Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hip-Hop Might Lose Its Home

Tenants Might Buy Birthplace of Hip-Hop

Some may have seen the headlines over the past few months about the possible sale and flipping of a Bronx, NY, building that was one of hip-hop's birthplaces (yes, plural, cuz it wasn't no overnight delivery). The owners of 1520 Sedgwick, the building where D.J. Kool Herc first started spinning in 1973, will no longer participate in a government-sponsored affordable housing program that kept the building rent-controlled, and there have been offers to purchase the building by known real estate moguls who have (no surprise) little interest in preserving the affordable units that currently house working class families. Props to the tenants for getting organized and trying to fight back and save their homes.

The tension here is that saving one building is a good start but what is needed is a larger strategy that organizes around housing at a citywide level, with connections to similar battles being waged across the country. Because even if the tenants are able to purchase the building and have it declared a historic site, they face the looming gentrification of the surrounding blocks which will drive up living costs and eventually push the families out anyways, leaving little more than a monument to hip-hop but nothing of the communities who helped birth that culture.

This is by no means an anomalous case, nor is it a new one. Jeff Chang described the assault on the working class in a different part of the Bronx in the ‘70s: “Here was the new math: the South Bronx had lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs; 40 percent of the sector disappeared. By the mid-seventies, average per capita income dropped to $2,430, just half of the New York City average and 40 percent of the nationwide average. The official youth unemployment rate hit 60 percent. Youth advocates said that in some neighborhoods the true number was closer to 80 percent. If blues culture had developed under the conditions of oppressive, forced labor, hip-hop culture would arise from the conditions of no work.” [From Can't Stop Won't Stop, p. 13]

NYC, as well as many cities across the country, continues to face a serious crisis in affordable housing (as well as employment), as the city tears units down or real estate developers convert them into condos for the yuppies, while working class families are forced out of the city or pushed to live 2, 3, or more families in one unit. Meanwhile the Wall Street tycoons give themselves million dollar bonuses as a Christmas present. The New York Times ran an article a few months back where one city official summed it up: “The city is caught between publicly claiming everything is fine and the brutal realities of families and their children having nowhere else to go.” Perhaps New Yorkers might take heed from recent New Orleans struggles around public housing, which produced the following flyer in an effort to send a clear message to City Hall:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"We must express or perish."

Copped this video from Symbol Heavy Recordings produced by Michael Hutcherson and Noah Moore with music by Topp Boom, Brother of Moses, and Lenny D. It's from "Hoptober Fest" in Kansas City, MO which took place on October 14, 2007.

What is important about this video is that this is a form of expression and creativity that is left out of the traditional four elements view of hip-hop. But this is hip-hop. This is the culture and form of expression of the hip-hop generation and it must be seen on those terms or not seen at all.

This is, as C.L.R. Odell alluded to in his review of Hustle and Flow, "every (hu)man's right." "We must express or perish." At work, in our day-to-day grind, we work under the auspices of a grand social order whose only motive is the creation of value...all the while it devalues the worker and robs him of his most human function, his labor. The worker has no say in the arrangement of the work process and how his labor is appropriated; only to do and die.

As his only way to circumvent this social organization which is over and above him and of which he is merely a cog, he must use whatever creative capacity at his disposal to express his disdain as well as his hope for something different. He does this in dance, in music, in poety, and in fixing and hooking up old cars.
Check out this video. The music is great, particularly the intro, and Topp Boom is gonna have to tell us where he dug up that soulful treasure. Shouts to Brother of Moses and Lenny D. Peace to Kansas City!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Discussion With Afronerd and Jay Smooth

*10.12.2008 - Just embedded a player with the content from this interview below.

Tomorrow night (Sunday) at 7PM Central, I will be making a guest appearance along with Jay Smooth of and on the blogger Dburt's Afronerd Radio to discuss the state of hip-hop, among other things. Both Dburt and I are fans of Jay Smooth both as a DJ and a commentator.

Over a year ago, I was put on to the blog Afronerd through D&HHP co-contributer Rob Odell when he visited author Mat Johnson's Niggerati Manor. Upon leaving a comment in a response to a recent blog, Rob was encouraged by Mat to check out Afronerd. Rob promptly directed my attention to it and I was struck immediately by its controversial content. I later commented on Afronerd, and what started as a critique of what I would call an exhausted and narrow "Talented Tenth" perspective, turned into an intense debate over white folks role in hip-hop.

I imagine that tomorrow night it will be less about white folks within hip-hop and more about its so-called depravity. Feel free to call in to (646) 915-9620 and add content to the discussion. It should be interesting to hear Dburt and Jay Smooth nonetheless.

If y'all can't listen in live, it will be archived for later listening at the same URL.

Thanks to Dburt for inviting me to participate.

Afronerd Radio

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gangsta Rap Made Us Do It

Ice Cube's new single, "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It", from the Raw Footage album, is an apparent return to Gangsta Rap. But this return is merely that. Apparent. Cube is not simply turning back the hands of time, he is attempting a more universal embrace of the Gangsta Rap of then, but framing it in the contemporary discourse surrounding hip-hop today.

