There are some that say that hip-hop is dead, others that say it’s lost its soul. Perhaps it’s just merely lost its sense of purpose.
In an age where the genre has been taken over by catchy ringtones, shiny accessories, paltry rivalries and videos that flaunt some of the worst aspects of our decaying society, hip-hop has forgotten its power — power in the streets, and with the people.
There is no form of expression better suited for dissent than that of rapping, and there is no culture more oppressed and exploited than those who are incorporated in hip-hop’s big tent. And now, more than ever, that rebellious, truth seeking, brand of hip-hop is needed.
It’s no secret what’s at stake, what’s been at stake, and what’s about to be in the dangerously critical years ahead. Hip-hop has a small window of opportunity to set itself straight, and to help set America straight.
Coming up on 2008 many of us are looking to some politician to lead us to freedom, perhaps we should look elsewhere.
On the grounds of the Washington Monument, during a rally against hate crimes, BallerStatus sat down with M-1, aka Mutulu Olugabala, from Dead Prez during an historic merger of movements, where hip-hop heads and veteran Civil Rights activists had joined together.
There in the shadow of a monument dedicated to a slave-owner, sat a man who has a sense of purpose, who wields microphone, and who potentially has as much power as any bureaucrat sitting in a government office a few blocks away.
BallerStatus.com: With the political hip-hop that you do, and the truth that you speak, it doesn’t get played on the radio.
M-1: Well not mainstream radio. It gets played on plenty of community radios.
BallerStatus.com: What needs to happen to get it out there on mainstream radio?
M-1: We have to have a revolution. The propaganda is deep, it happens 24 hours a day. In order for that to happen, we have to take the power out of the hands of the ruling class, and place it in the hands of the people who want the music to represent the issues. We have to dethrone. There’s not much changing it as it is.
BallerStatus.com: With hip-hop being the most powerful form of music in terms of dissent, are you aware yourself of how much clout you personally have?
M-1: It’s not me. I speak for our movement that was broken militarily and defeated by chemical warfare. After it was defeated militarily, they unleashed the heroin and crack. So I’m a result of that. I’m a result of what’s left of the movement, what Ella and Malcolm started. So I’m what am left of that. I echo that. I’m aware of that.
BallerStatus.com: What do you think of the Reverend Yearwood, and his organization and their efforts to inspire the hip-hop culture and get them involved in order to enact change?
M-1: Well that’s what it’s all about. And it’s about connecting that organization to other organizations, connecting the Hip-Hop Caucus with as many grassroots efforts as we can so that we can make some real effective changes. That’s really what it’s about. Those of us that are in small pockets, contingencies fighting, some in the most mature and advanced struggles, and there are some that are just figuring out how to struggle and how to be involved in our movement today, just finding out right now. Our job — or at least my job — is to connect those with a history of struggle with those who are ready to resist today, to bring us into the political light.
BallerStatus.com: The Reverend Yearwood got beaten in the halls of Congress, by police who should be arresting Bush. What do you honestly feel about our government now, and do you think it would really change just by electing a new president? The criminality of it?
M-1: It’s not my government. You say “our government,” it’s not mine. And that’s what I think of it. I think our job has to be, like I said, to undermine the ability of this government to operate the way that it does, to trample over us the way that it does. It isn’t going to change without a huge show of power on our behalf. They will do the most treacherous, the most villainous things to us if they can, whenever they can. You know? They’ll arrest us, they’ll beat us down. They will slander us, and this is all in the name of trying to make the system continue to work. And the reason why they have to do that right now, is that it’s evident that the ruling class is in a crisis. Even in this country there’s not an agreement with what to do with the war, or healthcare, or education, some of the most basic needs. The ruling class is in crisis. In order for them to protect their facade of power, they have to beat up Rev. Yearwood, in order to say “Yes we won’t allow this to happen.” They don’t want us to throw the real corporate criminals in prison, instead of crackheads, or impeach them, or even investigate them, so they mock us, then ignore us, and then beat us back when we come after them. So they’re in a crisis.
BallerStatus.com: It’s been decades since Dr. King delivered that famous speech not far from the ground we’re sitting on right now, but we haven’t had much change.
M-1: We haven’t had change.
BallerStatus.com: We’re here at this monument for a purpose. Can we change in the near future, and if so what?
M-1: We can change our minds. That’s the most important thing, really. We can change our minds. We can turn off the television. We can turn off the radio. Let’s disempower them. Let’s not let them control that part of us, the most important part of us, our minds. It’s all lies on those news stations anyway, lies or propaganda. They don’t investigate anymore, not mainstream American media. They print, publish and air directly what people say. There ain’t no fact checking no more. If Bush says at a press conference that there is no torture going down, then that’s what you read in the paper, they just print word for word what he says. That’s just the beginning. We can stop going to work, collectively, and shut down the economy. We can stop buying these products we don’t need, that advertisements tell us we do. There’s many ways to exercise our political power, so many ways. Come up with ones on your own. Everybody can do that.
