Hip-Hoponomics & Rapitalism

HipHopEd Unit1

Hip-Hoponomics & Rapitalism

By Professor A.L.I.

The Wu Tang Clan helped popularize the acronym C.R.E.A.M., meaning, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”, and perhaps a more appropriate phrase summarizing what some would call the “rap game” has never been spoken. Hip-Hop as a ‘kulture’ began in response to the simple fact that the doors to mainstream forms of entertainment were closed and so “the people” sought alternative routes. The barrier before them was socio-economic in nature and the forums that arose, they created to serve those for whom the traditional doors would not open. Those who were weaving this ‘kulture’ together presented a form of communal economic resistance to the norms established by the mainstream. The community center at Sedgewick Avenue, block parties, and gatherings in abandoned lots were an affront to the clubs and established entertainment centers; and as Hip-Hop grew, this new venue/paradigm shift began to transform into an economically viable one in its own right. Cash did indeed rule, and it began to become a growing factor in the dissemination of this ‘kulture’.

As money mixed with the music, it enforced a pimping dynamic upon the progenitors of this ‘kulture’, exacerbated existing social inequities, seeded and exploited division and violence for profit and finally exported real Hip-Hop ‘kulture’ overseas while a minute sliver of original Hip-Hop ‘kulture’ remained alive in independent artistry. Rapitalism is a unit in my Hip-Hop History course, and also describes a quartet of songs on the XFactor album in which Hip-Hop Economics is the central theme (King Solomon’s Mines feat. Kam, Hip-Hoponomics feat. Chino XL, Beef Stew feat. Canibus, and Pimperialism).

Part I: Historic Overview of the Development of Rapitalism

Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which trade and/or industry is operated for profit. Rapitalism is a term that I am using to describe a historical process in which the kultural expressions of Hip-Hop started to be operated solely for predatory profit and as the system took hold, Hip-Hop would cease to exist in its original form, which was founded in opposition to the closed doors of the status quo’s economic structures. Hip-Hop, and specifically the expression of music, in a period from 1971 to 1979, started to become recognized as salient product worthy of monetary exchange. This was the first phase of Rapitalism.

This initial phase inserted a wholly new motive to the lyricism and deejaying that helped produce music and the intention for production began to shift to create something economically viable. In the initial stages it was to produce something for the local community. This was a time that small businesses like Winley Records or Sylvia Robinson’s Sugarhill started to make money and cut or create a new market share in music sales in urban markets. This attracted commercial interests and radio play that went beyond a DJ Hollywood spinning records Uptown or Mr. Magic’s late night/early morning show. This created Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack and it led to the creation of records like Afrika Bambaata’s Soulsonic Force and the Sugarhill Gang’s hit “Rapper’s Delight”.

As the music became commercial and its appeal grew, it was in the economic interests of small businesses, and then larger corporations to market it to larger more economically viable audiences. In the process, it was increasingly important for these corporations to make sure that the content that was produced would have the widest appeal.

Rapitalism is therefore the commodification of an art form, which includes a process to divest it of a localized message in order to make sure it has a wide appeal. The effect of Rapitalism on the community is also one that it provides inurement to local artists that it should then build these communities up, however confronted with the realities of living in economically and socially disenfranchised spaces, these artists leave. Whether this is caused by the threat of living in a space while a hyperbolic illusion of wealth is perpetrated into the media and thereby where one lives, or whether the process of producing this economically viable product lures these artists out of their communities outright, the end result is the same, which is one of divestment.

Finally, the entire process was modeled on the same economic relationship as was prevalent in urban centers in the United States in the 1970’s, that of the pimp. Record companies, who themselves were often subsidiaries of larger corporations, began to pimp artists and their material for profit. Often times these relationships led to the artist being left with very little, not even their own intellectual property, and the record labels became rich. Even the early demise of an artist did not lead to a loss of profit because of the ownership of intellectual property and in some instances even created more profit; furthermore if an artist died, there was so much available in hungry talent in the inner-city that it did not matter.

Part II. The Rise of Pimperialism

Pimperialism is a term coined by me to describe a process that is akin to imperialism, which is the policy of extending a nation-state’s power/influence through diplomacy or military force. The word pimperialism is imagined to mean the process by which an individual or a corporate entity extends their power/influence over other human beings through manipulation or force, for the purpose of economic exploitation. It is no accident that the word contains within it the term ‘pimp’, for a pimp’s ultimate goal is to use their power/influence in order to control other human beings in order to inure economic benefit through their exploitation.

