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.

 

 

Terror In Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

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Terror in Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

I was prepared to continue mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali in private, with my family and local community, and then this morning I awoke to the the horror in Orlando, and I just wanted to scream.

I am a Muslim.  I am a Muslim in large part due to Muhammad Ali, who was a childhood hero of mine, long before I knew anything about the faith.  He remained a hero into young adulthood and into this present day, because he represented many of the things I also rep for, such as Islam, blackness, social justice, humanity and love.  He took two holy names and made them a part of global lexicon, so much so that people throughout the world scream Muhammad and Ali in unison, just as they had once had in Ghadeer Khum in the middle of the desert for only the faithful and historians to hear.

Muhammad Ali represented many things.  Those who outcry the participation of many at his funeral, who they feel are incongruent with the politics of Muhammad Ali, have themselves “flattened” Muhammad Ali to a sliver of his robust and intricate persona.  He was many things and his funeral was attended by many people, and his Islam was a global Islam, evolving beyond the backwards fatawa (plural of fatwa) of Saudi clerics who label anything new an innovation and associate it with shirk (polytheism), in order to destroy it, so that they can further manipulate and control the faith.  Muhammad Ali also represented Islam, better than anyone without the surname Shabazz in the West and like Malcolm X, who was his mentor, Muhammad Ali continued to evolve and grow, becoming a better human being day by day.  This is what I know of Islam and why I became a Muslim, and this is why I hate what happened in Orlando and mourn it doubly.

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What happened in Orlando is sick and it has no faith, let alone Islam.  If you think it has something to do with Islam, then check your own timeline for posts about Muhammad Ali and have fun trying to reconcile those two very disparate things.  Muhammad Ali represented Islam, what Orlando represents is faithlessness.  Today the community in Orlando is mourning, and I mourn with them.  The LQBTQIQ community is reeling, and I too reel.  Gun owners feel they are being homogenized with terror and I too feel the same.  Yet there is a sliver of hope and it is named Muhammad Ali, for even in death his memory destroys the argument that this is Islam—it knocks out bigoted polemics and stands victorious, so that we all can chant “Ali Bomaye!” while facing terror with the poise of this unique and singularly powerful soul.

Muhammad Ali walked away at his prime, because he did not want to kill.  His stance, which cost him dearly, represents Islam greater than any singular bomb blast or mentally unstable individual with an Islamic name.  No one has ever done that in my memory.  Imagine Lebron James  Steph Curry stepping away from the sport of basketball, or Joe Cool walking away from the field in the late 80’s because he did not agree with the Gulf War.  My Bay Area pride aside, no one has ever come close.  Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf, whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1996 at a Muslim Unity Conference, came the closest in my opinion, but even he never walked away from sport for his beliefs—and as ill as he was with the rock back then (check tape if you are Steph Curry fan), he was never the G.O.A.T.

I never got to meet Muhammad Ali and it will remain an unrequited item on the bucket list.  I was lucky to go to Louisville last year and visit his museum, walk through a street named after him and imagine as a squinted the segregation of the city in which he was bred.  Last year as I visited his city, I was mourning Paris, events in Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen.  This year I add Orlando to the list—as we as a human population try to heal, while we are baited into a never-ending conflict of us versus them.  Like Ali versus Frazier, one side versus the other, where victory can only come when bodies hit the floor—and yet, if we understood Ali, we would know what Ali versus Frazier truly was.  Frazier supported Ali as he took his moral stand and walked away from boxing, financially and stood by his side—these weren’t enemies caught in a never ending cycle, but two human beings who stood beyond the sport of boxing and became friends.  This is the Islam that Muhammad Ali represented and this is the Islam I know.

17822_837194406315646_7409196219918621380_nSo I ask you, if you have been reading this to invoke Muhammad Ali in your mind.  Let him fill your consciousness and allow his memory to knock out the media fabricated mythology of the Islamic terrorist.  Islam is about justice, peace and the evolution of the human being to become a better human being; that is why you love Muhammad Ali and why in that love we have to have to battle bigotry and hatred as he once did, in order to rise.  It is why we have to build bridges and not walls, to paraphrase Billie Crystal, and why we have to stand for justice, instead of giving into the easy path of hatred and indiscriminate blame.  Let us mourn those who we have lost and let us stop this cycle of hatred, by reminding those who would terrorize us that we will no longer give into their greatest strength, which is bullying us into conflating our hatred of them with a billion innocent Muslims—because these Muslims are represented by Muhammad Ali and nobody can’t beat the GOAT.

***

Professor A.L.I. is a spoken word and Hip-Hop artist and educator; in his piece “The Pen” he immortalizes Muhammad Ali with these words, “or channel Sonny Liston with devil intuition and fight Muhammad, then, pen becomes a prison.”

Professor A.L.I. has also written the book “A Muslim Trapped In Donald Trump’s America”, which speaks to the issues outlined above.

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Black Superman

Black Superman cover art  by Jibola Fagbamiye

Black Superman cover art by Jibola Fagbamiye

BLACK SUPERMAN by Professor A.L.I. 

An Introduction

As a student of history trained by Eugene Irschick and Hamid Algar, I’ve been cognizant of the fact that human civilization may shift from various empires but that the behaviors inherent in our species remain the same throughout time. Therefore history is at its core, a study of these cycles and a historian is adept at pattern recognition. One such pattern has consumed my interest as of late and was the impetus for the creation of the song Black Superman, which pays homage to a multiplicity of social justice movements while also acknowledging the point at which we are in a historical cycle and based on recognition of patterns of behavior, ultimately predicts what has to come next.

