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