JASMINE WITH THE TEACHER-KRS 1 AT HIP HOP ON TRIAL AT THE BARBICAN. (PIC PAUL H)
Spent a few days at the Hackney academy in East London where the BBC had pit together a 3 week long residency at the Picture House where master classes were held for young East End young people to come and take advise and information from those leading in fields like fashion, music, media and more. The same weekend the beeb was putting on HACKNEY2012 where a host of superstars performed in celebration with the run up to the boroughs hosting the Olympics. Hundreds of young people attended Hackney Academy first, where they took part in master classes led by east end faces like Trevor Nelson, Labrith, Leona Lewis, Plan B and more. At the end of their time they put on a small showcase for us as a reception where they also revealed who had won the much coveted spot of performing at the upcoming festival early in the day, or having their tee shirt designs sold at the event. Such a great, inspiring event for motivating young people. Now the next step for them in their career if they want to be in media is to join the LONDON360 family- who says there are no opportunities for youth out there? Whoever does needs to go to spec savers!
Of course the hackney weekender was as massive as we had all expected with the BBC really pulling out the stops with more than 6 live feeds streaming online across the country all weekend where with a simple click of the button anyone could access these amazing live shows from a multitude of artists. It was mostly glitch free and truly impressive. I recall a time many years back when the national broadcaster didn’t really embrace urban music and culture. They’ve come a long way- a great moment in history-I salute the BBC!
Next I was invited to reggae reggae sauce business icon Levi Roots to his birthday party at a lovely venue called Veranda in Brixton.
JASMINE WITH SOUTH LONDON CHAMPION ENTREPENEUR-LEVI ROOTS!
On a rainy Saturday night a lovely mixture of his nearest and dearest was dressed up classy to wish him well. On entry were silver trays heaving with champagne as well as an open bar and scrumptious buffet. Levi surprised us with entertainment by a group of samba dancers that shook and wiggled for all they were worth getting us into the party spirit before making a speech which was extremely heartfelt. He thanked all those around him for shaping who he is and supporting him all these years. He paid ode and homage to Brixton for helping him develop and keep it real and that without his local hood areas he wouldn’t be where he is now. The DJ was playing some seriously great music and just as we were getting right into it we had to leave to show our faces at the official Roc Nation party, which Rokstone Entertainment had organized at DSTRKT CLUB.
During the week I attended a hip hop art exhibition called ‘’The 4 Pillars of Hip Hop’’, which was fun and a great turn out.
AT THE 4 PILLARS OF HIP HOP ART EXHIBITION WITH A FEW OLD SKOOL HEADS-RECOGNISE THEM?
As none of the artwork was titled I played a lil game by myself naming the various pieces things like ‘’wrapped up in music’’, deck worship’’ and ‘’hip-hop killed me’’ before I noted that most of the art was quite depressing and had negative connotations about hip-hop. I mentioned it to a young man standing next to me moaning ‘’why is all this art so negative about hip hop-its as if the artist hates the culture’’. He replied ‘’maybe he does’’. I suddenly release it was another legendary Dotiwala foot in mouth moment. Yes it was the artist. But hey I did my Kanye West shrug shoulders and went into a full on rant stating ‘’well I wish people would remember and acknowledge the great times hip-hop had given us, Hip hop empowers and liberates! Why are we so dead set on killing its reputation, its given a generation of people jobs, a living, a voice, aspirations and great times’’. We went back and forth. I agreed he was a very talented artist. He agreed I was allowed my opinion.
Finally I found myself at the Barbican for the eagerly anticipated seated amphitheater event- HIPHOP ON TRIAL-‘ where the big question being debated was ’HIP HOP DOESN’T ENHANCE SOCIETY IT DEGRADES IT’’. I haven’t been so excited about anything for a long time. Discussing the culture I live, love and breath with intelligent minds. Debate is my thing. I’m always very opinionated. Sometimes wrong. Often right. Easily corrected. Open minded. I love speech and knew this night was one not to be missed! Clearly I wasn’t alone in thinking that, as the venue was full from top tiers to bottom stalls with 1600 people in the auditorium and thousands more watching from all across the globe online via our hosts-Google +! The excited buzz in the air erupted as the panelists stepped onstage to take their seats on the panel.
