Hip Hop: Radical Resistance, Mobilization and Empowerment
By: Solomon Comissiong
“I live, I die, I organize,
Everything I do - revolutionize,
I build what’s good for the whole damn hood,
Study G’s like these, really think you should,
I study Malcolm Garvey Huey, Malcolm Garvey Huey,
Malcolm Garvey Huey, Malcolm Garvey Huey…”
Dead Prez - Malcolm Garvey Huey
The revolutionary African (black) poet, Gil Scott Heron, once said, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” within the lines of a poem by the same name. Those words strung together (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) are cogent, as well as prophetic. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised may have been recorded in the early 1970s; however those words carry even more weight in 2010, especially within the United States. In the age of corporate media domination the revolution will not be seen or heard on any mainstream airwaves, especially if that revolution has anything to do with the true liberation, resistance and mobilization of black and brown people.
US corporate media is, without doubt, a tool of the state. Corporate media plays a significant role in keeping the masses disengaged, “dumbed” down and largely pacified. Corporate media, in essence, largely does the work of various government sectors. An engaged populous has a working comprehension of critical issues that dominate their society and well beyond. When that populous is engaged they have a much stronger understanding of what issues need to be fought for, and why. To be blunt, you could say it (access to solid comprehensive information) wakes up the masses, especially those who have been systematically trampled upon. The US corporate media is vastly anti-democratic. They, like much of the US government, continually create illusions that people are being given a broad range of options to choose from. In reality, the masses are routinely given a limited range of options that are acceptable by the corporate masters or the government overseers. The problem is that most people have no idea that these options have been carefully chosen for them. When the range of information is limited to a few options we can be certain there will never be any progressive, or dare I say radical, change in their day-to-day lives. Thus, the cycle of oppression continues in perpetuity.
The examples of a fixed corporate media system are abound, however many Americans have been socially engineered not to recognize that it is in fact—overtly fixed for the benefit of those who own the US corporate media oligopoly. The so-called “news” media limit the range of thought on critical issues by limiting (and omitting) their coverage on many vital and newsworthy topics. They do this like we breathe—intrinsically, and without regard for the deleterious side affects on society. So yes, the “news” media fixes and stages much of what they decide to broadcast, or not broadcast—and even how.
Deliberately deciding to refrain from reporting on things like police brutality in the black community, the prison industrial complex and even US financed oppression throughout the world, cannot be called anything less than “staged ‘news’”. It is staged for the benefit of the ruling class and their beneficiaries. And if you are from a community of color, odds are the critical issues affecting your community will never make their way unto any mainstream airwaves. Black and brown communities are not and never will be the beneficiaries of the ruling class or the corporate media titans in America. As much as some of us think that class issues are on par with “race’ issues, they are not. Poor whites can always fall back on their skin in regards to certain issues that exist within the epicenter of institutional racism (America). Black people, for instance, cannot hide their attractive skin color, even if they wanted to. Police brutality within the US seemingly finds it way to black and brown neighborhoods, over and over again. White people are not racially profiled, not even poor whites. Their skin protects them from many barbaric police that are frequently given impunity by the state. True, there is a definitive class war within America in which the rich continue to gobble up more and more wealth at the expense of the masses; however there has always been a governmentally sanctioned war on Africans in America dating back to the 1600s. Even relatively “well to do” blacks are not protected from the wrath of racist police.
The US society’s acceptance of institutional racism and white supremacy are very real and undeniable. They are issues that need to be broadcast and fought against, everyday, until they are erased completely. However, we are kidding ourselves if we think that the corporate media will discuss institutional racism and/or white supremacy in any kind of depth or comprehension. They won’t because they could not care less about the day-to-day plight of people of color, especially those that continue to languish within the United States. Their inaction has spoken volumes, loud and clear. Continuing the myth that mass black unemployment, incarceration and poverty are innately caused by those who come from various governmentally neglected black communities has long been a role the mainstream media has reveled in playing. The US corporate media follows the script sharply. This is where we get half-assed programs like CNN’s so-called “Black in America”. The critical telling of significant issues plaguing black and brown communities has historically come from grassroots means of communications. American born Africans have a long history of creating and operating their own mediums, such as newspapers, as a means of disseminating information throughout their communities. This history dates back to the 1820s with the publishing of Freedom’s Journal by John Russwurm and Sam Cornish. However the dissemination of information has also come from non-conventional means such as Hip Hop music (RAP/Rhythm and Poetry).
