Dear Mama: Remembering Afeni and 2pac

Afeni2pacThis piece is dedicated to the Shakur tribe, on this occasion, which would have been Tupac Shakur’s birthday, we commemorate his soul and that of his recently departed mother, Afeni Shakur as well.

The news of Afeni Shakur’s passing was abrupt and sudden, just days before Mother’s Day, Dear Mama had left us and as a product of the Bay, an extension of the Panther legacy and a cultivator of Hip-Hop, I felt personally affected, even though I had never been blessed to have met Afeni in life.  I immediately contacted Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen, who had known 2pac, and had seen Afeni before, to share the heartbreaking news; and when he, who is usually loquacious, had no words save remorse, it furthered my heartbreak.  We were both dumbstruck and I didn’t know what else to do but to pray for her soul, and the soul of Tupac, as I also prayed for Sekyiwa and her children, Mopreme, Mutulu, Zayd, Assata and Jasmine Guy, who had purposefully helped me connect with Afeni through her writing.  To all those to whom Afeni was linked and to everyone she touched via her impact on social justice and through her children, I say and said inna lillahi inna ilayhi rajioon, “we are created and unto the creator do we return.”  Peace and Blessings.

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Motherhood Besieged

Mother’s Day in America has many narratives, though all are of struggle; this is due to the fact that all mothers in America are born under the yolk of patriarchy, and the fact that there is no physical or metaphysical equivalent comparison for carrying a human being to term for up to nine months.  However, there is one matriarchal narrative that is so steeped in oppression that it stands apart from the others; this is of the mother whose child is stripped away from them as chattel and sold.  This narrative is of the captive mother, and it echoes from the skeleton closet of our nation’s history and it continues to reverberate in recent times.  The two most infamous examples of this oppression is manifest in the wombs of two women, held in captivity, who navigated their motherhood while they fought for their freedom; both women took on the surname Shakur.

Shakur in Arabic means to be thankful, which seems a word at odds with the adopted surname of a mother who was imprisoned for a crime for which she was eventually acquitted while she was pregnant—and the name seems especially ironic in that the Shakur tribe bore this oppression because America feared what was in their wombs, far more than any other force.  Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but the sad truth regarding the maneuverings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which fought actively to prevent any Black Messiah figure from emerging and that included being born; COINTELPRO was directly utilized under Hoover’s guidance to snuff out any leadership of this type.  The irrational fear of a black messiah directly led to circumstances that found the government involved with or having knowledge of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  So it is unsurprising that this gripping phobia also led to the scrutiny of the wombs of black activists since the goal of phobic was to prevent a Black Superman from uplifting “the people” a.k.a black folk and pulling a modern day Moses routine on the machinations of a modern day Pharaoh.

Assata Shakur explicates this fear in her Autobiography, which shows in her descriptive prose capturing the reactions of the prison guards and government officials when they come to learn that she became pregnant while they held her captive in gross violation of numerous rights she should have been afforded.  She perfectly breaks down the state of oppression that consumed her being, as one that was so complete that those imprisoned didn’t realize that their perceptions of freedom were but a façade; Assata stated that “in AmeriKKKa she [had] always been in prison” and the only difference then, when she had been placed in a cell was that now she could see and feel the bars.  This is a type of consciousness that was born in the teachings of Malcolm X and both members of the Shakur tribe, Afeni and Assata would argue that their motherhood pales in comparison to that of Betty Shabazz, who carried her twins to term, while held captive to the assassination of their father, Malcolm X.  It was Malcolm’s inspiration that birthed the Black Panther Party and it was this organization that helped awaken consciousness in both Afeni and Assata, though they both would transcend its socialist construction and find spirituality in Islam and in New Afrikan identity.

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The Tribe of Shabazz and the Tribe of Shakur

Sheikh Hashim likes to tell the story of when he was with Tupac and ‘Pac was using a label maker to punch labels out on sticky tape and place them underneath pictures he had pinned to his bedroom wall.  One of the photos was of Malcolm X, and under it Tupac had labeled “Original Gangsta.”  It makes me chuckle inside when people label Tupac a Gangsta Rapper, since they are unaware to which “Gang”, Tupac truly belonged.  Tupac was a member of the Shakur tribe, and learned lessons that shaped his consciousness under the tutelage of Mutulu Shakur, and took inspiration from Assata and his mother Afeni.  Young Tupac Shakur, renamed after the Incan emperor and revolutionary, spent his gestation in limbo, as his mother Afeni stood trial as part of the Panther 21.  She was acquitted and Tupac would be born a free child—however Assata, another member of the Shakur tribe did not fare as well and gestated her daughter in prison.  So his cousin Kikuya (Assata’s daughter) came into this world with the unenviable circumstance of being born in captivity—a circumstance that hearkens back to the matriarchal narrative of so called slaves.

