Native Sun

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Native Sun by Professor A.L.I.

I remember when I first met Carter, five years ago; it was hard to miss him, since he stood out as much as I did amidst our new peers.  I see him in my mind vividly, standing awkwardly in the sunlight upon a beach as part of an in-coming student orientation; and I’m sure he visualizes me in similar fashion.  He a freshman and I the new teacher on campus at a unfamiliar school clearly feeling nervous about the community we were being enveloped in and showing it through our uncomfortable body language.  We clearly felt, then, like outsiders, like shadows cast in the light of the sun.

Four years later as the June sun beamed down upon our heads, Carter would walk across the stage; and in the Athenian School tradition he picked an instructor to give a one-minute graduation speech on his behalf.   Carter chose me and I chose to deliver the speech as a rap, sans beat; it seemed appropriate since Carter’s alter ego was the young, up and coming rapper “Captaincy” and I was, Professor A.L.I.

As Carter was nearing his impending graduation the elephant in the room, was a potential collaboration between the teacher and student, between a Professor and a young Captain.  Carter had joked with me about the possibility in years past, but, I had shook it off with banter for I rarely admitted to anyone on campus that I was ‘Professor A.L.I.’ and knew such a collab would’ve blown my identity out in into the sunlight.  For so long I’d kept my artistry hidden in the shadows of my professional world and seeing the two worlds collide was, at the time, unsettling.

Yet at the same time Carter represented everything I strove to be an educator for.  He was a brilliant young man with deep inner-reflections who also thought out of the box.  He was the laid back freshman who’d emerged from the shadows of obscurity to embrace the lamp of learning.  And to top it off, unlike many young people he possessed both knowledge and reverence for the true pioneers and “teachers” of Hip-Hop like Brand Nubian, Public Enemy & KRS-One.

So motivated by that realization, I showed Carter a song in which I sought to promote Hip-Hop as it once was, the art of expression of social/political issues that were relevant to the community at large.  The song had a natural intersection in the realm of equity and inclusion, a theme that was central to both Captaincy and Professor A.L.I.; it also spoke to our time at Athenian together, to community building and education.  We had embraced the light of our true selves on this campus, let down our guards, and allowed what we do as artists respectively to become a part of the landscape like the sun in the sky. It was the most appropriate intersection for a collab, and Captaincy laid the second verse on the song, and lo and behold, ‘Native Sun’ was born.

The song was born of a reverence for Richard Wright’s seminal work, Native Son, and the language of Hip-Hop with the elevation of self in the speak of the ‘Nation of Gods & Earths’ community; the same NGE community that gave Hip-Hop its slang and cadence.  Imbued with both “science & math”, the track is a metaphor of the passing of a torch; of a Professor taking his own light to elevate another, a student to become a “Sun”, to give off his own light, to embrace the highest expression of self, one that is celestial in nature.

The song’s journey is one that begins in the classroom, through the lecture of a Professor, sparking the imagination of students, and of one student in particular, Carter (Captaincy) who presents his own reality.  This should be the nature of any art, to spark more creativity, and to create more artists.  So like a sun that shines upon all and gives life meaning, by the light of the moon, its warmth and radiation, so too do the lyrics of the song, give life meaning by shedding light upon the importance of equity and point out societal inequities that we live and breath in on a daily basis.

Native Sun is a song off of the Emerald Manifesto album, and the beginning of a new movement for me as an artist.  Up until now, as Carter, my peers and many students will attest to, I’ve kept my artistic life and life as an educator separate.  However I now see the empowering role that Hip-Hop artistry and lyricism can play in education and also vice versa.   Merged together, Hip-Hop & Education shed light on issues that are not touched upon by popular media or given attention because they do not further the status quo.  It is the unexplored realm of voice, the subaltern, and as an educator I see the importance of the voice of the M.C.  After all, as I’ve said in the past, ‘a Professor has knowledge, but an M.C. has the audience.’

To that end, on Emerald Manifesto, I created songs that spoke to issues that didn’t see the light of day.  I spit verses about the social inequities of the Caste system still in practice in South Asia, the movement of permaculture, the genocide in Bahrain, the importance of localized spending and the similarities rather than the difference between people living in the Middle East.  All of these issues are rarely addressed, yet are issues relevant to our world and more importantly the world inherited by our children.  The sun diminishes darkness, vanishes obscurity, and makes all things erudite.  I was seeking to do the same as an artist; in the end I was seeking to become a sun.

At Athenian, both Carter and I had become suns; we found a supportive community, one that encouraged artistic expression and explored ways in which educators and students could be learners outside of the traditional classroom setting.  In four years the icy wall I had created between my artistry and role as educator had slowly melted.  The Google searches that easily reveal the presence of my alter ego and calls to recite spoken word and acapella poetry had blown my carefully constructed cover as a mild mannered educator along with my icy wall to bits.

When this happened I saw an immense swell of support and love from a community that stood by its own.  Carter saw that too, and as he started to take the lyrics from his notepad to the mic, he too found his strongest support coming from the Athenian campus family.  Artistry thrives when it is cultivated with love, and we both found that from our respective peers.  So we too began to shine in our own right.

We also discovered after five years at Athenian, that our initial reaction to being on the other side of the tunnel, in a city (Danville) that was really different from our respective homes of Union City & Oakland, was not what we expected.  In our time on campus we discovered we were not outsiders, but integral parts of the community as if we had always been there.  We felt like we were natives of that Mt. Diablo setting and at communicated in our body language that we had ascended to become part of what makes Athenian shine as a community, that we were “suns” in the NGE sense of the word. We were Native Suns.

