this is extremely subjective.
6) This week will only be the first round, due to the fact that I’m going to be introducing each alter ego with fun facts and a healthy dose of knowledge. Next week the tournament will be completed.
7) Feel free to let us know what you agree and/or disagree with in the comments below. We love feedback!
Now for the main event. Enjoy!
1) Slim Shady:
Eminem’s lovable homophobic, misogynistic and downright offensive alter ego was introduced to the world on his 1999 release, The Slim Shady LP. A satirical portrayal of rappers, Slim took things so far that he needed a semi-sarcastic “don’t try this at home” disclaimer to serve as the introduction to the LP. Slim was sent to the rap world with the sole intention to “piss people off,” and he accomplished his goal with hit songs such as “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady.” It wasn’t all fun and games, because Slim’s jabs would always have weight behind them, especially when pointed towards popular culture. All of this, combined with the success of the 5x platinum Slim Shady LP, makes Slim one of the favorites to take home the hardware when it’s all said and done.
T.I. has had some trouble with the law in the recent past. That’s because he hasn’t been able to keep his thugged out alter ego, T.I.P., in check. T.I.P. was born on T.I.’s platinum selling T.I. vs. T.I.P. Throughout the album, T.I. is constantly talking T.I.P. down from resorting to violence or other activities that could get T.I. in trouble. T.I.P. is a thug who will get his way by any means necessary, but things are going to be tough in the first round against Slim Shady.
The Verdict: The problem with T.I.’s alter ego is that it’s not his alter ego anymore; it’s his identity. He hasn’t been able to stay out of jail due to stupid decisions. Also, T.I.P. isn’t winning any points for the fact that T.I. vs. T.I.P. signified the beginning of T.I.’s descent from the top of the commercial rap game. He simply doesn’t have enough to go against Slim Shady, who is one of the most pissed off, warped alter egos ever, and that’s saying something. This dude has a song about bringing his daughter along while getting rid of his wife’s dead body. Slim Shady, no contest.
2) Wolf Haley:
World, meet Wolf. Wolf, meet World. Wolf is Tyler, the Creator’s white alter ego. He has appeared in Tyler’s music throughout Tyler’s career, and even directed Tyler’s famous “Yonkers” video. Wolf originally started as a name that Tyler decided to use for Facebook because Tyler didn’t like his birth name, but Wolf eventually developed into his own person. Tyler describes Wolf as “the guy I want to be.” Wolf is wild, cool and gives zero fucks. Wolf often converses with Tyler within Tyler’s head, telling Tyler to do crazy shit that he wouldn’t do otherwise.
3) Humpty Hump:
Life got rough for Edward Ellington Humphrey when he burnt his nose while deep-frying some chicken. He couldn’t be the lead man of his band, Smooth Eddie and the Humpers, after the incident so he tried his hand in rapping under the name of Humpty Hump. Digital Underground member Shock G’s brilliant alter ego, back-story and all, shocked the world in the early 1990’s with his nasally flow on songs like “Doowutchyalike” and “The Humpty Dance.” He stands out from the crowd with his Groucho glasses complete with the nose and his extravagant clothes.
The Verdict: One of the toughest matchups of the first round. Humpty Hump is an epic character, especially with the detailed back-story, which is completed with the costume. Shock G sold it so well that fans, and even some in the music biz, actually thought Humpty Hump was a real person. But I have to go with Wolf, mainly because he directed that insanely awesome “Yonkers” video. Rarely does a music video captivate the entire blogosphere, but “Yonkers” did exactly that. Everyone and their mother has seen that video and will forever be terrified by Tyler wearing black contacts talking about hanging himself. Humpty, I’m sorry but you’re falling off the wall. Wolf marches onwards.
