Hip-Hop Fridays: Exclusive Q & A With Saigon (Part I)
It is not every day that a Hip-Hop artist comes along who has both Jay-Z and Nas publicly singing his praise. It is even more rare, if ever, that such an artist has spent nearly 7 years in jail, starting at the age of 15. While Jay-Z and Nas were getting ready to blow, he was getting ready to be incarcerated.
But as hard as it may seem for the average image-conscious rap fan of today to accept, 27-year old Saigon shouldn't be judged, even as an artist, by the endorsement he has received by two of the greatest rappers who ever lived, nor by the time he spent behind bars. There is so much more to this human being, who the majority of people are about to meet courtesy of Atlantic Records, when his debut album, "The Greatest Story Never Told" drops this fall.
Backed by some of the hottest production in the business; a major record label that is hungry to establish its presence in its competition with Def Jam; a few years of street buzz and credibility thanks to his presence on the New York City mixtape circuit; and one of the most unique and controversial records to drop this decade - the anti-gang banging, "Color Purple" - Saigon is poised for big things this year, commercially and otherwise.
When BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad named Saigon as one of the four most important rappers on the horizon, he did not do so lightly. He did what he did not only because of what he heard in Saigon's music, but what he saw of his mind and heart, from a distance; and because of his awareness of the time and the critical circumstances that Hip-Hop and Black and Brown youth find themselves in. Important times require important people, and there are clear and not so clear indications that Saigon is one such individual.
His production is of a high quality, with tracks provided by Just Blaze (Saigon is actually signed to the platinum producer's record label) and Alchemist; his lyrical flow and voice is distinct; his content is even more so, with street, political and conscious rhymes put forth with seemingly little effort. But it is what motivates him that is drawing the most attention for this artist on the street, underground and on the Internet. Who else concludes their biography, disseminated by their major record label with the following statement: "I'm gonna do my best to sell records, that's the business I'm in but at the end of the day, I'm gonna maintain my integrity. I have to tell the truth, especially in black and brown communities. It's my duty to open up a few minds."
So despite the bounty of his artistic gifts and attributes - production, lyrical delivery and content - which Hip-Hop fans are about to enjoy at a mass level, if he has his way, it would be primarily his mind, heart, and work among his people, for which Saigon would like to be remembered.
In order to get a better view of the Brother that some say, better than any other today, embodies street credibility, consciousness, and talent; Black Electorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad recently spoke with Saigon for over two hours for a wide-ranging conversation about the rap artist's worldview; his life experiences and vision; and the music industry.
Today we publish Part I of that interview.
Cedric Muhammad: Peace, Saigon how are you?
Saigon: How you doing?
Cedric Muhammad: Good. It’s good to talk to you Brother. First I wanted to say thank you for granting us the honor of interviewing you. I think very highly of you. I see a lot in you and I want to bring some of that out, hopefully with some of these questions.
Saigon: Thank. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Cedric Muhammad: It’s definitely coming from the heart. You are one of the most important, if not the most important artist on the horizon. Now, where are you right now creatively speaking, is the album done?
Saigon: The album is not done. We are in the midst of finishing it. It is about 60% done. More than half way done but, Lord Willing, I will be done by the end of the summer, and I will get it out there to the people. And hopefully they are ready for it because you know I am coming with the truth on this one. I don’t care about radio spins. There is a bigger plight. Know what I mean?
Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now, for the record, what is the name of the album going to be – "The Greatest Story Never Told" or "Letter To Black America"?
Saigon: "The Greatest Story Never Told" is the album title.
Cedric Muhammad: Ok, because I had seen some other information on that.
Saigon: Yeah. That was because they switched it at one point because I had a little conflict with another artist but I settled it and went back to the original title.
Cedric Muhammad: Good. In some of the articles that I have read, I saw some very interesting background information on your name, “Saigon.” And I know a lot of people do not know that history so just for the benefit of our viewers and those who are getting familiar with you, how did that name come about and what is its significance as it relates to Vietnam and Black people?
