Stay in Your Lane or Nah? A$AP Rocky, #blacklivesmatter & The ‘Raptivist’ Phenomenon

By Mr. Westbrooks

In an opinion piece for The RootMichael Arceneaux expressed his thoughts on A$AP Rocky‘s 2015 interview with TimeOut Magazine and his follow-up interview with The Breakfast Club last week. He ultimately came to the conclusion that the public shouldn’t expect all celebrities to use their platforms to speak out about the current issues if they lack the knowledge to do so. The following week, I watched an interview between Red Pill of Know The Ledge Radio and Brother Rich of Underground Railroad Productions in which Red spoke on Rocky’s comments as well. He expressed a similar sentiment and took it a step further by stressing the seriousness of activism and the need for statements and actions to only come from individuals who are sincere about the work. He also stated that rather than making the offensive comments that he made, he could’ve deferred his thoughts to someone more knowledgeable.

Recent events surrounding the backlash that A$AP Rocky received from the public/media along with NBA and WNBA players using their platforms to speak out against police brutality opens up for discussion the topic of whether professional athletes and celebrities should use their platforms for social commentary or simply stay in their lanes.  While I agree that staying in your lane prevents celebrities from making ignorant, outlandish, or disingenuous statements, a question that comes to mind is, “Should that philosophy apply to injustice?” Whether you’re living in a privileged position or in poverty, many of us probably know that at any given moment we can go from one extreme to the next. Furthermore, as Black people, most of us are aware that injustice can be inflicted upon us in some manner no matter what our socioeconomic status is.

With that being said, what doesn’t affect us directly could affect us if our circumstances happen to change. Moreover, a collective mindset teaches us that since we’re all connected by race or humanity (whatever you prioritize first), issues that don’t affect you directly, do make an impact indirectly. To use an oft-stated and on the verge of becoming cliche Dr. King quote, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s true that some threats just remain that, threats; however, the atrocities of anti-Black police brutality and vigilante violence in our history to accompany the recent string of events show and prove that the oppressor isn’t bluffing.

It’s hard to believe that Rocky is merely speaking on what he knows considering that he’s surrounded by media, and he maneuvered through uptown NYC during his adolescent years. Although he doesn’t live in Ferguson, the population and social ills of Ferguson probably mirrors those of Harlem in many ways. There’s a good possibility that he’s either witnessed police brutality or knows someone or heard a story about someone who was a victim of it. He doesn’t have to know about politics to recognize that shooting down unarmed Black people is a bad thing. Thinking about the root of Rocky’s comments, it makes me wonder whether he truly doesn’t know what’s going on, if he’s just choosing to not care, or like Megan Saad said about artists in general who shy away from becoming “raptivists,” he wants to protect his “financial interests and brands.”

If Rocky doesn’t care or if he’s afraid to lose his financial backing, he can refer back to the two paragraphs before the last. If he’s honestly lacking knowledge of what’s happening racially, socially, and politically in America, he can either do his duty as a so-called “American citizen,” and educate himself, he can do as Red Pill suggested and defer to someone more knowledgeable, or he can go with the Mr. Westbrooks theory and create his own lane by continuing to speak on what he knows, but in a manner that contributes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before anyone gets what I’m saying twisted, mixed up, and confused, let me first be clear that I’m not  one of those Black people that deflects the issue of police shootings by bringing up Black-on-Black violence. You also won’t hear me exclaim, “All Lives Matter!” I’m very aware that BLM is a movement to restructure or rebuild the Black Liberation Movement to include a broader population of Black people in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and ability with the goal of challenging systematic and blatant injustice while reaffirming our contributions to society.  And, I won’t pull the respectability card by suggesting that rappers need to change their content in order for the police and other racial groups to respect us. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the point of how A$AP Rocky can continue to rap and talk about what he knows while still contributing to the movement.

While groups outside of the Black social construct have and will continue to be apparent allies to BLM, it’s essentially all on us to achieve the solutions we need to reach, whatever they may be. It’s going to take buy-in and a unified effort from Black people. While rap songs about violence, drugs, money, hoes, and clothes aren’t the reasons why police are shooting down Black people, these factors can hinder our ability to unite in greater numbers and battle against the beast of racism and White supremacy.