Madlib didn’t like his voice when rapping so he let Quasimoto do it instead. Created by slowing down the beat, rapping over it, and then speeding it up, Lord Quas’ helium-inflected voice has terrorized the rap game for the past decade plus. With two critically acclaimed albums to his name, The Unseen and The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, it won’t be a surprise if he makes a deep run in the tournament. Quasimoto is a self-described menace to society, and is not afraid to use violence in order to impose his will. He is well versed in microphone mathematics, and spares nobody with his effortless, slick flow. With another album due up in 2013, you better hide your kids and definitely hide your wife.
4) Roman Zolanski:
Roman is Nicki Minaj’s homosexual male alter ego from London. He has no album to his name, but appears on many of her hit songs, such as “Monster,” “Beez in the Trap,” “Bottoms Up” and “Bed Rock.” The Young Money crew member is often times aggressive and tells the harsh truth Nicki can’t do herself. He used to be violent, but has toned it down at Nicki’s request. The only thing that stops Roman is his mother, Marsha, who he constantly fights with. Unable to conform to societal norms, Roman was thrown into the nuthouse until an undisclosed date. Things don’t look too good for Roman, who was punished by the bracket gods with a tough matchup in round one.
The Verdict: Quasimoto is a brilliant conception. Anybody with a shitty microphone and voice recorder can speed up his or her voice, but Madlib took that idea and turned it into a terrific rap album. The bad news is, unfortunately, his run stops here. As much as I hate Nicki Minaj, I have to give it to Roman Zolanski, because he has too many quotable lines. Take “Bed Rock,” a song with lines like “lemme put this pussy on your sideburns.” Nobody knows what this line implies, but it’s still an awesome and aggressive bar. Roman’s entire verse on “Monster” is quotable (“Well if I’m fake, I ain’t notice cause my money ain’t!”). It’s too catchy, it’s too fun, and I hate myself for doing it, but I have to put Roman through to the next round. Ugh.
2) Bobby Digital:
If you love comic books, Bobby Digital is your man. Conceived when RZA smoked a “really good bag of weed” and introduced to the world on Bobby Digital in Stereo, this “lyrical rhyme nympho” is a martial arts master who will “Pierce through your physical faculties/With pin-point accuracy.” He is a pleasure seeker, representing RZA before the fortune and fame. His rhymes play out like that of a comic book, in which Bobby never fails to save the world and get the girl. RZA went as far as making two short movies for Bobby and even pursued a comic deal with publishers, but it didn’t pan out. Bobby Digital is definitely a dark horse, and all those who oppose him better be ready for a tough battle.
3) Sasha Fierce:
Sasha Fierce made her debut on Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce. Everybody loves Beyoncé, and everybody loved Sasha Fierce as well. With chart-topping hits like “Halo,” “Single Ladies,” “Diva” and “Sweet Dreams,” the album was a commercial success. Besides being fierce, Sasha is aggressive, sensual and sassy. Beyoncé claims that Sasha takes over every time she goes out to perform, and she performs a lot. Recently though, B claims that she and Sasha have combined, and are no longer separate entities.
The Verdict: Sasha literally, as Aubrey would say, shut it down, down, down at the Super Bowl this year with her halftime performance. She also gets a boost from the signs that she is a member of the Illuminati, which are littered throughout her music videos. It’s hard to decide against Sasha Fierce. Like, they might come to get me hard. But Bobby Digital is every kid (and therefore grown man’s) dream. You’re telling me I get to be a karate master, comic book hero AND an ill rhymesayer? Just stop. But still, I have to go with Beyoncé because “Halo” and “Single Ladies” were guilty pleasures for a majority of human beings at the time of their release. Oh yea, and because:
Sasha Fierce it is.
1) Dr. Octagon:
A shape shifting alien doctor from Jupiter with metallic green skin, a pink and white afro and yellow eyes, Kool Keith prescribed just what the rap game needed in 1996 with Dr. Octogynocologist, which put underground rap back on the map. Medically, Dr. Octagon is incompetent, as his patients usually die from malpractice and he can’t resist having sex with his nurses. Lyrically however, he dissects all opposition with his smooth flow, witty wordplay and humorous lyrics over futuristic backdrops. If you ever need him to drop knowledge from his glow-in-the-dark brain, he’ll be glad to. You might have trouble getting a hold of him though, as his office operators have a tendency to be masturbating while they’re supposed to be answering calls.
