Journalist and historian DaveyD discusses the particular role played by hip-hop in radical traditions of Black liberation.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore. For some the month of August carries special significance as a time to commemorate, study, and advance the radical traditions in the black liberation struggle. The Black August tradition originated in the concentration camps of California to honor fallen freedom fighters Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain, and Khatari Gaulden. It is also a time to reflect upon the many important moments in black history associated with militant rebellion, such as the beginnings of the Haitian revolution, the origins of the underground railroad, the revolts attempted by Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser, but also the birthday of people like Marcus Garvey. Black August is also a time to fast, re-focus on commitments to free or at least communicate with political prisoners, and to further organize for political struggle. However, what is at times ignored is the particular role hip-hop continues to play in advancing the ideas associated with Black August. To discuss some of that is Mr. Davey D, a legendary journalist, DJ, and hip-hop historian. He now joins us from his home in Oakland, California. Davey D, welcome to I Mix What I Like and the Real News Network. DAVEY D, HIP-HOP JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: Thanks for having me on, Jared. How are you? BALL: I’m as good as can be expected, my man, and better to have you with us. So I again thank you for joining us. I definitely want to have you to comment a little bit on some of these lesser-known aspects of hip-hop’s relationship to this radical and militant Black August tradition. And I know that you’re perfectly situated to do that. So let me just ask you from the top to tell us a little bit about that relationship. DAVEY D: Well, I think there’s two ways to look at it. One, if you look at just Black August as a concept of connecting with radical militant struggle, I think hip-hop has always had that relationship from the very beginnings with Afrika Bambaataa to Zulu Nation. There was always an understanding with people, especially with Bambaataa, that there were these freedom struggles and the role that he was trying to fashion with the Zulu Nation and just himself was one to be a continuum. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily took on all the tenets. Didn’t mean that they did all the activities, whether it’s the free breakfast program or picking up the gun and having patrols, but it was definitely one in which people weren’t going to turn the other cheek. And in fact, I lived in a neighborhood where the Zulu Nation, also known as the Black Spades, would at different times surround the police stations and toss Molotov cocktails at them in the aftermath of particular incidents. So I think that’s important to understand, that there was a continuum of knowing that oppression needs to be met with some sort of forceful resistance. Now, when you talk about the age of records and hip-hop becoming a thing that centers around rap itself, and you have rap artists, I think there’s always been that connection with artists, whether it’s Boots from The Coup, whether it’s Dead Prez, whether it’s Public Enemy, X Clan, or any number of groups that have either referenced political prisoners, they have talked about the freedom struggles. Or there’s been this direct connection in the case of Tupac and Mutulu Shakur, who’s his father, along with his brother Mocedes. There’s been those direct connections where people are saying, look. You are artists. And as an artist we need you to continue to raise the issues that have underlying the freedom struggle. You’ve also had very focused campaigns. So for example, people forget that hip-hop was involved very intimately with the freeing of Geronimo ji Jaga. It was right here in Oakland that there were huge concerts that came about with political education from former Black Panthers that featured artists that would then go on the stage and then try to raise money or awareness of him. So I think that’s happened. There’s been campaigns around Mumia, freeing him. In fact there’s been a couple of compilation albums. So I think hip-hop is reflective of society in general. There are people, whether it’s the Mos Defs now Yasiin Bey, Talib Kwelis–I’m skipping names right now. But there’s a large number of folks that have been involved with trying to bring attention to political prisoners. BALL: Well if I can, just to clarify very quickly, just to back up for a quick second. I know you didn’t mean to say this but just in case people heard it incorrectly or weren’t clear, Mutulu Shakur, the former Black Panther Party member, Black Liberation Party member, was not Tupac’s father. But he was his step-father and associated closely with the family, just to be clear. DAVEY D: Yeah, but he refers, they refer to him as his father. BALL: Oh, no question. Political father, no question. Just not biological. I just wanted to make sure people understood that, that Assata Shakur is also not Tupac’s mother, but connected politically through their relationship to the Black Panther Party. Through his godmother, right. Through Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s actual biological mother. Absolutely. DAVEY D: Well I’m just saying, I just want to make sure we’re clear. Because Pac himself, who I knew had referred to him as that [inaud.]