This video poses great questions for us and the D&HHP. And with it, I want to take up some of them.

Official society and those who aspire to join it are--and have been for quite some time--mounting a full scale ideological assault on hip-hop and its supposed depravity which is spurring on youth to violence, misogyny (not patriarchy), and materialism (the bad kind, right?). But we, the hip-hop generation, are saying that these are the realities of a broken society, a society that no longer buys the bootstrap mentality. Why work as hard as our parents did? So our jobs can be moved to exploit folks in other countries? So we can be fired after fifty years of loyal service only to not be paid a pension?

This is the logic of Gangsta Rap. Although it has not painted any clear road out of the current situation, it shouldn't be blamed for it either. It is ordinary people who are tasked with organizing society on a radically different basis and they are in a life and death struggle to do it. It is precisely in times like the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that our culture draws on and manifests such activity.

But the naysayers ascribe a permanent design, a historial straightjacket on hip-hop. It is intrisically violent to them. Nevermind unemployment, nevermind poverty, nevermind the State repression of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements as well as the incorporation of its liberal tendencies into the establishment. To mention this is to victimize black folks. After all, Bill Cosby and Russell Simmons made it. So should y'all.

Here's what King said about making it: "We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power." These were some of the last words King uttered before being gunned down while standing in solidarity with Memphis' black sanitation workers who were on strike. They weren't on strike merely for wage increases and fringe benefits. They were striking for humanity. I AM A MAN. Manhood, humanity, freedom, these were what underpinned the strike.

Working people have yet to fulfill our humanhood. And hip-hop is showing us that. But it isn't some abstract theme looming overhead preventing us from getting there or pushing us there. And its not a mirror either. Art is no mirror. Art is exaggerated. Art is idiomatic. But it isn't divorced from what makes it. It can never be coherent and rational because of the necessary limitations of art. But it will become more so when people act in concert the way they did in Memphis.

What did Mos Def say on Black On Both Sides?

Listen, people be askin me all the time,
"Yo Mos, what's gettin ready to happen with Hip-Hop?"
(Where do you think Hip-Hop is goin?)
I tell em, "You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever's happening with us"
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Hip-Hop like it's some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop
So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?
Til you get a clear idea
So.. if Hip-Hop is about the people
and Hip-Hop won't get better until the people get better
then how do people get better? (Hmmmm...)
Well, from my understanding people get better
when they start to understand that, they are valuable

The black workers in Memphis got a sense of their value. And they didn't do that by moving up the social ladder. Someone's gotta do the work. And, like King said, there is dignity in all labor. But we live in a society where value is not inherent to people, but something external and above them. Property over people.

The hip-hop generation knows this and it expresses it through hip-hop. So, the question that official society is asking now isn't how to appropriately censor hip-hop. Because that proved utterly fruitless. The question posed today is how hip-hop can be made responsible for the social conditions which lie beneath it.

This is one of the premises of the blog Afronerd. Over a year ago, C.L.R. Odell and I exchanged criticisms with Dburt and Co. over this same question. This Sunday, at 7 Central, I will be a guest on Afronerd Radio where these topics will be discussed further. I'll be sure to provide folks the link before hand. I hope you'll all tune in.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

" generation never understood workin for the man."

While it is a bit dated (1999), the general sentiment is not. Below is a scene from the film Human Traffic. It is set in Cardiff, Wales among five friends in their early twenties whose feelings of alienation towards work and society pushes them towards the drug culture that typified the rave scene of the late 1990s. This is undoubtedly one of the most poignant films to capture the temperament of youth in that era and today.

This is the politics of the hip-hop generation. Watching it always recalls for me the lyrics from "Its Your World" on Common's Be album.

"Man to man, I'm good workin with my hands
My generation never understood workin for the man
And, of bein broke I ain't a fan"

Friday, January 04, 2008

Richard Pryor for President

I imagine many folks have seen the skit on the Dave Chappelle Show where he imagines what it might be like if President Bush was black. What's so funny and sharp about it is not any "black people do this...white people do this..." sort of humor; it's not that it's supposed to scare folks over how crazy a black president might be. Instead, it's a clever depiction of how the politicians already in power, despite their pretensions to "civility" and "professionalism", are so often seen by people of color as the real threat. All the rhetoric about freedom and democracy still can't cover up the lies, violence, and contradictions of bourgeois politics.

Here's a clip from the Richard Pryor Show where Pryor essentially does the same. The Richard Pryor Show lasted only a few episodes, aired in 1977, but the similarities between this sketch and Chappelle's could definitely make for an interesting comparison of the context of the humor for both, and how society and social relations have changed since the days of Pryor...

from LBoogie


If Cyril Lionel Robert James were alive today, he would be 107. Who was C.L.R. James? There's quite enough biographical information on James out there so we'll direct you to his Wikipedia page.