Saigon: They have always done us dirty in this country but they really pulled some tricks from under their sleeves for that war. These people were using the media and things of that nature to promote (Black people) going over there fighting against the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese people, as a way to prove that you were worthy to be a real American. They ran one Navy ad that said, ‘We Will Take You As Far As You Can Go.’ This was the ad they were giving to the people to get them to join the Army and Navy. And when they went over there to fight it was the natives of Vietnam, in Saigon, who were telling Blacks, ‘this ain’t your war.’ They used to drop pamphlets for the Black soldiers - when they would go to Saigon to f--- with the prostitutes and get drugs – telling them ‘this is not your war.’ I actually have a copy of one of those pamphlets that they were dropping. It is on my DVD. You get to actually see it for yourself. A lot of people are not hip to these kind of things, that the Vietnamese were doing toward Black soldiers. They were telling us, ‘you guys don’t even have civil rights. Y’all are in America fighting for civil rights and you are over here fighting for a country that won’t even let you drink out of a decent f-----g water fountain.’ So it was deep. That city, Saigon, its name had a ring to me. It is a war torn city and there is a lot of history in that city so I figured I would take it as a moniker and the same way that the Vietnamese tried to put Black people on to what was really going on - is what I try to do with my music.
Cedric Muhammad: A friend of mine, often talks to me about prison, time that he served, and that of others, and he frequently makes a point that whenever a person says that they came home from jail or prison, he gently corrects them (to make a point) and tells them ‘well you just went to school.’ So I wanted to ask you since that is such a big part of your background – how did prison shape you and influence the way that you think today?
Saigon: Well, not to dispute what your man said, but, I think it is only ‘school’ if you go there and make it ‘school’. Because honestly speaking most guys don’t go there and make it ‘school.’ That is why recidivism is so high. Most guys go there and lift weights and play basketball, honestly speaking. They get diesel and gain weight, so that they can come home and mess with more women. So you have to take the initiative and teach yourself and don’t use that time in vain. Because what they do, is just like in the streets, the sports thing (is big) in there. They have basketball season where the inmates can join a team and it gets to the point where they put statistics up on the wall so everybody can see how many points everybody is averaging a game. So you have basketball season which lasts two months, then you got baseball season, then you have football. Before you know it a whole year has gone by and you are so entertained by sports that you are not even realizing that you are doing time anymore. So you don’t take time to build your strongest muscle, which is your mind. It is very seldom that people will go there and do that. A lot of people do but most of them don’t.
Most people go there and become Muslims and Five Percenters because it is like a ‘gang’ and they feel they need protection. They are thinking, ‘yeah let me come in here and get down with somebody so if I get into a problem, I’m protected.’ What they don’t realize is that when you join the Five Percenters, become a Muslim, or a member of something, not only do you have protection but if you see another Muslim, for example, get into something, that is your problem now too. You take on the problems of everybody who claims to be part of this certain thing. And when a lot of people are getting down (with these groups) for the wrong reasons - you wind up finding yourself in a beef because a Muslim dude is messing with a chump, or a Five Percenter is on the low really messing with the fags, and now you find yourself right in the middle of that situation.
Not that many people take the initiative to go to jail and learn. Fortunately, I got around some of the right people. Somebody saw something in me. I went to jail on some angry stuff, was wilding out, jumping people, and chasing weed in the yard and all of that. And this one cat named, ‘B.J.’ sat me down and he was like, ‘Man, I see a lot more potential in you.’ And then, these other dudes saw me and were like, ‘Don’t be like me, don’t keep coming to jail your whole life until you are forty and fifty years old. Let this be the last time you come here.’ And you know it stuck with me. First, I was like ‘I don’t want to hear that, I heard that before.’ But this dude (B.J.), he was a powerful dude - this is what made me listen to him. He wasn’t just a dude that was all about peace, he would be a dude who held the whole jail down, nobody disrespected this dude. I was more prone to listen to him because I know that he could have easily gotten somebody stabbed just with his words – by putting a hit out on somebody – because that is the power that he held in the jail. So once I started listening to him, he started giving me books. He had me at 18 years old teaching a Black History class. At 18. And I went to jail with like an 8th grade reading level. I took the initiative to read, learn and study, but not too many people do that.