As a disclaimer, I must state, that I am making no prophetic claims in the analysis to follow, but the argument that will be elucidated below is one that has been prophesized by others in the past, while even becoming a part of modern human mythos. I also don’t need to make a spoiler alert because that which I flesh out below should come as no surprise to anyone.

The Argument

Throughout human history when one group has oppressed another for a length of time, ultimately the oppressors eventually face resistance in the form of a leader from amongst the oppressed who unifies them in opposition to the hegemonic structures that bind them. If this leader cannot be turned then they are killed, as in being murdered by stealth or publicly assassinated and transformed into a martyr. If the oppressor group is even more exact, they will try to eliminate the leader in such a way that they do not become a symbol for future resistance movements like an Emiliano Zapata became for the Zapatista movement and struggle in modern times despite his martyrdom nearly a century prior.   However there are moments in history when the oppression becomes so obtuse and engorged by its own abuse that a leader emerges from amongst the downtrodden to successfully liberate the people. Figures such as these are seen as a necessary means to an end; they are the antibodies by which the aforementioned societal sickness is cured and the need for them is manifest in the consciousness of the oppressed and therefore they are logically foretold to come into being by elders, diviners and prophets amongst the people. These individuals are messianic in nature, promised deliverers of the people and their historic/legendary archetypes are manifest in figures like Moses and Krishna.

Truth be told, we live in such times that the people demand deliverance from oppression on systemic level in the form of a mis-education system, a prison industrial complex, a privileged system of justice and rampant police brutality—and in this day and age the people look to a special person to help deliver them from this state; perhaps they look for a Black Superman?

A Black Messiah To Deliver People From Bondage

The Black Messiah

Black Superman is a song, which acknowledges a cold fact. Throughout the modern era, in the West, intelligence agencies whose purpose was to monitor and gather information had also sought out potential Black Messiah figures and attempted to eliminate them. This is because in the Western context, and in the United States in particular, one of the foremost oppressed groups is the Black population; these were the descendants of the brutality of chattel slavery, the façade of emancipation, Black Codes and Jim Crow, lynching’s leading to the Civil Rights Act (which, on its surface may seem to have had the right intentions, but ultimately leads to policy and actions that further disenfranchise the black community, exampled by this de-segregation leading to ghettoization of the urban black centers and the creation of habitual norms that make the government the sole community provider ostensibly eliminating the community network and framework that had existed prior), and the New Jim Crow, which takes us up to the world we live in. Throughout this time many leaders have emerged to lead the black community such as Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey P. Newton and Assata Shakur and all of them proved targets for their potential to galvanize the masses. Ultimately, while all of the aforementioned figures were influential their potential was either marginalized by policy, prison or through assassination and murder.

These women and men are synonymous with the concept of a Black Messiah or “Black Superman”, in that their intentioned goal was to deliver black folk from the bondage imposed upon them ever since their captivity began, through the policies that have kept the majority of the black community disenfranchised and ensnared in a web of oppression.

Thus its no wonder that the FBI and to a lesser extent the CIA utilized their information gathering mechanisms to try and stop a Black Messiah figure from ever emerging—J. Edgar Hoover, in particular was obsessed at finding and preventing this very thing from happening and directed the agency to utilized the very means of murder and assassination outlined above in order to effectuate this goal.

One could go further and make the argument that like the historic Pharaoh and Kans, who tried to slaughter children to prevent a prophecy of a messianic figure from emerging, modern day policies target young black men and women, effectively killing those who are resistant minded—and ultimately potential Black Messiahs. While this may seem like a stretch, its hard to deny the logic since history would dictate that it doesn’t matter if it’s a despotic or a pseudo-democratic system in place, since human behavior necessitates that those who inherit the privileges of power, which is born from oppression will not want to give it up and the most sinister amongst these will utilize any means to prevent that from happening.

Black Lives Matter to Black Superman

#BlackLivesMatter

So when the #BlackLivesMatter movement came into being as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and the incredulity of the black community to the events that transpired after the young man’s death, such as the lack of an arrest for well over a month of the murderer, to the a sham trial and a verdict that left Zimmerman free to live his life—there was a need for it to be said, that black lives mattered because it looked a lot like they didn’t.

Soon thereafter the hashtag started to link other murders and extrajudicial killings by police officers and pseudo-law-enforcement personal of young black men and women. Names like Aiyana Jones, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice linked with those that sparked larger outrage and movements like Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

However while the hashtag marked a special moment in history, in that social media was linking seemingly disparate events throughout the country and by doing so were elucidating a pattern everyone could recognize. And while additionally, #SayHerName reminded us that even within this pattern that patriarchy reigned supreme—these were not new things.

Any student of history would know that what was being reported was not new. It wasn’t new when Rodney King was caught on tape being beat and it even wasn’t new when the Black Panthers championed the case of Denzel Dodd. The sad truth is that these events had been happening ever since the first human being from Africa was monetized as chattel and brought to Western shores. The dehumanization was necessary in order to carry on economics of that nature and to maintain this structure, all potential rabble-rousers had to be eliminated.

While I would agree that it’s clearly not as simple as this—I mean, who knows what goes on in the mind of a police officer in a heated moment and not all police officers are the same, just as not all young black women and men are, yet, we all belong to a system of conditioning with those in positions of power in whose self interest it is to create a system that programs us to behave in a manner that forwards their aims. If the aim is to maintain the status quo of inequity then its clear that any figure that would attempt to lead a paradigm shift, let alone a full blown revolution would be a threat.

