Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, resistance fighters of all ages, I give you our new anthem!
Okay, so the song is about a year old, released during the presidential primaries last year; it is, unfortunately, still quite relevant. It lacks mainstream publicity, largely because of certain words it uses repeatedly that the FCC takes issue with. I only heard about thanks to an article on Slate. Rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle (who deserves some kind of prize just for his awesome stage name) recorded this as an angry response to the hideously racist rhetoric of the maniac living in the White House. Now this is not the best Rap song I’ve ever heard. It lacks eloquence and style, relying instead on profanity and swagger. Public Enemy this is not. But the raw emotion behind it propels the song and gives voice to the inarticulate anger and fear that so many people of color are feeling (not to mention all the anger and fear emanating from every other group of people threatened by this maniac). “Fuck Donald Trump” becomes not just an epithet but a rallying cry. I recommend playing this one REALLY loud.
So how do you think the police will try to justify this one? How does an immobilized, pinned down black man with two white cops on top of him even reach much less use a gun? How does the fact that he may or may not have had a gun on him at the time he was tasered and tackled justify shooting him several times?
I’m angry that this has happened again. I’m angry that black citizens are at greater risk of death from a police encounter than white citizens. I’m angry that cops feel so afraid that they shoot first and ask questions later. I’m angry that there are so many people who mistrust the police on principle that everyone starts their cell phone cameras the minute cops show up on the scene, and that so many of these amateur videos seem to show misconduct. I’m angry that these cops “lost” their body cams in the struggle, when these could have provided vital evidence either justifying or condemning their actions. I’m just angry. Which makes this song seem just as timely as it did some thirty years ago.
I’m still a middle-aged, middle class white woman. This song is still not aimed at me as an audience. But I get it. I want peace in the streets as much as anyone else. I want people to trust the cops, and I want cops to be able to enforce the law without fear. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
I’m angry enough right now that I can’t articulate myself properly. And I know that the evidence is still coming through in this case. But I really, really hope this is the last time I have to hear a news story about white cops killing a black citizen without clear and present justification.
I’ve been thinking about Muhammad Ali all weekend. His death, while not entirely surprising, was still pretty stunning. The man was a cultural icon, and for people who were kids in the 70s, he was something of a superhero. He was quite literally everywhere. He was more animated than most of the cartoons we watched. He was charming and charismatic and he never, ever talked down to children. Of course we loved him.
But we didn’t know that much about him. Unless we had older relatives who liked boxing, we didn’t know much about the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manilla beyond the catchy names. We didn’t fully understand that he beat other men up for a living (more on my feelings about boxing in a moment). We didn’t know about his name change or conversion to Islam, and we certainly didn’t know about his association with the Nation of Islam or his defiance against the draft (unless we had older relatives who were passionately on one side or the other of that debate). We just knew he was cool and funny.
Ali was cool, but he was also revolutionary. He dared to fight being drafted into Vietnam by declaring himself a conscientious objector; his Islam was a religion of peace, and as a Muslim he would not kill people who had done nothing to him. (I’ve got to note here that my admiration of Ali’s resistance has no bearing on my respect for the young men and women who did go to Vietnam. They did what they believed was the right thing to do, just as Ali did, and they sacrificed so much in their battles over there. The blame for Vietnam will always belong to the politicians and military brass that dragged us into an unwinnable mire.) Ali’s beliefs and actions were unheard of at the time. He didn’t lie or run away. He stood up and said “No.” For a black man in the 1960s, that took undeniable strength and courage.
Muhammad Ali mattered less for what he did for a living than for what he did as a man. His resistance of the draft caused him to be stripped of his title and more than three years in the prime of his athletic life. He made that sacrifice willingly, knowing he might never go back to the ring, because he believed he was right. Some might call that egotistical, even hubris. I call it being a righteous human being.
I think boxing is barbaric. Not the part about two guys beating the hell out of each other; I can almost understand that. The barbarism comes in with the crowd cheering it on. (There is a lot to be said about the racial and class aspects of boxing, of how most fighters are lower class and people of color and how most of the promoters and audiences are higher class whites, but that would take a whole book to unravel adequately.) But Muhammad Ali brought an artistry to fighting that no one else has been able to replicate. He brought a showmanship and personality to a sport that was frankly pretty bereft of both. He won Olympic gold and the championship title three times. It wasn’t always pretty, and the beatings Ali took in the ring led to the Parkinson’s that ultimately took his life. No, I don’t like boxing at all. But I think Ali was a pretty damn good fighter. In all ways.
His mother named him Malik. He named himself Phife Dawg. I was remiss in not noting his passing here this week, and for that I am sorry. I was just so stunned that this still-young man, this man who was a year younger than me, had died.
I had also forgotten how truly great A Tribe Called Quest was. They were a genre-bending Hip-Hop group who refused to buy into the stereotypes that the music industry insisted on imposing on black artists. But listening to this music for the first time in many, many years, it sounds like it was made today. Like Wiz Khalifa just stepped up to the mic. Like some wicked Jazz combo decided to have Mos Def and Talib Kweli front their band. Like no time has passed. A Tribe Called Quest not only made some of the best Hip-Hop out there, they made the rest of the really good stuff possible. They were pioneers in every sense of the word, and Phife Dawg’s influence will be felt for years to come. Timeless.
Today’s song is from one of the blogs I follow, the creative and cool Disashi Soul. I’ve said before that Rap/Hip Hop is not really a genre I have a lot of breadth or depth of knowledge about; I am a middle-aged, middle-class white woman after all. So I depend on luck, happenstance, and recommendations to help me find new tunes. I got really lucky here.
If you haven’t checked Disashi out, you really should. This song should be evidence enough of that. I get the early morning dread this rumbling, rhythmic track explores. (Been there, done that, got the bags under my eyes to prove it.) But there’s a soulful and hopeful edge to this. The message is simple: Don’t do down, and if you do get your ass back up again. Disashi is part of the group Gym Class Heroes, another check mark in his favor, although “3 in the Morning” is from a different project called New School. This is cool stuff, and I highly recommend it.
One of the original members of the Sugarhill Gang has passed away. Big Bank Hank, who’s given name was Henry Jackson, was 57.
Sugarhill Gang were not the first rappers, or the first Rap group. Rap seemed to spring organically from the budding DJ/break dance scene in urban areas, specifically New York. But they were the first Rap group to have a chart-topping hit with “Rapper’s Delight.” While there were a lot of other artists, most of them unsung in the mainstream, who had more influence over this genre, Sugarhill Gang proved there was a market for Rap and Hip-Hop. This helped make the genre more commercially viable and accepted. That’s no mean feat, and they deserve credit for it.
I just saw the news that one of the men behind the iconic Rap/Hip Hop “It Takes Two” has passed away. DJ E-Z Rock was only 46, and the cause of death has not yet been revealed.
DJ E-Z Rock was known to his family and friends as Rodney Bryce. His collaboration with Rob Base led to a classic song from the 80s, one that’s been almost ubiquitous ever since. This is actually one of those songs I’ve heard about a million times without ever knowing anything about the artists behind it. My research didn’t turn up much info besides this hit. Bryce was born in Harlem, NYC, which was one of the hothouses from which Rap and Hip Hop bloomed.
Although Bryce’s commercial success is limited, the part he played in making “It Takes Two” ensured him a place in music history. Rap was just beginning its cultural ascent, and this song not only helped bring the genre more widespread popularity, it influenced many of the rappers and DJs to follow.