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    1. #1
      Im The Truth's Avatar
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      Hip-Hop and Colonialism: Recognition and Response

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      Hip-Hop and Colonialism: Recognition and Response
      Dec 4, 2007
      By Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.

      Jared ball and Hasan SalaamDr. John Henrik Clarke used to always say that “to talk about the subject I am going to talk around it.” The purpose of this four-part series was to have hip-hop be that talk around which a focus could be placed on colonialism or the meta-analogy for the conditions we currently face. It is fitting then that this series conclude at the conclusion of a year that witnessed the under-discussed 50th anniversary of Kwame Nkrumah’s attempt at independence from colonialism in Ghana. For it was precisely the issue of the colonialism, its recurrence or continuity, that Nkrumah tried desperately to make clear. It was the struggle over an ideology which produces colonialism and from which emerges an ideology of the colonized that inspired such a focus which, as Ayi Kwei Armah described recently, was about Nkrumah’s concern not with “political power in a colony, but the inception of an African liberation movement.” My point within this series can best be summarized similarly and in microcosm; our concern cannot be with the prevailing wisdoms contained within popular hip-hop journalism, scholarship or media reform which often argue or describe a struggle for “power” within a colony. Ours must be a concern over how, in this case hip-hop, can demonstrate the existence and need to overthrow the colonial status or the very existence of colony. It is, again, a struggle to understand how a colonialism model of analysis can address that which is raised by Ahmad Rahman in his biography of Nkrumah, that attempts to understand anything about our current world, including hip-hop, without recognizing the fundamentality of this colonial relationship would be like trying to “understand the tides absent recognition of the moon.”

      It is this recognition of “the moon” of colonialism which necessitates new or updated analyses and actions which move beyond those imposed boundaries within which too much of the popular discussion is relegated. I have previously tried to make this point regarding one of the most known public intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson. The goal was not to reduce the issue to the failings of this or that individual but to draw attention to the colonizing process of which requires use of members of the colonized population to mouth the views of the colonizer, that is, to circumvent the long-told aphorism “a white man can’t sell you no pigs feet.” At the time it was Dyson’s insistence upon having regular and friendly discussions with Manhattan Institute-sponsored white conservative in Black skin (face!) John McWhorter who routinely (intentionally) misses the point that (intentionally) cavernous gaps exist between that which is popular hip-hop and that which has been suppressed. McWhorter has yet again done so suggesting some signs that hip-hop is “growing up” while, of course, remaining ignorantly – and only – within that which is popular and ignoring the massive amounts of suppressed hip-hop which have long-since and continue to brilliantly raise the issues in need of redress and, therefore, kept (intentionally) from popularity.

      Griz, Hip-Hop ArtisteSo too has Jeff Chang, a leading hip-hop scholar, recently written a piece for Foreign Policy magazine where he remains safely within acceptable ranges of discussion even while ostensibly talking about hip-hop and global politics. He does so by reporting hip-hop’s global popularity, even raising some concerns, but does so absent any discussion of this itself being foreign policy. As described earlier, colonialism requires a domestic and foreign policy to which empire-promoting concepts of people and the world, of the exchange of money and culture can be grafted, shaped. So Chang does well to note the global popularity of hip-hop which has by now become “a lingua franca that binds young people all around the world” but in that same sentence negates the power of the first thought by concluding that this gives “them the chance to alter it with their own national flavor.” For if that which binds are chains – or more appropriate to the immediate moment, nooses – than what good is it? Or better yet, for whom is this bind meant to benefit and for whom is it meant to hurt? Of course there exists an agency to resist. This is all well, good and true and precisely why so much of an effort is made to weaken any potential to resist. However, it misses that important point of colonialism which is that individual or even small group collective agency is no even match for the power of mass media and communication or their ideological content which they are employed and designed to impose on we the subjects. Yes, in this Big L remix with Kwame Ture put together by the current writer demonstrates the power of agency to retain cultural value and counter-hegemonic politics but it, in and of itself, should not be mistaken for genuine power or progress toward overthrowing systems of inequality or imbalance.

      Chang’s need to retain the fraudulent ethics of “objective professional journalism” force him to balance statements he quotes regarding that imbalance or the intentional shifting of popular hip-hop throughout the world with more mythology about rap “moguls” who are evidence of the culture’s “power” further confusing or obfuscating the issue of the primacy of colonialism. So no matter how many times he and others refer to the “success” of a Jay-Z or Russell Simmons or Puffy or the fact, as Chang states, that hip-hop sold “59 million albums” last year in the U.S. or that it spearheads (pun intended) a $10 billion “luxury and consumer goods” industry the point remains that hip-hop has not eradicated one ghetto or slum or done one thing to slow the increasing gaps in wealth or freed one political prisoner. Is, as Chang seems to suggest, Coca-Cola’s $4.1 billion deal for Glaceau’s Vitamin Water, somehow balanced because out of that came $100 million for one rapper (50 Cent)? Obviously not.