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I am currently working on my new project entitled Das Ka Rebel, taking the exploration of Hip-Hop & Education to another level.  I will explore themes that make education truly innovative and experiential—while at the same time discovering all of what Hip-Hop could be.  Hip-Hop after all was born in the West African Griot, so I will seek to imbue the sprit of that oral historian as I weave the tales of our world as a testament to later generations, and like the griot, impart lessons that will help them preserve our values, while avoiding our mistakes.

I seek to shine like the Native Sun and give light to the ‘earths’ and their seeds–so that they flower with knowledge and grow to regenerate this planet and allow it to flourish with love.  In the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”  I feel the same way, and I will seek to move through this world with Ollin Tonatiuh, with the movement of the Sun, riding the chariot in the sky of life like Apollo, facing its demons like Surya, for I am Ra in Kemet, I am the Native Sun.

Carbon Cycle Diaries ~ A Reflection by Professor A.L.I.

Carbon Cycle Diaries ~ A Reflection

The other day I called up the grandson of one of my penultimate role models: Malcolm X; it was his namesake and only male heir, Malcolm Shabazz , who was on his way to a speech. While on the phone he tells me that a mutual friend of ours was in the car with him. I immediately asked him to deliver the universal Islamic greeting, ‘Asalaamu’Alaykum’ on my behalf.

I heard Malcolm in the background as he said, “Aye Yo, Professor A.L.I. says ‘Asalaamu’Alaykum’.”

This was the moment that ‘it’ hit me; it was like a reality verifying pinch that this journey I’ve been on is in fact real. In many ways the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ project has felt like a dream. I never would’ve believed that I would actually collaborate with artists that I listened to as a hip-hop fiend in the early 90’s. I am still in disbelief that the cypher and spoken word have led me to a digital release. I am humbled by praise for a project from my peers and well-wishers, knowing all of this has been made possible by The Most High solely, of which I have no doubt.

What many people do not know is that both Professor A.L.I. and the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’, almost never came to light. In 2002, I gave up on my ‘hoop dreams’ of ever becoming an established artist, one who would demand attention let alone respect. Somehow I never believed it would happen and I walked towards the goal of becoming a professional, even my life in academia was an afterthought.

Then death struck. First my father then my mother… I found myself the oldest person in my family and at the same time with a family of my own to support. Music was in the recesses of my mind. Yet, I had volumes in pads scratched from back in 1987 forward. I had verses that possessed my mind like reoccurring visions. I had images I had catalogued from all over the world, and I had rage and hope. I had venom and I had to spit it out.

The mic beckoned. I heard the voice of my mother telling me to ‘grab the mic’ as she passed from this realm. I realized that my own time is limited, but before death overtakes me, I wanted to have the opportunity to leave my voice, both for myself and for my seed; in death I realized that I would take two journeys, of soul a spiritual awakening, of body the Carbon Cycle.

So I started to speak to the physicality of this realm and the imbalances that exist within it. Ultimately focusing upon the earth which is our matrix, our test, our trust; yet in reality it is a mother betrayed by her children, who’ve severed the umbilical cord, drained their mother of milk, murdered their siblings and then sacrificed Gaia to the idol of self, finally eating away at her corpse like zombies. So I grabbed the mic.

What flowed was the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’, an in depth look at the issues that plague our planet. It was a title that meant so much. It spoke to our role in the physical form as well as our relationship with the planet. It spoke to the basic element that defines life and it documented how we are destroying life in so many ways. It was also a play on words, a shout out to Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his chronicled journey to his self-realization in “Motorcycle Diaries”.

Why not write a book? I am, but music and in particular hip-hop was an important medium. Hip-Hop is alive, it is intelligent movement. It speaks to a group of people who understand coded language, and their role in the shadows. It is my generations smoke signal or message tied to passenger pigeon. It is communicative to a specific audience and it is with music, which touches the soul.

Some would say like the pigeon that hip-hop has gone extinct. However I would disagree. I would argue that hip-hop exists and will continue to exists alongside commercial rap music. The moment the first rap album was played on commercial radio it ceased to be hip-hop, it became erudite, and hence commercially viable. Commercial culture took over and though some artists maintained that communicative nature in music, it became less important, because now it was a product. Yet while this was happening, there were still true hip-hop artists, independents, basement level grassroots cats who still were hip-hop. That hasn’t changed. So hip-hop is not dead, it is alive but you need to have the proper ears to listen to it.

Professor A.L.I. came to be to educate using the microphone, and the fact that he has now entered the shadow consciousness speaks to hip-hop and the fact that a Professor can have knowledge but an M.C. has the audience. From a journey surreal, to a movement so real; I ask all those reading this, listening to ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ to stand up to the issues addressed in the album from racial inequality to Islamophobia, from indigenous rights to police brutality, and from corporate hegemony to Global Warming. The music is but a mechanism to deliver a greater larger message that we has human beings need to unite in the face of oppression and educate our brothers and sisters to the work that needs to be done. Each one teach one, spread the word, Professor A.L.I. and the ‘Carbon Cycle Diaries’ have arrived.

Shout out to Remi Bye from Norway on Facebook for his eloquent questions which helped shape this reflection. Stay in touch with Professor A.L.I. at www.facebook.com/professali