Tag Archives: United States

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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Album of the Week: “…one rifle per family” by Bambu

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Bambu
…one rifle per family 
Beatrock Music, 2012

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Alluring Figures in Hip-Hop: Delving Inside the Mind of Jay Electronica

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By: Daniel Hodgman

On Tuesday, September 10th, it was announced that Jay Electronica’s much-anticipated debut record, Act II: Patents Of Nobility, was “pretty much done.” Just Blaze, the producer behind the record, went on to say that “the situation is Jay moves at his own pace…He always moved at his own pace.”

Ah yes, that explains us waiting nearly six years for even a sniff of a record.

And yet, none of this comes as a surprise. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s a known fact that Jay Electronica works at his own pace in a unique “do-it-yourself” approach. By providing his own artwork and releasing his own music in weird clumps, Jay has not only claimed the title of hip-hop’s recluse, he’s also secured himself as one of hip-hop’s truly unique characters of all time.

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Yasiin Bey Submits to Guantanamo Force-Feedings: What This Means

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By: Gus Navarro 

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.

You can view the video here.

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One Step Forward, One Step Back: DOMA and The Voting Rights Act

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By: Gus Navarro

This past week the Supreme Court voted by a 5-4 margin on two cases that will have a lasting influence on future generations. On Wednesday, June 26th, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996—as unconstitutional. This was a monumental victory for the LGBT community as DOMA prevented same-sex couples, whose marriages were recognized by their home state, from receiving the same benefits available to other married couples under federal law. Wednesday’s decision did not legalize same-sex marriage across the country, but it is an important step in the direction of marriage equity. The Supreme Court was praised for having the fortitude to make this decision (to see the absolute joy on people’s faces from images taken that day shows the magnitude of this decision for people all over the United States). As someone who has close friends that are a part of the LGBT community, the decision by the Supreme Court was long overdue. Hopefully, we will soon reach a point in our society where love is not a political issue.

However, on Tuesday, just one day before, the Supreme Court declared parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as unconstitutional. It was voted that sections 4 and 5 be taken out, removing much of the staying power behind the bill. These sections were originally WRITTEN into the bill specifically to combat the legalized apartheid found in the south directed primarily at the African-American community following Civil War Reconstruction; otherwise known as the Jim Crow Era. Before this legislation was passed, voter discrimination was rampant across the United States.

The Voting Rights Act, and specifically sections 4 and 5, were put in place as a way for the Federal Government to determine which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made minor changes to voting procedures, like moving a polling place or redrawing electoral districts. These sections were extremely important, then and now, as discrimination can still be found around the polls today.

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It appears that the main reason sections 4 and 5 were removed is because it is thought that they no longer apply in today’s society. Basically the court is saying what they teach in schools; racism ended with Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It takes minimal effort to see that this is not the case and that racial prejudice continues to this day. According to a report done by The Brennan Center For Justice, If Section 5 Falls:  New Voting Restrictions, there were eight states that passed restrictive voting laws in 2012 and nine states that introduced restrictive voting laws in 2013. Some of these states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. In the report there are multiple examples of recent attempts by state and local governments to implement discriminatory voting changes. For example:

In 2001, the white mayor and the all-white Board of Aldermen for the small town of Kilmichael, Mississippi attempted to cancel an election shortly after black citizens became a majority of the registered voters. DOJ objected, finding the cancelation was designed to weaken African Americans’ voting strength. The town refused to reschedule the election until DOJ required it to hold one in 2003, when the town’s first African-American mayor and three African-American aldermen were elected (Perez & Agraharkar, 2013).

The city council of Fredericksburg, Virginia was preparing to adopt a redistricting plan in 2002 that would have dismantled its only majority black district. The council abandoned the idea when the city attorney warned that doing so would violate Section 5 (Perez & Agraharkar, 2013).

In 2006, DOJ objected to a decision by a Houston-area community college district to no longer conduct joint elections with several coextensive school districts. As a result, voters would have had to travel to two separate polling places in order to cast their ballots. The change also reduced the number of polling places from 84 to 12, which covered an area greater than 1,000 square miles and served more than 540,000 voters. In its letter objecting to the shift, DOJ noted the assignment of voters was “remarkably uneven,” as one polling site for the school board election with the smallest proportion of minority voters would serve 6,500 voters, while the most heavily minority site would serve more than 67,000 voters, 80 percent of whom were black or Latino (Perez & Agraharkar, 2013).