Biggie’s friend from the barbershop, Pop is always on the lookout for those plotting against Biggie. He gives Biggie the heads up whenever he sees something fishy and waits for Biggie’s word to take action. Pop represents how valuable loyal friends are to rappers who are constantly in the crosshairs of haters’ attacks. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a short stay for Pop, who has a tough matchup in round one.
The Verdict: This one’s pretty easy for a bunch of reasons. First, Biggie gets punished for half-assing his alter ego. He could’ve gone with Frank White (which would’ve been awesome), but all he does is mention him here and there throughout his career and never really makes anything of it. Instead, we’re left with Pop, who’s not very creative or inspirational. On the other hand, you have Dr. Octagon, an orthopedic gynecologist (Get it? He puts bones into lady parts) from another planet that has performed with a dead Kurt Cobain and an uncircumcised Chewbacca. Doc Oc FTW.
A Mafioso style drug lord who came into existence on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and has appeared in Nas’ music ever since. The story goes like this: before the fortune and fame, Nas was known as Nasty Nas, another persona who was hungry for success that spent days and nights grinding trying to make it. After Nasty Nas reached the top, Escobar took over. Escobar is a ruthless kingpin in the rap game who is always looking to make the next dollar. He’s a tragic hero who represents how power corrupts and changes humans.
3) The Based God:
The Based God is a diety with the appearance of Ellen Degeneres, Sam Cassell, Dr. Phil, Bill Clinton and many more famous public figures combined together. When seen in public, it is tough to fight the urge to shout out, “Based God, you can fuck my bitch!” Based God is the creator of the now famous “cooking dance” used by athletes all around the world and he occasionally takes over Lil B’s twitter feed in order to drop knowledge on the Based Lifestyle. He always promotes love and forgiveness, even going as far as to write a book on the topic. This alter ego is more than the music, which gives him a punchers chance to take home the bacon.
The Verdict: The Based God is a new-age alter ego, utilizing Twitter as the main avenue to reach his fans. His grammatically-challenged Twitter rants are pure comedy, but they always are done with the best intentions (to spread positivity and tips on how to live a Based life). Escobar is legendary in his own right, as his verse on “Verbal Intercourse” marked the first time ever that a non-Wu-Tang member appeared on a Wu-Tang album. That’s some serious shit right there. But I still have to go with Based God. He’s convinced sane men in relationships that it’s alright for him to fornicate with their girls. Based God, you can fuck my bitch… in the second round.
Sensitive thugs need hugs. Makaveli never needed hugs. An angry, ruthless thug who strategically ruled the streets, Makaveli feared no man. On Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (which was completed in 7 days), Makaveli fired shots at all of Tupac’s enemies. He represented an artistic rebirth of Tupac, as Don Killuminati featured a much darker tone than Pac’s previous albums. Still, Makaveli’s songs featured Pac’s poetic verses and classic delivery, which is why the album is considered one of the greatest of all time. Based on all of this, Makaveli has both the style and substance to win this thing.
4) Brook Lynn:
Mary J Blige is well known for her singing abilities, but few know about her alter ego, Brook Lynn, who raps. Brook appears on songs such as “Enough Cryin” and “Midnight Drive,” and she teams up with Mary to make a formidable tandem. Brook is a sassy, independent woman who doesn’t do soppy love songs. She may need a soppy love song after the first round, as she is faced with the tall task of trying to beat one of the all-time greats.
The Verdict: I’m not going lie, Brook Lynn surprised me on the mic. She came with the goods, holding her own with the likes of Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, DMX and Rah Digga. And she’s dressed the part, decked out with some chains and sunglasses. That’s not even close to enough to challenge Makaveli, who gets huge bonus points because Tupac died before the album was released. It turns Don Killuminati into Tupac’s “say hello to my little friend” moment where he completely disregards his life and gives one last “fuck you” to his opponents. Makaveli lives to fight another day.