Pimperialism has three parts and the first examines the concept of “pimping” in its most essentially brutal form. This is a historic analysis and does not indulge in the argument that the word has been reclaimed, since it still retains the original definition alongside other vernacular interpretations. So the first verse of the song opens with etymology and history: “the etymology of pimp, origin: Middle French: a scoundrel to be lynched, a wimp, and a snitch; In Swahili in the sixties, its impimpsi: insensitivity to a symphony of sins (see); simply dollar signs, ignore greater signs, the science behind the mind, slaves to life of crime…” The verse goes on to describe the process of dehumanizing another in order to make profit off of their suffering. This is essentially the occupation of a pimp, but it doesn’t describe being a pimp in the context of the global realities that created the position in the first place. The hook, further elaborates on the meaning and begins to foreshadow how the term begins to transition into one used to describe a figure or object to be admired stating “to be pimp is to floss, but its a façade; a definition that was born of pimpin’ Hip-Hop. To pimp, is to signify materialism, but they pimp your material, that’s Pimperialism.”

Pimperialism is ultimately a method of programming, in which the subject begins to relate to the oppressor and the oppression and begins to use language and methods that repeat the same level of oppression in order to achieve perceived social mobility; so to argue that it could be construed as having been produced by a Stockholm-esque Syndrome, is not, in my mind far from the truth. The second verse continues to delve into the historical context and uses Iceberg Slim’s text Pimp for lyrical fuel, analyzing the motivations of the characters as well as the context that Slim so masterfully weaves into his autobiographical tale stating, “So peep this allegory, its Sweet’s (referring to a Master Pimp in the story) rundown: ocelot on his lap, royalty uncrowned. He spits truth to an Iceberg, about pimpin’, in this white man’s world; he claimed to have flipped it. “The black woman’s raped already, since slavery, they oversee: pimpin’ your whole family tree, supposebly free, one step from being hung on a tree, learn they’re methods, get a pimpin’ degree and charge a fee. So we can be, where we ought to be; Slim dreams: he’s rich, beating women, till his momma screams.” This verse traces the arch lessons behind pimping, taught to Slim, and juxtaposes it with the cost it bears on his psyche, but underlying it all is that pimping is a learned occupation in the black community and has antebellum origins.

Pimping, is as old a profession, I imagine as prostitution—however the argument that modern pimping, is derived in its urban application from practices born during chattel slavery finds its roots in the way captives or slaves where broken and how slave masters profited off of their suffering.

This context is crucial in order to understand the third verse and ultimately the core argument of this lyrical essay. Quoting from Ralph Ellison’s Battle Royale, which would later become chapter two of his seminal work Invisible Man in alternating lines of this Pimperialism verse, contrasting with the imagery of Hip-Hop’s relationship with the music industry it becomes abundantly clear that Ellison’s formula for the dehumanization of the black man for the entertainment of whites, describes pimping in its essential form, and this formula is the precise blueprint for how Hip-Hop, like Rock, Blues and Jazz, was pimped by corporations for profit—essentially profiting off of the suffering of black artists, who create art, only for it to be taken from them, so that the pimp can profit. “An invisible man, a man of substance, flesh and bone, Hip-Hop was sub-altern, till that Sugarhill song. A scholarship awaits him, at a white mans club. Hip-Hop got into clubs, based off its buzz. First they objectify a woman, sexualize her form. Hip-Hop video vixens, and pimpin’ verses are born. They make him fight his brothers, physical display. Beef between artists, (the) Labels still get paid. They throw counterfeit currency on a carpet, targets, contracts promise, but leave nothing for the artist. Electrified, they shriek, fried, they ask him to speak, left weak, Hip-Hop, became pop in defeat.” The song ends in the grand irony of the word pimp becoming a term to aspire to within the Hip-Hop genre and in urban communities. Beyond the imagery of Ice-T or Schooly D verses, the term pimp in Hip-Hop slowly became one not of exploitation but of endearment and just like the blackexploitation films of the 1970’s, was so visually hyperbolic, that the pimp became an almost superhero or mythic figure. Imagine that, a superhero whose superpower was his (since the term is essentially paternalistic) ability to exploit his own people economically—see Jay Z’s Big Pimpin’ as an example and search his life and relationship with Def Jam for the irony.