Cedric Muhammad: There is one article that I have here and I want to read back to you a quote. You are quoted as saying, "My life is the story of Malcolm X. He was Malcolm Little – he was a drug dealer, he was a robber, he was a hood. He went to prison and he became Malcolm X. He came home a whole new man. He came to people and told them this is what’s up, this is what’s really going on, he really wanted to change the world. Saigon’s going to change the world and that’s what makes me different."
That pretty much sums it up. But maybe you could add some details to the relationship between Malcolm X and your life, and the meaning of his life.
Saigon: Yeah, because that is like a perfect example of what we were talking about earlier. Malcolm was,'Dirty Red.’ He was running around pimping, messing with ho’s, frying his hair doing everything like the White man wants us to do, to look like f------g buffoons. Pimping each other, killing each other, gambling, doing everything for a dollar – making us think that money is everything. And they are still doing that right now, with the artists. I think a lot of these artists have done more harm than good – way more harm than good. I look at them like working for the White man almost, for a high price. For a price, you can make them destroy mad young kids’ lives with their music, not to stray off the subject. I feel like that is what a lot of them are doing.
I feel like my life kind of went in the same way as Malcolm’s because I used to be in the streets shooting people, wilding out, bugging, and hurting my people every day. I had no sense of direction. I didn’t even know why I was here. So I just woke up everyday like, ‘how am I going to get high?’; ‘how am I going to get some weed and some 40s and go hang out with my boys on the block?’ That was my life, every day. There wasn’t no setting goals and trying to achieve certain things. It took me to go to prison and have that steel boot of oppression placed on my Adam’s apple before I realized that something wasn’t right with my life. And I see the same people going through all the same situations. We all come from the same neighborhoods. There are no White kids from the suburbs in these prisons. They are not there. They don’t do no crime at all? Come on. There is 220 million White people in this country and only 30 million Blacks. Why do we make up more of the prison population? That don’t make sense. I mean, it is like everything negative in this country, we lead the category in everything detrimental and negative. This is not an accident, this is by design. And it is time for us to step up and say ‘how much of this are we going to take?’ A lot of Black people are complacent because they feel like, ‘OK, we are not being hosed down in the street anymore, with German shepherds being sicked on us’. But we built this country, we deserve more man. And until you step up, a closed mouth don’t get fed. Nobody is going to come offer you anything. We made this country. Our blood and our sweat built this country. There is no reason we should be living in the conditions we live in.
We live in the projects, 50,000 Chinese restaurants on every block. Liquor stores. And we are killing each other every week. Education in the schools is messed up in the inner cities. Somebody has got to step up. Everybody is scared to be a leader because everybody is scared to die. But God ain’t put us here to stay, man. Our lives and time on this earth is temporary anyway. So while you are here you have got to stand for something and try to make it better. I was explaining to somebody the other day, the situation with the Attica riots. And I was like, even though they don’t talk about these dudes, these dudes probably made just as big of a step for us as Black people, as a Martin Luther King and a Malcolm X because the conditions the prisons were in, before those dudes started that riot were terrible, man. These dudes had to eat cold soup out of a can. They couldn’t even heat up their soup. They couldn’t even write their homes and ask for money. It was called soliciting. You weren’t even allowed to ask for help. They were driven so far to a point where they had to be like, ‘you know what, we are not going to take it anymore.’ And they knew that by what they did they were going to die, more than likely. But they made it better for the people who had to go through the conditions after them. If that Attica riot had never happened, when I went to jail, it probably would have been the same conditions. It took somebody to step up and make a sacrifice, to sacrifice their lives. We are so scared now. And we are so complacent. Everybody is thinking about a Benz and shiny chains, and this is what life is to them. Going to the clubs. I am like, man, if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. And I am a man. I have a backbone. Nobody is going to keep pushing me around and keep hurting me without me fighting back, some.