I don’t need to lay out a platform. We all have creative minds, and if we use them and stop acting like soul-less robots just sitting there on the couch, we can change whatever we want to change. We started coming close in the 60s, but soon enough nearly every household in America had a television set. Then the people weren’t out in the streets anymore, they went to work, came home and watched whatever. The atrocities being committed, the ones we’re here protesting, like hate crimes and police brutality haven’t changed. Our anger about those things hasn’t changed. You can ask people, go ask them. If you tell a regular person, a normal person, about what happened to Williams or Rawlings they’d be outraged. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve become preoccupied by petty things, when we could have so much more. That’s what’s changed. The struggle remains the same, and the reasoning behind it. But most don’t even know, because the news doesn’t want to tell you that. The news will keep you in fear with the “terror” stuff, but they never want you to realize how corrupt things really are, because then we wouldn’t be going out and buying the sh– pushed on us by the ones buying the ads that put that news, on that screen. So, there’s many ways we can take a stand.
At the end of the day we have to organize. That’s a critical word. You’re upset. I’m upset. We must organize, so that we can govern ourselves. I don’t need no dry-drunk deciding what I can and can’t do with my life. We can use common sense and we’ll be alright, not some ambition driven ideology, or a bunch of business thugs switching to politics so they can deregulate their own industries and raise their own stocks. The idea is to do to away with what we have now, and create a provisional government with access to all, so that we can take care of the oppressed people. The ones who rule today are mainly, not all of them, but mainly they’re descendants of the ones who ruled a hundred years ago.
BallerStatus.com: You seem very conscious of what’s going on, both politically and socially. How did you become like that?
M-1: Through intense political study, you know, I digested what’s been happening in this country. I wasn’t aware for many years, or even active about it. I could have had an inkling earlier on, but you don’t even get a true education in our system. The best education is received through observation and participation. Just doing classwork won’t make you smart, not when they’re not teaching you the truth in class anyway. All that will do is prepare you for the role you’re going to fulfill in a limited system where you’re not really free. You learn right now what they want you to learn, through school I mean. Read books they don’t assign, and think critically because that ain’t illegal yet. You get indoctrinated to remember these things they’re telling you are true. That’s not an education.
BallerStatus.com: Most of the history taught in school, is not real history, it’s a one-sided view of it.
M-1: It’s history. It’s oppressive history. It has a direct attempt and agenda to keep us exactly where we are.
BallerStatus.com: Interesting point, I read somewhere the other day that the same percentage of blacks in America work for whites as they did before the Civil War. So they’re no longer slaves now, but they’re still working for them, all they did was change the label of slavery. Now slave quarters are called housing projects, but they might as well be the same thing. Do you notice some of your fellow artists coming around?
M-1: I guess, but I stopped thinking about doing it with the artists. They’re people like everyone else, we shouldn’t rely on them to carry the torch out front, and we should all use our means for change if we see a purpose or cause worth fighting for. Our struggle must be led by like minded individuals. I can’t demand another rapper join me just because we’re in the same profession. Artists are intelligent people, but they have stakes in entertainment. I don’t. And that’s the thing. A lot of artists put their livelihood into continuing the façade that entertainment brings, whether it is music or television. I’m not interested. I make music, but I make people’s music. I make music in the tradition of Fela, or Bob Marley, or Peter Tosh.
BallerStatus.com: You don’t consider rapping your profession?
M-1: Believe it or not though it is my job, I do what I do to pay my bills. I’m not exempt from taxation by the United States government, or paying a mortgage, or buying their food. I have to participate in that way, because we don’t have power. We’re not growing our own food; we don’t have our own land. So there’s times when the rap that I do is a job. But when I can afford it, I will always use the opportunity to build our movement, if given the chance. They might let me come on the BET Awards, but not without me wearing a “Free Jenna Six” shirt, not without me doing that. You know? So other artists may not do that. That’s why I admire Malcolm, because for 24 hours and seven days, he was a revolutionary, he didn’t take the time off. If it did him in or put him out on the street, then so be it, but that man had dedication. He built an organization that allowed him to do that, and that’s what I’ve yet to do. I’m not perfect, I’ll be the first to admit that, but maybe just maybe someone out in the crowd today, or someone who might pick up my record tomorrow will become inspired to be that dedicated, because that’s what we need, and that’s how we’ll overcome.