Coming soon:

Part III: King Solomon’s Mines: The Wealth of Knowledge of Self 

Part IV: Preparing Beef Stew: Low Intensity Exploitation and Economics

Part V: Summarizing Hip-Hoponomics with Chino XL

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.

 

Black Skin, White Masks: My Song with Lord Jamar

If any moment validated what I do as a poet and artist, it was speaking with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian over the phone about the track I’d just sent him and my concept for it.   Anyone who knows me, knows that Brand Nubian, and in particular Lord J, with his lyrical content, voice, and spirituality had a profound influence on me as an artist and as a Muslim.  I remember playing Claimin’ I’m a Criminal on repeat, over and over again as a college student—Lord J’s and also Sadat X’s lyrics spoke to me on both an experiential and existential level.  Here were two black men, who embraced their identity and did not wear masks.

From time to time I’ll ‘check’ for Lord J, and I always appreciated how sincerely he ‘repped’ his faith and identity in all the forms of artistic expression.  It’s something I sought to do in my artistry as well, and found in Lord J a model to emulate.  So for all these reasons, talking to Lord J was a bit surreal for me.  However the conversation surprisingly flowed naturally between the Hip-Hop legend and me, the upcoming poet.  I showed him the respect he deserved which I think he appreciated.  We live in a time where many a young artists neglect the forefathers and forbearers of Hip-Hop, i.e. those who laid down the path that these young artists themselves now walk freely.  Many of these artists are oblivious to who the legends are, and the years these figures spent in the game, at a time where Hip-Hop was given no ethos in popular culture.  I guess I must’ve stood apart from them to Lord J in some way because he also showed me love and agreed to participate in a song which was ironically aimed at the very concept of identity which he’d been speaking up for, for years.

It was almost as if the song was meant to be.

We began and ended the conversation with the word “Peace”, and a week later I had lyrical gold sent to me as an e-mail attachment.  I called up my boy, fellow Brand Nubian fan, Hakim, who always plays the role of the laidback cool kid in the back of the room… but even he was noticeably ‘juiced’ as I leaked the news.  “I just got a feature from Lord J,” I said.

Now I’ve been in the booth with E-40; and on my first solo I worked with Raekwon, Canibus, Sadat X, Hussein Fatal and Killah Priest, and since then other legends, as well as contemporary heavyweights.  However this song and its message along with the person featured on it, held special weight.  It meant and still means something special.

This ‘feature’ meant an almost perfect marriage or Lord J’s appearance to the lyrical content to the custom beat made by Arun Trax which used a vocal sample from the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad; in addition to top it all off, the song itself was titled after the seminal work of Frantz Fanon, White Skin, Black Masks.  The song was meant to be both a history lesson regarding people of dark skin or African descent in the West as well as a wake-up call to many of what Hip-Hop had been and could still be: message driven music.

So for the backdrop for this song, my team shoes an appropriate video, the infamous ‘Black Sambo’ by Warner Brothers; a ‘banned cartoon’ because it depicts in the most heinous of ways a child of black descent in such a negative light.  It spoke to the essence of the song and seemed almost tailor made to convey the  lyrical message which ironically speaking to issues that sadly still exist in society today.  Another layer of irony is that it was images like ‘Back Sambo’ which reinforced in the minds of many black and other children of color growing up a sense of inferiority.  These children then grew up to wear ‘white’ masks to move forward in society.


Hip-Hop
is a way of communication positive messages and it gives voice to the voiceless.  However those that say Hip-Hop is dead say so because it has become a co-opted art form in becoming an almost self-deprecating form of expression especially as it is packaged in its erudite now popular form—I would argue that in this sense while Hip-Hop seams ‘dead’ to its message driven roots, the message does live on.  Hip-Hop is alive overseas; it lives in basements, in backpacks, in taped up headphones worn by street urchins, in cyphers comprised of orphans, and in vocal booth microphones that embrace the spit of authentic stories which are often ignored by popular media.  Hip-Hop lives in large part to the continued investment of those who have laid the path like Lord J.

Lord J, gains nothing from our collaboration—instead he builds and gives back, he allows the spotlight that has embraced his years of work to shine ever so briefly on an up and comer like myself.

PEACE, Lord Jamar, thanks for doing this young up and comer a solid on this joint.  I was honored that you would consider it in the first place.  While the song may not have a mass audience, it speaks to issues that continue to affect the masses. PEACE, Professor A.L.I.

***

Keep Hip-Hop Alive watch the video here and support the song and album Carbon Cycle Diaries on iTunes.

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