The US corporate media (Viacom, Clear Channel, Radio One, etc…) systematically indulges itself in promoting some of the most stereotypically racist images when it comes to Hip Hop. The US corporate media only feels comfortable in promoting rappers whose images are akin to yesteryear Minstrel shows. Those images reinforce their conscious and subconscious racist notions of black people in America. Corporate America makes popular whatever it wants to make popular simply by throwing large sums of money behind it and imposing those images upon media illiterate masses. These racist images are made popular because the corporate media giants have long decided to push that agenda. Despite the mental warfare being waged on the masses of black and brown skinned children, by the corporate media, Hip Hop continues to serve as symbol of cultural and political resistance, as well as expression. This is news to those who primarily receive their “news”, information and entertainment from the US corporate media. This is a significant component of the problem and the conspiratorial plan of the corporate media pimps. I call them pimps because it is they who make the premeditated decision to block images and messages of resistance within the Hip Hop world. It is they who make the decisions to flood the airwaves with as many stereotypically racist images and messages as they possibly can. As deleterious as these messages are, they feed the oppressive system/beast that maintains the status quo of institutional racism and white supremacy within the plundered and artificial borders of “America”.
The corporate media pimps peddle the messages of black and brown rappers who they approve for America’s mainstream airwaves. They, in essence, have set the standard for millions of young aspiring Hip Hop artists to follow, knowing that if they do; they stand a much better chance of getting signed with a major label and/or having their music played nationally. The corporate media pimps, like blood thirsty animals, desire Hip Hop artists that espouse the most mentally damaging messages within their music. Meanwhile, these same corporate media pimps eschew any black artist that, no matter how talented, discusses cultural edification, political resistance or revolutionary thinking within their music. They care very little about black and brown youth or the issues that continue to plague their communities. They only care about their bottom lines and their corporate clients.
The insatiable US prison industrial complex continues to devour black and brown people at a furious pace. This diet is fueled by Wall Street and the institutionally racist criminal “justice” system. Many extremely talented underground rappers embrace the responsibility that comes with their talents. There are many songs by some of these artists that speak out about the prison industry complex all the while educating and inspiring their audiences. One such artist is Brooklyn born Capital-X. As important as the following lyrics are, they will never find their way to any corporate media’s co-opted airwaves:
“I’m tired of the hypocrisy and the mockery of justice
tired of seeing our children, carried off in prison buses
I’m tired of the brutality and all the corruption
they arrest us nothing, I’m ready to do something
the prison industry, and the corporate hustle
need to be dismantled as we continue to struggle
open up your eyes, stop living in a bubble”
Capital-X (Revolutionary) 2010
Those are the type of lyrics that, if heard on a regular basis, have the potential of educating and galvanizing a generation of young Hip Hop fans. Those are the type of lyrics that inspired this author to become an unrepentant social activist. Knowing this it should be a bit easier to understand why the corporate media will never promote talented revolutionary artists. It is against their nefarious interests. We should also never be confused as to whether they are friends to the black community in America. They are not! The corporate media has by default created the term “underground rapper”. They suppressed the kinds of messages Public Enemy, X-Clan and so many others put forth during the Golden Era of Hip Hop (1986-1995/6). Before Hip Hop music was seen as a billion dollar industry by rapacious corporations; Hip Hop fans could frequently hear a range of messages within rap music, including an abundance of empowering and revolutionary songs. However, as the large corporations began buying out everything from record labels to radio stations, the messages within rap music became more and more diluted. They became less empowering and less critically engaging. And in 1996 the Telecommunications Act sealed the deal in not only suppressing the messages of progressive artists from the mainstream but also significantly decreasing the already disproportionately small number of black owned radio stations. Thus, the term “underground rapper” became more and more prominent in describing rappers who hold revolutionary and progressive thoughts within their lyrics. Those rappers who dare speak out about social issues within their music stand to be white-listed from the mainstream music industry.
Artists like New York based Immortal Technique are not supposed to be heard by the masses, especially not by African/black and Latino youth whose communities continue to be devastated by ethnic cleansing (gentrification). The corporate media, private developers, as well as the politicians that strike backroom deals, all fear the thought of black and brown communities gaining a greater comprehension of the causes and motivation for gentrification. This is why the US corporate media will not do stories documenting and explaining the gentrification boom in America. Underground Hip Hop music has routinely spoken about issues and topics that mainstream America desperately tries to suppress. Songs like Immortal Technique’s Harlem Renaissance do what the corporate media wont—critically engage and inform the audience.
“Harlem once was red line district rated (uhh)
Designated ghetto like the yellow star of David
And you wonder why, people don’t own they homes (why?)
Cause the racist bank wouldn’t fuckin mortgage a loan
Until after the invasion of, gentrification
Eminent domain intimidation, that’s not negotiation
And it’s frustratin to look at, every day
Like watchin a porno, on 56-K
Biohazard labs instead of store rooms
What’s next motherfucker, projects as dorm rooms?