Afeni passed away on May 2nd, one week before the third anniversary of the passing young Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was our close friend and whose death and funeral consumed much of our spirit and community energy.  I was one of the few brothers called on to wash his body, as per Islamic ritual, and the memory of the lukewarm water running over the cold skin of his empty shell, the smell of camphor and the circumstances of the murder that put the lifeless form of my brother in front of me will haunt me till the day of my own death.  Afeni’s passing, was another blow to the tribe of Shakur, just as Malcolm’s was to the tribe of Shabazz.  These two families while distinct, remain connected in my mind via the conduits of affinity they had with Islam, celebratory blackness and an unapologetic adherence to social justice; and because of these things, there was a fourth connection, which was of trial—where members of both tribes experienced the inner workings of criminal “justice” system and domestic intelligence organizations for challenging the status quo on issues of faith, race and social justice and for having the tribal capacity to birth and train and black messianic figure.

2pac

2pac in Tamil pays homage to Afeni directly with the lines “reincarnated in Afeni’s womb”, and references to the Panther 21 case.  The song pays homage to Afeni as the conscious matriarch of Hip-Hop, which is to take nothing away from the contributions of other powerful women in Hip-Hop, but to give credit Afeni because she imbued one of the greatest, if not greatest M.C. in Hip-Hop history with the legacy of the Panthers, which in and of itself was a legacy of Malcolm, thereby inextricably linking Hip-Hop with the two tribes, Shabazz and Shakur.

2pac would have been 45 today, but we will be forever deprived of the wisdom he would impart as his experience grew.  In his later years, some have critiqued that 2pac was a slave to the music industry, and that the more popular he became the stronger the shackles did as well.  Yet these shackles, which came with a related shift in this self-professed feminist and socialist’s lyrics to misogynistic themes and capitalist lyrical content, seem to show a dramatic shift in an artist, who was perhaps Hip-Hop’s first male feminist lyricist up until he was shackled this way.  Songs like Brenda, Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama dedicated to Afeni Shakur, stand in sharp contrast to Wonder Why Bitch, but 2pac remained astute enough, Panther enough and truly hip enough to insert coded lyrics, like the captives of old did when they sang codes into negro spirituals, so that even songs with seemingly sexist lyrics carry secret messages to those in the know, see Me and My Girlfriend as an example—a song which deep sexual imagery that is constructed as an ode to libertarian values and the ownership of a gun.

2pac was a panther cub, and for those who don’t know Afeni or the Panther 21, understand that, it was as if Assata or Angela Davis had a child and that child retained the consciousness of the mother in his voice to/for the people.  Tupac was a conscious artist, and even when his music was not conscious, and constructed for popular construction it was still coded with consciousness for the people.  “The people” are the global black community and it is why 2pac is an icon for the continent of Africa, along with Bob Marley and Lucky Dube; it is why 2pac t-shirts sell in the bazaars of the Middle East and why in Latin America and South East Asia his visage is an icon reminiscent of Che or Ho Chi Minh.  2pac Shakur brought the voice of the tribe of Shakur to join with that of Shabazz, by the enduring connection elucidated earlier to speak to global issue of injustice.  He was taken from us, long before many knew what he represented and with the recent death of Afeni, it would seem that the strength of the tribe is waning—but like Malcolm’s words, Tupac’s songs live on and like Malcolm continue to inspire each generation that stands up to oppression everywhere on this planet!

2pac_Is_A_Global_IconShout out to the City of Oakland (#BayPride) for making today Tupac Shakur Day.

 

 

2pac in Tamil

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2pac in Tamil

2pac is a global icon. Like Bob Marley before him, his music reverberates in the hearts of millions as it blasts through speakers around the world, just as his image captures the imaginations of his global fan base, on t-shirts, murals and posters. 2pac transcended Hip-Hop, like Bob Marley transcended Reggae. They became larger than the music and were intertwined with the values that were woven through their art, which they shared with the world. Foremost of these was an uncompromising devotion for standing up to oppression. 2pac was an opponent of hegemony, of predatory economic structures, racial inequity and political disenfranchisement. The spirit of 2pac stood and continues to stand against oppression, just like the icons of old that he inherited.

