Is KRS to Hip Hop What Marcus Garvey Was to Pan Africanism?
KRS-One: Is He Potentially to Hip Hop What Marcus Garvey was to Pan-Africanism?
By Bro. Tony Muhammad
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Just hours prior to his lecture at Florida International University this past month, KRS-One and myself had a deep conversation about how controversial the topic of discussion for the evening was – “Hip Hop and the Art of Civilization Building.” We talked about the general feelings, beliefs and characteristics associated with being part of a culture. We discussed how the concept of a cultural identity is by and large something invented, a process that comes into being as a result of social circumstances. The word “culture” in root, means “to cultivate” as you would do to a tree or a plant with the purpose of making it grow and flourish. At the lecture, which was opened up by a panel of scholars from various walks of life, all influenced greatly by Hip Hop culture, KRS-One mentioned how today Hip Hop is in every profession: teachers, lawyers, doctors, even FBI Agents. He also mentioned how people of different religions throughout the world claim Hip Hop.
From a “layered” perspective of what culture is, the concept of culture is much more complicated than merely claiming identification with one particular group of people. Under this view, we can identify with different sets of people in different circumstances. For instance, I myself am what is typically known as a “Latino” and I am able to relate to and identify with other people within this diverse group based on the language, customs, food and music we generally share. In other circumstances, as a Muslim, I am able to relate and identify with others based on the Islamic traditions that they hold (i.e. prayer, fasting, social customs, religious holidays, etc.). From a “constructionist” point of view of what ethnic identity and culture is, a culture includes the concept of having a common history, traditions, myths, art, music, literature (or oral traditions) and language (even merely in the form of “sayings,” “catch phrases,” or even what is generally regarded as “slang”). According to Dr. Joane Nagel, cultural identification among a group of people could come about as a result of either it being imposed by others, self-realized as a result of political and social realities or simply chosen based on “perception of meaning.” When analyzed carefully, Hip Hop includes all of these characteristics and the people who have entered into it in different ways throughout its history.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the founder and leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the early 20th century, was deemed controversial for arguing that peoples of African descent are in fact one people because they share a common “racial” condition and history. Based on this, he developed a universal flag, newspaper, religion, national anthem and attempted government and economy under the banner of Pan-Africanism. Garvey also organized world conferences which attracted and involved the participation of African peoples throughout the world who spoke different languages but identified with each other solely on the concept of being “African.” Mind you, this was unheard of prior to this time and Garvey received both praise and scorn for it during his time. Today, much of the cultural symbolisms and traditions that were birthed in the Garvey movement are found among African peoples throughout the world. We even have an attempted unification of African countries, “The African Union,” which surely could not have been developed without the idea and belief that the peoples that live within the region have some form cultural connection to one another and should come together based on it.
Is this much different from the path that KRS-One is headed towards? He has already been both highly praised and scorned for introducing the concept “I am Hip Hop.” Under the Temple of Hiphop, for the past 8 years, he has pushed the idea of celebrating “Hip Hop Appreciation Week” in mid-May. He has even had the United Nations sanction “Hip Hop” as an official culture, developed what is known as “The Hiphop Declaration of Peace” and is currently in the final process of releasing the universally driven “Gospel of Hiphop.” Just as Garvey, at one point of his life, became greatly frustrated with Blacks in the United States for being too focused on their own problems (rather than viewing the scope of their reality from an international perspective), KRS-One this year seeks to celebrate Hip Hop Appreciation Week in Europe to see if there is a difference of response to his calling. Overall, to many of us of the Hip Hop generation in the past 20 years, KRS-One has many at times driven us to question our world views and identity within it – a mental and spiritual exodus that Marcus Garvey inspired in a similar way almost a century ago.
Those who do not take KRS-One seriously in these endeavors typically just view him as an artist. As you look deeper into KRS-One, you will see much more than this; a philosopher who expresses himself in the traditional ways of the West African griot – breaking down history, science and universal principles backed by the popular music of the time. Today, in our superimposed Western form of thinking we tend to separate and categorize (and sub-categorize) all of this and tend to limit each other based on one main thing that we do in our lives.
When we take Hip Hop a step further and say we are going to form a government and economy over it, this may not be possible at this particular time – when the corporations of the world are defining for people generally what Hip Hop is supposed to be and what a typical Hip Hopper is supposed to look and act like. When the ice of this age melts and the glits and glamour are gone, will we be able to distinguish between who the real community builders are from the trend followers? With how diverse the Hip Hop community is and how certain members are so highly ego driven, would a political and economic system over it be successful? How would we be able to deal with the concept of diversity itself, especially considering that racism itself continues to be a highly unresolved problem in this world? What about dealing with issues in the community such as homosexuality, which is highly expressively unacceptable among many within Hip Hop? How much of this can potentially become a mass movement rather than a “spectator sport” situation? Truly, these questions need to be answered before we move forward in this increasingly complex and technological world. Surely, we can not rely on just one man to answer them for us. We must all do our part within the dialogue - The Reality!
Stay tuned to the Urban America Newspaper website, www.uannetwork.com, as to how you can get a copy of the historic KRS-One lecture at Florida International University on DVD in the following months.