As usual the powers that be had not understood that hip hop included many elements like music, djing, graffiti art and breakdancing and had confusedly meant with their statement ‘’does commercial rap music degrade society’’ in which case they may have had a better debate motion.
The set up was like court with us the audience playing the part of the jury whilst 2 main speakers defended and attacked the motion.
The Advocate for the motion proving hip hop degrades society was Eamon Courtenay – from Courtenay Coye law firm, who was a lovely West Indian man but clearly not connected enough to be knowledgeable about the music as a whole and more concerned with his 12 year old daughter going to inappropriate Ludacris concerts). He argued that ‘’hip hop fosters misplaced values and if the culture doesn’t reject them, its future has passed’’.
The Advocate against the motion who was defending hip hop was Michael Eric Dyson – Hip-hop intellectual and Professor of sociology at Georgetown University, this man was an amazing, passionate speaker who I was stunned by and wished he had taught me at Uni so sharp and powerful was he in his delivery and structure. He argued that ‘‘hip-hop teaches a rhetorical genius. If we want youth to engage in real music instruments and so on then give youth access to the money to purchase or have access to them. Blaming black men in prison on hip-hop is crazy- before rap existed black men were dominant in prison. Hip-hop is a complex culture. How are you going to let Ludacris be the only flag bearer for our music? We have Lauryn, Jay, Nas.. Hip hop is FULL of self-criticism so we can’t be attacked from the outside. We already attack each other from the inside’’.
We were joined in London by (deep breath-you’re going to need it)…our Web host Jemima Khan. (Love her but WTF was she doing as the web host on a subject she’s not a specialist on hence her mispronunciation of names later in the debate?), our debate Chair was Emily Maitlis – BBC Newsnight presenter (once again, a lovely articulate broadcaster but totally wrong here, proven when she asked THE ROOTS legend ?uestlove whether he thinks his group would have sold more music if their lyrics had been positive??? major blunder!).
In order to come to a conclusion the 2 main men called upon witnesses / speakers to give evidence for and against the motion. These speakers included
a very out of his depth, unable to articulate too well Shaun Bailey – (David Cameron’s adviser on youth and crime). Shaun Bailey tried to blame hip-hop for’’ 27 black boys dying this year to violent crime. apparently ‘’Black men are only portrayed as sexy and dangerous. Many forms of black music has protested without talking about killing like rap’’.
A brilliant Egyptian “Arab Spring” rapper called Deeb who explained that youth in Egypt used rap to make their voices heard and speak of their experiences during conflicted times. He implored ‘’ In the Middle East and countries which have a revolution hip-hop is a way of expressing our youths concerns. People want to listen to songs with meaning. Rap music is flourishing in the Middle East. “Rap is a genius poetry reflecting a bad reality”.
West London singer/rapper and Grammy winner Estelle who defended her position from L.A as she was beamed in live….’’ “I’m comfortable with parents raising their own children- did you not research Luda before you let your daughter attend his concert? Hip-hop is freedom of speech. I’m not a bitch or hoe so I’m not offended by the use of that word’’.
One of my youth idols, the incomparable writer (VIBE mag etc) Dream Hampton was with us but not as strong vocally as she is in print and wasn’t allowed enough mic time to really show her knowledge.
The legend that is Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson oozed authoritive aura but delivered nothing substantial and particularly disappointed when he wouldn’t condemn the use of the N word after his history and experiences. British journo Tony Sewell challenged Jesse Jackson of playing to the audience, which I must admit he did seem to be doing.
Jesse Jackson was introduced as the 1st hip-hop star. Ladies love JJ. He explained that the culture was born of pain. It exposes contradictions. For example that poor people steal whilst rich people embezzle. Jessie preached ‘’When LL cool hosts Grammys that’s lifting up the culture
When Jay Z is our president’s public advocate that’s lifting up our culture. When you blame hip-hop culture for violence and crime let me remind you that there’s not one black gun manufacturer or shop owner in the world. I may not embrace the language and misogyny of rap but I don’t condone the culture’’.
He ended ‘’Killing innocent people in wars and dropping bombs on lands. That’s not hip-hop. Letting African countries starve and die. That’s not hip-hop. Hip-hop took us from Alabama to the white house!’’.
