If you don’t mind listening to swear words, slang and violent talk, and watching baseball-capped, jeans-sagging, skull-wearing former gangstas for a couple of hours, this film is for you. If you don’t, this film is still probably for you. Nas, regarded as one of greatest rappers alive, remarks in the film: “I’m a grown man now, I have no business wearing saggy jeans, but I might let it sag a little bit just to annoy you few stiff motherf******.” Hyperbole aside, The Art of Rap, a film directed by Ice T, is all about intelligence. Continue reading
It has been over a week since the Kony 2012 video went viral. The video, by Invisible Children, is now nearing 80 million views on YouTube. One of the most vociferous critics of the campaign is musician and political activist, Lowkey.
I spoke to Lowkey about the video.
What did you think of the video?
“I think the Kony 2012 campaign has had a manipulative and negative affect on the younger generation. But it has made the older generation question this level of emotional manipulation. That the answer to everything is the US military and has made people question what Africom actually is. And why the US feels the need to expand its military presence in Africa. It then leads people to the idea that the US is essentially trying to have a counter weight to Chinese elevation in the region.”
Why are you against US military intervention?
“I think Africom was founded by George Bush in 2006 and it clearly sets out its aim to increase US military prescence in Africa. However, the majority of African countries rejected Africom which means it had to have its Headquarters in Germany, imagine that.
However Nigeria was one government which welcomed Africom and Uganda is another government that is now welcoming US military expansion. Now unless you are those specific people within those governments, you will not view the presence of the US military on your land as something positive. We also need to remember that these countries welcoming US military presence have very, very, very questionable human rights records and very questionable histories, with regards to democracy – this word that we band about, if you ask Kony what his objective is, he says democracy – now it’s amazing how we have someone in Africa saying his objective is democracy and he is the number one enemy. Yet we have people in other parts of the world, like in the Middle East, who have not said explicitly that their aim is democracy and we are, without question, supporting them.
Do you feel there is hypocrisy taking place?
If you are a US citizen and your first point of call for war criminals is not your own government, then you do not really have the wider interests of humanity at heart. The US is accused of far more heinous crimes than Joseph Kony. Essentially, this video is encouraging youth to look at things in a very simplistic and damaging way. If you use Joseph Kony 2012 by Invisible Children as the pretext, you can take anyone to any point of the world and say there is a bad person doing something bad to these people – that’s the only explanation you need to give. And then you say the only solution is US military involvement in the land. My God. You can justify anything, absolutely anything. That was the whole idea of the video. It was him explaining to his son the situation in this very simplistic way. There was no intention to explain the wider context of the situation.
It’s not saying this bad thing is happening we need your money to make it better, which is one thing. It is saying we need your money and your voice to expand what is a stated aim of US policy. It’s not as if Africom didn’t happen. That’s what they’ve been trying for years, and it hasn’t been working very well. And this is what the Nato campaign in Libya was largely about: the expansion of Africom. What’s so manipulative and horrible about it, is that they use genuine emotions that people have that are natural. How could you not feel for somebody whose brother has died? People are not made of stone.
What should happen to Joseph Kony?
Kony himself is utterly irrelevant. That’s why it’s so strange. They put Hitler and Bin Laden there [on the poster] and Kony there. Well you know which ideological perspective they are coming from. And you know who they are talking to and who they are talking for, most importantly. Most people who are worried about human life are not going to view the solution as being the US military. The solution has never been US military because it has never worked way, never.
And, finally, why did you delete Twitter?
I find it’s a distraction. Twitter is different to Facebook in that any little thing that people think they just Tweet it, and I would rather not know. I would prefer to concentrate on my music. Saying that, music hasn’t been the number one thing on my mind at the moment, rather than being a good musician or good artist – I’ve been reading a lot – and I would rather be a good and more all round person.