In 2012, the city council of Roxboro, North Carolina was considering a proposal to change its body from having two-year non-staggered terms to having four-year staggered terms. This would have made it more difficult for minorities to elect candidates of their choice by reducing the number of people on the ballot at each election. But after local advocates suggested the proposal would not survive Section 5, the city abandoned it, instead adopting longer, but non-staggered terms (Perez & Agraharkar, 2013).

Even this past week, on the same day as sections 4 and 5 were struck down as unconstitutional, Texas announced their decision that a voter identification law, that had been blocked, would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps would no longer need federal approval.

There are those who believe that with this decision, The Supreme Court has given Democrats a present in that it will encourage members of the African-American and Latina/o populations to frequent the polls like they did in 2008. New York Times writer Ross Douthat concludes his editorial by saying,

Liberal demagogy notwithstanding, voter ID laws aren’t a way for Republicans to turn the clock back and make sure that it’s always 1965. But they are a good way for Republicans to ensure that African-Americans keep voting like it’s always 2008 (Douthat, 2013).

Eventually, this could turn out to be the case, and if so, that would be outstanding. However, this viewpoint ultimately misses the mark. Issues of race are still clearly prominent in this country; racism did not go away the minute after the mass movements of the so-called Civil Rights Era. If racist policies had vanished, there wouldn’t have been the War on Drugs, countless “Urban Renewal” projects that disproportionately affected African-American and Latina/o communities and the state of Arizona would not have banned the Mexican-American Studies Department in the Tucson Unified School District. If racist policies didn’t exist any longer, there would be no school to prison pipeline, and Michelle Alexander would not have written The New Jim Crow, condemning the prison system in the United States. Issues of race continue to play out in education, the work place, in voting and social situations everyday. Despite what some may say, the election of a biracial president did not end matters of race in the United States.

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With the DOMA and voting rights decisions, the Supreme Court has given and taken away. On Wednesday there was immense rejoicing, as there should have been, all over the country. It is time to celebrate this monumental step towards marriage equity. However, before we celebrate, we must also consider the decision made just the day before. Are we actually making advancements in the realm of social progress, or are we taking a step forward and a step backward? Why are we praising the Supreme Court when both verdicts were reached by a 5-4 margin? Why was the removal of sections 4 and 5 not as publicized? Is it merely a coincidence that the Supreme Court announced the DOMA decision the day after, attempting to suppress the negative press that was surely to come? In what ways do racist/prejudicial ideologies persist in the United States and how might we combat them? Finally, as residents of the United States, how much longer are we going to sit around and accept the slow churn of politics before we do something about it?

All over the world, in places such as Brasil, Egypt and Turkey, people are taking to the streets to express their frustration over their country’s social, economic and political concerns. In Brasil, a country synonymous with soccer, the situation is so dire that protesters were willing to give up their chance to see Brasil win the Confederations Cup in order to make their voices heard. In the United States there are things such as healthcare, eight-hour workdays and weekends because of a huge labor movement that spanned for decades. In the case of the Voting Rights Act, the only reason it was ratified is because a generation of activists came together against all odds, demanding social, political, economic and racial equality. The government of the United States has never given anything to its citizens voluntarily. The freedoms that we enjoy are a direct result of ordinary people doing more than just listening to one news station and voting. It is a result of past generations educating themselves and seizing what was rightfully theirs. In a matter of minutes, five justices took that away. I hope Ross Douthat is correct and that the decision regarding the Voting Rights Act will somehow turn out to be a good thing, motivating people to make their voice heard at the polls. However, I am hoping for more than that. I hope that people across the country, regardless of race, religion, social class, gender and sexual orientation can take to the streets celebrating the defeat of DOMA, while also denouncing the verdict regarding the Voting Rights Act. We won’t get anywhere taking one step forward and one step back.

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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

George Zimmerman

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

By: Gus Navarro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DK: Thank you.

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ian Anderson

Photo credit: Ian Anderson

By: Gus Navarro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DK: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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