The very predictable Hip-hop pioneer KRS-One didn’t really speak with the fire that we were used to him delivering knowledge with, and a couple of times played himself with wishy washy answers. Apparently all use of the N word in rap means ‘’king’’, whilst Kanye West is apparently referring to cars when he says ‘’you know how many hot bitches I own’’. Oh dear. We couldn’t even get an intellectual, truthful response from one of our so-called leaders. The audience were deflated and shocked. KRS 1 did explain ‘’If we have the power to degrade a society we have the power to lift it. If the society we are degrading is the one that is misogynistic and starts wars, and lets politicians evade millions in tax, and lets the 3rd world starve then hip hop is not a bad thing’’.
James Peterson – Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University reminded us that hip-hop has multiple elements. He defined the 4 corners and then added that the 5th element is knowledge. He highlighted ‘‘hip-hop empowers young people to speak and live with confidence- it liberates their mind’’. He educated by saying ‘’Rap form is poetry, you wouldn’t tell Chaucer to not use the word wench! Why don’t you put country and opera on trial? All those forms contain the same issues. The only difference is they don’t mainstream chart as well as hip-hop’’.
We were also joined by Co-founder of Grammy Award winning band The Roots ?uestlove via Google+ Hangout) live on screen who was articulate but had such short mic time that it was barely relevant.
Frontman of iconic hip-hop act A Tribe Called Quest Q-Tip was clearly not impressed by anything said and seemed bemused as he attempted to help the proceedings with ‘’we as black people in the USA are still licking our views from slavery”
Many speakers against the motion defended rap music and explained that it merely highlights parts of society we may not necessarily like all that much. A few speakers argued that society is doing a fine job of degrading itself.
Many audience members that lived and breathed this culture were frustrated at the old fashioned debate that most of us had watched on Oprah and seen British politicians debating years ago. It’s 2012 for goodness sake. Does Hip Hop need to legitimize itself even today? This question was out-dated in the extreme. There are many areas where rap music needed to be challenged but the use of the words ‘’bitch, nigga and hoe’’ weren’t really relevant to a British music audience. This seemed like a very American debate.
British rappers don’t really use that language like their American counterparts and further more there wasn’t 1 British rapper in this debate- Estelle lives in the USA. There were whispers of ‘’why didn’t they include Akala, Bashy, Lowkey?’’ and other better-suited voices on the hip hop scene here. Not 1 panellist could articulate the London rap music scene. They had Tony Sewell – CEO of the charity Generating Genius, Shaun Bailey and British-Jamaican dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah attempting to articulate the hip-hop scene here. All very respected in their own fields but way too old and unconnected to the current very thriving scene here. The debates talent booking team really need to get some help in this area. There wasn’t one British woman speaking on behalf of the industry here, which is totally different to the American one.
Tony Sewell did well by reminding people that hip-hop came from Jamaica via New York with DJ Herc toasting on the sound system mic before the New York takeover. Tony stated ‘’modern day hip hop is a return to the minstrels’’.
American TV presenter, novelist, journalist and cultural critic Toure spoke sense when he suggested that clearly all panelists against hip hop weren’t aware of the wide variety of rap acts questioning ‘’are the Roots, Outkast Nas ,etc degrading? No! its the media and our industries only that push the “bitch ho” acts’’. He added ‘’remember hip-hop has thrown multi millions of dollars around the globe and given millions jobs-we owe it thanks’’.
Part 2 of the debate had us rolling with laughter in the aisles as they questioned ‘’is rap poetry?’’. Such a redundant question when it is one of the highest most defined lyrical art form that has ever existed!.
Jason Whitlock – Columnist for Foxsports.com made me want to throttle him as he whittled on ‘’ hip-hop has been replaced by prison culture; it is the marketing of the USA’s war on drugs, the lobby of prisoners. Our black American men’s image has been destroyed by hip-hop’’. And that -members of the jury- is why he has been employed by Fox. He also mentioned ‘’Al Pacino plays a character. Rappers are playing themselves. Most conversation in rap is bullshit. Michael Jackson tried to use a Jewish slur and the Jewish community in the music industry stopped him. The Jewish people that oversee the record industry made sure that didn’t happen. Think about that. The defense of this gansterised commercialized hip-hop is wrong and out of control’’.