Cedric Muhammad: Another parallel with your and Brother Malcolm’s experience was the mentor relationship that you just mentioned. Malcolm had a mentor in prison as well. You mentioned, B.J. – is that short for Born Justice?
Saigon: Yes, it is.
Cedric Muhammad: Saigon, speak on this. Because there is a big buzz on the street, and I can tell you this personally from my dealing with many members of The Nation Of Gods and Earths, over the title of your album, and the respect that you have for the Father, Clarence 13 X; please just tell me a little bit more about your interaction with the Lessons and how Born Justice exposed you to the Knowledge of Self?
Saigon: Well, you know, it was actually another Brother who exposed me to it. His name was Supreme. But Born - B.J. – actually broke it down for me and let me know what it meant and what it represented. He gave me the history on the Father; he gave me the 120 degrees and all of that. But he let me know, unlike the other Gods were doing – he was like, ‘Look, what Clarence gave us - what the Father gave us - was the 48 Keys.’ And (the purpose of) this was for us to apply it to everyday life. It is not just 120 degrees. You got dudes that have been in the Nation (of Gods and Earths) for ten years and the first thing they ask you is ‘What’s today’s mathematics?’ or ‘How do you see today’s mathematics?’ I’m like, Ok, what is that? They are just in it for the fancy terminology and the Lessons. And I am like ‘why are we still on this?’ Let’s talk about how we fill out resumes when we get out of prison and how we start business and incorporate? The Nation in prison became like a gang. And all of these dudes who were Five Percenters have now become Bloods. That goes to show me something. I think prison kind of hurt what the Nation was about. Because when they were on the street they were using it (The Lessons) to teach and to show Brothers a better way of life, and how we are going to come up out of the situation that we are in. So, (Born Justice) gave me the Lessons but he also stressed, ‘don’t be a lip professor, and don’t get caught up in only talking fancy and parroting.’ He said, ‘A parrot can quote these Lessons but if you don’t understand what you are quoting and what you are saying, then it is to no avail and pretty much useless.’
Cedric Muhammad: Exactly, Saigon. I bear witness to that. Now, there is something that I sense about you but let me preface it with something in the Bible. There is a verse in Hebrews, Chapter 9 verses 16 and 17. And I am going to read it to you from the Amplified translation which is a little clearer than the King James version.
Cedric Muhammad: It says:
"For where there is a [last] will and testament involved, the death of the one who made it must be established, For a will and testament is valid and takes effect only at death, since it has no force or legal power as long as the one who made it is alive."
Cedric Muhammad: And those verses, I have used, in reference to ‘Pac and Biggie’s life, and others have used it. The point is – there are certain people that you can just see by the pattern and experiences of their lives that their life was designed to be an instructive example for the rest of us.
Saigon: Exactly, man.
Cedric Muhammad: And I felt that way, man, when I walked out of that movie, Resurrection with ‘Pac. It was obvious to me Saigon that his life was one of those special lives. Well, I feel the same way in what I’m getting to know about you. And I just wanted to know from the heart, have you ever felt that there is definitely something special going on with you and the experiences that you have had and the way you have been guided?
Saigon: Every day, man. Every day, I wake up. That’s why I can’t make those ‘shake your ass’ songs. As much as I know that’s what works? ‘Girl give me that punny, get up there, shake your ass…’ As much as I know that is what will probably make me platinum, rich and famous – I can’t do it. My conscience won’t let me do it. So I know I have some kind of substance to me, man. I am not scared to lose my life for what I believe in. I just don’t want to die in vain because the media will come and destroy me. If I was to get popular and start to touch a lot of people, and they were to execute me like they do to all of our leaders; they would take the criminal history and every little thing they could find and try to exploit that and make people look at me like, ‘look at him he was a criminal or this or that.’ They try to downplay you. The media can really assassinate your character without really killing you. They will do that. They tried to do that to Tupac. They tried to make it look like Tupac was a mindless thug – a dude who just walked around causing trouble. Like even when he shot the police they don’t ever mention the fact that he was trying to help a Brother that these two drunk cops were harassing. They don’t tell us that part. They just show him at the MGM (hotel in Las Vegas) kicking the dude and getting into a fight. Every time you see (a focus) on his last days that is what they show to make it look like, ‘oh look, a gang member killed him, he just had this fight with a gang member.’ But they know the power he had and possessed. And that is how they confuse us about him. If you ask people why they like Tupac, the majority of them don’t know. I’ve seen dudes who really shout out, ‘Tupac this…’ and ‘Tupac that…’ and you ask them, ‘why do you like ‘Pac?’ and they respond, ‘Uh, he was dope – he had a dope song. I liked Juice and this other movie…’ And they don’t even realize what this dude was about. They don’t really see what his plight was. The media don’t let you pick that up.
