The Emcee and the DJ Element
by Jeb Middlebrook
Hip-Hop has proven itself as a music that moves people: to sing, to dance, to rap. But can it move society? On a local level, can it move the Twin Cities? A current movement, Hip-Hop organizing, makes explicit the political struggle in the musical culture and translates rhymes into speeches and dances into marches.
Utilizing the existing work of Hip-Hop organizations in the Twin Cities is the first necessary move to build a broad base of support for grassroots activism. Such a close connection to the local community should not be taken for granted. Hip-Hop reporter Davey D suggests on his web site (daveyd.com), “Build your cause around Hip Hoppers who are down. Make heroes out of the artists who are willing to support and step out.” With the local and national recognition of Twin Cities’ Hip-Hop groups, the stage is already set for a mass initiative for one of many political causes.
Getting Hip-Hop artists on the same page politically is the next step. Davey D relates, “Boots Riley, of the Coup, recently contacted 35 emcees to do a song for a big political issue in California. He spent a lot of time working with the artists and making sure they were educated on the cause he wanted them to address. He also brought to light how the issue was related to them as people.” Focusing a political agenda in the Twin Cities could then lead to educational seminars to get local Hip-Hoppers united around a common theme. Using the Freire model, “Educate to liberate,” similar to the work of El Puente Academy in Brooklyn, would provide a theoretical framework from which to structure workshops and taskforces. A specific project, such as a single Hip-Hop track, or even a Hip-Hop concert would provide a group vision and would also provide tangible results of the group’s organizing.
To rally Hip-Hoppers around a centralized theme, the issue must be clearly related to their lives. Bakari Kitwana suggests the themes of racial profiling with police brutality, reparations and the prison industrial complex as currently relevant to the Hip-Hop community. Lisa Sullivan agrees and adds “the health of American democracy” to the list, as an off-shoot of people losing the vote and citizenship due to incarceration. Truly, the prison industrial complex, racial profiling, police brutality and youth participation in politics are hot topics in the Twin Cities.
Public education, of Hip-Hop artists and the general Twin Cities’ community, would be the beginning of a broader movement that could link Minnesota Hip-Hop culture to these issues. Making it “cool” for Hip-Hoppers to rhyme about police brutality in the context of a Hip-Hop party is another story, however. Perhaps, a local movement to politicize Hip-Hop would have to contend with creating a separate scene from the traditional Hip-Hop events, a scene that explicitly connected Hip-Hop culture to a struggle for rights around issues of the criminal justice system, education and democracy.
Motivating the populace to become involved in political matters is a crucial component of activist campaigns. Trech, from the rap group Naughty by Nature, agrees, “All of these problems and all of these unjustly things [affecting the Hip-Hop community] really can’t be solved unless you’re politically connected or have the political and legal backing to make things happen.” Connecting Hip-Hop to Twin Cities activism offers a chance for new networks to be forged by politicizing Hip-Hop and infusing activism with an increased cultural consciousness. Such an organization would push beyond the capitalist conception of “Hip-Hop as a product,” and offer a broader community connection to local, activist work. Rose Sanders, 21st Century co-founder, voices a sentiment that activists who work with young people increasingly share. “Without Hip-Hop,” says Sanders, 53, “I don’t see how we can connect with today’s youth.” For some activists, merging with Hip-Hop culture has become a necessary commitment.
And from the perspective of some Hip-Hoppers, a serious commitment to politics is on the horizon. Jeff Chang of Alternet writes, “The promise of the Hip-Hop Generation lies perfectly positioned to bring the politics of the world to the street corner and the politics of the street corner to the world.” For Chang and many other Hip-Hop activists, social change is a possible goal given the influence of Hip-Hop culture. In the Twin Cities, the power of Hip-Hop organizations to gather people and move them in certain ways provides possibilities for such activism. “As a multiracial, polycultural cohort raised in the era of globalization, the Hip-Hop Generation can play a central moral role in the call for peace — linking peace on the streets where we live to a global peace free from terror,” writes Chang. The potential to organize Hip-Hop politically exists. On a local level, all we need to do is embrace it.
by Terrica Taylor
Break dancing is one of the first-born elements of Hip-Hop. During the 1960s and early 1970s, B-Boying, as break dancing is also called, started in New York City. We must bring ourselves to remember its roots in the United States as well as in Britain. B- Boy is a form of hip-hop dancing which is popularly known as breaking. It consists of top or up rock, footwork and spinning moves. In New York it was Kool DJ Herc, the first hip-hop DJ, who came up with the phrase B-Boy in 1969. The Jamaican-born performer developed a form of mixing records so that the dancing sounds would never stop.