You ain’t fool nobody in this community duke
With your little fake Manhattanville community group
Ivy league, real estate firms are corrupt
I lay siege to your castle like the Moors in Europe
They treat street vendors like criminal riff-raff
While politicians get the corporate kickbacks (snakes)
Immortal Technique (Harlem Renaissance) 2008
These songs continue to be locked away from the tens of millions of mainstream Hip Hop fans. This is a part of social engineering that the corporate media does so well for their US government co-conspirators. It is as anti-democratic as it can get. They carefully select the artists and songs they find acceptable for the masses to listen to, no matter how psychologically destructive they are for youth, especially those of color. The same method goes in to their selection of “news” stories and how they cover them. The hypocritical media, like the snake oil salesmen on Capitol Hill, have the audacity to criticize countries Cuba for “political prisoners”, meanwhile scores of black and Latino men and women decay as political prisoners within US prisons. Many of these men and women have been languishing within solitary confinement for decades. Their “crimes” consisted of resistance based actions against an instructionally racist and oppressive system that was using the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to terrorize black political activists.
The corporate media had to find a way to make billions of dollars exploiting Hip Hop all the while making sure Hip Hop fans no longer heard songs like Public Enemy’s Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. After all, that song addressed everything from political prisoners, the prison system and the contradiction of black men serving in the US military while that same government institutionally represses their community. The following words from that song speak volumes to the impact this song had on the fledging minds of black youth throughout America:
“I got a letter from the government
The other day
I opened and read it
It said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me given’ a damn - I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like me and myself
Because they never did
I wasn’t wit’ it, but just that very minute…
It occurred to me
The suckers had authority
Cold sweatin’ as I dwell in my cell
How long has it been?
They got me sittin’ in the state pen
I gotta get out - but that thought was thought before
I contemplated a plan on the cell floor
I’m not a fugitive on the run
But a brother like me begun - to be another one
Public enemy servin’ time - they drew the line y’all
To criticize me some crime - never the less
They could not understand that I’m a Black man
And I could never be a veteran…”
Public Enemy—Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (1989)
Hip Hop music, when left unabated, has the power to inspire, empower and educate disenfranchised youth to resist against the system that has systematically disenfranchised their communities. It is the music that inspires future leaders to tangibly make differences in their communities and throughout the globe. Hip Hop Culture motivated the likes of this author to think outside of the box politically. Political expression should never be confined solely to the ballot box. Despite the hollow words of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Democratic Party manufactured “Vote or Die” “movement”; voting alone can never be the extent of Black America’s political expression. Our political expression must extend far beyond merely voting. It must also consist of mobilizing, organizing, and empowering. Those are the organic seeds that must be planted in order to cultivate a real people’s social revolution. Hip Hop Culture has the power to plant these seeds and this is exactly what some are afraid of. The corporate media wishes to plant destructive genetically modified mental-seeds within the minds of legions of youth of color who are desperate to escape their governmentally engineered misery. So instead of providing a wide array of rap music, they deliberately block the most thought provoking Hip Hop music from ever reaching the masses by way of their broad co-opted airwaves. They provide songs like the following, sometimes six or more times a day:
“Now your girl might be sick but my girl sicker
She rides that dick and she handles her liquor
I knock a bitch out and fight
Comin’ out swingin’ like Tiger Woods’ wife
Yeah, she can get a lil’ hasty
Chicks better cover up their chests like pasties
Couple girlfriends and they all a lil’ crazy
Comin’ down the street like a parade, Macy’s
I fill her up, balloons!
Test her and guns get drawn like cartoons
Doh, but I ain’t talk ’bout Homer
Chick so bad the whole crew wanna bone her!”
Ludacris (My Chick Bad)
No matter how destructive the above lyrics are on the psyche of black children; the corporate media does not give a damn. They are nothing short of media pimps. Black America must continue to draw inspiration from the past and establish independent and alternative means of disseminating information, especially to youth. Hip Hop can, has and should be used a tool towards developing and awakening the sleeping giant within the minds and hearts of disenfranchised youth. The corporate media and governmentally sanctioned “educational” centers will never facilitate a platform for this goal. Activists and educators must continue to push the envelope when it comes to empowering our youth in a wide array of important topics. If we don’t, who the hell will!
“Cuz see the schools aint teachin us nothin
They aint teachin us nothin but how to be slaves and hardworkers
For white people to build up they shit
Make they businesses successful while it’s exploitin us
Knowhatimsayin? And they aint teachin us nothin related to
Solvin our own problems, knowhatimsayin?
Aint teachin us how to get crack out the ghetto
They aint teachin us how to stop the police from murdering us
And brutalizing us, they aint teachin us how to get our rent paid
Knowhatimsayin? They aint teachin our families how to interact
Better with each other, knowhatimsayin? They just teachin us
How to build they shit up…”
Dead Prez (They Schools)
Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author, public speaker and the host of the Your World News media collective (www.yourworldnews.org). Solomon is the author of A Hip Hop Activist Speaks Out on Social Issues. He can be reached at: email@example.com