If Rocky wants to talk about his friend being killed, he can do that and frame it in the context of the human impact of violence on friends and families. With his “new inspiration in drugs,” he can speak on how to use drugs responsibly in ways that allow you to tap into your spirituality. (Shout out to the Black Dot.) He can also discuss horror stories of the dangers of irresponsible drug use. If he wants to talk about being “in these bitches drawers,” he can either do the knowledge on the powers of sex magic or describe the emotional and health-related risks of having sex with multiple partners. “Jiggy fashion” is cool. Promote economic empowerment by showing love to fly, Black fashion designers.

Celebrities don’t have to talk about politics per se in order to contribute to the cause of BLM. They don’t necessarily have to assume the responsibility of being “raptivists” if that’s not what they know or are passionate about, but they do have a responsibility to avoid making destructive music that indirectly relates to the BLM movement. Meek Mill probably won’t quote the Constitution on his next album, but he did promise to not rap about “extreme violence” anymore after Dream Chasers 4.

Rocky mentioned that he wants to promote peace and inspiration through his music, and that’s what Black Lives Matter needs more of. He may not have the answers to our police brutality, Donald Trump, and Billary Clinton problems, and I understand his frustration with social justice issues. But, that peace and inspiration may be what people need to decompress from all of the craziness that’s going on. A$AP Rocky should challenge himself to be true to that objective and push himself to take it to the next level during these trying times, no matter if it’s in the studio, on social media, or in an interview.

 

 

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#SummerReadingChallenge Book 2: Hip Hop Decoded

By Mr. Westbrooks

Hip Hop DecodedUnlike The Immortal Birth, The Black Dot’s Hip Hop Decoded was a recommended read that just sat on my Amazon Wish List for long as hell until the author made an appearance in my city at a local Black-owned bookstore. I’ve watched several Black Dot and Professor Griff lectures on YouTube, and I mention Griff because he has lived similar experiences maneuvering in the music industry, and he has written and spoken about the metaphysical, esoteric, and occultist aspects of the entertainment industry, primarily Hip Hop. The masses of media consumers skeptical that a secret society of families connected by bloodline called the Illuminati controls the music industry, would probably dismiss Dot and Griff’s information as conspiracy theories, but that’s neither here nor there.

As you can see, I was already aware of the caliber of knowledge Black Dot was bringing to the table before I even opened his first book. (He also has another book called Urban Culture Decoded which I will read and write about at some point this summer.) According to his brief autobiography, Dot grew up in the South Bronx and led his own Hip Hop career as a young emcee named Cheba La Rock in the 80s and 90s. He was to signed to B-Boy Records, toured around the world with Tim Dog, established an independent label, B.I.B Records, and started a group called The Lethahedz that released an EP called A&R Killer.

During these years, he would learn the ins and outs of the music business, so needless to say, Dot is more than qualified to write about Hip Hop. His support and backing from Hip Hop’s pioneers such as Kool Moe Dee, Professor Griff, and Grandmaster Caz – who also wrote the foreword – further legitimizes Dot’s qualifications. Even after all of the YouTube presentations along with the in-person lecture he gave at the Source of Knowledge bookstore in Newark, NJ, I was still amazed after reading HHD as it widened my third eye even more to the mystery of Hip Hop.

Looking at the title, it may be easy to mistake HHD for your typical book on Hip Hop that  gives you a chronological history of the culture as it relates to the social and political events occurring during each era. It’s not that. It’s also not a purist tirade of how Hip Hop music has become shit hop in its contemporary age. And, it’s not a top 25, 50, or 100 countdown of the greatest emcees of all time. It’s none of those things. It goes way deeper than that, and Dot makes that clear from the beginning.

Like he mentions in the foreword, HHD is about the “mystery of Hip Hop.” He does provide some history, but he doesn’t dwell on the early beginnings. The history is used as a reference point to contextualize how Hip Hop got to where it was when the book was published in 2005 and where it could potentially go beyond that time. At some points, Dot praises Hip Hop and criticizes rap music, but the basis of his analysis is an alternative perspective that most people are probably unaware of. He dives deeply into the spiritual, metaphysical, numerological, and occultist implications of Hip Hop. He goes further back than the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s by drawing parallels between the four elements of Hip Hop (DJing, break dancing, graffiti, emceeing) and the four elements of our African past with drums, dance, hieroglyphs, and the oracle.

