No one can refute how influential Hip-Hop/Rap Music has been, over the last three decades, in reshaping pop-culture on a national and global scale. Economically, socially and politically, this art form has been a cultural game changer. It was born in the urban communities in the U.S. in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as an expression of the artistic voice of the poor New Afrikan urbanite reflecting the discontent within these communities as experienced in their everyday lives.
This concept of purpose seems to have been lost, or at least superseded by the crass materialism of the music industry, and shorn of its original political-cultural content and context. It is now being used to indoctrinate the oppressed masses with sexist, misogynist, racist and reactionary “gangsta” ideology. It is causing young people to be overdosed with this toxic cultural waste and prepped for the “ghetto school to prison pipeline” of the prison-industrial complex.
This has been a “gold mine” for the industry moguls and record company big shots, and has made a lot of rappers rich, but more importantly it serves the interests of the ruling class capitalists by helping in the strategy of mass criminalization and mass incarceration of the surplus labor power in the oppressed communities that cannot be profitably exploited as workers. As the monopoly capitalists export jobs to countries where wages are lowest, and eliminate jobs altogether with automation and computerization, more and more urban Black youth and other oppressed people in the industrial centers are made jobless and unable to find sustainable employment.
Even when U.S. industry was booming and our labor power was in high demand, the government was selectively flooding oppressed communities with narcotics and other toxic substances:
“Drug addiction in the colonized ghettos of America has constituted a major problem for over 15 years. Its use is so widespread that it can – without fear of exaggeration – be termed a ‘plague.’ It has reached epidemic proportions, and it is still growing. But it has only been within the last few years that the racist U.S. government has considered drug addiction ‘a matter of grave concern.’ It is interesting to note that this growing concern on the part of the government is proportionate to the spread of the plague into the inner sanctums of the White middle and upper-class communities. As long as the plague was confined to the ghetto, the government did not see fit to deem it a problem. But as soon as college professors, demagogic politicians, money-crazed finance capitalists and industrialists discovered that their own sons and daughters had fallen victim to the plague, a virtual ‘state of national emergency’ was declared. This is significant, for it provides us with a clue to the understanding of the plague as it relates to Black people.
“From the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to the clergy, to members of the medical profession, so-called educators, psychologists, right on down to the chemically enslaved addicts on the street corner, the hopes for effectively curbing the spread of the plague are dishearteningly dim. Despite the stiffer jail sentences being meted out to those whom the law defines as ‘drug profiteers’ – a euphemism for illegal capitalists – there are more dope dealers now than ever before. Despite the ever increasing number of preventive and rehabilitative programs the plague proliferates; it threatens to devour an entire generation of youth.
“The basic reason why the plague cannot be stopped by the, drug prevention and rehabilitation programs is that these programs, with their archaic, bourgeois Freudian approach and their unrealistic therapeutic communities, do not deal with the causes of the problem. These programs deliberately negate or at best deal flippantly with the socio-economic origin of drug addiction. These programs sanctimoniously deny the fact that capitalist exploitation and racial oppression are the main contributing factors to drug addiction in regard to Black people. These programs were never intended to cure Black addicts. They can’t even cure the White addicts they were designed for.” (Michael Tabor, “Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide,” BPP, 1970)
The “War on the Poor” is reflected in the corporate-controlled culture of hip-hop and rap music. The irony is that even the people who compose and perform this music often fall victim to the negative “Thug” life style they promote and end up prematurely dead or in prison themselves. The motivation is record sales and overall profits. We live in a “shock-value culture” where “culture vultures” profit when entertainers shock their audiences with vivid imagery of violence, degrading sex and anti-social commentary. They have no qualms about the lives they ruin in their quest to generate more sales and reap greater royalties.
To illustrate my point, let’s take a closer look at the rapper “Rick Ross” as an example of a “neo-slave” performer. In the June, 2012, issue of Ebony Magazine, on page 113, there is a photograph of this brainless neo-slave posing shirtless with two immense tattoos on his chest; depictions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. William Leonard Roberts II (born January 28, 1976), better known by his stage name “Rick Ross,” is an American rapper and entrepreneur. A former corrections officer, he took his stage name from the notorious drug kingpin “Freeway Ricky” Ross, who strongly objected and sued him.