. BALL: Absolutely. I just want to make sure people understand that the reference is one of political and familial friendship as opposed to actual biological family ties. But also to follow up on your point that if we look even at the work of my comrades in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, dream hampton’s great documentary that documents the long tradition of that organization’s relationship with Black August specifically and building bridges between artists and political prisoners, and the diaspora’s radical traditions as well. Could you comment a little bit on that. But even more specifically I’d even want you to go back and talk about what I know you’ve done some of the seminal reporting on with Paradise Gray, going back to some of the–I’ve asked you about it millions of times, but that legendary Latin Quarters meeting which I think sets the tone for the direction hip-hop was trying to go in versus what it has been encouraged to go in, but also underscores this relationship to militant radical struggle that you’ve been talking about so far. DAVEY D: Right. Just to comment before I get into that whole thing at the Latin Quarters. I think it’s important what you mention that there were these campaigns. And I mention two and you’ve mentioned a third with the dream hamptons and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and all those organizations having a very focused, very strategic, very well thought out attempt to connect with artists and bring those two worlds together. The militant activist world, the liberation world, with the recording industry, and raise those issues, which is very, very important. Not just with artists, but also with people writing and doing whatever. I should also mention during that time you have people like Paris who is here from the Bay Area that actually went down to Cuba, met with Assata, sat with Castro, brought those messages back. BALL: And by the way, Paris has a new album coming out on September 11 of this year. And the first track from it that I saw, The Night of the Long Knives, is directly in this tradition that we’re talking about. So yeah, but please go ahead, yeah. DAVEY D: Now with the Latin Quarter, and Paradise Gray is somebody to really speak on this. Paradise, a former member of the Black Spades and Zulu Nation member, ran one of the biggest nightclubs in hip-hop, which is called the Latin Quarter. And he was the person that was in charge of booking the acts and setting the schedule as to who would perform and not perform. During that time, this was in the mid-’80s, there was the anti-apartheid movement. There was also a movement to divest, and there was also an issue around the gold jewelry that people were wearing. There was tensions between black New Yorkers and Koreans, who many people felt had exuded racial behavior towards them. That being said, there was a number of meetings that was held at the Latin Quarters which involved Paradise and his partner, the late Lumumba Carson, who was the son of Sonny Carson. They were members of an organization called BlackWatch. They brought together everybody from the Jungle Brothers to KRS, whoever was the hot artist at that time. They had a number of meetings and decided to change the value system within hip-hop. And part of that value system was demoting the value of gold and taking, and not allowing anybody to perform at the Latin Quarters wearing gold, but to replace that gold with leather medallions that had the Africa, the continent of Africa sewn into it. So it was the start of that campaign, which of course led to everybody sporting the Africa medallions and really opened up at least the aspect of Afrocentricity within hip-hop, which was later reflected in a lot of songs. But that didn’t, again, that whole trend didn’t happen by accident. It was a very deliberate campaign. And so again, hip-hop has always had these long campaigns. And that campaign of wearing the African medallions comes on the heels of another campaign that hip-hop was involved in, and that was the boycott of Sun City campaign, which many artists of note were involved in. they were doing those records, they were bringing attention to it. And they were reflecting them in songs and videos. I think a lot of people forget, for example, Queen Latifah’s song Ladies First. If you actually look at the video it’s a video that really speaks to freeing South Africa. But I bring all that up to say that at that time in the mid-’80s there was political consciousness was raised, folks were using their platforms as artists to speak truth to power, and they were focused on freeing our people, whether they were here in the United States or whether they were under colonial rule abroad. In this case, South Africa. BALL: Davey D, thank you very much for joining us in this segment of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News, and helping us understand this relationship of hip-hop, that hip-hop still has, with the militant struggles and histories and traditions in black history. Thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News. DAVEY D: Thank you very much, Jared, and peace out. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News as well. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, I’m Jared Ball again here in Baltimore. And as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
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