D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Friday, August 27, 2004

RNC in NYC: Let's Just Wait And See What Happens

In 2000, I attended the RNC in Philadelphia as a reporter and I was promptly swept into a back of a police van with several MOVE members – most notably Mike Africa . My grandparents saw me being hurled into the back of the police vehicle on their local news channel; I’m sure at the time it did nothing for their sanity. It was the first time I’ve ever been in the middle of a protest and I can say that for a time, I was terrified. The noise, the ruckus and just the overall energy in Philadelphia was unlike anything I’ve ever been through. I told myself then that it’d be a cold day in hell before I’d go do something like that again.

And here I am preparing to travel to New York for this year’s RNC because a group of friends are headed up to join a anti-RNC protest. I’m not doing anything of that sort but I must admit that I’m eager to see if the energy level matches what I saw in Philly those four years ago. It seemed like every young and disenfranchised ethnic group was out there in full protest mode – there was not one group not represented in some fashion. The oddest moment of that evening wasn’t me being cast as a troublemaker by Philadelphia’s riot squad. That distinction belongs to when I happened across Malik B, then still a loosely-affiliated member of the Philadelphia-based Hip Hop band, The Roots . He was either intoxicated out of his mind or distracted by the din around us but he grabs my mini-recorder and recites this fiery, if poorly focused, freestyle about the surroundings and politics in general. Then he takes my recorder and begins to interview random people walking the block; probably scaring a few older folks in the process. I wish I could say it was all a twisted dream but I assure you, it all happened.

I attended part of the DNC in Los Angeles in 2000 – all without incident or protest. If there were any protests, they were snuffed well before any of the key events of that week. I didn’t even do much in the way of work. I was essentially a tourist with a press pass. In 2000, just as I do now, I was trying to discover a link between these conventions (and also all things political) and the young voters the candidates and political parties so openly coveted. I walked away in 2000 not feeling as if it ever connected with those on the fence and it’s more of the same this year; so many squandered opportunities to gain some new blood in their respective parties.
As corny as I find the term "hip-hop voting bloc", it’s effective in what’s trying to be achieved by the National Hip-Hop Political Convention and its organizers. Bakari Kitwana’s piece for illustrates why he thinks this new voting bloc would be better off not voting for the good senator. However, I loved the part where he detailed how Barack Obama and Jon Edwards were on that platform at this year's DNC doing what they’re supposed to do, and that while it was stirring it still begs to be scrutinized heavily. Do not follow anyone blindly, young voters. Even those of us that shine brightest have the capacity to short out at a moment’s notice.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hip Hop & Politics: The Movement Needs Polish

At last, I’m not the only person who realizes what kind of moron Hans Zeiger painted himself to be. Jason Alston, a fine writer for the Daily Dispatch of North Carolina, points out in his latest link just how bigoted and callow Mr. Zeiger is. I’m proud to note that I’ve linked Alston’s work previously for my blog and he’s by far one of the more impressive writers on the subject of Hip Hop and politics out today. It’s always good to know that we have folks who choose to represent all sides of the spectrum and not what has been sensationalized or demonized beyond repair.
For the last four years, the Hip Hop political avalanche has been lumbering ahead full steam and, of course, with young black voters there exists this need to connect with them on their level. The attempt to do so is sometimes ham-handed because not every young black person enjoys rap music; it isn’t the only music of choice amongst young people. It also takes hits in the creativity department. How many Rap/Rock The Vote-like organizations need to pop up before it becomes too saturated and watered down? This isn’t a knock to the efforts of Hip Hop influenced political action committees and their ilk, but is it truly a case of too much too soon? In 2000, as high as the stakes eventually became, it didn’t seem to have this urgency. Then again, we didn’t have this current administration.

An analysis from Askia Muhammad of the Final Call speaks about new black leadership. The hallmark of the Democrats is that they are made up of a large number of minority voters. Of course, this immediately links them with any progressive organization with black figureheads (i.e. Russell Simmons’s HSAN group). I’m not sure whether it’s bad or good – I’m most concerned with people learning what the electoral process is. If that means Ludacris and the Rap The Vote gang got someone registered, it’s a win for everyone. Still, we need to teach the refrain that it goes way beyond just voting. We have to get folks active, too.

Adisa Banjoko, a Bay-area based journalist, just penned a new book on Hip Hop culture and politics. Hopefully this will be a start in the right direction for the infusion of the two very varied entities. Many authors are attempting this style of book – we can only hope Mr. Banjoko’s release will do the culture and the various themes throughout politics some justice. I’m always afraid of these sorts of book releases because at the end of the day, it’s still a business venture. I don’t doubt or question the author’s sincerity – I’ve exchanged e-mails with him in the past. I’m just very aware of how this could turn out. I want to be proven incorrect.

Jimi Izreal of definitely hits the nail on the head in his article on young voters and the Hip Hop selling point, perhaps more so than I ever have on this blog column. It may read harsh but it is beyond necessary. In Aaron McGruder’s latest Boondocks strip entry, it touches on this very issue in three short black and white frames. So perfectly illustrated, so sadly true. We need more than slogans; we need informed leaders that both have the energy and connection with the people. Otherwise, it all just sounds like dead air.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

To The Left, To The Right: Does The Hip Hop Generation Care About Playing Sides?