Earlier this year in Louisville, I met the first protestors in Ferguson and along with my brother, and fellow activist and artist Jasiri X and was inspired by them. What was clear was that Al Sharpton was not the leader of this movement, nor was it the Reverend Jesse Jackson—there was leadership but no clear leader. Even those who advance the movement like brother Deray Mckesson (Twitter: @deray), who has been tapped by the news media to speak on the protests and is prolific on social media and eloquent in his narrative, is not the leader of this movement. If a clear cut leader had emerged that leader like a Malcolm or a Martin would be a target and according to historical patterns eliminated because the powers that be have too much at stake and ultimately too much to lose.

What is clear in social media, to me, as a historian is that there are patterns and what people tweet and status update on this issue, is reminiscent of the prayers of the children of Israel. The demand for swift change is coupled with one for a messiah figure to emerge (both for the religious and irreligious) and deliver people from the bondage of the prison industrial complex, an injustice system and of these so called law enforcement agencies that break more laws than they enforce.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman

Superman was a modern myth created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster; some historians argue that Siegel and Shuster, both from a Jewish background, created the character in response to a Nazi perversion of a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche had his character Zarathustra posit the Übermensch as a goal for human beings to aspire to. The concept of the Übermensch or the Superman was one that the Nazi party would build upon and argue about Aryan superiority.

The Superman mythos created by Siegel and Shuster, which found early opponents of Superman to be the Nazis themselves, follows very closely the Hebrew narrative of Moses. Moses is taken as a child as calamity befalls the children of Israel and is sent in a small vessel via the Nile and is found by the family of the Pharaoh and later imbued with great powers, which he utilizes to liberate his people. Moses is a messiah, foretold by the Prophets and elders of the Hebrew nation living in bondage in Egypt—a messiah that is synonymous with the idea of Superman as envisioned and re-imagined by Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster made their character Superman an alien, born on the planet Krypton, and as calamity befalls the children of Krypton, his family sends him on a small vessel via space and is found by a family on Smallville, Kansas, on the distant planet earth. He later is imbued with great powers, due to the radiation of the yellow sun and his unique Kryptonian biology and uses this to enforce justice. Why must he enforce justice—not because his Uncle Ben is murdered and he feels great power must come from great responsibility, not because he watches his parents being murdered and promises to dispense justice so that no other children have to go through what he did, but as originally envisioned, Superman enforces justice because there is far too much injustice for law enforcement and the justice system on the planet to handle—in other words they are incapable of doing their jobs and there is a need for justice by the people who are victims of injustice and therefore a messiah is needed. Enter Superman.

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Mahdi

Messiah stories are not new—there are as many prophecies of messiah as there are prophetic traditions.   The return of Jesus Christ (Christianity) and the Kalki Avatar (Hinduism) are two well-known examples—in the Islamic world and amongst Muslims there is also the tradition of Al-Mahdi or Imam Mahdi, the awaited savior.

The narrative of the Mahdi has two branches. The Sunni Muslim (those who follow the life of the Prophet through narratives of people who lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and subsequent generations) perspective postulates that the Mahdi will be born and there isn’t an agreed upon emphasis or specification of what the family lineage of the Mahdi will be. Sunni Muslims may, like other groups look forward to the birth and rise of the Mahdi—but the mysterious nature of the Sunni narrations about who the Mahdi will be has also given rise to many false messianic figures like Usman Dan Fodio & Mirza Ghulam Ahmed to name a few (their positive impacts, if any, notwithstanding, my usage of the word false as an adjective lies in the fact that their titles were imposed by followers because they were waiting for such a figure to emerge—and later abandoned by the same followers after their demise or a shift in the movement they had sparked.) A title that can make a person an instant leader of the Sunni Muslim community, of hundreds of millions of people and perhaps even a billion, is certainly a great motivation for any human being and its not hard to imagine with so many problems in the Middle East and Islamic lands that many have gravitated towards usurping that title for themselves. I myself, as a young student of Islam, while a student at U.C. Berkeley encountered two men who claimed to be Al Mahdi and ironically both suffered from mental illness. The most egregious visual example of what I refer to can be as ‘the fervor to be Al-Mahdi’ can be seen on this live television clip of a man claiming to be the Mahdi on camera:

The 12th Prince

In the other Islamic tradition, Shia Muslims, or those who follow the family of the Prophet and some Sufi orders believe the Mahdi has been born and they rely on narrations from the family of the Prophet and the Qur’anic chapter “Al-Kawthar” or “The Abundance”, which is all about the Fatima bint Muhammad and prophesizes the abundance in her bloodline and legacy. Shia Muslims believe that the 12th Imam or 12th Prince, and foretold messiah figure would be born from the bloodline of Fatima, be named Muhammad, and look like the Prophet.

Imam Mahdi, as he is respectfully referred to was born and Shia Muslims believe him to be in occultation and that he will return with Jesus Christ (a belief they share with Christians); it positions Shia Muslims and Sufis differently that Sunni Muslims in that the former group believes they have to ready themselves for the return of Al-Mahdi while the latter are awaiting the birth and rise of the figure entirely. This may seem a subtle distinction but it gives rise to global movements like the ascendancy of scholars from cities like Najaf and Qom to worldwide leaders.

And there is one thing that makes this even more poignant and brings all the threads together in my mind, from #BlackLivesMatter to the Superman figure; Imam Mahdi based on historic records and narrations is a black man.