Now, anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge might question why any Black man in Amerika would have himself tattooed with pictures of Washington and Lincoln. In his day, George Washington was the biggest slave-owner in Virginia, and Lincoln made it crystal clear he had no desire to free any slaves if it would jeopardize the maintenance of the union. Lincoln even supported the “Corwin Amendment,” which was passed by Congress to guarantee that any slave-state that hadn’t seceded from the union was allowed to maintain the institution of slavery in their state. Later, Lincoln supported the “2nd Confiscation Act,” (July, 1862), that only freed slaves from slave-owners in the Confederate States that were in rebellion against the union.
In response to an editorial by Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote:
“I would save the union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the union will be ‘the union it was’ …. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the union.”
These are Abraham Lincoln’s exact words leaving no doubt that the human rights of millions of men, women and children enslaved to perpetual servitude because of the pigmentation of their skin, were of indifference to him. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln:
“No one doubts the valor and commitment that characterized George Washington’s life. But to the end of his days he maintained a posture of exclusionism towards the slave. He was a fourth-generation slave-holder. He only allowed Negroes to enter the Continental Army because His Majesty’s Crown was attempting to recruit Negroes to the British cause.
“Washington was not without his moments of torment, those moments of conscience when something within told him that slavery was wrong. As he searched the future of America one day, he wrote to his nephew: ‘I wish from my soul that the legislature of this state could see the policy of gradual abolition of slavery. It might prevent much future mischief.’ In spite of this, Washington never made a public statement condemning slavery. He could not pull away from the system. When he died, he owned, or had on lease, more than 160 slaves.” (“Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” by Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 89-92)
Regarding Lincoln, he wrote:
“The strange duality towards the Negro and slavery vexed the mind of Abraham Lincoln for years. Few men in history have anchored their lives more deeply in moral convictions than Abraham Lincoln, but on the question of slavery Lincoln’s torments and vacillations were tenacious. As early as 1837, as a state legislator, Lincoln referred to the injustice and impracticality of slavery. Later he wrote of the physical differences between Blacks and whites and made it clear that he felt whites were superior. At times he concluded that the white man could not live with the Negro. This accounted for his conviction that the only answer to the problem was to colonize the Black man – send him back to Africa, or to West Indies or some other isolated spot. This view was still in his mind toward the height of the Civil War. Delegation after delegation – the Quakers above all, great abolitionists like Charles Summer, Horace Greeley and William Lloyd Garrison – pleaded with Lincoln to free the slaves, but he was firm in his resistance.” (Ibid.)
It’s no secret that I firmly believe in what MLK stood for, which was equality and social justice for all, nor that I take exception with his religious nonviolence approach, but I concur with his appraisal of Washington’s and Lincoln’s relative unconcern for the human rights of Black people. Yet somehow, in “Rick Ross’s” deluded mind it made sense to decorate is skin indelibly with ink to showcase his love and admiration for these guys who would not have minded seeing him chained and whipped or having half his foot chopped off, had he lived in their day. To make matters worse, this picture appeared in Ebony Magazine, founded in 1946 by John H. Johnson, with the intent to culturally, socially and politically uplift the people of the Black community; which once courageously exposed the unjust torture and murder of Emmit Till. Now it is promoting the coonishness of “Rick Ross”? Well, listen to what they wrote about him:
“One of the biggest names in hip-hop right now is Rick Ross because his beats are gigantic and funky, his voice has that oomph, and his rhymes about the drug life are cinematic. Regardless of whether he actually lived it, Ross’s sonic package is compelling and believable as the movie Scarface, by which he’s greatly influenced. His fifth solo album, God Forgives I Don’t, is highly anticipated within hip-hop circles, in part because his “Rich Forever” mix tape, released in January, is one of the hottest of the year so far. Ross has an ear for picking great beats and knows just how to flow smoothly through them; but when he says he’s working with the legendary beat maker Dr. Dre on God Forgives I don’t, the mind boggles at the possibilities…”
Yes, indeed, the mind boggles, the stomach churns and one throws up a bit in one’s mouth. With all the pandemic ills affecting the Black community, from the plague of drug addiction, to the spread of HIV and STD’s, to the high incidence of rape and sexual violence; With all the “Black-On-Black” gun violence going on in Amerika, the decadence and depravity promoted by this low-life who produced a song promoting the drugging and raping of women with the lyrics: “Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it.” Only a petition signed by 72,000 people persuaded Reebok to drop this promoter of rape culture as their product spokesperson. Nominated four times for Grammy awards, Rick Ross was also nominated by The Source as its “Man of the Year.”