Throughout the book, Dot transforms and characterizes the culture as a Hip Hop metaphor of the movie The Matrix. He identifies the key figures of the music industry from the corporations at the upper echelons to the masses of consumers at the lowest level. He reveals what the red and blue pills represent, and he discusses the roles that all of us play in the Hip Hop Matrix. To appeal to a variety of learners and to reach a broader audience, the author conveys his scrutiny through an array of methods – fictional stories, visual illustrations/diagrams, historical facts/current events, and critical analysis.

Allow me to reiterate that HHD was published in ’05, so the events surrounding the Nas and Jay-Z beef, the fall of Roc-A-Fella Records, the rise of G-Unit and it’s on-wax and possibly off-of-wax conflict with Murder Inc. may all be dated; however, the overarching themes and messages are relevant today and for years to come. HHD is written for the masses of people who’ve noticed that something is terribly wrong with Hip Hop as it exists contemporarily, or for those who question the judgment of the XXL Magazine staff members who selected this year’s freshman class. Appropriation and commodification has caused the culture to devolve from it’s highest vibrational frequencies from a time when it was in its purest form. In order to unplug yourself from the Hip Hop Matrix and to take the first steps towards destroying the Matrix machine, this book is a must-read.

Black Dot

Mental Slaves: A Social Commentary Poem

by Mr. Westbrooks

After completing quarter three of English 2, I started teaching the same course again to a different set of students. Unfortunately, three weeks of PARCC testing threw my plans off schedule, so the students weren’t able to learn as much content/skills as the previous group of students. In lieu of the social commentary research paper, I assigned the students a project in which they would create their own social commentary literature. Being intrigued by the project-based learning opportunity I created, I decided I would do the project with them, at least partly.

Our administration’s vision was to have the students craft interdisciplinary projects that would be rich in content and aesthetically appealing to the eye. I thought U.S. History would go well with my social commentary unit. During the previous quarter, the history teacher had the kids create a PowerPoint presentation detailing a historical turning point. For my project, I had the students consider their historical turning point, and write a social commentary literary text about a current event, issue, or topic that relates to the historical turning point.

Through poems, short stories, essays, and a song students drew connections and expressed their points of view between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Islamic State’s attack on Paris, racism during the 19th century and racism now, the Boston Tea party and the Verizon strike, the Bill of Rights and the gun control debate, and a few others. Many students struggled to find present-day connections to their historical topics and how to articulate the connections, but in the end, I received some insightful and creative texts. Below is the text that I drafted in between class periods. Look out for my students’ products in the near future.

Abstract

American chattel slavery lasted between 4-5 centuries in the United States. Thousands of people were stolen and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in what’s known as the Middle Passage, and these Africans were used to fuel the American economy by essentially building America into what it is today. During that time of forced enslavement, African/African-Americans not only endured physical suffering, but they also underwent much psychological trauma. Since 1865, physical slavery was abolished by the federal government; however, remnants of mental slavery still exist in 2016. The following poem provides social commentary on the psychological slavery that continues to plague the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Note: The poem follows no specified rhyme scheme. It rhymes, but it’s not quite free verse. It’s…I don’t know. It’s something.

 

Mental Slaves

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s misogyny and violence, but never doubt what rap do

That’s what I learned from Killa Cam on verse two

On the second installment of “The Professional” by DJ Clue

This is what Cam said on Fantastic Four Part two:

 

Back in the day, we was slaves

Whips and chains

It’s tradition

All I got…whips and chains

All I did…flip some caine

Now [Cam]* is sick of the range

Only a new six could fix the pain

 

Now, does his pain stem from his boredom with the range?

Or is he suffering from PTSD, no longer sane?

From a time of living righteous from which he could’ve been estranged

Yet strangely, he still saw himself as a new slave 13 years before Ye (Kanye)

 

What’s more, on the album SDE he made it plain

To paraphrase Biggie, you play ball, sell drugs, or entertain

 

Entertainer and athlete – Yeah, sure he’s gettin’ paid,

But William Rhoden showed and proved there’s a limit to his wage

Platitudes emanate from the so-called awake,

The type that convey clichés about ancestors rollin’ over in graves

 

But allow me to get to the theme of the prose,

About how our people think they’ve elevated, but haven’t yet arose

 

We’re mistaken if we believe bondage is only physical

That’s ended, but in 2016 we see the chains can be invisible

 

We’ve been fooled by the 13th amendment of 1865.

