In this episode, Eze Jackson sits down with beatboxer Shodekeh and emcee Mike Evenn to discuss racism in America, violence in hip-hop, and more
EZE JACKSON: What’s up y’all? Welcome back for another episode of The Whole Bushel on the Real News Network. I’m your host Eze Jackson. The Whole Bushel is an artist interview show where I sit down with performing artists to discuss issues that matter to them the most, all while eating crabs the way we do here in Baltimore, Maryland. Today joining me, my guests are good friends of mine. Beatbox extraordinaire Shodekeh is in the house, and we got rapper, songwriter and videographer Mike Evenn sitting with us. What’s happenin’ y’all?
MIKE EVENN: I’m good man. I’m a big fan of the show too. I’m happy to be here.
EZE JACKSON: Thanks bro. Thanks man-
MIKE EVENN: No doubt.
EZE JACKSON: Good to have you on. Yeah man. So earlier we were talking a little bit. I wanna talk about- I wanna start off talking about hip-hop culture as it relates to violence. Right now we are going through, you know, a period in Baltimore, we have a very high murder rate. Historically high murder rate. We get a bad rap in hip-hop or in rap music for its violent culture. I just wanna kinda talk about that, you know, why do you think that is? Where does it come from? Where do you see us going with it?
SHODEKEH: What’s the context of that accusation? You know?
EZE JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
SHODEKEH: Like take an artist like…take artists from the genre of the blues or from country music or from heavy metal or rock and roll as it falls into a white default culture. Is it labeled as being violent or music that catalyzes or insights violence?
It gets a different rap, and why is that? So, to me, hip-hop is the modern-day blues, it’s the modern-day gospel of the streets of the urban areas of the country, of the United States. These artists, they’re crying out more than they’re making any claims to incite violence. So for me, the context is always first and foremost of the conversation, and then beyond that maybe we can move the conversation beyond that.
I know even within hip-hop, artists claim that like- when Jeru was taking shots at Biggie, and artist Bad Boy you know? Claiming that they were somewhat responsible. Now he has an argument, it’s interesting to consider, but still beyond that, you know — what’s the context of that conversation of the dialogue between these difference artists who are beefing with each other in the studio for different reasons? So.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, in there you’re referencing Jeru The Damaja who was very direct, in the early 90s, about calling out “commercial rappers” for their kinda promoting the violence, or sensationalism of misogyny, and things like that. He’s one of the first, I think rappers, that were kinda in mainstream rotation that was kinda doing that. Your thoughts?
MIKE EVENN: To piggyback on what you said, I’m … One, I never like it when people tend to wanna blame hip-hop for the reason why, you know, for violence and whatnot. Because first of all hip-hop is not the only media platform that portrays violence. Nobody blames movies, or TV shows or things of that sort that portray the same thing, but for some reason they don’t get the same type of heat as hip-hop music gets.
And in addition to that, I think that music is supposed to be about expression, so if a person is growing up in an inner city, and is surrounded by violence, whether they participate in it or they’re a victim to it, they had friends who have fallen victim to it, people are painting pictures of whatever their atmosphere is and whatever, you know, their reality is. So, as an artist, you can’t necessarily fault an artist for portraying whatever it is they portray.
One of the phrases that J. Cole says that I’m a big fan of is, “There’s no right or wrong, there’s a song.” And I believe that to a degree, you know, a person who’s expressing themselves should have the opportunity to express however they feel. I always kinda feel like it’s more responsibility on the fact that a particular type of hip-hop is what’s promoted more than anything else, because it’s not like hip-hop is only talking about violence. Hip-hop talks about love, hip-hop can be political, hip-hop can be socially conscious, hip-hop can be about a bunch of things, but they zoning on this one aspect of hip-hop and that’s the one that we hear on the radio all day long. That, you know, when festivals come up you have these certain types of artists who are performing. And I don’t fault anybody for however it is they express themselves, but how bout you have the media be a little bit more balanced about what you portray and what you allow kids to listen to, and maybe it might be … you know, it’s a different conversation at that point.
SHODEKEH: So you want the corporate platform, and that needs to be criticized. That needs to be deconstructed, but hip-hop is so much more diverse than people give it credit for.
MIKE EVENN: Absolutely.
SHODEKEH: The same way jazz is, and rock and roll. I mean these are incredibly diverse African-American born-and-bred cultures, and ways of expressing music that are incredibly diverse, so to attack one genre is like attacking one nation, you know, without putting a conversation into the proper context.
EZE JACKSON: We’re talking about violence, and you talked in some of your songs, and I think many of us do, about homeboys we’ve lost to violence. How does that effect your writing and just your overall messaging and who you are as an artist?
MIKE EVENN: It’s funny, I think all of us — we were talking about this earlier today — I think all of us when we’re younger, we kinda like — I think as an artist you kinda mimic what you see and what you like until, you know … Like younger, I was always a big Nas fan. I thought Eminem was crazy dope. I got into Kanye like early on, so you find yourself, when you’re writing or you’re making music, you kinda style your cadence and your rhyme scheme, you mirror people who you like until you kinda find your own flow.
So, you know, when you’re making music and you’re rapping, there’s some things that are like … if you watch Battle Rap. Battle Rap is very heavy about what you wanna do to your opponent, and, you know, things of that sort. And because it’s so common, it can be second nature to just casually say certain things.