The blog revolution is larger than ever, perhaps more than I could ever imagine. It’s particularly comforting to know that participants of all sides of the political spectrum have taken the opportunity blogs present to illustrate their views. Dan LeRoy of the National Review lets readers in on an entire world of young African-Americans who have taken the bold step to state their allegiance to conservatism. It’s always a slight shock to the system to have right-leaning people of color openly state their position because almost unilaterally Americans of African and Caribbean descent, and those in the Hispanic community, are usually liberal to a fault. LeRoy writes with a blind praise about these bloggers that, "the Internet is suddenly full of great black writers whose views aren't monolithic — you'll find almost-daily disagreements about affirmative action, President Bush or the morality of gangsta rap — but instead offer a vibrant, hip-hop generation alternative to the broken record of the civil-rights establishment." Broken record? I’m sure Mr. LeRoy can’t possibly be so excited about the prospect of black conservative blogging to the point he would be so dismissive about such an important landmark in human history.

I’ve been told by my parents and others of the baby boomer generation that conservative values are quietly heralded in many a black community. Why then is the liberal tag usually applied to almost every black Democratic politician if this is supposedly true? There isn’t anything inherently wrong about being either liberal or conservative but the divide is beyond unsettling. There exists this breeding pool for contention already present amongst many rappers since the early stages of Hip Hop and the political battleground is no different when it comes to that tension. Where does the dialogue stop being about who gets the "last lick", as we used to say on the playground, and starts becoming about actual growth? To be perfectly honest, this pressing need to be respected does nothing for advancing true policy or democracy. It just ends up being a bunch of adults complaining over steaming heaps of nothingness.
Being political this year, much like in 2000, is extremely fashionable as noted in this article from writer Meg Carter for The Guardian by way of the Tapei Times. The nationwide involvement from entertainers and those of the fashion world have the potential to be callow attempts at cashing in. Do we want this to be true? Of course we don’t. I want to believe that all of these rappers and film actors are sincere about the mission to get voters involved for the mere sake of choice – even when it's clear they're designing a choice for who the young voters should select at the polls. I’m not sure if it’s enough to just ask anymore; we need to start molding leaders of tomorrow by offering more than sexy slogan t-shirts and offer plans to direct these mini-movements into a lifestyle. But what’s bothersome is that I couldn’t even begin to offer an alternative and I don't want to seem pessimistic. I’m hopeful that with all that’s happening this year with the political activism and movements, all of these efforts are going to bear the best fruits.

The people over at Slam Bush have uploaded a video of New York MC and freestyle master Wordsworth debating our president and it’s one of the freshest ideas ever hatched. Stick me with the late pass if someone else has already posted this on the site but I think it deserves another look. Wordsworth is lyrically light years ahead of a lot of MCs and this proves it.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Beats To The Rhyme: The Digital Generation Isn't That Lost

Although driving in the Washington Metro area is usually the most convenient way to get around the city, I'm quite fond of taking our subway train system (commonly called The Metro) because it affords me the opportunity to relax and reflect without tearing my hair out during rush hour. I remember as a kid ditching school in the 80s (yes, I'm old) just to ride the Metro from one end to the other. Even with the so-called threat of undercover truancy officers - and you never saw them anyway - my friends and I had nothing better to do.

Apparently this trend has yet to die out. Just this week I was aboard the train when a bunch of kids hop on board - unnecessarily loud and acting like typical teenagers. They start a pretty horrible "cipher" (freestyle rhyming session) using the empty seats around them to pound out beats and I listened to the amateurs give their best shots. I usually turn away from the noise or just turn the volume up on my walkman when this common occurence happens but this time, I decided to ask if I could join in. Man, you could just hear the record screech across the vinyl then. I’m sure I didn’t look the part; I was wearing a pretty nerdy ensemble of khakis and a buttoned-to-the-top rugby shirt. I most likely could’ve passed for some of the kids’ dad. With the visual shock waning, I showed these boys that looks are deceiving and for a solid hour I owned the Red Line downtown bound Metro train.

The young ones were impressed and asked me how long I’ve rhymed and how I did it so easily. I told them I just use what’s in my head and I expose myself to a lot of written works. Of course they all groaned when I mentioned reading being my most favorite hobby and then when I told them I love watching political talk shows, one of the boys chimed in to my shock.
"When my dad was alive, we used to watch The McLaughlin Group and Tim Russert every Sunday at breakfast".

His boys immediately started to clown him, calling him a nerd and soft. But to his credit, the kid never buckled in his pride in doing so. I was impressed that this young man, all of 16 and slight to boot, would even care about something like that. How funny is it that I did the same thing to him that his friends did to me – assuming the worst based on appearances? By some miracle, all six boys (and one of them soon to be 18) opened up to me saying that they’re tired of feeling like they don’t matter and that they want to go to college and be effective citizens. They actually said the term "effective citizens"! I’m still in shock at how well-mannered they became when the topic moved away from the freewheeling raps to something I would’ve deemed boring if I were in their position. I asked the boys if they had Internet access and some of them said they did; the others were aware of what it was. Although they got all teenaged giggly when they mentioned how they go to "check out girls on BlackPlanet", they said they understood the Internet was best used for gaining information. One of the younger kids even copped to using the Internet to help finish one of his book reports.

I mentioned my work with Music for America and I tried not to bore them too much. I talked to them about being voting, activism and how the rap music they love so much can be more than just beats and rhymes. They all promised to check it out when they could. I’m hoping they do – even if it’s just to say they’re not ready. Hopefully one day those boys will become men and not forget that day when they taught an "old" guy a little bit about not judging a book by its cover.
You’ve read this far, so why not check out this interview with Palestinian- American rapper, Iron Sheik? Pretty interesting read, actually. And I love the fact he’s copping to the fact he’s not from the streets. If only more rappers had that much pride in being from the suburbs.

And in other news:
Hip Hop’s biggest fan, Bill O’Reilly, claims he doesn’t "mind Hip Hop" in his interview with P Diddy by way of MTV. Someone get me his mailing address so I can get him a copy of this new Kay Slay Troublemakers 2 CD. I know my man Billy Bill will think this is the freshest CD since Barry Manilow’s last joint.