#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

Women’s History Month: The History of Strong Women

By Nick Westbrooks

Bishop John R. Bryant, the Presiding Prelate of the Fourth Episcopal District and Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and also the father of the Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant recently preached at a recent Sunday chapel service at Howard University. As it was the first Sunday in March, Bishop Bryant’s sermon correlated with the start of Women’s History Month. His message entitled “The History of Strong Women,” told the story of Queen Vashti’s strength and highlighted the strength of other influential women in our history while encouraging women now to build on their legacies.

The first chapter in the book of Esther discusses King Xerxes, a dominant leader of great power and wealth who “ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush” (v.1 NIV). After a six-month exhibition displaying the “vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor of his glory,” he held a weeklong banquet (Bryant called it a party) for “all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.” Meanwhile, his wife Queen Vashti held a banquet for the women. (v.4-5, 9).

Xerxes had an endless supply of fine wine and encouraged his guests to drink liberally as he did the same. On the seventh day of the banquet while in “high spirits from wine,” the king ordered his servants to bring Vashti before him so she could “display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at” (v.10-11). Providing commentary, Bryant emphasized that all of the men partying with Xerxes were drunk, and he was requesting that his wife –who was required to “walk in modesty”—parade herself in front of his guests.

Putting this point into perspective, Bryant asserts that Xerxes is objectifying and reducing his wife to a thing rather than a person. Upon receiving the king’s command, Vashti refuses to come, and the king becomes angry (v. 11-12). After his wife’s defiant act, Xerxes consults his law experts to decide what should be done to Vashti for disobeying the king’s command. The king feared that all women would become aware of Vashti’s conduct and begin despising their husbands. As a result, Vashti lost her crown and was permanently banished from King Xerxes’ presence.

Despite losing her royal position and her marriage, Vashti had enough strength to “stand for her personhood” according to Bryant. In the genealogy of strong women, he also mentioned individuals like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks. These are all strong women that we should admire, but the bishop argued that we should go beyond veneration and not wait for the next comparable woman to liberate us.

It’s not enough to celebrate greatness. We must emulate it. We must be who we are in search of.

It’s currently a crucial time for everyone to study and pay homage to strong women in history, not only because it’s Women’s History Month, but because we live in a society beleaguered with sexism, misogyny and objectification that continues to be fueled by ignorance and misinformation. Men should learn the history of strong women to correct the falsehoods and stereotypes that have traditionally characterized women as weak, irrational and inferior. This may help to promote a new culture of giving women the respect and love they deserve. Women should learn the history of their strength to rise out of mediocrity, love and revere themselves, become the greatness that they seek and demand respect just as Vashti stood strong for her personhood.

Faith of Our Mothers Part 2: From Pain to Power

At the beginning of our Mother’s Day service at Calvary Baptist, we had a special alter prayer for the mothers and their children. Sons, daughters and grandchildren stood next to each other, touching and agreeing while the pastor prayed for their faithfulness, unity and encouragement. After the alter prayer, everyone returned to their seats and had a moment of silence for the mothers who were not among us anymore.

The assistant pastor also suggested that we pray for those mothers who may be going through painful times. I prayed for the mothers who passed and for the mothers enduring pain. In particular, I lifted up the mothers who lost children, and that time of meditation reminded me of a recent story in The Final Call.

The article told the stories of mothers who lost children to violence and how they are turning that pain into power; using their faith to remain hopeful while leading the movement to prevent other mothers from feeling that pain.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, lost her son in February when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman. She has dealt with the pain by reminding herself that “God is still in control.” She said she would tell mothers who lost children to “read their Bible, remain prayerful and keep pushing forward.”

Dealing with the pain of losing a child is unimaginable and has to be increasingly overwhelming on Mother’s Day, a day that is suppose to be a joyous time where children show their appreciation towards their mothers. But the faith of Ms. Fulton and the many other mothers is the catalyst that transforms their pain into power.

Wanda Johnson’s son, Oscar Grant, was shot and killed in 2008 on a train station platform by a former Bay Area Rapid Transit District officer. Johnson attributes her strength to endure and remain hopeful to her faith.

“Had I not had a relationship with the Lord, I probably would have fallen into depression.”

She also said that prayer not only gave her power through God but it gave her the strength to encourage others. The article entitled “Mother Love Conquers Adversity” also told the stories of Theresa Williamson, Valerie Bell, Enola Causey and Wanda Hawkins, all mothers who lost their children to violence but found power in their faith.

As I reflect on this subject, I think of Nardyne Jefferies, the mother of 16-year-old Brishell Jones who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in southeast Washington, D.C. in 2010. I met Ms. Jefferies a couple of months ago when she spoke to the male students in the chapel at Howard University on the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. We prayed with her, and it was evident that her faith was keeping her grounded during those trying times.

I also think of the mothers of Tylik Pugh, Saahron Jones, Shakur Prince, Sha’Ron Jackson, Jonathan Paraison and the several other names from around my way who are gone but never forgotten. My prayer is that those mothers find the faith and peace to turn their pain into power on this Mother’s Day.

My heart goes out to all mothers who may be experiencing the pain of lost. Lord willing they keep pushing forward, remain faithful and keep the memory of their children alive so another mother will not have to experience the same pain.

Happy Mother’s Day