Like this dude, Brian Nichols, for example. I don’t really agree with what he did, but did you see how quick the media downplayed that? But they will show Michael Jackson every five minutes in the news? This dude snatched a gun, shot the judge, shot everybody, ran out and killed an FBI agent. This should have gotten way more media coverage that Michael Jackson allegedly touching a little White boy. But they don’t want that (the image of Brian Nichols) to spark a revolutionary mind. That was a revolutionary move. No matter how you look at it, what this dude did was some really going against the system. That is like a slave killing a master, real talk. Know what I mean?
Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now you said something that I have never seen a rapper say (overtly) before Saigon, the way you did. I used to manage Wu-Tang Clan and one of the things that I had hoped for, was more artists thinking like this. I think RZA felt like this although he and I never talked about it directly. You said something to the effect that you are using rap to become a Black leader. I think that is thorough and shows the level of discipline and priority you have. And I just want to know a little more of how you think that would go – how rap would set you up as a Black leader?
Saigon: Ok, it’s like, rappers are the voice of the Ghetto right now. If Jay-Z says, ‘ hey put on a button down shirt’, the next day in the hood you are going to see a million button down shirts. If 50 Cent says, ‘hey put on a bullet proof vest…’ I’ve seen dudes put on vests that weren’t even bullet proof (laughter). Just for the look. And that is how important these people have become, as far as a voice. Because we really don’t have a voice so they become our voice. If I am in that position to talk to millions of people, I ‘m not going to lead these dudes to damnation, which most of these artists are doing. I’m ‘a let ya’ll know what’s going on. I’m a hip you all to some of the tricks that’s being played on you. I’m a let you know that we have to get the guns out of our community. We have to stand up and be like, ‘hey, why are there drugs here?’ There is a war on terror and a mother f-----g A-rab can’t get into this country without them knowing exactly why you are coming here, who you are here to see, where you are coming from, but the war on drugs – you are telling me there is tons of cocaine that just slips under your nose? Get out of here. That don’t make no sense. And it is up to us to step up. Like I said - a closed mouth don’t get fed. And if you are just going to sit around and just act like you don’t see these things, you are a coward, you don’t have any backbone or you are ignorant to the fact of what is going on. And there are a lot of doors that are closing in people’s minds and I feel like if I have an opportunity to open some of those doors, I ‘m going to do it.
That is why I make songs like ‘Shok TV’, ‘Kiss The Babies’ and ‘Color Purple’. One girl came to me the other day and she was like, "I love your song ‘Color Purple’, it is so deep but if you think that is going to change something you are crazy." I said, ‘Look, if I saved one life with that song; and if one kid hears that song and gets out of a gang, I did my job.’ It can be one kid. I made a difference. I made a change, man. I know I can’t change the world by myself, but you know what I can do? I can be that first brick in the foundation. I just don’t want to be downplayed and die in vain, man. I just don’t want people to think I was here talking some ol’ fake revolutionary crap, and not being about it. Because like I said, the media will assassinate you and make you look like an imbecile.
