“Hip-Hop has been hijacked by a Luciferian conspiracy. People have used Hip-Hop in a lot of ways that cause a lot of mind problems. They use the word wrongfully. They use it to mean a part instead of a whole.” –Afrika BambaataaIntrinsically, early Hip Hop through the Golden Era was true to the underlying Hip Hop ideology of collective resistance. The Soul Sonic Force reminded us that we are “nature’s children” and “Mother Earth…is our rock” and The Furious 5 penned new anthems that resonated every bit as much as James Weldon Johnson’s… warning “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge.” Rap music, as the vocal element of Hip Hop, continued to advance, articulate, debate and refine Hip-Hop ideology through the mid-1990s (and continues to do so in the underground). But with the corporate takeover of mainstream rap, an individualism and embrace of the capitalist mindset also came, priming the ground for the rap music’s reigning king – Jay Z.
Without question Jay is a phenomenal lyricist, with flow that weaves words through beats so expertly, so melodically, that it envelopes and possesses, drawing listeners completely into the experience, causing chests to heave, heads to bob, hips to sway, eyes to roll back until we are completely enraptured by the song as an experience that melds into our person. And while Hov has long proclaimed himself “Hip Hop’s savior,” it is unclear whether what we are experiencing is Hip-Hop or simply the smoothest, corporate-sponsored, media-made, (Illuminati-crafted?) rap of all time.
You see, rap is not something new. It wasn’t birthed with Hip-Hop 40 years ago. No, rap is bigger than Hip Hop (no pun intended). Rap is something that our grandmothers warned us about. Every scam, every scheme begins with rap. Rap is game…It’s the sweet sound of Satanic beckonings that whispered in Adam’s ear. Rap made glass beads glisten like precious gems, scarlet-fever riddled blankets feel as warm as the sun, and rotten-tooth smiles disarming and endearing, setting the stage for Indian genocide and African slavery. Rap makes panties drop for two-bit pimps. It makes 70-year-old women entrust their life savings to Bernie Maddoff. Rap makes freedom fighters into terrorists, warmongers into commander-in-chiefs, and sweatshop labor performed by hungry third-world Brown children the “low prices” that save first-world Brown cousins. Yes, as rappers go, Jay Z is among the best.
Most of us have fallen for his rap, hook, line and sinker. But it has always been the role of wise elders, to redirect us when we stray. Harry Belafonte has long been an admirer, advocate and loving critic of Hip Hop. He is of a particular class of public figures…in the vein of Paul Robeson and Muhammad Ali, who understand the stages they occupy to not only to serve their art, but also the collective advancement of the people. As such, Belafonte fully engaged in freedom struggles from Civil Rights, to anti-Apartheid, to global peace. And given his position, his immeasurable contributions, and his age, Belafonte now regularly challenges younger artists to pick up the mantle. And Jay Z is not immune.
Given their immense fortune, access and power, both Mr. and Mrs. Carter were recently challenged by Mr. Belafonte to be more “socially responsible.” And while it stings to be called out on your stuff, it is the duty of those who are older and wiser to do so, especially in adherence to African traditions. However, rather than accepting Belafonte’s critique and using it as an opportunity for self-reflection, Jay retreated to the realm and egotistical self-aggrandizing positioning.
“My presence is charity,” Jay retorted, as if this were some inconsequential beef with Nas or Mobb Deep, rather than an engagement with an 86-year old veteran who has given his blood, sweat and tears to make it possible for Hov to even exist. And what does Jay do with that existence? Does he listen to the counsel of elders? Does he hear the cries of the young ones who are coming behind him? Does he advance the cause in substantive way? Does he demonstrate appreciation for what has been given? Does he even understand the complexity and contradiction of his own lyrics?
In his own Moment of Clarity he confesses, “I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars….If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli. Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense (But I did five mil) I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.” And this is what, in all of his narcissistic glory, is missed. If Jay could be Talib or Common, then they, if they so chose, could be him. Instead, they choose to use their art to uplift and empower the collective, rather than simply enriching themselves. This choice, to mitigate one’s individual enrichment for the sake of the whole, is the essence of Hip-Hop; it is the core of the 5th element of Hip Hop (knowledge) embedded in the core of freedom fighters of every hue. Elder Balafonte challenges Jay to recognize this choice and walk the righteous path.
So while some may have been too afraid to proclaim that Jay has become hollow, that he has acted as a fork-tongued rapper selling snake oil to get rich off the backs of his own people, that his actions belie his potential greatness, that he is walking through life wearing a very expensive invisible cloak that reveals the fraudulent nature of what lies beneath, the brave ones must call out his nudity.
And while these critiques may feel like an attack, they are not that at all. Heeding the very wise counsel of Mr. Belafonte, we are simply doing what family does…stating the obvious – that the Emperor has no clothes and inviting him to make a different choice, one that centers the whole and returns him to Hip Hop’s fold.
Melina Abdullah & Hasira Ashemu
Wednesday, 31 July 2103