But as you start growing up and you start seeing certain people, you know what I mean, disappearing around you, it kinda affects the way you listen to music. And of course as an artist it’s gonna come out in the music you make.
To jump back to what I was saying earlier about violence in music, violence is violence. It’s like crime is one of the oldest pastimes ever. It’s not gonna go anywhere. You know what I mean?
EZE JACKSON: Right, yeah.
MIKE EVENN: You wanna hear music that’s real and is true, but I had a younger brother who was really close with me — his name is Delroy, rest in peace — and like, he was one of those kinda kids that that wasn’t for him, you know what I mean? And he was never running around in the street, he was very quiet, kept to himself, played football, you know? So when he lost his life to senseless violence, now when I hear certain music now I can listen to it to a certain point if it makes sense. For music, it’s kinda like, when it’s reckless and I just shoot any nigga and blah blah blah, it took a minute for me to kinda internalize that.
At the same time, you know, countries fight wars. Sometimes you have to use violence to protect yourself and your family. It’s all about the context in which you’re saying a thing and how you’re interpreting it.
EZE JACKSON: Would you consider yourself a patriot?
MIKE EVENN: You know what’s funny? ‘Cause I’m a fan of the show.
EZE JACKSON: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
MIKE EVENN: And I’ve heard this question asked. I should’ve been prepared. You know what? It was Big Guy, Ill Conscious, and who’s the third person? [crosstalk 00:16:39]
EZE JACKSON: Jay Royale, yeah.
MIKE EVENN: That’s who you asked the question to. See that’s how much of a fan of this show I am? I know who we ask the questions. I would say that I appreciate the fact that I am in America. I think the title, patriot, is … I think there’s another word. Well maybe there is no word, you know? I think that the title patriot, that’s a tough one for me to swallow. But I’m not complaining about being from America, you know? I appreciate the fact that I’m from here, that I have whatever freedoms that we do have, I appreciate those. But I think that there’s still certain things are going on in the country that I wanted to see some change in, for me to be able to wave that flag of “I’m a patriot.”
EZE JACKSON: Yeah.
MIKE EVENN: You know what I mean?
SHODEKEH: Can I please piggyback off what he just said?
MIKE EVENN: Sure.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, and answer the question for yourself too.
SHODEKEH: Absolutely, okay, so… Would I consider myself a patriot? When I was doing my research at the Reginald F. Lewis museum, right down the street there, regarding the exhibit “For Whom It Stands,” uncovering as many untold stories of the flag, and the national anthem.
MIKE EVENN: Oh yeah, yeah I remember that.
SHODEKEH: As a music researcher and curator for that museum, I had to ask myself, “Do I love this anthem? Do I love this flag? Wait a minute, do I love this country?” And my answer was, “Yeah,” but if it wasn’t for hip-hop, jazz, rock and roll, nope. I wouldn’t have no love for this country, and that was just my honest real answer for myself.
And then while ongoing with that music research, I went deeper into the socioeconomic context of being black in this country, so, all throughout 2014, I only spent money on black-owned businesses, which again shed even more light on the ideological textures of what it means to be black in this country, and you know, shopping black in Baltimore, a predominantly black city, is hard as hell, and it just opened my eyes to so much. I mean, it was the equivalent of going back to get a master’s. I mean it was just really eye-opening, and it’s still changing my life in ways that I’m understanding to this day. So-
EZE JACKSON: And how so? Does it force you to look deeper at the economic status of black people in America you think?
SHODEKEH: Absolutely, yeah, and how that reflects in the flags that we post and the anthems that we sing, you know?
EZE JACKSON: Anthems, and right now we got like this whole Colin Kaepernick situation.
EZE JACKSON: And, you know, from a lot of … not just white people, I would say a lot of my comments — ’cause I’m a vet, and you know a lot of my fellow veterans very sensitive about not standing up for the national anthem, you know, and not saluting the flag and stuff like that.
SHODEKEH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EZE JACKSON: But people don’t even — most people don’t even know how racist the actual lyrics to the national anthem actually are, because we know already know the first verse, really-
SHODEKEH: You gotta listen to all four.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah. So it’s kinda like, I feel like in this country we’re kinda asked to take on this blind patriotism.
EZE JACKSON: You know what I’m saying? It’s like just because we are the land of the free, and … you know what I mean? These things you have in place, you should be happy, and you should just shut up, and you know, don’t disrespect that flag. Don’t you dare disrespect that flag. You two, you better not disrespect that flag. When in all actuality, that flag has been disrespectful to so many people and so many cultures. Not even just in this country, around the world.
And I think it’s a topic that I like to bring up a lot of times especially on this show around patriotism.
MIKE EVENN: I think the question, not to cut you off just to-
SHODEKEH: No, go go.
MIKE EVENN: Just real quick. I just think that if somebody from the country was to ask me, you know, “Do you consider yourself a patriot?” I would just say, “Well, what does the country consider me?” You know what I mean? Before I answer the question, right? When I feel clear about how the country considers me, then I can give you a clear answer on if I consider myself a patriot or not. But it’s still it’s kinda fuzzy. You know what I mean?
EZE JACKSON: I like that. We can close on that one.
Thanks for joining us again for another episode of The Whole Bushel, you can look up these two artists online follow, their music, follow their movements. You can follow us and check us out on therealnews.com. We also have a Facebook page, go to our Facebook page, The Whole Bushel. You’ll see clips of past episodes, upcoming episodes and more. You can also check us out on YouTube. Aight? See y’all next time.