Black Messiah = Black Superman

Black Superman

The bloodline of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is from the second branch of the Abraham, through Ishmael, and therefore through his second wife Hajar (Hagar), who was from Abyssinia (Africa). Hajar is African, which makes the bloodline of her descendants, in part African as well—while we are ultimately all from Africa and this was long before Muhammad himself was born, I wanted to start here to effectually diminish post-colonial angst by any Muslim readers, who I know may be conditioned to believe that “black” is an offensive term and may find my last statement that Imam Mahdi is a black man to be offensive. My hope is to remind readers that the woman who is buried next to the Kaaba, and through whom many of the acts of the Hajj/pilgrimage were based and whose grave must not be crossed during circumambulation of the structure during Hajj, lest one must repeat the circle, is Hajar, a black woman.

The bloodline of Muhammad, which survives solely through his one biological daughter (not his step-daughters, or adopted children), namely Fatima bint Muhammad is one that becomes increasingly African in subsequent generations—and less Arab. A habit of the household of Fatima bint Muhammad was to marry and ostensibly free women who were slaves, and many of these women came from Africa. In fact the latter Imams, from the 8th onward to the 11th all had African mothers from Nubia. The 9th Imam was so black, that the Arabs at the time claimed that he had “defective skin”.   The parentage of the 12th Imam rests on two different narrative chains, one claiming his mother was from Rome (Byzantium, which was Rome at the time, was a diverse space—and she could still very well be African) and the second narration is that his mother was also African. Imam Mahdi therefore is a black man, and that truly problematizes notions of how people believe the Prophet Muhammad looked like (since they are supposed to, according to Prophetic traditions, look like each other).

A black messiah figure, that Shia Muslims are waiting for, at a time where black men and women are being slaughtered systematically—a slaughter that began with enslavement, followed by emancipation and modern policies that incarcerate or murder fathers and watch mothers and grandmothers raise orphans is oddly similar to the life of Imam Mahdi. Imam Mahdi’s grandmothers and mother were all slaves who were emancipated, his father spent his entire life incarcerated under the Abbasid regime and he was raised an orphan after his father was assassinated shortly after he was born. A black messiah with a narrative echoing the black experience at a time we are touting the fact that black lives matter in the New Jim Crow America we live in is serendipitous—and furthermore, the irony is that the only global Islamic leadership that even commented on #blacklivesmatter has been Shia.

The Song: Black Superman

So the artist in me saw the various patterns come together and I wondered, what if a black messiah figure emerged, what if it was Imam Mahdi, who helped lead those disenfranchised in the United States to find justice and usher in a new age built on empathy and peace… a real Black Superman—and this is how the piece was born—a tribute to lost lives, of various social movements and the idea that we are all connected in the struggle. My global blackness, was an obvious bias and as a West Coast based Hip-Hop artist, I used the beat from Above The Law’s, Black Superman to tell this story—this wasn’t intended to be commercial and this isn’t promotion for a new album, etc.; it is a reflection on the world as I see it and its imbued with hope for a better future, which I hope my children inherit –one that won’t find them waking to nightmares, or having to bury their friends to acts of murder and police brutality.

Black Superman by Professor A.L.I.

VERSE 1

Moses from krypton, the twelfth son Babylon

The Panther’s song champion, so he battles on

Sabotage hegemons, as they brandish arms,

Fifteen Shabaan born to a banished mom,

Her anguish birthed son who vanquish cops,

Camaflouged messiah of the black Holocaust

Pigs fear he inspires so they cap us all

In our backs like Oscar Grant or Walter Scott

Kill at will, Its Emmitt Still, and Denzel Dodd

Aiyana and Tamir, even kids are shot!

Pop, pop like the spine of Freddie Gray,

And A.L.I. can’t wait till the DOJ

He don’t play and we pray, pigs burns slow

You can’t breathe hellfire fills torso

Pain eternal, this inferno, universal

Black Superman global, full circle

VERSE 2

His grandmothers were enslaved then emancipated

His father spent his whole life incarcerated

His mother birthed an orphan, haters hated

‘Cuz he communicated, that their days were dated

Forsaken, His face impersonated by racists

They perpetrate desecration of the sacred like Satan

The fated prince who faded, we’re separated

Ever since then, false leaders speculated

While the meek have waited, to be liberated

From injustice like child with throat lacerated

Eric Garner chokes, and Louima’s broken

50 shots smoke, (Sean) Bell’s life stolen

Walmart coffin offered for John Crawford,

A plea bargain, for offing Trayvon Martin

Black Lives Matter, to the 12 Imam

A Crip suit, Blood cape, Black Superman

Malcolm Smiles On

Malcolm and Me

Malcolm Smiles On by Professor A.L.I.

It was a warm afternoon in the East Bay and I was at work walking from a class I had just taught to a meeting I was late for because I had lingered after class to respond to student questions about the upcoming final exam and I was distracted as I hurried on the path by my phone, which kept buzzing – rather than turn it off, something compelled me to look and I saw it was a call from my close friend and brother Muneer Ali. I stopped a few feet short of the door of the conference room that my colleagues had just entered and I answered the phone to tell Muneer that I would call him back—but what I heard in the tone of his voice gave me great pause. You see I’ve heard Muneer cry before when we shared an intense spiritual experience together on pilgrimage in Mashad and the fluctuation in his voice harkened me back to that memory, and at the same time it was different, melancholy, heavy and devoid of warmth.

Muneer told me in a broken voice, which I imagined later must have reflected a broken spirit, that our friend and brother Malcolm Shabazz was dead, and that he had been murdered. I stumbled for words as my brain and heart froze trying to process the news. “Malcolm? Not young Malcolm? Did he say Malcolm?” all these were the questions that went through my mind in rapid succession and as I answered them I found myself on the edge of a pit of despair that was growing in my stomach. He repeated the news and this time it struck me like a head-on collision on the freeway and immediately stole the air out of my lungs and left me gasping, dumbstruck in confusion. Muneer spoke again, and in a measured phrase said, “He’s gone akh.”