Why we celebrate him and his legacy at this blog is because of his philosophical and organizational contributions to the role of ordinary people. Additionally, he made a profound impact on the development of the black struggle throughout his life.

A year and a half ago I wrote an entry on C.L.R. James's relation to hip-hop culture. Check it out here.

James never had the opportunity to write anything to hip-hop because by the time it became a viable force he was too old. He passed on May 19, 1989. But based on his observations of American culture in the 1940s, as a sort of repository for all the hopes and aspirations and, conversely, the drudgery of factory life and unemployment on the part of masses of people, he would have seized on the first opportunity to articulate its meaning.

He surely would not have had the typical black intellectual response that hip-hop is "self-fulfilling prophecy" or a testament to the backwardness of black youth. He would have struggled, just as we do here, against all the naysayers by pointing to its indication of folk's desires for something new. He would have endeavored to capture the complexity of hip-hop, a complexity that cannot be reduced to the social depravity of black and working people.

Hip-hop is complex because it reflects the contradictory nature of modern society. Torn between the decay and barbarism of the contemporary world on the one hand, and the self-activity of working people that foreshadow a more democratic, rational society on the other, hip-hop is a living organism that contains all the conflicts that exist in reality.

Check out C.L.R.'s breakdown of Richard Wright's Native Son.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Does SCLC want to bureaucratize hip-hop too?

This is a short announcement about an upcoming forum in DC that the SCLC is hosting on Hip-hop with 60 different hip-hop generation activists. The SCLC, originally an organization initiated by Martin Luther King to combat poverty and racism, is no longer what it was. Once a mass organization, it is now an organization which panders to the interests of the black ruling elite.

Should we even validate them by participating in such a forum? I feel confident that the activists can appropriately discuss the circumstances that face us today, but its doubtful whether they will be able to articulate the real content today (especially in these times of low activity among the population). Could this be the SCLC attempt to draw in certain elements of the hip-hop generation to help stultify any potential movement? I don't think it will, but that is neither here nor there.

We shouldn't be appealing to defunct groups like the SCLC and their ideas on social change and what's relevant and good. They signal the death of a black workers movement by confounding black power with the power of black folks to join the establishment.

Check these out.

Hip-Hop Summit Across the Ages
from the Washington Post

And for my New Orleans peeps, this is an editorial published last month in the Times-Picayune. This is what protests have come to?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kelefa Sanneh on the Dip in Hip-Hop Album Sales

Kelefa Sanneh, a writer for the NYTimes and who has had some worthwhile perspectives to offer on hip-hop, wrote an editorial on 2007's decline in Hip-hop album sales.

First, this is no indication that hip-hop as an art form is on the decline. It just means that the music being produced for mass consumption is losing its base with hip-hop heads in the every day. You can't make a hip-hop that doesn't speak to the concerns, ideas, and struggles of people and a hip-hop that isn't making a critique of society (no matter what the particular critique is). For years, hip-hop was practiced en masse purely at the street level before it entered radio and the club. A decline in the saleability of mainstream hip-hop is no measure for hip-hop's viability for regular people.

This article poses some interesting questions, however. What is the criteria for hip-hop's appeal and popularity? Is it purely economical and statistical data? Can it be discerned from other factors? If so, which ones?

A dip in mainstream CD sales would not necessarily mean the same for hip-hop generally. I think the decline in hip-hop would have more to do with changes in social relations among people which are triggered by economic and political shifts, but also the shifts in general activity among people. Jazz as an art form continues to press on, but it has been precisely those objective and subjective changes that can be attributed to its real decline (the disappearance of the urban factory base, workers movements, and black power).

Hip-hop is such a universal repository for so many categories of daily life only because daily life is struggling to be more universal among the different national and ethnic groups. It could only be the fulfillment of a new universality that would see the demise of hip-hop as an artistic expression. It would have to mean that for all the same reasons that every day folks engage in such an adaptable and mobile art; labor and creative capacity turned into a commodity, work and other spheres of life organized to exploit others, racism, poverty, etc., an existence where the free association of people and the self-organization of working people predominate would be the reasons people negate it.

This isn't necessarily so. But my instincts say that an art form that supersedes hip-hop would be an art form produced by a people no longer alienated, an art form without borders, and an art form with no managers and ruling classes.

The Shrinking Market Is Changing the Face of Hip-Hop

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year and Hip-Hop Congressional Hearings

Happy New Year!!

I would like to say before going in to the new video that we are going to be adding some new writers this year which will be good for those who are tired of just my singular perspective. It will certainly help sustain some of the weight as well. We might even see a return of C.L.R. Odell??

I hope everyone's New Year was safe and that this year will pan out to be a good one for us (although globally speaking it doesn't look as such).

The video below is one of a series of Congressional subcommittee hearings from artists like David Banner, moguls such as Master P, and intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson.

There is one question I'd like to pose without going into the content of the points raised. What are the implications for these subcommittee hearings? Is it a nod from official society? If so, is that a good or bad thing? Are the folks present looking for representation? What does this mean in the overall perspectives raised by the D&HHP?