You can find Lowkey on Facebook here
His latest album, Soundtrack to the Struggle can be found on iTunes
Follow me @omar_shahid
Talib Kweli – an internationally renowned American rapper and a celebrity within the hip-hop scene – once said: “I don’t fuck with politics.” Yet, when asked about his views on the upcoming US elections he becomes animated: “Politics is as entertaining as a soap opera. [President] Obama plays an ill political game, if there were no term limits, he would be President for a very long time!” he says. He also expresses his views on the Republican candidates. “Some of the political rhetoric coming out of conservative right in Americasounds like the same thing that set the stage for Nazi Germany.”
Kweli, known for his politically conscious music, has just finished touring the UK with British-born rappers Lowkey and Mic Righteous – also known for their “conscious” lyrics. “I’m not actually that familiar with them,” he admits in his softly spoken voice, perhaps the antithesis of the bravado with which many other rappers speak. “But I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with them.” It is not just his meek voice that stands out, his diction does too. Kweli, the eldest of two sons, grew up in a highly educated household: his mother Brenda Greene is an English professor and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. Isn’t strange, then, that he decided to pursue a career in rap? “My parents are writers and the writers of my generation are rappers,” he says.
During secondary school Kweli met Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey, a Grammy award winning emcee and DJ Hi-Tech, an American producer and rapper. These encounters would prove pivotal to Kweli’s career: in 1998, he combined with Mos Def to release the seminal album Black Star and teamed up with Hi-Tech, to release Train of Thought, both considered hip-hop classics. While the albums didn’t sell millions, they received critical acclaim and earned the respect of many fellow rappers. Now, five solo albums later (although not all of his records lived up to their expectation) Kweli, 36, is married to DJ Eque as of 2009 – and has two children from his former partner Darcel Turner.
Kweli, who insists his name be pronounced “Kwali”, rose to prominence amid the renaissance of Afrocentric, politically motivated hip-hop in the 90s but, since then, there has been an increase in music which – he believes – portrays, “sex and drugs…the gangster lifestyle…and just having a good time.”
“When I first came, hip-hop was about opening people’s consciousness but now even the great lyricists – J Cole, Kendrick Lamar – are rapping more about having fun,” he says. “Kwali” has never had an ostentatious demeanour – the big chains, flash cars and extravagant lifestyle associated with most high-profile rappers doesn’t seem to apply to him. Likewise, his physical features don’t particularly make him distinguishable: he stands at a height of around 5’8 inches and his soft features resemble that of any other Afro-American.
What does he make of the rampant materialism endemic in mainstream hip-hop? “I’m able to differentiate between what an artist creates based on how he grew up and what he creates as an individual. Jay Z the rapper, is different to Sean Carter. The same way as Arnold Schwarzenegger is different to The Terminator. It’s entertainment – I’m not here to judge.”
In a recent radio interview DMX, humorously, talked about why he doesn’t like fellow rapper Drake. What does Kweli think of Drake? “He is a shining example for mainstream artists – he is a really good rapper, singer and he can write, he is like a triple threat.” Many people have criticised Drake and Lil Wayne, both signed to Cash Money, for doing music purely for the money. Kweli disagrees and raises his voice: “I think that’s a very, very unfair, ill-informed criticism. They [the critics] are not really in hip-hop if they think like that. They just listen to the radio and end up getting sick of them and their lyrics. They forget they [Drake, Wayne and Kanye West] come from somewhere – how many people listened to Wayne’s first album? But everybody knows Carter IV.”
Many critics of hip-hop have claimed that it isn’t the “same” and isn’t as “good” as it used to be. Kweli again becomes annoyed: “Why should hip hop be the same? When I was first listening to hip hop in ’87, you had older artists saying this music is shit. The Cold Crust Brothers didn’t like LL Cool J, now he is classic MC. They thought he was a young snotty nose punk. People look at things in their own perspective. If we could all see through the same eyes we would welcome new artists.”
