By Adisa Banjoko
Right about now, there is a resurgence of consciousness in Hip Hop. It reminds me of what was once known as “The Golden Age of Hip Hop”. This new consciousness is evidenced in the rise of Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Paris, Zion I, Common, Mystic, Mos Def, Encore, Shamako Noble, Immortal Technique, the new tracks by MC Ren, and others. This is a beautiful thing to watch, and something that makes me proud to see.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense used to have a ten point program to rebuild the Black community. It was something to help keep the Black community focused how freedom was to be achieved. Unfortunately, the masses did not listen to them as well as they should have and many people lost out due a lack of follow though.
This is a twelve point program I have constructed in hope of rejuvenating the Hip Hop community and industry across the board. I believe without fail that if these ideas are put into action that Hip Hop will gain a higher status in the minds of those who love it as well as in the hearts of those who hate it. This list can be used by anybody (regardless of race, faith, or culture) who is an MC/rapper. But for those that TRY to be conscious, I feel these things are a must. Big props to Scape Martinez for helping me refine this (even though we disagree with some points).
1. Stop the cursing. If you are going to reach the people, you need to be refined lyrically. You will have one up on the radio industry who tries to ignore you.
You must also make yourself loved by the parents of the children who love Hip Hop. Keeping it clean on wax is an easy way to gain an upper hand in the streets and in the industry at the same time. Plus you don’t have to always make clean versions of everything- so it saves you money. In the movie Malcolm X’s original mentor says that a man curses because he does not have the tools to tell you what’s really on his mind. So chill out and tell us what’s on your mind. Gangstarr’s Step in the Arena is a perfect example of how you can stay REAL and not curse.
2. Stop using the word “nigga”. The word “nigger/nigga” was a lyrical tool of empowerment for the Hip Hop movement during the late 80′s and early 90′s. It came at a time when Black people needed to counter the hateful words being put upon them for so long. Now, the word has indeed been diluted in its power (it does not hurt most Black people to be called that name anymore). However, it also lost its painful historical relevance. We need to remind people of where the word came from, so it is never taken lightly. If you are unclear on the history of it, go read “100 Years of Lynchings” by Ralph Ginzburg.
3. Read. The more you know, the more you can rap about. Read about the history of your people as well as the histories and cultures of others. Nobody is asking you to become Nerdball McGee- but you should open a book. Choose a topic and go learn something you did not know the day before. Then bring that into Hip Hop. Ice Cube, KRS ONE and Tupac Shakur were arguably at their best when they were reading.
4. Rap about YOUR Struggle. MC’s and rappers who are remembered are story tellers. Slick Rick, Ice Cube, Tupac and Rakim are able to bring you into their world and allow you to see from behind their eyes. This should be your goal as an MC. Tell us about your fam, your area, your personal journey in a way that no one else can tell it. If you cannot do that, you will certainly fail to impress and inspire. Tell us about your city. Nobody cared about the Queens, Compton, or Vallejo until MC Shan, Eazy E, and E-40 told the world stories about where they came from.
5. Stop following trends, create them. The rap industry tries to create cookie cutter rappers now. They all come complete with pimp cups, loc’s, butt naked women and saggy pants. That has its place. But we need more people pushing the lyrical envelope. Brothers and sisters don’t try to flow with originality anymore. They just try to copy a carbon copy. Do not be afraid to find out who you are and challenge the trends across the board. N.W.A., Biggie Smalls, Beastie Boys, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Public Enemy, Kwame, Paris, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and Eminem (YES, I said EMINEM) all take creative chances musically and lyrically. From your look to your flow, be original in your life and on wax.
6. Respect Women. This is a subject that cannot be discussed too much. We need to stop using the word bitch and hoe (I’m talking to myself as well as y’all). We need to stop objectifying all women. By undermining them, we undermine the cornerstone of all civilization. This is a serious thing. You can still make a dope jam and show respect to the women. Remember that every “hoe” and “bitch” is someone else’s sister, daughter, mother- maybe even yours. So clean yourself up. I’m not asking you to take estrogen shots, watch Oprah 24/7 and wear a wig. Just show some respect.
7. Don’t forget to rock the party. This is a major problem in Hip Hop. Most of the MC’s who try to be conscious. They get so caught up in their mission that they forget to have fun. If all you do is spit politics and stuff, people never get to see you shine creatively. Show the people you have skills to rock the party, and then give them something to take home.
8. Learn an instrument. Since its inception Hip Hop has gotten far by sampling. The record industry has come down hard on us at times for doing it. Sampling has served its purpose, but it is time to show the world our full creativity. Learn an instrument for yourself. If you do, you will gain a new respect for those you sample and you’ll get new insights on how to make music for yourself.
9. Listen to all kinds of music from the past. This is crucial. Part of the reason Hip Hop is so stale is because Hip Hop only listens to Hip Hop, nowadays. Chuck D, Mix Master Mike, DJ QBERT, KRS ONE, P Ditty Poor Righteous Teachers, Premier, Jungle Brothers, Marley Marl, Timbaland, DJ Quick, Dr. Dre all listen to other forms of music. You should also read the biographies of some of these artists as well (something I’m about to get into). They listen to Jazz, Reggae, Blues, Rock, Heavy Metal, Symphony, Salsa, Zen flutes etc. This is a BIG part of what makes them great. Now, go be great!!!
10. Acknowledge the beauty of the other Hip Hop elements. This is a HUGE problem. Sometimes I think it is talked about too much. But the bottom line is that if you don’t have a full appreciation for graf writing, b-boy’ing, popping, locking, and turntablism you are missing a lot of tools that you can both learn from and incorporate into your shows. A lot of people confuse appreciation of these elements with being a hippy or dealing with things that are not “real”.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Don’t sleep on that.
11. Choose a Cause. Once you know who you are, it is important that you ask yourself “What will I champion in Hip Hop besides my lyrics?” You care about education? Poverty issues? Are you just a party MC? Are you gonna champion your culture? Politics? Child abuse? Domestic violence? WHAT?!?!? Choose a cause then make sure you mention it from time to time. NOT ON EVERY SONG- because you will turn people off.
12. Never forget the poor. This music is from them, for them, forever. Knowing that fact always, IS KEEPING IT REAL.
Adisa Banjoko is author of “Lyrical Swords Vol. 1: Hip Hop and Politics in the Mix”, available at www.lyricalswords.com.