School is back in session as the boom box yearns the tape of yesteryear – Hip-Hop is surely back, whether is Kendrick Lamar’s latest masterpiece of Professor A.L.I. teaching again, using music as a tool to educate.
by Yusuf Khan
The XFactor by Professor A.L.I. is the titular track off of this curricular double album exploring the history of Hip-Hop as a cultural movement while also examining its controversial themes within the musical genre. The song does not shy away from controversy as it delves into an examination of the impact made by Malcolm X upon Hip-Hop.
In the song, Professor A.L.I. refers to Malcolm X as the “placenta to Hip-Hop’s birth” and goes on to state that he was “so discarded, yet his knowledge provided nutrition for these artists.” Initially it is unclear, which artists he was referring to—save a new generation disconnected from the roots of Hip-Hop and who don’t understand the ideological framing for much of the teaching that went on in earlier Hip-Hop. Examples of this abound in the works of Paris, Public Enemy, X-Clan, KRS-One and Ice Cube, who in large part paid consistent homage to the persona of Malcolm X in their music. Hip-Hop’s reverence for Malcolm X can also be seen with Winley Records, a company that put out an album called Malcolm X “No Sell Out,” which contained a looped Hip-Hop break beat with samples from Malcolm’s speeches and was released in the early 1980’s.
It seems the Professor is simply continuing in the same traditions, while contrasting recent false representations of Malcolm X in the very culture that once venerated him. In the song, Professor A.L.I. goes after a poster child of the so called “New Hip-Hop” era in Nikki Minaj, who so despicably tried to violate the legacy and memory of Malcolm for her own commercial purposes on one of her recent projects, in which she takes an iconic image of Malcolm with rifle in hand and diminishes it and him by labeling it with her following single title: “Looking A** N****.” The outcry from the Hip-Hop community of what was being done, caused her pause—but the simple fact that it was considered a smart move in the first place was insulting. Professor A.L.I. refers to her as a “toxic architect,” one who build deadly notions aimed to kill the consciousness of the youth.
This song is heavily personal for Professor A.L.I., who was both friends with Malcolm X’s grandson, Malcolm Shabazz and one of the few selected to wash and shroud his body under Islamic principles after his brutal murder in Mexico a few years ago. Young Malcolm (Malcolm Shabazz) would often tell Professor A.L.I. of his disdain for the disrespect on end and sheer ignorance of his grandfather on the other. It seems that the Professor feels the same way as he not only goes after those who attack Malcolm X’s persona, but also reconstructs the history using the X as a variable for a retelling of what Malcolm had meant to both Hip-Hop and the greater movement of justice in the West.
An intimate conversation between Professor A.L.I. and his late friend Malcolm Shabazz is also a part of this album, functioning as educational interludes, and harkening back to an era in Hip-Hop where knowledge not ignorance reigned supreme.
The album is a key component of a Hip-Hop History course offered and taught by Professor A.L.I. as part of the BLEND-ED Consortium (Athenian, CPS, Lick Wilmerding, Marin Academy and Urban) of college preparatory schools as well as the U.C. Berkeley summer programs. At a time where Kendrick Lamar is reminding us of a time where Hip-Hop left off in the early 1990’s, Professor A.L.I. is taking us back to school, channeling Chuck D and Brother J, and in the true West Coast traditions of Ice Cube and Paris, he gives us #XFactor.