2) MF Doom:
Heroes are overrated. Daniel Dumile agrees, and that’s why his alter ego, MF Doom, is a super-villain. What’s a super-villain? The scholarly MF Doom defines it as: “a killer who loves children.” This charming masked man successfully flexed his complex rhyme schemes and unique flow on both of his albums (Operation: Doomsday and MM… Food). Rappers beware: Stand up to MF and Doomsday could be upon you.
3) Mr. Rager:
Super-duper Cudder’s struggles with drugs are well documented. He constantly battles his alter ego, Mr. Rager, in order to stay on the straight and narrow. Mr. Rager has always been present in Kid Cudi’s rhymes, but it wasn’t until Cudder’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager that he officially existed. Mr. Rager represents everything evil and isn’t afraid to show it, as he only wears clothes that are black. His music is drug-inspired, and his rhymes punch you in the chest harder than the heavy bass behind them. We all have problems, but luckily we don’t have Mr. Ragers.
The Verdict: An intriguing matchup. On one side you have Mr. Rager, who is more real than any other alter ego on this list. Kid Cudi’s career has come close to derailment multiple times because of Mr. Rager. Man on the Moon II is a vastly underrated album, and Mr. Rager has an unbelievably cool video to his name:
On the other hand you have MF Doom, the awesome super-villain who is criminally underrated as well. His creativity is on another level; he’s the guy who rapped about food in 2004. HE EVEN SAMPLED FOOD IN HIS MUSIC. Now cats are Instagramming food left and right, thinking they’re cool. No. MF Doom is cool, and so is his music. I don’t care how many ninjas Kid Cudi karate chops in the Adam’s apple, MF Doom wins in a close decision.
With this, the first round of the Tournament of MC Alter Egos is completed! I will provide the quarterfinals, semi-finals and championship bout in next weeks issue. Stay tuned! And remember, when in doubt, get yourself an alter ego.
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.
Public Enemy. 911 Is a Joke. Rec. Jan.-Feb. 1990. The Bomb Squad, 1990. CD.
Maybe it’s just me, but goddamn, Shabazz Palaces is some of the best hip-hop to ever grace my ears. From the dark-tribal production, to the spacey atmosphere, all the way to the spiritual poetry of Palaceer Lazaro (aka Butterfly of Digable Planets), Shabazz Palaces understands the hip-hop Tao. However, I never understood one simple thing: what the fuck is a Shabazz Palace? This question led me down a rabbit-hole of research I never could have imagined. It’s mystifying, it’s unbelievable; it’s the story of hip-hop, Islam, and the mythical God Tribe of Shabazz.
The concept of the God Tribe of Shabazz is found mainly in the writings of Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. These two men were fundamental in founding and maintaining the Nation of Islam. In the 1930’s, Wallace Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, Michigan with a mysterious background; no one really knew who he was, or where he came from, but he made strong relations with the local black community, meeting Elijah Muhammad, one of his first followers.
He then taught the youth his own brand of Islam, drawing inspiration from Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism. After gaining a small following, Fard began to expand his power, claiming he had come from Mecca to preach the word of Allah; the ideal behind his teachings empowered African-Americans through spiritual, mental, social and economic means. Over time, his teachings spread to empower all of humanity. And today, these beliefs are echoed by MCs throughout hip-hop history like Big Daddy Kane, Tupac, Mos Def and Jay Electronica, among others.
In the early years, Wallace Fard Muhammad created most of the fundamental beliefs and mythology of the Nation of Islam, including the God Tribe of Shabazz. But after a follower of Fard committed murder in the name of Allah, Detroit police asked him to leave the city and never return. He left, but secretly came back a few months later. Again, he was discovered, arrested, and asked to leave. This time Fard disappeared for good, and no one really knows what happened to him. Some say he left for Mecca, some believe the police killed him—but the Nation of Islam claims he is still alive today, one that boarded the Mother Plane.
