Class Is Back In Session – DAS KA REBEL

 

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ali@professorali.com

“The Professor is back! A.L.I. has released another album packed with brilliant lyrics and incisive social commentary. Wonderful.” — iTunes

www.professorali.com

SF BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA.  March 13, 2013.  Class is back in session on Professor A.L.I.’s Das Ka Rebel, an album that isn’t an album, but instead its lyrical curriculum.  Following up his work on the star-studded Carbon Cycle Diaries and Emerald Manifesto, Professor A.L.I. has met Hip-Hop at the intersection of education and has merged his lyrical content to match the socio-economics curriculum he teaches.  Das Ka Rebel featuring artists like Dead Prez, Prodigal Sunn and Chino XL; and the album will be a part of an innovative summer lit course taught at U.C. Berkeley by Professor A.L.I. himself.

Professor A.L.I. skillfully uses wordplay to point out the predatory economic systems that take advantage of our youth.  In ‘Wordsmyths’ the Professor critiques religious institutions and how they play off of the faith of their parishioners to gain economic benefits.  On ‘PenmanshipProfessor A.L.I. uses the allusion of the pen, which can refer to both a writing instrument or to the penal institution, to critique society and how both meanings play off of each other; how not utilizing the pen can increase ones chances of ending up in the Pen.

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The album is not without controversy.  The Professor draws inspiration from a chance summer meeting with Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for the ‘Book of Isiah’ a song which tells the story of three Bay Area basketball legends, who highlight the problematic and predatory nature of NCAA Basketball, where colleges make money off of players without truly investing in their education.  Isiah loved the track and found it captures the essence of the problems facing inner-city youth within athletics.

The album also features stellar work by West Coast M.C.’s Planet Asia, T-KASH and Kam, who seem due to the heavy lyrical content to be more like guest lecturers than traditional album features.  Planet Asia encourages youth to stay in school, while Kam helps Professor A.L.I. deliver the message of how Hip-Hop has been co-opted by corporate interests and independent artistry is besieged as well.  Das Ka Rebel is a unique album and has already received great critical review by local, alternative and college radio stations.  It will be a part of U.C. summer curriculum and reviewed by independent Hip-Hop magazines as well as regional media.

For more information or to contact Professor A.L.I. for promo requests or to set up an interview, please contact Black Steven at blacksteven@blacksteven.comwww.professorali.com.

 

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.

Lamentation of the Hip-Hop Poet: Occupy Oakland & Free Bahrain

Lamentation of the Hip-Hop Poet: Occupy Oakland & Free Bahrain by Professor A.L.I.

The lamentation of the B-Boy, the MC, DJ, and Graffiti artist seem like they are now, at this moment, one in the same.  They lament in spite of and amidst the crocodile tears of mainstream media that Hip-Hop is dead.  The forefathers of Hip-Hop turn in their graves, while those who helped make it erudite become vengeful ghosts, not holograms.  “Hip Hop Is Dead” becomes an old slogan at a time where every minute there is a new trend.  Social media heads, the spinsters and tweeters prey upon that phrase like its a tired old saying, like it was printed on the back of faded stickers on rusty bumpers of dated hoopties and try to come up with even wittier new phrases like Hip-Hop has reincarnated or Hip-Hop has emigrated… to get a retweet or a like, to validate their egos, all the while, Hip-Hop lives.  Thats the lamentation.

The term Hip-Hop has been co-opted.  One can emulate and market the clothes, the beats, the samples, emulate the moves, and even instagram ones way into the latest trend with a picture of graffiti, but its all form, no substance.  The substance of hip-hop cannot be misappropriated because Hip-Hop is the shadow, it lives in basements and exists as an impression left by those who are voiceless in a world where oppression exists.  The independent artist, not the sensationalized “unsigned hype” that pays for ad space on Hip-Hop rags… but the true independent artist, the griot, continues to write in their pad, spit rhymes to the beats made in the environment, to the pulse of the earth.

It is my goal, as an artist to cultivate that energy, that genuine love for the art, hearkening back to the lost art of telling real stories–not to be gimmicky but to capture what is happening here and now for our own posterity in a voice that they will understand and with a passion, so that they understand our angst and help them revisit our hope that these events do not continue to cycle forward but that a solutions are presented so that the oppression that we document does not ever happen again in any way shape or form towards any person.

While I was making my latest album Emerald Manifesto, two events shook my life.  One half a world away, the other less than half an hour.  First was the genocide in Bahrain, and second was Occupy Oakland.

