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.

Native Sun

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Native Sun by Professor A.L.I.

I remember when I first met Carter, five years ago; it was hard to miss him, since he stood out as much as I did amidst our new peers.  I see him in my mind vividly, standing awkwardly in the sunlight upon a beach as part of an in-coming student orientation; and I’m sure he visualizes me in similar fashion.  He a freshman and I the new teacher on campus at a unfamiliar school clearly feeling nervous about the community we were being enveloped in and showing it through our uncomfortable body language.  We clearly felt, then, like outsiders, like shadows cast in the light of the sun.

Four years later as the June sun beamed down upon our heads, Carter would walk across the stage; and in the Athenian School tradition he picked an instructor to give a one-minute graduation speech on his behalf.   Carter chose me and I chose to deliver the speech as a rap, sans beat; it seemed appropriate since Carter’s alter ego was the young, up and coming rapper “Captaincy” and I was, Professor A.L.I.

As Carter was nearing his impending graduation the elephant in the room, was a potential collaboration between the teacher and student, between a Professor and a young Captain.  Carter had joked with me about the possibility in years past, but, I had shook it off with banter for I rarely admitted to anyone on campus that I was ‘Professor A.L.I.’ and knew such a collab would’ve blown my identity out in into the sunlight.  For so long I’d kept my artistry hidden in the shadows of my professional world and seeing the two worlds collide was, at the time, unsettling.

Yet at the same time Carter represented everything I strove to be an educator for.  He was a brilliant young man with deep inner-reflections who also thought out of the box.  He was the laid back freshman who’d emerged from the shadows of obscurity to embrace the lamp of learning.  And to top it off, unlike many young people he possessed both knowledge and reverence for the true pioneers and “teachers” of Hip-Hop like Brand Nubian, Public Enemy & KRS-One.

So motivated by that realization, I showed Carter a song in which I sought to promote Hip-Hop as it once was, the art of expression of social/political issues that were relevant to the community at large.  The song had a natural intersection in the realm of equity and inclusion, a theme that was central to both Captaincy and Professor A.L.I.; it also spoke to our time at Athenian together, to community building and education.  We had embraced the light of our true selves on this campus, let down our guards, and allowed what we do as artists respectively to become a part of the landscape like the sun in the sky. It was the most appropriate intersection for a collab, and Captaincy laid the second verse on the song, and lo and behold, ‘Native Sun’ was born.

The song was born of a reverence for Richard Wright’s seminal work, Native Son, and the language of Hip-Hop with the elevation of self in the speak of the ‘Nation of Gods & Earths’ community; the same NGE community that gave Hip-Hop its slang and cadence.  Imbued with both “science & math”, the track is a metaphor of the passing of a torch; of a Professor taking his own light to elevate another, a student to become a “Sun”, to give off his own light, to embrace the highest expression of self, one that is celestial in nature.

The song’s journey is one that begins in the classroom, through the lecture of a Professor, sparking the imagination of students, and of one student in particular, Carter (Captaincy) who presents his own reality.  This should be the nature of any art, to spark more creativity, and to create more artists.  So like a sun that shines upon all and gives life meaning, by the light of the moon, its warmth and radiation, so too do the lyrics of the song, give life meaning by shedding light upon the importance of equity and point out societal inequities that we live and breath in on a daily basis.

Native Sun is a song off of the Emerald Manifesto album, and the beginning of a new movement for me as an artist.  Up until now, as Carter, my peers and many students will attest to, I’ve kept my artistic life and life as an educator separate.  However I now see the empowering role that Hip-Hop artistry and lyricism can play in education and also vice versa.   Merged together, Hip-Hop & Education shed light on issues that are not touched upon by popular media or given attention because they do not further the status quo.  It is the unexplored realm of voice, the subaltern, and as an educator I see the importance of the voice of the M.C.  After all, as I’ve said in the past, ‘a Professor has knowledge, but an M.C. has the audience.’

To that end, on Emerald Manifesto, I created songs that spoke to issues that didn’t see the light of day.  I spit verses about the social inequities of the Caste system still in practice in South Asia, the movement of permaculture, the genocide in Bahrain, the importance of localized spending and the similarities rather than the difference between people living in the Middle East.  All of these issues are rarely addressed, yet are issues relevant to our world and more importantly the world inherited by our children.  The sun diminishes darkness, vanishes obscurity, and makes all things erudite.  I was seeking to do the same as an artist; in the end I was seeking to become a sun.

At Athenian, both Carter and I had become suns; we found a supportive community, one that encouraged artistic expression and explored ways in which educators and students could be learners outside of the traditional classroom setting.  In four years the icy wall I had created between my artistry and role as educator had slowly melted.  The Google searches that easily reveal the presence of my alter ego and calls to recite spoken word and acapella poetry had blown my carefully constructed cover as a mild mannered educator along with my icy wall to bits.

When this happened I saw an immense swell of support and love from a community that stood by its own.  Carter saw that too, and as he started to take the lyrics from his notepad to the mic, he too found his strongest support coming from the Athenian campus family.  Artistry thrives when it is cultivated with love, and we both found that from our respective peers.  So we too began to shine in our own right.

We also discovered after five years at Athenian, that our initial reaction to being on the other side of the tunnel, in a city (Danville) that was really different from our respective homes of Union City & Oakland, was not what we expected.  In our time on campus we discovered we were not outsiders, but integral parts of the community as if we had always been there.  We felt like we were natives of that Mt. Diablo setting and at communicated in our body language that we had ascended to become part of what makes Athenian shine as a community, that we were “suns” in the NGE sense of the word. We were Native Suns.

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I am currently working on my new project entitled Das Ka Rebel, taking the exploration of Hip-Hop & Education to another level.  I will explore themes that make education truly innovative and experiential—while at the same time discovering all of what Hip-Hop could be.  Hip-Hop after all was born in the West African Griot, so I will seek to imbue the sprit of that oral historian as I weave the tales of our world as a testament to later generations, and like the griot, impart lessons that will help them preserve our values, while avoiding our mistakes.

I seek to shine like the Native Sun and give light to the ‘earths’ and their seeds–so that they flower with knowledge and grow to regenerate this planet and allow it to flourish with love.  In the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”  I feel the same way, and I will seek to move through this world with Ollin Tonatiuh, with the movement of the Sun, riding the chariot in the sky of life like Apollo, facing its demons like Surya, for I am Ra in Kemet, I am the Native Sun.