Unlike many of Cash Money’s artists, Kweli’s music has always been synonymous with truthfulness and honesty. His views on the current political climate in America reflect this honesty. “A lot of American’s are greedy and selfish so they only want to listen to these messages [from the Republicans]. He describes these messages as “moronic,” “stupid,” “ignorant”. Kweli then speaks about the problems in American society. “The education system isn’t geared so that we know anything that goes on in the world; it doesn’t set you up to be part of the world either. The reason why America is having a crisis in education, science, and finance, is because we’re not prepared to deal with a world that is interconnected.”
One political movement Kweli has taken an interest in is the Occupy protests. Kweli says that he grew up in a protest culture and believes they are a “natural” part of society. “People aren’t just accepting things as they are; people are peeling layers back and seeing things for how they really are.”
Kweli, like many other black rappers have dabbled in the Five Percent Nation, an American organisation that believes 10% of the world’s inhabitants know the truth of existence, 85% live in ignorance and the remaining five percent know the truth and are determined the spread it. “I’ve got huge respect for the five percent,” he says. “When I was a teenager, I dabbled in the five percent, I also dabbled into Rastafarianism and Islam, I was trying to discover myself. I’m very much in touch with my spirituality now. I don’t claim to follow a particular religion.”
Why has he now disassociated himself from the five percent? “Disassociate is a strong word. I don’t like dogma. Even atheists will disagree with me but there is dogma to atheism, there’s a dogma to the five percent, whether people say there is or not. I would like to take something from every thought process. Nothing turned me off [the five percent] it makes a lot of sense, it makes as much sense as Christianity to me,” he says. “But I’d rather be open to see and receive everything,” he adds.
Shall I tell you a funny story? I went to an event yesterday, called Un-Convention, at the Roundhouse – it was about “looking at political voices and social messages through spoken word, hip hop, social media, art and culture.” There was a series of talks and in one of these talks, called “The politicisation of hip-hop”, Lowkey was suppose to be one of the panelists.
Sat right at the front of the seminar hall were five young girls, four of them wore jumpers, and on the back of these jumpers was stitched LOWKEY. Obviously big fans.
The talk Lowkey was suppose to be featuring in was at 3pm, however, the girls arrived at the event before 11am – the time the event began. At 3pm, the girls moved to the front row of the seminar room, eagerly awaiting Lowkey. There were five seats at the front of the hall for the panelists. Three of the panelists sat down – and then the moderator came. There was one seat empty. Where was Lowkey?
“Quick announcement everybody”, said the moderator, “We’ve just found out Lowkey can’t make it.” “WHAT!” said the girls, frantically looking at each other. “We came here just to see him, that’s all we came for!”
Yeah, so anyway, Lowkey didn’t come and the girls ended up listening to the talk, rather sullenly. After the talk, despite there being two hours left until the event finished, the girls left the building. The end.
LESSON: Don’t come to an event for one person and be careful of idolising a person.
In an age where hip-hop has become synonymous with thoughtless lyrics and violence – the antipode of its origins – Logic, a London-based MC, has set out on a mission to shatter that stereotype with his alliterative first major release True Talk. The album has a clear summer vibe running through it and returns to the raw essence of hip-hop.
Logic is the co-founder, along with fellow MC, Lowkey, of People’s Army – a movement of like-minded people who advocate “positive change”.
While not completely politically motivated, the nucleus of the record is overwhelmingly conscious: the standout track We’ll Never Know, featuring Akala and Maverick Sabre, covers a nexus of socio-political issues. However, the occasional mentions of Freemasons and bloodlines in the album will alert the new wave of conspirators who have emerged within the last few years.
The record, assembled by up-and-coming producer LastResort – who produced Lowkey’s Obama Nation part 2 – has successfully suffused a sense of 90s hip- hop into the album. Listeners would be blameless if, momentarily, they forgot which decade they were in when listening to this throw-back record: Dead Prez is an obvious influence but some of the beats are reminiscent of the immortal sounds of Dr Dre’s Chronic and Ice Cube’s Predator.