I know they are watching me and seeing what I am saying. They keep their spies on us – the CIA and everything. They watch everything they do. They love 50 Cent. 50 Cent works for them. These dudes work for them because they poison the hood. It is just like when Freeway Ricky was given all of the drugs to flood South Central L.A., it is the same thing except it ain’t heroin, its music, terrible music. It is the same thing. And who really makes the profit off of this music? Not the artist. The artist makes chicken scratch compared to what these executives make. They don’t have to worry about their lives being in danger. They don’t have to worry about some kid who hears a 50 Cent record who gets hyped, drunk and goes out and shoots up a party. They don’t have to worry about that because that is not in their neighborhood. It doesn’t matter to them. They live in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, the Hamptons. That is not around there. It is just like in the hood. Let somebody go stand on a corner and sell drugs. He can get an eight or nine month run on that corner before they knock him. Some dudes get two year runs on the corner, before they take them to jail. I have had the luxury of living in the ghetto and in the suburbs. Go to the suburbs and stand on the corner. You won’t have a two-day run. Police will be there, ‘what are you doing on this corner sir?’ The next day somebody is going to call the police and say, ‘there is a guy standing on the corner – he has been on the corner for two hours.’ You will be off that corner very, very fast. And in the hood they are not going to tell you to get off of the corner. Their attitude is, ‘Hey you guys love this – here go stand on the corner, poison your people for a few more months; we are going to come and get you though, we are going to make some money off of you, and then ruin your life, give you a criminal history and then you are a statistic, we gotta’ keep our system moving. We got to keep these jails booming.’
Jail is a big business. That’s the free labor. You don’t think they want that free labor? Jails are owned by private corporations in New York state. That is free labor. And these same dudes are the ones who are on these parole panels. Now when a person goes up for parole – this dude could have been in jail for ten years. You look at his crime and then you look at his record in jail. He might not have that bad of a record. If you are in a hostile environment you are going to get into a few little things. But they are going to say, ‘Hmmm, your crime was so heinous, we don’t think you are remorseful.’ Now you think a person is not going to be biased when it comes time to let go of their free labor? Do you really think they are going to let their free labor go? Hell no. So, they are going to say, ‘here, hit him with 24 more months.’ These parole boards are out of control! Nobody talks about it, but these parole boards in New York State - 40 people will go before a parole board and 3 people will get let go. It is to the point now, that when dudes go to the board they automatically know that they are going to get hit. The numbers are like 40 to 2; or 38 people go in front of the board and only 5 people make it. 52 people go before the board and 4 people make it. Y’all aren’t letting nobody go.
People don’t realize how much free labor goes on in there. School desks for the schools are made in jail. Street signs. License plates. When you go on the highway and you see a sign that says a town is 30 miles ahead, that was made in prison. Now, if they get (un-incarcerated) people on the street to pay for these things they are going to be coming out of their pocket. But when, you can just give a prisoner 35 cents an hour (in compensation), you are coming off! Know what I’m saying? Slavery. Slavery. All day long.
Cedric Muhammad: Now when you mention Black leaders and I know you have alluded to a few things, just so I know what there may be for you in the way of a model or what you respect, in terms of certain principles - who are some of the leaders that you respect from your reading, study, observation and interaction?
Saigon: Toussaint L’ Ouverture, I respect him a lot. He was like one of the first people to revolt against slavery – a Haitian guy. There is Malcolm X of course who used to go in Harlem streets with a megaphone and preach to the people in the hood, letting them know what was going on and how we needed to change. Martin Luther King, even though I don’t agree with his strategy I agree with his courage to go against the grain like that. I mean, (he was working) at a time when you are going against a powerful enemy, man. This is the most powerful enemy in the world – the White Man, the super power. The White man that killed all of the Indians. The White man that did the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The White man that shows you he is a brutal killer. You know what I mean? He will kill you with biological warfare. He will kill you with a gun. He will kill you with anything to get ahead. So you are going against that when you take a stand or say that something is not right or that we are not being treated fairly. I respect Nat Turner. I respect anybody who takes a stand and revolts against what is wrong - anybody who takes a stand and goes against oppression. I respect Stic.man and M1 of Dead Prez. I feel like they are Black leaders. I feel like if you go back and listen to their albums, they sacrificed a lot. They knew what they had to do on Loud (Records) to really pop off, but you know what, I remember when they played their album for Fat Joe the first time, and Fat Joe was like, ‘This ain’t y’all album, y’all are kidding me.’ They were like, ‘This is our album man, Let’s Get Free out this mother f----r’ (laughter). Like let’s free our mind state and let’s start thinking, as Black people. As smart as we are, we can dribble a basketball through our legs, twist around in the air and dunk that shit – we can do a lot more shit than that. We are not even using a bit of our potential.