Wallace Fard Muhammad
Before he fled the city of Detroit, Fard made Elijah Muhammad the new leader of the Nation of Islam. He began preaching that Fard was a manifestation of Allah, that he was God directly intervening with the world and his words were sacred. He founded more Temples across the Midwest, and one in Washington D.C; under his leadership, the Nation of Islam expanded greatly, playing an essential role in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. He spoke about how the Black Man was the Original Man, who had to take back his spirit and destiny from white oppressors. He wrote a number of books on black empowerment and added a significant part to the Nation of Islam’s culture.
During this period of time, Elijah mentored a young man named Malcolm Little, who had heard about the Nation of Islam while serving jail time. A few years later the man changed his name to Malcolm X. He soon became one of the most prominent figures of the group during the 1950’s, becoming assistant minister of the Nation’s Temple Number One in Detroit, establishing Boston’s Temple Number 11, and finally leading Temple Number 7 in Harlem. Throughout the years, his legend grew into the man we remember today. But in 1962, Malcolm X gave a speech, invoking the mythology of the God Tribe of Shabazz:
“So this scientist named Shabazz took his family and wandered down into the jungles of Africa. Prior to that time no one lived in the jungles. Our people were soft; they were black but they were soft and delicate, fine. They had straight hair. Right here on this Earth you find some of them look like that today. They are black as night, but their hair is like silk, and originally all our people had that kind of hair. But this scientist took his family down into the jungles of Africa, and living in the open, living a jungle life, eating all kinds of food had an effect on the appearance of our people. Actually living in the rough climate, our hair became stiff, like it is now.”
According to the Nation of Islam, the Tribe of Shabazz is the original people of Earth, also referred to as the Original Man, or the Asian Black Nation. All of humanity is a direct descendent from the Tribe of Shabazz, but appear to be ethically different through countless years of grafting. They first lived on the Earth 66 trillion years ago—yes, that is correct, 66 trillion years ago. During this time in our galaxy’s history, the Earth and Moon were still one, and our planet was populated by 13 tribes. An ancient scientist, named Shabazz, wanted to unite the 13 tribes of Earth under one language, but failed. So then he attempted to destroy the Earth by blowing it up. As a result, a chunk of the Earth became the Moon, and all the tribes died, except the Tribe of Shabazz.
The Original Man of Earth was grateful to have survived, and understood their blessed position to still be living and breathing. Shabazz, the ancient scientist, the creator, recognized the strength of his people and decided to guide them through life. He wanted to make his people tough, so 50,000 years ago, he moved them to the jungles of East Asia (which actually refers to Africa, the cradle of civilization). Here, the Tribe of Shabazz learned how to endure the harsh side of life and conquered every wild beast they encountered. Through thousands of years, the Tribe of Shabazz migrated slowly through Africa, finally discovering the best part of the planet to sustain life: the Fertile Crescent, the rich Nile Valley and the present seat of the Holy City, Mecca.
When digging into the symbolism of this myth, the ancient scientist, Shabazz, is synonymous with Yaweh, God, Allah, even Mother Earth herself. The Tribe of Shabazz is simply the first humans, who came into being through the course of evolution; it is the universal force that manifests itself through the nature of our planet and our very own selves. In the Holy Bible, the Tribe of Shabazz is called the Children of Israel—for the words Shabazz, Israel, and Hebrew all have the same meaning, but originate from different languages. In the Jewish language, Israel means Chosen Tribe, and in the Hebrew language, it means God’s elect. The Tribe of Shabazz is the story of humanity, without the lies, dogma and doctrine of organized religion.