When the motion master against hip hop culture asked Joe Budden and his slaughterhouse group members ‘’What gives you the right to call our woman bitches?, there was a dead silence for a few seconds as Joe hilariously grappled with the idea of a debate. Joe attempted the age-old response of ‘’Women and bitches are not the same thing, also ‘bitch’ is not gender specific, everything is not for everybody, you are arguing about something you know absolutely nothing about, You’re not my m**** f***** demographic. I said bitches. That’s not women, that’s not black. That can be a white man!’’. Then he hit back at the Ludacris concern by challenging ‘’How about you just being a father and teaching your daughter right from wrong?
Tricia Rose – (Brown University Professor and author of the groundbreaking books on hip-hop: Black Noise and Hip Hop Wars), was exceptional and spoke with a calm fire that shut down anything that was said all night. She stated ‘‘hip-hop responds to a legacy of violence against black people and exuberates it. By ignoring the penetration of hip-hop you are living dangerously’’. She added correctly that ‘’If we as distinguished people can not talk seriously about what’s going wrong in hip-hop we have a problem. The most blatant form of ridiculing black women is hip-hop culture’’.
I liked P.J. O’Rourke – American political satirist and author, who explained ‘‘the language of poetry is not greeting card shit. It is ugly. What are you gonna say “u can only rap about puppies!”
John Sutherland – Emeritus Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London who looked totally out of place as a very elderly, very white, very middle to upper classed gent championed hip hop saying ‘’90 percent of science fiction is crap. Butt then in most things 90 percent is crap. I’ve taught poetry for 50 years. I predict that in 20 years Tupac will be seen as one of the great poets’’.
To end Jesse Jackson took advantage of the congregation and had everyone stand to repeatedly chant alongside him, his usual barrage of churchly positivity slogans.
The debate was long and gripping and afterwards the audience and KRS1 stayed in the venue foyer for another couple of hours debating the debate.
One guest was unhappy ‘’I thought they were going to speak about the much more under-discussed intricate idiosyncrasies of Hip Hop culture such as the glorification of white women, almost non-existent female mc’s, Hip Hop Homophobia, the way Hip hop has developed ‘urban’ industries e.g. graffiti art, streetdance etc plus the people who own & sign the toxic ignorant self hating mainstream ‘Hip Hop’ should’ve been there to justify themselves’’.
Another added ‘’ Listening to music just because it bangs is like eating McDonalds. You know it’s not good for you, but you eat it cause its accessible and shrug it off like it wont affect you in the future’’.
A hilarious summary was ‘’Things that I’ve learnt tonight; 1)So the N-word comes from “Negus” meaning king? Lol 2)B.I.T.C.H means Because I Take Charge Here. 3) Joe Budden has a short fuse. 4) Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet of the people 5)Professor Tricia Rose is someone I’ll follow on Twitter.6) Rev Jesse Jackson needs no excuse to say “I ammmmmm Somebody!”
Another fan of the culture stated point blank ‘’ hip-hop is the most brilliant art form ever created. Rapping – the most advanced form of language use breakdancing – the most advanced form of dancing. Graffiti – the most advanced form of art –the end!’’
A very valid response was ‘’ Why is there no discussion of the leaders of the industry as a whole. They are largely white males and images portrayed by commercial hip-hop which perpetuate stereotypes benefiting white males’’.
I liked the young man who shouted ‘’ If you think Hip Hop is “Bad” …you’re listening to the wrong kind. If we’re condemning hip hop for sexism, misogyny and homophobia, those three things are present in the church.’’
In conclusion this event was a great idea with a lot of engagement from a very diverse audience of people in person and online. It was watched afterwards by a few more thousand. So all in all a winning event that got people engaged in a very staple form of modern day arts. My criticisms would be that the panel was too big. It was an amazing panel that were largely ignored and left equally frustrated. There was no wireless in the auditorium or a formal twitter hashtag so a real waste of social media awareness- and it STILL trended on twitter. This debate should’ve been televised by a music or talk digital TV broadcaster. Its a shame that this panel and the structure of questions were not properly thought out… it’s a good concept but wasn’t well structured.
It oversimplified a very complex issue, and attempted once again to blame all society’s ills on hip hop rather than address the fact that the ills of which we speak had been around long before hip hop ever came on the scene.