There was no exclamation point, no question, just a period. The statement lingered in the air as I clamored to an empty building nearby, and walked into a room on legs that had lost their spring and began to fight back tears as I asked him for more information, about his sources, and if indeed this news had confirmation. He told me what he knew, that Malcolm was in Mexico City and that he’d been murdered.

I was shocked because last I heard Malcolm was with his fam, and last I spoke with him he was in New York and the last I saw him was a few months back in the Bay—Mexico City didn’t compute and I just couldn’t believe the news. I hurriedly checked Facebook and saw his most recent status update, which was an image of what now appeared to be an ominous recreation of the Last Supper, but replacing Jesus and the Apostles were images of the activists of our generation, Malcolm X was there and Young Malcolm was there—it was ominous because when he had posted the image he was one of the only people alive in the picture; in it, he was surrounded by martyrs—and now I wondered if he had truly become one?

Muneer told me not to share that information with anyone that no one in the U.S. knew yet and that the news would come out soon. He told me that Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen (our mutual spiritual advisor) would call and just as he said, shortly thereafter I was speaking with Hashim, and he was confirming my worst fears and the nightmare I was imagining was becoming tangible, just as my insides felt like they were being sucked further inward by a mysterious vacuum at the center of the abyss that was seeking to consume bme and I had lost my balance under the weight of what I was hearing and finally beginning to process.

The truth is to this day I am still processing that news and I still feel broken from the loss of my friend and dear brother Malcolm Shabazz. Its one of the reasons I dedicated my last XFactor project to him & his family because Malcolm was one of my most avid supporters and did for me as an artist and brother much more than I could have ever expected in the ways he would promote my craft and tried to connect me to his networks in order to push what I was trying to do—He believed in me as an artist when I truly didn’t believe in my own artistry and as our bond grew, it was clear that it went beyond a normal friendship, into what I would call brotherhood and this is why it wounds me to my soul’s core that I have no way of thanking him for all he did and what he meant to me because he was callously murdered and the light of his beautiful smile was stolen from us.

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I still remember vividly the moment when I was talking to him on the phone after he came back to the US from Syria, where near the shrine of Zainab he was studying Islam in a seminary and had shortly thereafter moved to Miami to stay with our mutual spiritual guide Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen. I asked him if I could ask questions and recorded the conversation via Skype and my hope was the interview would intertwine his narrative into a future project of mine and what you see on the XFactor release is that interview in two parts with Malcolm & Me, Part 1 and 2.

It pains me that Malcolm wasn’t alive to hear the project come to fruition. These questions were unplanned and the ones that popped into my mind as we spoke, but his answers, full of wisdom inspired me as an artist to take the Hip-Hop & the teaching and merge them together and this entire album and the course attached to it are inspired by my quest to use my artistry to inspire others in the same way that Malcolm and his grandfather and family have inspired me.

Shortly after our conversation through Skype we’d get a chance to meet face to face in Miami where Hashim would organize a special event before another conference in the area that many, including I were attending. It was as this conference that I first met Malcolm face to face and it was all love. During our meeting, I was immediately struck by Malcolm’s humility and felt the physical warmth of his smile. He was so poised when he spoke, so unassuming and so vibrant at the same time.

It was clear that he had a powerful energy about him and that aura was like a lantern drawing like-minded souls towards the flame of his being—but with this truth Malcolm wasn’t satisfied, and it became clear that he wouldn’t be, until he used the force of his personality to truly connect everyone in his growing circle to each other in brotherhood/sisterhood. Some of my closest friends in life, i.e. those whom I call my brothers; we became connected through Malcolm.

Malcolm & Friends Miami

For example, without Malcolm’s intervention, I’d never have met the director Justin Mashouf, the venture capitalist Hassan Golzari, Yusuf Abdul Mateen of the rap group Blak Madeen or social activist Hajji Jason Sharif. We all became interconnected through Malcolm’s efforts and remained loyal brothers within Malcolm’s network and remain inclined to his work and vision, which was for advocating for and actively building a just and peaceful society, through our work today.

The irony is that we are effective in this work now because of Malcolm and yet at the same time our efficacy has been greatly diminished through his loss. I shudder to think what Malcolm would be feeling seeing the continuation of the brutality of law enforcement that he actively worked against. What would Malcolm do viewing the footage of the murders of Freddie Gray or Walter Scott? How would he process the killing of Tamir Rice? What would he say to us? Just thinking about these events, disparate, yet connected by a thread of injustice that ensnares the fabric of this nation like the Biblical serpent of lore leaves me utterly disgusted knowing how these events would twist the beautiful smile of our brother Malcolm into a scowl.

Whenever we talked on the phone our conversations always gravitated towards our daughters. When he spoke of his daughter, even on the phone, I could see him smiling. His heart was filled with such love and he saw the same reflection in me. He met my daughter Husna at Muneer’s home in Richmond, and he smiled, and my daughter, too young to remember the exchange, smiled back. That was Malcolm’s strength, his ability to move anyone, young or old, just like his grandfather, with the power of his smile.

At Muneer’s home that day Malcolm pulled him aside and gave him a small hastily wrapped package. He opened to find a ruby ring—and was surprised. I told him it was my late father’s and I wanted him to have it, and I prayed that it would bring him sustenance and fortune so he could continue to do his work. I never saw him wear it, but giving it to him meant something to me, in a poetic sense. In many ways it was his family, his grandfather, Malcolm X, who had also raised me to become a Muslim and it seemed fitting to give a small token of my appreciation to the family and in Malcolm, I found the namesake & heir to that legacy.