The Nation of Islam believes Christianity was created to enslave the mind and promote white supremacy, claiming it to be a manifestation of Satan; the teachings of Jesus Christ are not the teachings of Christianity, and the Church suppresses the truth to control the world. To be like Christ is to be free, just, equal: these are the teachings of Islam and of the Original Man. Christianity has created a white, blue-eyed Christ—but the Nation of Islam knows he was a Black Man of the God Tribe of Shabazz. Over the past 6,000 years, humanity has been warped into believing the lies and deception of the Church, leaving most hollowed and soulless. The Nation of Islam want to reclaim the sacred heart and permeate peace and love throughout the universe—for we are children of the divine!
Now back to Shabazz Palaces: what does it mean? It means we are all born divine, perfect: a marriage of spirit and flesh. It is understanding every moment and every breath of life is divine and a blessing: to live infinitely in every passing moment. Your body is your temple, your palace and heaven is here on Earth–no waiting for an afterlife, no life of suffering. It is embracing the depths of your soul and realizing you are a child of the Sun and Stars, a being of the Universe. It is about standing up for what is pure, against the grain of our violent society and reclaiming our spirituality. To me, it represents being completely and beautifully human. The hip-hop Tao indeed!
Note: this is the abridged version of a larger piece of work by the same name.
By: Kelvin Criss
“Black Power to black people, Brown Power to brown people, Yellow Power to yellow people, all Power to all People”- Huey P. Newton
Critical Literature Review
“How could Reagan live in a White House, which has a lot of rooms, and there be homelessness? And he’s talking about helping. I don’t believe that there is anyone that is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them. It is by people not knowing where or how to get this help. Why can’t he take people off the street and put them in his White House? Then he’ll have people from the streets to help him with his ideas. Not helpless! Homeless! Not helpless! They haven’t been homeless forever. They’ve done things in society. The White House would be tainted because he doesn’t want to get dirty.” –Tupac Shakur, 1988 Interview
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created to not only protect the people from police brutality but to also work with the community to overcome social problems. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense organize community services such as the Free Breakfast for Children program, history classes open to the community and Free Health Clinics. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense’s greatest contribution was freeing the people. The Panthers freed the people from fearing the government, from being afraid to speak out against “their” government. Even though the Black Panther Party for Self Defense disbanded, it is clear that their ideas have not been left behind.
The Start of “Black Music” Affecting Politics
Africans have shaped much of today’s music. Rock n’ Roll originated from the music that African slaves made. It progressed to jazz music, which was highly influential to the victory of the allies during World War II. James L. Conyers Jr.’s Engines of the Black Power Movement: Essays on the Influence of Civil Rights Actions, Arts, and Islam contains a chapter entitled “Jazz Musicians in Europe 1919-1945,” which was written by Larry Ross. Ross explains that the German Luftwaffe (German Air Force) planes contained radios. Nazi fighter pilots would often listen to “African-American jazz musicians in their planes on the BBC radio station, and the anti-Nazi propaganda they heard undermined their resolve to fight against the allies.” The Nazi party banned all jazz records due to the musicians being black, however the German people used many techniques to smuggle the records in. Ross explains that, “during World War II to obtain African-American jazz recordings that had been banned by Goebbels, included putting Johann Sebastian Bach labels on Duke Ellington albums and selling them in local record shops.” This was certainly not the last time that “black music” would be used to undermine the “enemy.” However later in the century the enemy would shift from a foreign power to a domestic power.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s Impact on Tupac Shakur
Michael Eric Dyson’s Holler If You Hear Me discusses in great depth not only Tupac’s childhood but also his mother, Afeni Shakur, as both a “black revolutionary” and as an “addicted mother.” Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt said Tupac was, “born into the movement.” He explains the hardships of being deprived of a “stable home in his adolescence,” how it shaped his view of himself as a maturing teen and how his art “reflected the existential agonies he encountered as a result of her troubles.” Being a “second-generation Black Panther, Tupac was constantly approached at school by the FBI seeking the whereabouts of his stepfather Mutulu Shakur.” Afeni Shakur was not the only Black Panther that Tupac met; much of his family were Panthers as well. However, Afeni said that Tupac, “really didn’t have a lot of respect for [the other members of the Panthers]…Because he was a child who was there. He knew what they did and what they didn’t do. I never lied to my kids…for better or for worse.” Tupac resented that, “Many male Panthers chose, or were forced, to leave behind children and women. The government’s repressive techniques destroyed many activist black families.” Essentially, Tupac blamed the Black Panthers themselves for choosing to be activists, which led the FBI and other government agencies to destroy their family.