The idea that the culturally destructive images and their promoters have become socially acceptable with the Black bourgeoisie and the ruling class underscores the class nature of the “War on the Poor” and treasonous character of the Black bourgeoisie. I fully understand that Ebony Magazine is a commodity that is being marketed to make a profit, and that “Rick Ross” is a commodity that markets himself to make a profit. However, being a man or a journal still requires some social accountability. At the end of the day, the health and welfare of society affects us all. Deliberately poisoning masses of people should be regarded as a crime, not an accomplishment. This underscores why the Black bourgeoisie cannot be regarded as the leaders of our Black community. They will do anything for money!
Pseudo leaders like rappers, promoters and Black politicians are hand-picked by the Establishment to be their mouthpieces in the Black community. Genuine leaders like Malcolm X, MLK, Fred Hampton, George Jackson, Zayd Shakur and “Bunchy” Carter get assassinated, railroaded into prison or forced into exile. It is the old “carrot and stick” used to control mules. This is why it is “culturally acceptable” to spoon-feed culturally toxic images to impressionable young fans and profit from the degrading of your own people and community. So I’m not surprised to see “Rick Ross” and his chest full of dead presidents showcased in Ebony Magazine or to see the youngsters coming into prison hero-worshiping these rap artists acting as Judas Goats leading them to slaughter. This is all part of the Amerikkkan Nightmare that has been prepared for us.
I am not surprised that Jay-Z named his record label “Roco-Fella-Records” after John D. Rockefeller the “robber baron” industrialist. I am not shocked that Curtis James Jackson III (aka “50 Cents”) would produce a semi-autobiographical film and album titled “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” I am not amazed that Michael Jordan became one of the first Black billionaires investing in sweatshops and prison industries. As pointed out in the Summer 2007 issue of Right On!, the NABPP-PC newsletter:
“Culture is a battlefield and hip-hop is no exception. There are those who represent the oppressed and those who represent the oppressors – ideologically, culturally and sometimes literally. Throughout the 1990s (and up to the present) many millions of Afrikans have been killed and many more displaced and/or enslaved, raped and tortured as various imperialists and their local agents and clients have contended for control of the diamond and gold fields as well as other mineral resources of Mother Afrika.”
The article pointed to rap stars/promoters like Akon, (who was in the scandal news for dry-humping a 14-year old girl on stage in Trinidad), who owns a record label (Kon Live Distribution), a clothing line (Konvict Clothing) and a South African diamond mine, who suspiciously denies the existence of “conflict diamonds” which are often smuggled by mixing them in with legitimate diamonds from places like South Africa. Also Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, the hip-hop entrepreneur whose Honduras’ sweat shop workers get paid as low as 75 cents for 11 to 12 hours’ work making sweat shirts and t-shirts that sell for upwards of $40 under his Sean John label.
The late, great Comrade Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt gave an accurate analysis of this perpetual illiberal mind-set when he told a German reporter in 1993:
“Huey Newton gave a lecture on that one time and we had foreseen that this was gonna happen. After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for – upcoming generations became the pimps, the drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The next result was that the gangs were being formed, coming together with gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary mentality we would have given them.” (Read: “We Want Freedom,” by Mumia Abu Jamal, pp. 237-238).
I want to emphasize that culture is war, and the ruling capitalist class is waging was against us. We must teach the masses to distinguish friends from enemies, and that the blind misleading the blind are not our friends. The cultural pandemic of the past several decades was manufactured as surely as they make cars in auto factories and iron in foundries. As Mao expressed: “In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics. Proletarian literature and art are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause; they are, as Lenin said, cogs and wheels in the whole revolutionary machine.” (Mao Tse-tung, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 86)
Recognizing that culture is war and art cannot stand above class and politics, we must demand of our artists and creators of culture that they serve the interests of humanity and revolution. We must not be seduced by the beat or catchy rhymes but demand uplifting lyrics and positive messages that will build and not destroy our people and our community. In the field of culture, we must practice self-reliance and rely upon the masses of people. We created hip-hop and rap in the first place, not the “culture vultures.” In the beginning, it wasn’t about the money, it was about the music and what we could say through the music that would make a difference.