Cedric Muhammad: Well, I think you stepped up, with the record, ‘Color Purple’
Cedric Muhammad: There wasn’t nobody who stepped in the gap that was of your age. But for somebody to be your age and step up and confront that and still have some compassion and love for those who are still in the street organizations, that took a lot. So you will always have my respect for that alone.
Saigon: Thank You man, I appreciate that.
Cedric Muhammad: No, I’m serious and I want to back you up on that. So, how did that song come about? And what has been your take on the controversy over it and maybe some of the reaction you have gotten from Bloods and Crips?
Saigon: It came about when I started to see how fast it was spreading from the streets of L.A. – just the Bloods and Crips, only them, because gangs have been around for a minute. I did it to combat the artists, media and powers that be who were spreading it -that made this gang epidemic, which is what I love to call it. It spread from one coast to another. It ain’t like it just hit L.A., then ended up in New York. It actually spread across the country, and ended in New York, and this is the end before you hit the Atlantic Ocean, you know what I’m saying? So I’m like, ‘how did it spread?’ That was my question – ‘how did this happen?’ Then I realized – it spread through movies, it spread through music, it spread through the media. We didn’t know what Bloods and Crips was over here until we seen that movie, ‘Colors.’ We didn’t know what that was. Then we started learning about gangs- a Blood and a Crip. The kids really didn’t get up on it until they started watching these movies. And then you have got it in the music now to where they associate a dance with being a Crip – the Crip walk. So now I am like, they are really using this shit to promote it and make it look cool. And that is what made it so easy for so many people to get down with it and be a part of it. It felt like something that was acceptable. And then the next thing you know, if you know what gangs do – they kill, shoot and fight over territory. So I’m like if they are going to use the media to spread it, I’m going to try and use the same media to stop it. You got to fight fire with fire. I had to let these kids know that this shit ain’t cool, it ain’t the way. I done had Bloods and Crips, the dude Bone, Fab 5 Freddy (all acknowledge Saigon for "The Color Purple").
That song created so much attention for me. The label didn’t know what to do with it. I had that song before I got signed and I went to the label like, ‘yo, man we can really do something big with this, we could start a whole ‘stop gang bangin’ campaign with this; ya’ll want some press? We can get press with this if y’all want to go ballistic with it.’ And they were like, "ah,uh,uh, where’s your ‘shake your booty’ record?" I’m like come on. But nobody really wants to save lives. (Their mentality) is, ‘we get paid more off of destroying lives, so why should we try to start saving people, when we are getting paid telling mother f-----s to go drink and go have unprotected sex - like, shit, we are good, we are getting rich, that shit ain’t affecting us!’ You go to any White state, Montana, Utah, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Iowa, those states have an almost zero AIDS rate compared to where ever you have Black people – New York, Chicago, Miami, L.A., that’s where you find all of the AIDS at. Something ain’t right here. You telling me that’s a coincidence? We are the only ones fu----g? Nah. We are the only ones shooting heroin? Come on, this is by design. And if you don’t believe in biological warfare, go find a Native American and ask them what happened to their people and they will tell you, ‘we have been exterminated by smallpox, by typhoid fever – it was put in our blankets.' This is the same animal we are dealing with, god. Ain’t nothing changed but the date. People like to say, ‘Oh no, those were those days.’ Come on, nobody changes like that. Your mentality doesn’t change over night. (People) act like they woke up one day and was like, ‘we are sorry, we are cool, everything is back to normal, everything is cool, we live in peace and harmony, let freedom ring.’ Get the f—-k out of here. I ain’t buying that shit.