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I tried to spend as much time as I could with Malcolm in the Bay. I invited him to speak to my summer class for PCA at U.C. Berkeley and he obliged on a whim, I helped provide security at the Black Dot Café when he first came to the Bay and then later was present when he met our ustad/teacher, Professor Hamid Algar and dialogued about Islamic spirituality. I took him to some of my favorite eateries and I even arranged for him to come to Athenian to speak, but unfortunately at the last minute a scheduling conflict prevented his appearance.

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And he would reciprocate, inviting me to the radio station, bridging connections to help my music get airplay, advocating on my behalf and giving me the push I needed as an artist. Malcolm then connected with my brother-in-law Muhammad Ali and they went to Hajj together and he returned with even more light on his face, and a wider smile. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, Malcolm was making connections on my behalf—he talked to Ras Ceylon, an educator and artist in the Bay Area, and at the time a practitioner of the Rastafarian faith in order to connect with me specifically and I was struck by this, because Malcolm hadn’t told me, and it was at his funeral, when I met Ras for the first time and he communicated this tale and when I looked into Ras’s eyes and he into mine, we both saw a broken part of ourselves and connected in a brotherhood born of our mutual love of Malcolm.

It was hard to sleep the night after I heard of his passing—so many questions lingered and I really wanted to know who was responsible. My phone kept ringing. I would answer calls from Jason or Yusuf and not know what to say. Sheikh Hashim was broken, Malcolm stayed in his home and was basically a member of his family and on top of that our community had gone through a severe and traumatic death not too long ago and this murder revisited that pain and added to it, like a fire burning away at your flesh from the inside. Unfortunately the pain would get worse in subsequent days as the news would spin half-truths and spread lies about our brother.

The next afternoon, Sheikh Hashim called me and told me of a fundraiser, asked me to contact my networks and told me of funeral plans in the Bay. I started making arrangements and when I called back, Sheikh Hashim informed me that we would be washing Malcolm’s body as per Islamic custom and ritual and while I was honored, I was anxious—I knew my brother had been murdered and yet nothing could have prepared me for what I would see that day on the slab at the mortuary.

I think till the day we die, my brothers who were with me on that day will remain connected in our service to the family of Malcolm X, to our brother Malcolm Shabazz, having washed and shrouded his form so that his mother, Qubilah could view her son & recite a prayer. Brother Hussain, Ameer Rashad, Malik Emir, brother Zayd, Raymond King, Sheikh Hashim and myself bore witness to the lies in the media first hand on that day. Sheikh Hashim would say later at the funeral, that looking upon Malcolm’s form reminded him of Emmitt Till. The weight of that statement would send shivers down the very spine of the community at large.

Malcolm Funeral

At his funeral, I read a poetic elegy I had written on his behalf, but the rapper in me couldn’t process the tragedy to write any bars of consequence to commemorate him in song—it was not until I began to reflect on the idea of eulogizing and how to best tell the story, in a brief and heartfelt way that inspiration began to come.

I knew that of my songs with featured artists that Malcolm loved the joint I had done with Raekwon, and so I took the song and remixed it in his honor, and what follows below is a video dedicated to souls we lost too early to violence. First is the narrative of my childhood friend James Cowlings, following that is Raekwon’s own reflection on a cab driver he knew named Ed and finally there are eight bars dedicated to my brother Malcolm. After that a soulful guitar is plucked away by Khalil Abdullah, a brother and admirer of Malcolm who I met ironically through an Islamic wake held in Malcolm’s honor, attended by his mother in the Bay Area at Sheikh Hashim’s home.   I smile at this fact because Malcolm is still connecting us through the light of that smile and I hope you feel a sense of connection to him and his message through this:

Hip-Hoperation Earth

by Professor A.L.I.

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“The earth in revolution, returnin’ to a point before the humans’ devilution” –these are the last words off of Hip-Hop-E, in which the E, if you haven’t figured it out yet, stands for the Earth. My solo career as an artist (which began with the Carbon Cycle Diaries LP, and was followed by the Emerald Manifesto LP) has consistently been inspired by our planet; Mother Earth and her fate remains my muse because this is the narrative that most perplexes me. Carbon Cycle Diaries was “a call to planetary arms” and Emerald Manifesto laid out a plan for permaculture, noting that hope for our planet was possible if we followed a path of regeneration.

Regeneration requires the engagement of an entire generation. Currently this type of action happens sparingly, in pockets, localized in particular regions—yet it isn’t a global call. The planet is not engaged in this, because every step we take, corporate interests to maximize profits, or political parties focused on trying to maintain a semblance of governmental control have undermined the scale of the larger movement and while we have days like Earth Day to remind us of our duty to the planet or drought induced policy changes (at least in California), these are drops in an ever diminishing bucket and the hope of Emerald Manifesto led to the creation of Hip-Hop-E.

The Emerald Manifesto lays out a plan – in the face of our wasteful ways… 

On Hip-Hop-E, I engaged with the idea that we are the problem and that ultimately, it is not the earth that must evolve but that we must be cleansed, so that the earth can hit the reset button. I remixed a feature from Sadat X to use for a hook, and engaged with the idea of the planet returning to a point before we destroyed it, using its own mechanisms to cleanse the disaster we’ve made during our stewardship of it.