Exactly 75 years to the day before 2pac was assassinated, another like soul was taken from this world. A Tamil man from British ruled South India protested their oppression through his art and was also killed; though his death was tragic, like 2pac it did not diminish his poetry or songs, or throw shade on his message and ideals he stood for, which were the same as 2pac’s. The British government and authorities from Hindu hegemonic structures based on caste had already labeled him a pariah for his views, yet he remained resolute in his convictions and was struck down as a stalwart opponent to imperialism. He was an opponent to them, of the British economic divestment of his people, the racial hierarchies they imposed and manipulated and for Tamil nationalism. He is remembered as Bharatiyar, the mahakavi, or greatest poet in Tamil, or in Hip-Hop speak, the illest M.C.

Those who know Hip-Hop culture know that the most asked question in Hip-Hop is who is the best? The debate of who is the illest M.C. is one that seems so subjective that it can lead to seamlessly never-ending conversations or social media threads, with no true consensus. In part this is because people define “best” through various categories, from “rocking the party” to “best lyricism” to the “best content.” Beats, samples, production and engineering factor in as well and only further problematize the question. However there is one name that shows up on everyone’s list from the casual listener to the most stalwart of Hip-Hop heads, and it is the closest consensus that exists regarding this question and that M.C. is 2pac.

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The Mahakavi and Illest M.C.

Bharatiyar was born in Ettayapuram, near the southern tip of India, in what would become Tamil Nadu. He was a pioneer in modern Tamil poetry and his work sparked patriotic fervor and nationalism and were part of a larger independence movement. He worked against gender stereotypes for women (though he still operated in a traditional mindset with his own life partner), and stood up against the caste system. He was exiled and imprisoned, but throughout his life was a prolific writer and poet and his songs and poems continued to inspire, as Tamil people fought for their freedom along with other South Asian peoples from under British rule.

2pac was a fetus while his mother fought for her freedom during the Panther 21 trial and grew to embody the values of his Panther family. He championed the power of the people and was the first erudite Hip-Hop artist to speak out against misogyny in his lyrics (though he remained a contradiction through his association with artists who were the epitome of misogyny). He had been shot, hospitalized, and imprisoned, yet in his short life, he was one of the most prolific Hip-Hop artists of all time and his music continues to inspire people throughout the world to stand up to the powers that be.

Can you see the connection?

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Tamil Hip-Hop 

Tamil people have long embraced Hip-Hop culture as a part of our own. Hip-Hop Tamizha may be a strong and recent example, but Hip-Hop may be strongest amongst Tamils living in the Diaspora. My brother Yogi B in Malaysia, or The Prophecy in Toronto are examples of Tamils embracing Hip-Hop culture and using the voice of Hip-Hop to make our presence known. Tamilmatic is an attempt to do just this and tell our story, explaining our impact on this planet and showcasing our deep values as a people.

Tamils love 2pac, because 2pac’s lyrics translate well to the Tamil struggle. Whether we talk about the Coolie Slave Trade, the post-colonial struggle and our Diaspora, or the war and the refugee crisis stemming from our fight for Eelam and the impact of the war crimes committed against our people, 2pac’s songs could very much form the soundtrack to our struggle. Just as Bharatiyar’s songs became the songs of resistance of our grandparents generation, 2pac’s lyrics spoke to the grandchildren living in the Diaspora.

So 2pac in Tamil is the first official video to accompany the release of Tamilmatic for this Tamil New Year’s Day and it imagines whether the souls of Bharatiyar and 2pac were intertwined just as the struggle for human rights amongst Black folk in America and Black folk in South Asia still is. It explores Black Lives Matter and champions the idea of global liberty and justice. Bharatiyar and 2pac clearly stood on common ground; they were both poets and revolutionaries and both were taken from the world too soon, and finally they both reminded us of how the power of voice can transcend death:

2pac in Tamil is my attempt to use my voice, to bridge the global struggle of my people with the problems plaguing our planet and state emphatically that 2pac is alive, because he lives through all of us, and through this, like Bharatiyar, he lives through me.

2pac in Tamil is a song off of the Tamilmatic album and is available for download on iTunes and Amazon, and for free streaming on Rhapsody and Spotify. 

Hussein Fatal, RIP… another Invisible Man?