      Even when noting the politics of the music Chang’s emphasis cannot remain on his interviewee’s point that “there is no room” for politically charged musical content in an expanding commercially-sponsored and exported hip-hop music. When Michael Wanguhu, creator of the documentary Hip-Hop Colony, states that “Hip-Hop in Africa is like the new Pan-Africanism” Chang cannot stay there, interrogate that point or make it the piece’s central statement. For doing so would force the discussion, as previously outlined in these essays, of the intentional shift needed in hip-hop away from one of colonialism’s greatest threats, pan-Africanism. In 2006 I sat down with this same filmmaker (Michael Wanguhu) for Words, Beats and Life, Inc. where we discussed this and did so in the context of the story relayed by congressman John Lewis who told in his memoir of having been on a 1964 SNCC tour of Africa where every leader with whom they spoke warned that if SNCC were anywhere to the right of Malcolm X they would not be welcomed. In other words, the point, which in popular journalism or scholarship cannot be appropriately dealt with, is that colonialism cannot sustain a situation where Malcolm X becomes the standard for pan-African unity. It needs, as Chang’s article states, for exported hip-hop to be what some in Africa have realized more than we; that, musically popular hip-hop has been made to be what McWhorter is to us politically, “white-boy oppressor music” even if performed in Black-face by Black faces.

      So here Chang, again far less egregiously than McWhorter-types, is forced to comply to that which popularizes both a narrowly-held discussion of hip-hop and in-turn those who remain safely within that limited discussion – even across nominally different political stripes – like Chang, Dyson and McWhorter. None can or are willing to discuss this intentional shift as part of maintenance of power and as being connected to a legacy and continuation of colonialism where the cultural expression of the colonized must be formatted to the needs, goals, aspirations and ideology of the colonizer. This then requires the attendant need to remove from the discussion the artists, activists, journalists and organizers attempting in various (and not necessarily unified) ways to address, reform or smash the problem of colonialism. To name but a few is insufficient but a start which too many in popular scholarship and journalism ignore.

      Journalistically, there are those like Naji Mujahid of the DC Radio CO-OP, Pashir and JR of the Hip-Hop War Report and The Block Report, TRGGR Radio, DaveyD and FreeMix Radio just to name a few. These journalists alone explode myths which tell tales only of the horrors of hip-hop, the non-political, misogynistic nature of the art or its role in holding down its creators. There are those like Rosa Clemente of the new and improving Hip-Hop Caucus or Lisa Fager and Paul Porter of IndustryEars who too demonstrate the media policy impact on hip-hop maintaining it in its most negative popular form and who consistently connect suppressed elements of hip-hop to continued colonial legacies of poverty, police brutality and mass incarceration. Hear an example of this in a preview clip from an upcoming edition of FreeMix Radio featuring Ms. Clemente.

      Head RocAnd what of artists like Head-Roc or Sun of Nun whose music ingeniously presents these issues? Will even the recent (or soon-to-be) release from semi-popular (and vicious) emcees Styles P and Black Thought (‘Cause I’m Black) be aired? Its remix of Syl Johnson’s classic bespeaks the remix of colonialism in the 21st century so it too will probably suffer the same suppressed fate. You cannot sell products (or death) with lyrics such as Black Thought’s “It’s only ten percent in the hood with health benefits, genocide, Jena 6, guilty ‘till we innocent…” because as he also says, these ideas are “…like Assata {Shakur}, I’m in exile.” Indeed. So will we hear on radio Wise Intelligent’s latest album or anything from The COUP or Hasan Salaam or the hot journalistically-inspired mixtapes like High Treason from DJ Chela? And if (when) not, why?

      And regarding pan-Africanism we should note that the pan-Africanism so feared by colonizers is what helped to produce the genius of Nkrumah who studied here in the U.S. with other colonized Africans such as John Henrik Clarke within extra-institutional organizations as the Harlem History Club and can be heard described briefly in this second preview clip from a forthcoming edition of FreeMix Radio.

      None of these colonial tides can be understood absent an understanding and focus upon the influence of the moon of colonialism. Routine responses or efforts to address these issues will not be successful in upsetting this setup. Just as in politics there must be abnormal organization there must be the same regarding the pursuit of quality cultural expression or answers to ending the cycle of colonization which remains unfortunately unbroken.
      "If the enemy is not doing anything against you, you are not doing anything"
      -Ahmed Skou Tour

      "speak truth, do justice, be kind and do not do evil."
      -Baba Orunmila

      "Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular - but one must take it simply because it is right."
      --Dr. Martin L. King

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    2. #2
      Insatiable's Avatar
      Insatiable is offline Warrior

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      The brotha has some nice audio commentaries on his website.

      He's also on the Green Party ticket.

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