The genocide in Bahrain truly shook me, because I was watching live footage (I had to look for it of course, since Western media ignored it), of an actual genocide of a minority in Bahrain, an ally of ours, and all our government had to say the entire time was directed at Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.  Not even a footnote about Bahrain.  This from a nation that condemned the Holocaust.  Then again this was from a nation which perpetrated what many refer to as the Black Holocaust, i.e. the Middle Passage, and tolerated Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings and the like, all the while stealing the land from a people we actively exterminated.  Bahrain was Hip-Hop, its people, those being massacred needed to be acknowledged, their lives needed to mean something and like a modern day griot, the story I hoped to capture and disseminate with the help of my Boston based colleague Yusuf Abdul-Mateen, we created the following video and song to capture and spread the news of what was happening to audiences in the west:

The second was Occupy Oakland–I was not an active participant of Occupy Oakland, but I was out there on several occasions, including when the police first decided to round up everyone at 5 A.M. and kick people out of Frank Ogawa Plaza.  I was there when like a parade, officers from districts all the way from Fremont showed up, in new police vehicles, with, batons, tasters, guns, tear gas canisters, and riot gear.  I watched as University of California at Berkeley Police joined the ranks, and I watched and was pushed and prodded to the other side of Broadway.  Making my way on foot to a ride that was waiting for me, reflecting on the incident, I pulled out my iPhone and began to type away.

I began to write without a beat, and contacted Zumbi of Zion-I, a Bay Area based conscious M.C., and he agreed to participate and collar with the idea.  We documented the events of Occupy Oakland which at that time began to resemble a scene out of war torn Iraq.  Sadly, it was happening in the place I call home, the Bay Area.  Sadly, many even in the Bay moved through life like machines, driving past Oakland not realizing what was happening.  Thanks to friends and colleagues who lived in the area, my own visits to the Occupation and live tweets and words of encouragement from Boots Riley of the Coup… I was able to capture in verse my angst over what was happening and Zumbi and I were able to put together the following video of the events that transpired in our home:

I lament that these things are happening like my fellow MC’s, DJ’s, Graffiti artists, and B-Boys in this day and age, and create like they do to capture in art, in the voice that is Hip-Hop the story of what is happening, only to be told that “Hip Hop is Dead”.  Feel what you want about Hip-Hop but the lives of the human beings in Bahrain and Oakland, are connected in a way, because mainstream media did not and does not depict what is truly happening.  You want to be “hip” to what is really going on?  You want to be part of a movement?  Then, please “hop” on this grassroots train as it navigates through the shadows of a tunnel which leads towards the light of equity and equality, in a world of justice, balance and PEACE.

 

Are You Hip?

Are You Hip?

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

When I mention those words to people these days they often wonder, as I did when I encountered the phrase, “Who said that?” in the back of their minds, with an inquisitive countenance.  The answers that float to one’s head differ from person to person but carry the same common thread.  Some wonder if it’s Gandhi, Plato or perhaps Einstein.  The beauty of the quote lies in the answer to that query.  One way to approach it is to ask them have they truly listened to “Purple Haze” by Jimi HendrixHendrix would not be considered by the masses to be a “thinking person” of the highest quality, but this simple fact belies the great lesson taught here.  If one’s mind is open to truly listening, then and only then can wisdom be gained by it.

Wisdom is needed more than ever in our time.  We live at a time where the whole world seems polarized in a black and white construct replete with a new age good guy “cowboys” and the dark skinned bad guys, or “Injuns”.  More than any other time in history we need dialogue, but most leaders instead speak these days with hands over their ears, never listening what the “other” side has to say.  People claim to have knowledge, what the world seems to need more than anything else is wisdom.  Wisdom to prevent wars and genocides from occurring unnoticed by mass media, wisdom to stop discrimination of all forms, and wisdom to help us to learn to truly understand each other.

Growing up in secular America, I came to accept two lies passed off as universal truths as true statements just like everyone else.  I accepted them as true knowledge, and dismissed any voice that said otherwise (yes with hands over my ears).  However something happened in two decades, I started to listen (my hands got tired) to the voices around me as incident after incident showcased to me that I really didn’t know anything; rather I was just good at memorizing the lies I was taught from a very young age.  I struggle now to scrutinize everything, to get at the truth behind what is presented, and that process begins just as Jimi so eloquently puts it with listening.