This is a shift from “Eco-Rap” that KPFA labeled my music as back in 2011 and it’s a huge shift from songs like Earthsong featuring Blue Scholars. It isn’t invoked by cynicism but an epiphany from study of various texts, religious, spiritual, predictive and scientific and the theme that emerged to me is our insignificance and our hubris to believe otherwise as a species.

By hubris, I mean the belief that we have the ability to damage our mother irreparably and to further believe that her fate is with a savior that is also us. It was this second point that made me pause wholly and reconsider the dominant narrative. What if we were not caretakers, but germs, that needed to be cleansed? Yes some of us were like good bacteria, helping the host body, but the vast majority of us were like laboratory-produced strains of Ebola—hence the metaphor of an inevitable apocalypse.

Is it so hard to believe? We send so much junk into the universe, inject it into the veins of our mother and subject the very life essence of this planet, the water to waste that makes panacea turn poison and we expect that “Chickens won’t come home to roost”? This was the mental frame of mind in which this song was written… and it contains a quote from my late brother, Malcolm Shabazz, quoting his own grandfather, Malcolm X—and I agree with him—and of course I am frightened. I am fearful for my family and friends and our entire race, because of the inevitable karmic Armageddon we have invoked. My hope is that we somehow come to our senses and engage in a planetary paradigm shift, perhaps its not too late… yet here we are & here it is:

I’m not the only planetary Hip-Hop “Raptivist” or artist—nor did I create this genre but like my brothers from Earth Amplified or Sustainable John, I’ve definitely put my voice behind it—for this Bhooma Devi is our mother, and we are being held hostage by her other rebellious sons and daughters, along with her and this is how we voice our frustration. Peace to my fellow Hip-Hop Eco-Raptivists and Green Hip Hoppas… Peace to the Earth and those who cultivate her, hoping to regenerate what others have destroyed and Peace to all the Shamans, Priests, Imams who congregated and lead their congregation in planetary healing prayers and paradigm shifts in action. PEACE.

Rediscovering Malcolm X through the XFactor

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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

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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.

Malcom X

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.

MalcolmEliPromo 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.

MalcolmPromo5This 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.

meandmaclolm

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.

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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.

The Martyr’s Song From the Audubon

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I was honored to write & perform this piece as part of the official #XLegacy commemoration event for #MX50 at #UCBerkeley, on the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of #MalcolmX; #MX50Forever… This was the next chapter to Malcolm X inspired/homage album/curriculum entitled #XFactor by Professor A.L.I.

The Martyr’s Song from the Audubon
by Professor A.L.I.

An Introduction: (taken from these three perspectives: a witness in the crowd, the family lawyer and the Audubon Ballroom Director)

Sharon Shabazz was 19, she sat in the Audubon and heard a commotion
She thought it was drunks, till Shots rang out; like mini explosions
She sees Betty scream hysterically, “They’re killing my husband”
She saw Malcolm fall, blood flowing in front of four little orphans

The family lawyer said, “Malcolm died broke, no insurance policy”
Others collected his royalties from books and articles in magazines
Who cared for this family? As the roots were severed from tree
Where was the crowd, to play the role of a husband and daddy

No outline where Malcolm fell, no crime scene police tape
A dance was sponsored later at the Audubon, that very day
3 cleaning women scrubbed the blood from the hardwood away
And instruments were carefully placed upon the same stage

***

The scent of Mecca, lingers upon, his metaphysical form
It fills the Audubon, as he delivers to warn,
A message, Islam, for bullets we’d mourn
They hiss, ripping thru the shell of his form.
His spirit has flown, our spirits are blown
Like gun barrels, while his soul drifts to the throne
Target, cuz he worshipped the Most High alone
He shines, a prince returnin’ to his spiritual home

Hard-bottoms tap in rhythm on the ballroom floor
To hear Malcolm Speak, strengthens ones Spiritual core
The flavor of sustenance, he delivers, lingers in minds
Devoid of swine, Afro-American U-N-I-T-Y
Amongst these 400 hundred people lingers the spy
Snitches and snakes; serpents serving Satan’s side
The brisk February coldness makes visible breath
The audience would be in the presence from a visit with death
Waiting for Malcolm to speak, ushers silence
As the mic static, gives way to knowledge, then violence
3:03 to 3:10 what happened in those seven minutes?
Momentary distraction, gave way to a sanctioned hit
An assassination of an icon, he falls, and they shoot on
Women clamber towards his corpse, blood fills the Audubon
Your last breath paves way for the coldness of your flesh
You died at 3:10, but became more alive through death

The scent of Mecca, lingers upon, his metaphysical form
It fills the Audubon, as he delivers to warn,
A message, Islam, for bullets we’d mourn
They hiss, ripping thru the shell of his form.
His spirit has flown, our spirits are blown
Like gun barrels, while his soul drifts to the throne
Target, cuz he worshipped the Most High alone
He shines, a prince returnin’ to his spiritual home

Look into his family’s eyes, sift thru memory flashes
That spark like the hammer of the pistol pulled back
His spit, paints the picture, definition of blackness
Strategic in his vision, textbook precision in tactic
A man of action, who spins around the kaaba like an atom
The building block of faith, no hate, just compassion
Who could kill such a man? Who could shred this flower?
From the garden of righteous souls; in this very hour?
Fifty years ago, what mother birthed these demons
Who could bring themselves to murder our beacon
It’s not the hand, but who put the money in the pockets
Is the question we should ask, if we ever want to solve this
His faith was like pure water, amidst polluted seas
He was the breathe fresh air, we all needed to breath
Yet in that moment I’m asthmatic, sawed off shotgun blast
I’m his orphan, horrified; where is my father, I ask?