The pioneers of break dancing were the members of New York and L.A. street gangs who had taught themselves martial arts in order to defend themselves in a particular Brazilian style—that’s how the moves were created. B-Boying started dying down in the late 1980s and resurged in the 1990s. B-Boy events such as B-Boy SUMMIT and ROCK STEADY ANNIVERSARY are organized every year to keep the culture of break dancing alive.
The Graffiti element
by Veda Partalo
From the beginning of human life, surfaces of caves, castles, huts and walls have been used as the main vehicle for the communication and formation of thoughts, feelings and ideas. Artistic symbols have been used by cultures to inspire, educate, and symbolize philosophy for over 10,000 years. These scribbles appear everywhere from prehistoric caves to new age transportation sources and from urban alleyways to rural barns across the world. Such forms of expression are visible in hundreds of different sizes and styles, colors and forms, representing thousands of different thoughts, feelings, cultures, and histories.
Wall art disappeared and resurfaced over time, finally reestablishing itself in the 20th century and morphing from its original form into Graffiti Art. Graffiti was used primarily by political activists to make statements and by street gangs to mark territory, and on occasion was a source of inspiring murals dedicated to community leaders. Though graffiti movements such as the Cholos of Los Angeles in the 1930s and the hobo signatures on freight trains predate the New York School, it wasn’t till the late 1960s that writing’s current identity started to form.
The history of the underground graffiti art movement began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the mid to late ‘60s and was rooted in bombing. The writers who are credited with the first conscious bombing effort are Cornbread and Cool Earl. After writing their names all over the city, the two gained attention from the community and local press, and soon their influence spread across the nation.
As Graffiti Art experienced a sprawl, a graffiti subculture developed. In a short amount of time, numerous young artists emerged across the country and began to form a culture of their own. The same young people involved in Graffiti Art had another thing in common: they were involved in other new forms of art involving music – DJing, MCing, and break dancing. Some attribute this connection to the origin of the Hip-Hop culture in New York, while others consider it an artistic growth that emerged due to similar political, cultural, and youth-oriented issues. Either way, the speed and the effect by which the four elements of Hip-Hop took over this nation was sudden, strong, and invincible.
Today, Graffiti Art has expanded in meaning, articulation, and significance. It is not only a matter of history and expression, but one of respect, rights, and acknowledgment. This Saturday and Sunday, we hope to give credit where it is due, and to educate those who have not yet discovered the significance of Graffiti Art. Come out to Intermedia Arts and support the art form that has been supporting your fight.
This article was written by members of Yo! The Movement.
To learn more, or to get involved locally, attend The Twin Cities’ Celebration of Hip-Hop Conference and Festival, this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, August 17-18th) at Intermedia Arts (2822 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis). $12.25 for 1 day; $20.25 for 2 days. Tickets available at ticketmaster.com.
The Sermon: One Planet Under A Groove
by Jerah, Locks, & Kool Hanz
The Walker Art Center held a well-attended lecture by Fab 5 Freddy on July 14. Freddy dealt mostly with hip-hop’s history, dating back to his early days as a Graffiti artist and rapper. Freddy made a name for himself on the New York graff scene when he recreated Andy Warhol’s famous soup cans in a Graffiti style on the side of a train. Freddy followed many modern artists’ work such as Pollock and Warhol, and was close friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat, another early Brooklyn graff artist whose short but productive career took off when he was “discovered” by the New York modern art establishment. Together they decided to take on the world by proving just how thin the lines between genres and mediums can be, regardless of the art form.
Fab 5’s parents were active in the community and the Civil Rights movement. His father was in the room when Malcolm X, the famous civil rights activist, was assassinated by a sniper. His father also worked closely with the renowned jazz drummer, Max Roach, and, as a result, Freddy ended up being the first person to introduce the jazz great to hip-hop. When Fab 5 Freddy started rapping at house parties, in the parks, and at night clubs with some of the founding DJs such as Grand Master Flash, word of this new hip-hop movement got back to Max Roach, and he asked Freddy’s father to have Freddy show him what he was doing with his friends. Freddy took them to his DJ’s house and did his thing, in the old Master Of Ceremonies style. Max was greatly impressed, comparing the new style of music to what he himself was doing with Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and the like when jazz broke off from big band, which was quite an honor for Fred.