Hussein Fatal RIP

INVISIBLE MAN was a track off of my first solo album, entitled Carbon Cycle Diaries… I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an artist & educator since, yet it was this album that helped launch my solo/independent artist career and it was through the encouragement of well-established artists like Lord Jamar, Killah Priest and the late Hussein Fatal that the project garnered steam and I felt both supported and validated as an M.C. & griot of our Hip-Hop kulture.

The track Invisible Man is multi-layered, it both hearkens to Ralph Ellison’s seminal work and that of H.G. Wells.  It also weaves in the idea of being invisible as an artist–paraphrasing the words of Hussein Fatal on the track and that of being invisible within a nation.  It weaves in a 2pac sample is probably the most upbeat track I’ve ever done.  Yet there is another layer to the track and its about being erased– and at a time in America where the world is finally noticing the erasing of black men and women from this plane of existence through police violence, the Hip-Hop community has to say goodbye to another icon and pillar of our kulture.

RIP Hussein Fatal aka brother Bruce Washington, Jr.  The news of your passing, caught me by surprise and I truly could not believe it.  We are both the same age, not only was I a fan of your work but you helped move along my artistic career, collaborated with me and helped brew within me a sense of confidence through your humility and kind words during our brief interaction.  After having to say goodbye to the Jack (the Jacka aka Shaheed Akbar) who was murdered earlier this year, to hear of a car accident that snuffed out your vibrancy is hard to bear.  My prayers and thoughts are with your spirit and your family and close friends, to whom my family offers our deepest condolences–you will rest in power & peace–and your words and your legacy will make it impossible for you to be “erased”… no in truth you will be more visible than ever.

I’m re-releasing & re-dedicating the song Invisible Man to you and yours. Stay blessed in heaven as you were in this life my dear brother and send my salaams to ‘Pac & Yaki in the heavenly abode.

Invisible no more.

#WestCoastHipHop #HusseinFatalRIP #HusseinFatal #Hussein #Fatal #Outlawz #2pac #RIP #InvisibleMan #blacklivesmatter

Beneath Mom’s Feet

Beneath Mom’s Feet by Professor A.L.I.

“When you were born,” my mother used to tell me, “you were like a little bird, so tiny.” I imagine her holding me close, easing my transition into this world and throughout my life, no one has done more for me, and especially as selflessly as she did and there hasn’t been a moment since she passed that I haven’t longed for her embrace—even though, as she breathed her last breath, she did so in my arms.

People who really know me know that every night I fall asleep longing to have a dream of her, to connect with an old memory or catch a metaphysical glimpse of her form. In many ways I feel her in my life, I see her in the expressions of my children and wonder how she was when she was growing up and I wish I could see her interacting with them.

She was a life long educator and she taught countless generations throughout her life how to read and write. So many students, that some of my most consistent memories of her were of her helping young children from the neighborhood in her spare time, wherever we were staying learn how to read–many of whom were ESL students and recent immigrants. I began tutoring because she did. I taught because she did and I turned into an educator to be like her.

I miss our walks together, her advice and ever-hopeful perspective on life. I miss her ability to make the bad days go away with a smile and hug. I miss her singing, her melodic voice, singing in the four or five languages she was fluent in as she worked around the home or when she gardened and made roses bloom more beautifully on the bushes she touched than anywhere else I have seen on the planet.

She was a humanist, who believed in the multiplicity of paths to the divine, and though she turned to an Islamic way of framing towards the end of her life, she remained a lover of Krishna, Jesus and other conduits to God. Through her I find the same connection to other human beings and I find, as the Prophet Muhammad instructed, in what could be my most favorite quote in the faith of Islam, that paradise is found beneath one’s mother’s feet.

Namaskaram Amma.

Me and my Mom

Intelligent Movement for Ignorant Times

“Intelligent movement in ignorant times” – This statement is why many argue that Hip-Hop is dead, or that it has been dead. A part of me would argue that Hip-Hop died on September 13th, 1996; but that wouldn’t be fair to the thousands of artists who have tried to evoke intelligent movement in their artistry, including me—but the thought lingers, because there was a time and Kendrick Lamar may be one examples of the few exceptions, when studio backed albums still held content that was of value and connected to the community from which these artists came. Why 2pac was so instrumental was that he was both erudite and thought provoking at the same time—and he did this by mastering coded language and the art of rhyming. For the most part, this type of artistry lives in independent Hip-Hop and I’m happy to be a part of that movement—and this was the impetus behind this show, held on May Day, in Oakland, at the end of a long day of solidarity with #Baltimore & #Ferguson and anywhere where there is a question of brutality & systemic abuse by law enforcement.