So I listened.  And perhaps I listened with the ear of a musician, or a person who yearns for the story to be more complex than a simple black and white explanation.  Either way, overtime as I listened, those two truths became elucidated as the lies they truly were.  The first universal truth of secular America is the following:  Religion is bad and is the root of all wars and suffering humanity has faced.  The number one case example that is often given to us is that of the Crusades.  ‘The Crusades’, my state stamped history teachers argued could have been prevented had it not been for one factor: religion.  This was corroborated by liberal media and conservatives who accepted the polarized worldview, and swallowed whole-heartedly by the masses around.  Liberals denounced religion. Conservatives on the other hand embraced religion as a truth that helped them identify their side in an ‘us against the’ world constructed as a Clash of Nations.

The oxymoronic nature of this is that there is more in common between the three Abrahamic traditions than they have different and the Crusades itself is not about religion inasmuch as it is about economics. I understood finally after pouring over primary source after primary source as a student of history and an instructor of it, listening to what the voices of the past that lived the Crusades were truly saying.   There were schisms in the Church, anti-Semitism in Europe, and a speech by Pope Urban of Claremont which for the first time seemed to justify violence via Christian religious argument, yet all the players in the grand game to follow were motivated by the universal evil, money.  The wisdom I received from these voices was that even this iconic event that the pundits blame on religion was more about the basic human evil of greed and economics than it ever was about faith.  Religion in many ways tempered what could have been even more horrendous of slaughter in instances.

Read Anna’s voice in the Alexiad, Solomon Bar Simson, the Fulchre of Chartes, and keep reading until you find Ibn Athir.  There are accounts upon accounts of atrocities, but it goes further back than the even the Battle of Manzikert, into Western Europe, where there simply was too much in fighting amongst the Franks and Normans because of one simple fact:  there was not enough land to go around.  The Crusades were about conquest and religion became the excuse and instead of challenging that notion throughout the ages, we have accepted it.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the flip side isn’t true, that religion cannot be distorted as a truth without dialogue and used to justify in the minds of mindless adherents that violence is the key… but it’s not religion that is the problem, it’s the interpretation that people put upon it.  Religion itself would dismiss those arguments of those same interpreters, if people listened to the voices around them… for example; just take this universal truth in all religions: killing an innocent person is wrong.

The problem lies in the fact that we don’t listen to each other, the voices from the past or critically ask questions anymore.  In addition it’s difficult to engage in a conversation with those who had not read the same material, travelled to the same places, and only know what they’ve been told and believe it to be true because a state sponsored system of simplistic education which seeks to explain the world as one of opposition.  This black and white, polarized model certainly makes it easier for taxpayers to shell out money in support of cowboy like policies around our planet.  No Child Left Behind, unless of course it’s an “Injun”.

What I’m seeking to pose from this stream of consciousness is not an answer but the need for us to question.  This can often come across as an antagonistic approach so I turned to a means of communication that speaks to the human heart that explores these commonalities through sounds that human beings have embraced throughout the ages, in music.

More simply put I turned to Hip-Hop, the subaltern voice of the streets and language of the backpacks, basements and shadows.  I called up Shabazz the Disciple of the Sunz of Man, known for being able to take what was Biblical and put it to the mic, and gave him a beat that we birthed, with my man Ian Heung on the horns.  Our goal was to keep the song Abrahamic and showcase to the world that these traditions have more in common than they have differences.  So we came up with “Basic Instructions” which can be seen here:


This brings us to the second universal truth taught to us, which ultimately was just another lie; the lie that science and religion were/are mutually exclusive.  This is the greatest farce of the two lies.  Considering that all of the greatest thinkers, scientists and mathematicians have been people of faith, and have found their creator in the study of the creation around them is all too often missed by those who do not study their scholarship in context.  What has happened instead is their works have been simplified into highlighter versions and then those statements have been further repackaged for the masses to create a simplistic understanding of the world.  An understanding where a higher power is marginalized and the highest power/or supreme law of the land is manmade.  Isn’t it in the interest of a secular government to be the supreme authority in the minds of its citizens, instead of a higher being who they cannot control?

The song “Metaphysics” was the result of my process of engaging in that dialogue by bringing forth from the same subaltern lens, using boom-bap language that is hip-hop to the core and to delve into the minds of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes and great thinkers, mathematicians and scholars.  I meet them at the intersection of science and faith, exploring their mathematical proofs for the divine.  The video can be seen here:


I hope that in these efforts to use the language that speaks to listening and by inviting dialogue that we can at a grassroots level grow and cultivate true wisdom.  So let me end with the following consideration:  please listen and share, and by listening I hope you find wisdom in the process of questioning in a world which presents false truths as ultimate answers and subsequently as real knowledge.  I welcome dialogue with any and every one on both the issues here and beyond in hopes that by truly listening to each other we become wiser and the world around us becomes a better place for it.  RIP Jimi, and thanks for inspiring us, we’re still listening!

— Professor A.L.I.