Another interesting story about hip-hop’s elder days that Freddy shared had to do with one of hip-hop’s earliest releases and probably the first such release to do well commercially: the band Blondie’s hit single “Rapture.” Freddy and Jean-Michel not only frequented the hip-hop spots, but also were present on the early New York punk scene taking place at clubs such as CBGB’s. As a result, he became close friends with Blondie front woman Debbie Harry. Fred saw a lot of similarities between the social and political attitudes of punk and hip-hop, and shared a lot of what was going on in the hip-hop scene with Harry. This inspired her to put the rap verse in “Rapture,” in which she name checks Freddy, saying, “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly,” and goes on to mention Grand Master Flash (“Flash is fast, Flash is cool”). Incidentally, in the video for “Rapture,” when they say that line about Flash, they show someone on the turntables who was actually Jean-Michel Basquiat, since Flash was unable to make the video shoot. From there, the discussion moved to a very brief, very broad look at hip-hop on an international level, focusing on some of the things going on in the Sao Paulo, Brazil, graffiti scene. Brazil has the second-largest African population in the world living in some of the worst conditions without a real voice to bring attention to their situation or to change things for the better. Freddy was indirectly involved in exposing Brazil to hip-hop through “Yo MTV Raps,” the first all rap video show. He helped start the show in the early 80’s with Dr. Dre (the one from the east coast) and Ed Lover. Only the very rich in Brazil had access to cable television, but video tapes were recorded off cable and passed hand to hand, VCR to VCR, until hip-hop culture and “Yo MTV Raps” were household words in the ghettos of Brazil. Hip-hop was quickly adapted to Brazilian culture as one of the loudest and most powerful political voices available to an oppressed people. He said that the strongest aspect of hip-hop culture in Sao Paulo is graffiti, which is used to get political ideas out to the people, and to let the government know where the people stand.
Now we get to what should have been half the lecture: the current and future state of hip-hop culture.
It was refreshing to hear an old schooler like Fab 5 say,”So many things become mainstream so quickly,” and, “I look back so I can have a clear view looking forward.” He even went as far as to say he had “growing concern with what goes on in the mainstream.”Citing the materialism and vanity in modern day commercial hip-hop, he wondered about these platinum rappers with nothing to say that have 50 cars in their warehouse-sized garages and $100,000 worth of diamonds imbedded in their teeth. These are all things that deserve a lot of wonderment, yet at the same time he glorified rappers like Nas and Biggie repeatedly, saying that they were some of his favorites. Some of the “underground” rappers he mentioned were Mos Def and Common, both of whom haven’t been underground for years, and, as far as conscious underground hip-hop goes, don’t have much to say when compared to the thousands of conscious underground hip-hop MC’s out there. (Although they both have a hell of a lot more to say than the aforementioned platinum rappers!) Fab 5 also mentioned Dead Presidents as a modern political equivalent of Public Enemy in the eighties. At one point, a woman directly behind me, obviously getting a bit upset after Fab5 praised Nas and Biggie a couple times each (the two of them being some of the most heartlessly misogynistic rappers of all time), asked how he felt about misogyny in commercial “hip-hop,” to which he replied, “Stand up, baby, I can’t see you.” (I should point out he immediately realized how he could be misconstrued and apologized.) There was a bit of uncomfortable laughter from the crowd before he went on. He then said that, “It [misogyny] is %@!#$&ed up.” But, as far as the future of hip-hop goes, he left the discussion open-ended. I guess it’s all up to you and me and everyone else, whoever cares about this culture, to decide what we’re gonna do with it.
He ended the lecture with a very touching ode to Jean-Michel-Basquait in which he broke down just how much their friendship meant to him—a very real ending, considering how Jean-Michel Basquait lived his art in a way no artist ever will again, and yet another terrible reminder of what heroin does to all of us every time it takes another of our beloved artists.
This Article was written by the members of Duece Cities Styles, a weekly local underground Hip-Hop cable show airing in Mpls. Tues. @10 pm Ch.17 StP. Thurs. @11 pm Ch.15
To get involved call 612-872-1943