Mass incarceration and psychological chains prove slavery’s still alive

 

You got mis-education and religion mis-overstood,

Trap houses, liquor stores juxtaposed with churches in the hood

 

Across social classes, media conditions our minds.

Destructive music and reality shows keep the 3rd eyes blind

 

And when you’re blind you can’t see

Too much time in front of screens,

Which means you devote less time to read

Vocabulary devolved, less knowledge is gleaned

M.K. titled a chapter “The Most Beautiful Country”

He said with a limited word choice, you can’t be free

See, the peculiar institution was so mean,

That in 2016 they claim slave trauma is encoded in our genes

 

Solutions from the Oppressor, on which many of us are banking

Do we need psychological help to get our heads shrinking?

Our captive minds are ships with holes that keep sinking

Word to Carter G [Woodson], there’s no concern for your actions when they control your thinking

 

And to the choir members, this preaching isn’t new

You’ve got Kwabena Ashanti, Tom Burrell, Na’im Akbar, Alvin Morrow, Joy Degruy

But this verse isn’t for The Academy or debates on YouTube

I do it for the metaphorical unsaved; I do it for the youth

In particular, this was written by Mr. Westbrooks for his students in English 2

But even with knowledge and info, we become mental slaves to the truth

When we discourse about the source of the problem all day, we still lose

Because the time for us to MOVE is long overdue

Yet, we’re stuck in limbo about what we need to DO

So are the conscious folk any better than Killa Cam on verse 2?

 

~ Mental Slaves ~

 

I say babies ar…

I say babies are closest to God cause they’re the most recent ones to come from the other side. So next time you see the smile of an infant, take it as a sign of divine intervention. – Billy Bang

Inspired by my bus ride home from D.C. to Jersey. A mother sat next to me with her baby boy. His tiny feet kicking at my leg and resting on it as he slept brought me joy and reminded me of this quote from a song by Billy Bang, a lyricist from Lefrak, Queens and fellow Howardite. 

By the Time I Get to Arizona: Public Enemy and MLK Day

pe_arizona

By Nick Westbrooks

As an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a fan of Hip-Hop music, I reflect on the classic 1991 Public Enemy song “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” The song and video is a response, and to me a diss track, to former Arizona governor Evan Mecham’s opposition to observing Dr. King’s holiday.

Music website Song Facts provides the background:

“The song deals with former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, who faced harsh criticism during his time in office after he refused to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. John McCain was an Arizona senator at the time, and in 1983 he opposed creation of a federal holiday to honor King. He later admitted that this was a mistake, and in 1990 supported the holiday. The music video stirred some controversy, as it depicts the group assassinating the governor with a car bomb. The song and the video are Public Enemy at their most militant, implying that they will use force to advance their agenda.”

In addition to the assassination, the video depicts the racism common in the Jim Crow south along with the acts of resistance executed by African Americans in response. It’s a polarizing song/video. On one side, Gov. Mecham’s refusal to observe the holiday can be seen as racist, and Public Enemy may be applauded for speaking out. On the other hand, Dr. King’s philosophy emphasized nonviolence, and the depictions of PE’s militia, the S1W’s, performing target practice and placing an explosive under the governor’s limo may be perceived as hypocritical.

Chuck D raps:

“Wait I’m waitin’ for the date
For the man who demands respect
‘Cause he was great c’mon
I’m on the one mission
To get a politician
To honor or he’s a gonner
By the time I get to Arizona”

I also notice genealogical undertones in Chuck’s threats to the governor. The renderings of violence in the video are reminiscent of the 1968 riots in reaction to King’s assassination. Since, Arizona was merely one of two states refusing to observe King’s birthday as a holiday (New Hampshire was the other), I doubt that Public Enemy would incite national riots on a similar scale.

One may consider assassinating Gov. Mecham to be extreme, but as appreciators of Hip-Hop, we should commend PE for applying its musical genius and aesthetics to this social and political cause. The group should also be recognized for its conscious lyrics and its attention on matters important to Black people while appealing to the youth. Just like any issue affecting Blacks, we may agree that we’re there’s injustice, but we usually disagree about how to go about implementing solutions. Watch the video below.