While an album should naturally be diverse, Logic has oddly coalesced serious tracks with more facetious ones. He amorously explains his bedroom dealings with his girlfriend in Morphene while, in his most witty track, Animal, says, “I stamp on the beat I’m an Elephant/ I’m an animal/ still I’m a gentleman”.
Naturally, there’ll be comparisons with Lowkey’s album Soundtrack To The Struggle — released six weeks earlier. Unlike Lowkey’s record, Logic’s has one too many forgettable tracks. What’s not forgettable, though, is his incessant call for change and for people to “wake up” as illustrated in his heartfelt track 4 Revolution. In this track Logic says: “So revolution is the next step/ tell them the people are the soldiers they’ll never get.” The biggest criticism, perhaps, is the timing of the record’s release: True Talk has one too many tracks that would be perfect for summer time.
The album is worth the buy, not just because it’s a good record, but because unique artists like Logic deserve the support.
You can buy the album from here
Hip Hop and Rap isn’t always portrayed in the best way: diatribe, misogyny and violence is often linked with the two. However, Restless Beings, a non-profitable charity founded in 2007, decided to bring a nexus of talented Hip Hop artists together to ‘ignite your conscious’ on Saturday night. The event, called Human Writes, was held at Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel, and intended to promote awareness of some of the most neglected communities across the world. “This is not music for the sake of music. It’s music with a message, for charity,” said Mabrur Amhed, co-director and founder of Restless Beings at the event.
“We believe in creativity and visual arts because art is accessible to everybody,” said Rahima Begum who, along with Mabrur, set up the charity. Kayne Anthony, an 18-year-old rapper and one of the standout acts of the night, said: “I think it’s a really good outlet for people to learn something new.” And it’s true. Historically, Hip Hop has been used as an instrument to educate and inspire. “You need music to bring about change. Hip Hop has educated people. Who was Malcolm X? Who was Gandhi? People have found out about them through Hip Hop,” said TY, a prominent rapper in the British hip-hop scene.
At the very front of the hall, on DJ Snuff‘s workstation, hung a Keffiyeh (the ubiquitous black and white scarf that was made popular by the Palestinian resistance movement in the 1960′s). And, although there was probably no real reason why it was there, it was symbolic of what Restless Beings stand for: the fight for human rights.
However, Mohammed Yahya - who along with Sarina Leah, make up the duo Native Sun – elucidated before his performance: “We attach ourselves to certain causes and forget about others. Who knew about the riots in Mozambique [in September]?”
Yahya’s words are indicative of the Restless Beings organization who aim to bring hope to the most marginalised and impoverished people throughout the world – communities often ignored by the mainstream media. Restless Beings, most notably, concentrates on four projects worldwide: Bangladesh street children, the Roma gypsies, the Rohingyas and the Uighur community. To find out more about these projects, click here.
Melissa Melodee, who sung and rapped about: the ephemerality of material possessions, the importance of family and the lack of world justice, praised the work of Restless beings: she said: “I think what they are doing is amazing. I can put them on the same level as Amnesty international. Events like this opens the consciousness of minds of people.”
Femi Santiago, like Melodee, is a singer/ songwriter and performed with Poetic Pilgrimage on stage, he said: “The amazing thing about this type of movement is that it will inspire people to make a stand – whether they attach themselves as part of this cause or create their own cause. And this is how we will evolve as humanity. “
Jimmy Jitsu, a rising star in the UK Hip Hop scene, said: Restless Beings shed light on issues which haven’t been covered. I personally connect with the homeless population in the UK, drug addicts and those with mental illness.
TY tweeted after the event: “I’ve never done a show anywhere in the world and the day after, the audience and the artists are all speaking on twitter. NEVER.”
The atmosphere was, on the whole, palpably friendly. We need more of them.
The event was also graced with performances by: Black the Ripper, Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, Quest-Rah, Poet Curious, Lorianne, Caxton Press and Mangaliso Asi.
Follow Omar Shahid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omar_shahid