Dyson went so far to say that, “Tupac’s career was best imagined in strictly political terms: Rapping was race war by other means.” Dyson also goes on to say that, “but even as he [Tupac] exchanged revolutionary self-seriousness for the Thug Life, he never embraced the notion that the Panthers were emblematic of political self-destruction. To be sure, Tupac saw Thug Life extending Panther beliefs in self-defense and class rebellion.” After Tupac moved to California, he quickly got mixed in with gangs and began to, “live the life he rapped” about. Afeni believed that this was because, “in Tupac’s eyes, ‘not only was [the] revolution not paying the bills, but it was causing a great deal of disaster for me’” and this led to Tupac’s capitalistic philosophy. Eventually, “Tupac appeared to forgo the traditional meanings of revolution in favor of the thorny ambivalence of thug culture,” which is why you can see distinctions and similarities between Thug Life and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s ideology. “On the one hand, the thug embraced the same secular teleology that ran through revolutionary rhetoric: Flipping the economic order was the reason for social rebellion. Thugs are a product of unequal social relations” (p.64).
Dyson successfully and fully explains Tupac’s revolutionary roots. He shows the connection between his revolutionary family and his mother’s drug addiction. This addiction is the part of his life that leads him towards Thug Life.
Connections Between Tupac’s Lyrics and the Ideas of the Black Panther Party
Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred L. Johnson III, PhD wrote Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon, which shows how the ideas of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s ideas are reflected in Tupac’s music. It is deeper than just the lyrics of his song, but the whole Thug Life “movement.”
McQuillar and Johnson III talk about Tupac’s first solo album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., which Source magazine declared to be, “a combination of ‘60s black political thought and ‘90s urban reality.” When asked about the album, Tupac said, “I rap about fighting back.” The song “Holla If Ya Hear Me” excoriated sellouts and told Vice President Dan Quayle that Tupac wouldn’t be silenced, and urged black men to “pump your fists if you’re pissed.” The authors of the book discuss how “Keep Ya Head Up” is in support of welfare mothers that the media named “welfare queens.” Tupac “mostly communicated that women didn’t have to accept abuse or ill treatment just because they were poor.” His next albums would be just as meaningful as this one.
Chapter 25 of McQuillar and Johnson III’s book, entitled “A Shooting In Atlanta,” describes Tupac’s arrest for shooting two off-duty police officers. Tupac saw, “two white men harassing a black motorist at an intersection.” Tupac noted that, “the old southern rules were in full play.” Maurice Harding (Mutulu’s birth son from his original marriage) was in the car behind Tupac’s and said that Tupac asked the officers if there was a problem. In return, they advised him to get back into his vehicle, which he did. The officers then, “smashed the window with one of the guns they had” from the harassed motorist. It was then that Tupac got out of his car and, “dropped to one knee and he shot them both in their butts.” This is a prime example of Panther ideology, protecting the community, and patrolling the police.
Keep up with Bonus Cut and its continual look on the ideas of the Black Panthers in hip-hop every week in this four part installment.
Conyers, James L. Engines of the Black Power Movement: Essays on the Influence of Civil Rights Actions, Arts, and Islam. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2006. Print.
Dyson, Michael Eric. Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture. New York: Oxford University, 1996. Print.
Dyson, Michael Eric. Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. New York: Basic Civitas, 2001. Print.
McQuillar, Tayannah Lee, and Freddie Lee. Johnson. Tupac Shakur: the Life and times of an American Icon. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2010. Print.
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.
Tupac Shakur. “Changes.” Rec. 1992. Changes. 1998. Song.
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.