Comrade Rashid, my mentor, is an artist in his own right. His medium is drawing, but it is his determination to say something important that makes his artwork meaningful. We can apply this to hip-hop and spoken word to create quality revolutionary culture. There are some good rappers out there in the community, like “Steve Biko” Thomas, here in Virginia, rhyming to a World On Fire! and Treble Army, singing to Serve the People! I will conclude this with a quote from an interview Comrade Rashid did with Anthony Rayson some years back. I think we can all learn from his attitude:
“My art is driven by my determination to contribute what I can towards educating and inspiring the common people to collectively build the struggle to crush imperialist oppression, which is the cause of all other forms of social oppression. A major front in this struggle, as I’ve already pointed out, is the cultural front. This front, – which relates directly to raising the consciousness and resolve of the masses, – must directly challenge and counter the dominant bourgeois culture, which reflects and promotes the corrupt values of capitalism and conceals and stifles mass culture. Art (imagery and sound) is a major form of cultural expression. With my art, I aspire to produce images whose quality is both aesthetically pleasing (to capture and hold the eye and emotions) while educating (even if only initially on a subconscious level).
“The vast majority of people are affective decision makers rather than cognitive decision makers. Meaning, they base decisions more on emotion than calculated reason. This is especially the case in a society like this where the reasoning faculties of the masses are kept in suspended animation. This is a reality that seems to be lost to most academic ‘Marxists’ and Anarchists alike, and it is why they fail to reach and inspire the masses. (They spend most of their time talking to themselves and going over the common people’s heads).
“The ruling class realizes this and in fact promotes forms of ‘education’ that basically train the people to function on the spontaneous emotional level rather than cognitively. The masses of Amerikans function without thinking much at all. This is why the capitalists are so successful at manipulating public opinion through media that is targeted almost exclusively at the basest and most primitive emotional levels. They don’t call their communications media an entertainment industry for nothing. So a big part of our struggle is, as George Jackson recognized, to teach people how to think instead of what to think. This is a struggle carried out in the ideological and educational fields, and is targeted at awakening the conscious mind.
“Whereas artistic imagery both captures and informs the emotions, many may be unwilling or unable as yet to grasp the ideas in print or spoken word form. Artistic imagery reaches another, deeper, level of the psyche – often involuntarily and unconsciously. Therefore, I try to educate using both words and imagery and reach both the rational and emotional levels of the mind. This allows a dialectical balance in consciousness raising, reaching large numbers of people despite the limitations of my physical surroundings and availability of materials. In fact, my art has been copied, circulated and seen by people on a vastly larger scale than my writings. Art makes knowledge accessible across class, race, gender, educational and state boundaries.
“I’m also a particularly determined persyn. When I commit to something, I invest my all into it, often to the point of exhaustion or injury. We all have that capacity, it’s just where our interests lie and where we are motivated to invest our energies. I’m no different from anyone else. I’m really not exceptional. Most people’s limitations are self-imposed: The result of self-doubt or lack of interest. The same factors I believe are behind New Afrikans and other oppressed peoples having remained oppressed for so long. We’ve been conditioned to doubt ourselves and our ability to overthrow our oppressors, or we’re distracted to the point of lack of interest in pursuing liberation.
“I don’t doubt myself, although I often question myself and self-criticize (and by extension I don’t doubt the masses), because I know that we/I have the same capacity to do what anyone else can. It just requires correctly analyzing problems and devising correct solutions. This awareness is what often allows me to devise ways to counter or overcome adversity and maneuver around external restraints.
“We’ve been so conditioned to self-doubt and therefore have become so consumed with idolizing others that we forget we can each become or do the same things.” (Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Interview with Comrade Rashid: On the Present State of New Afrikan/Black Crisis in America; Revolutionary Art; the United Panther Movement; and Communism vs. Anarchism,” June 20, 2010)
CREATE TO DEMONSTRATE…
DARE TO STRUGGLE DARE TO WIN…
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
August 27, 2012