The scent of Mecca, lingers upon, his metaphysical form
It fills the Audubon, as he delivers to warn,
A message, Islam, for bullets we’d mourn
They hiss, ripping thru the shell of his form.
His spirit has flown, our spirits are blown
Like gun barrels, while his soul drifts to the throne
Target, cuz he worshipped the Most High alone
He shines, a prince returnin’ to his spiritual home

The guns spit, tear thru clothing layers and burn skin
The soul separates, so your face widens to grin
21 gunshot wounds left in your chest, yet heart beats
Within your six seeds, your deeds and those you still lead
Your corpse smiles, as it shares Yuri’s breath
Yet the air she gave escapes through holes in your chest
In death you bore witness, the definition of martyr
Sister Betty would forever be haunted by your slaughter
And six little girls would forever long for their father
Like the tears of Hajar birthed the Zamzam water
As she ran in between Safa and Marwa mountains
The tears of Malcolm’s daughters, formed fountains
Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah and Gamilah are orphans
And Malikah and Malak are fatherless, unborn
2 daughters cling to womb, 4 weep over your tomb
Now you sleep next to Betty, and your grandson, Malcolm

The scent of Mecca, lingers upon, his metaphysical form
It fills the Audubon, as he delivers to warn,
A message, Islam, for bullets we’d mourn
They hiss, ripping thru the shell of his form.
His spirit has flown, our spirits are blown
Like gun barrels, while his soul drifts to the throne
Target, cuz he worshipped the Most High alone
He shines, a prince returnin’ to his spiritual home

meandmaclolm

Taking The Next Generation To School; Professor A.L.I.’s Innovative Hip-Hop Curriculum, Is The First Of Its Kind

The X in “XFactor” pays homage to the personage and legacy of Malcolm X, while invoking the idea of the “unknown variable”.  The goal of the curricular album is to invite the listener to discover what that variable is in reference to Hip-Hop. 

1/06/2015 (BERKELEY, CA) – U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis Law School alumnus, Moorish Hip-Hop artist and educator, Professor A.L.I. has shifted the paradigm of how music can be used in the high school classroom.  His “XFactor” double length album is integrated as part of a unique Hip-Hop history curriculum offered this spring at The Athenian School in Danville, College Preparatory School in Oakland., The Urban School and Lick Wilmerding in San Francisco, and Marin Academy and the course is being offered for U.C. approved history credit.

Professor A.L.I. states the idea of merging Hip-Hop and Education to enhance curriculum was born in his mind in a Native American Law class offered at U.C. Davis and taught by Professor Arturo Gandara.  He stated that while at U.C. Davis, “Professor Gandara would allow me to submit verses or raps instead of essays for my weekly reflections based on our case readings.  He would offer feedback and appreciated the level of depth of my lyrics and often asked me to open class by rapping—which added so much depth to our overall discussion.”

The “Xfactor” album delves into Hip-Hop’s history and discusses its future and does not shy away from sensitive topics like misogyny, racism and homophobia, instead Professor A.L.I. tackles them head-on—showcasing a profound understanding for the role played by Hip-Hop and using it as a lens to initiate this study.

The course is unique, in that it teaches history from a thematic perspective, weaving in the expanse of oral histories in West Africa, the Middle Passage, the Abolitionist Movement, The Jim Crow South, The Civil Rights Movement, Colonialism/Post-Colonial realities and modern day social dynamics in the urban community.  Hip-Hop in essence becomes the thread by which all these historical events are studied and students are invited to respond to the units by writing and recording their own raps to the same instrumentals that Professor A.L.I. uses in the “XFactor.”

“Nothing like it is out there—believe me, I’ve looked.  While academics have written Hip-Hop pedagogies, and there are courses offered at the University level, no one has thought about bringing it to this type of education to the high school level nor offering it as a robust curriculum at that.  While some innovative unit plans exist that weave in Hip-Hop in literature curricula, never before has an instructor stepped so firmly into the space of authenticity that Hip-Hop itself demands and record an album in order to advance the curricular and pedagogical objectives of a course—and this is why I was so inspired to be the first,”  stated Professor A.L.I. anticipating this January 6th, album release date.

An example of the fiery lyrical content can be taken from the eponymous track “XFactor”, which takes a jab at the controversial cover image choices made by Nicki Minaj last year that was disrespectful to the personage and legacy of Malcolm X.  The Professor then takes us through a truly eXistential view of history while explaining who Malcolm was to Hip-Hop, “He’s placenta to Hip-Hop’s birth, so discarded, yet his knowledge provided nutrition for these artists.”

The album features guest vocals from long standing Professor A.L.I. collaborators in Raekwon of the Wu Tang ClanPlanet AsiaBlitz the AmbassadorSadat X of Brand NubianDead Prez, and Canibus and as well includes, in two parts as interludes, a never before heard, full length interview conducted by Professor A.L.I. with his late friend Malcolm Shabazz before he was murdered in Mexico City in 2013.

#HipHopEd

Malcolm X by Stormshadowz ft. Professor A.L.I.

This song dedicated to the late Malcolm X by the underground rap group Stormshadowz (comprised of Young Skitz/Malik and Professor A.L.I.) also features the now late grandson of Malcolm X, Malcolm Shabazz, from his first visit to the Bay Area. The late Malcolm Shabazz helped heavily promote this song and this album and helped lay the groundwork for Professor A.L.I.’s breakout solo career.

The video was directed and shot by Jessie Rosenberg and won several film festival categories in music video. It also features live footage caught by Jessie from the Oscar Grant protests in Oakland and the now dismantled Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland.

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