Cedric Muhammad: One of the things that I really appreciated about the ‘Color Purple’, was like I said, was its timing, and the fact that you rose up and had the courage to do that. Now, I love what you have been saying about ‘Tookie’ Williams (the original co-founder of the Crips) and in a lot of ways you are really following in his footsteps in being courageous enough to stop that, I just wanted to know – one, what was your view of him and two, did you know that two weeks ago in San Quentin, he and Minister Farrakhan met?
Saigon: Oh naw, I didn’t know that.
Cedric Muhammad: Yeah that was heavy, it was in The Final Call recently. But what is your view of Tookie?
Saigon: Man, I commend and take my hat off to that Brother because he is another one who changed his life around, for one. And not to say that (the process) is done, it is yet to be proven because he is still incarcerated, but look at what he does (from prison) – he writes children’s books and he does all that he can to let these kids know. And as powerful as he is, he could be using these kids on the street to sell drugs for him. He is like a god! And he is telling these dudes, ‘Look cut it out. This is not what this started out as.’ Even though it has become that, and he was part of the problem in the beginning of it, that wasn’t what the gangs were all about back then. It was all about togetherness and (some of it ) was trying to follow in the footsteps of the Black Panthers and groups of that nature. And trying to come up out (of a bad circumstance), and help one another instead of killing one another. So I commend him in trying to get his word out there and let people know that killing one another has to stop. It has to stop.
If Black-on-Black crime was not so efficient...do you know how much we destroy ourselves with this shit? It is like I have so many dead friends and all of them were killed by another Black person. Everybody I know in the hood who got shot was shot by another Black person. I know one kid who a cop killed. Everybody else I know that was murdered was murdered by a Black person. Now, I am only one person. Imagine everybody else who is in the same boat as me. You have got to go to the root of it because the root started in slavery when we were instilled with self-hatred. Killing a person who looks like you is almost like killing yourself because you were taught to hate yourself. You have been taught that you are ugly, that everything Black is negative. So to kill another Black person is nothing. It is like in the projects - if a Black mother f----r walks through the projects and nobody knows him, niggas is ready to beat him down, check him, ‘Who you here to see nigga? Whose girl you f-----g?’ And they are ready to attack them, they are not ready to embrace them, right away. If a White mother f----r walks through the projects everybody automatically assumes he must be an authority figure, so, ‘we are not gonna’ f-—k with him, he might be somebody’s P.O. (Probation Officer), he’s probably a cop.’ So nobody messes with him. Now that is backwards to me, man.
It is the same thing in jail. Not to differentiate between Spanish and Blacks; but I just want to show how messed we are from slavery – but when a Black person comes to a new jail, (Black) mo’ f----rs are looking at him to see what he got to see what they can take. But when a Puerto Rican comes, the Puerto Ricans are looking to see if he has got anything to see what he needs. “Do you need some shampoo? Do you need some cosmetics, you need soap – are you straight Brother?” But with us, its like, ‘Damn, what this nigga got that I can take from him?’ (laughter) And that makes me sad to see that.
Like, why are we the only people in the world that can’t look at each other?
The other day, I’m on the train and I ‘m looking at this little kid and he is scared to look me in my face. I can tell he keeps catching eye contact with me, and he then he will turn his head, because he automatically assumes that I’m going to be like, ‘What the f—k you lookin at?’ We are the only people that if you look at a person too long it’s a problem. I ain’t never seen two business White men on the train like, ‘What you lookin at? You got a problem with me, man?’ or two Chinese men arguing over a look. A mo’ f----r might like your shirt, or your haircut – God gave us eyes to look. If you look at a baby, babies stare at everything because they are internalizing everything they see. If you are a person about growing and developing, you are analytical, you look at shit. With us its like, ‘What the f—-k this nigga looking at, son?’ You know how many niggas I know who got into an altercation or shoot out because, a nigga was looking at them, son? ’Nigga was grilling me, son.’ And I’m like, grilling you? Did he say anything, did he touch you? And the answer is, ‘No, but niggers can’t be lookin at me like that!’ But let a cop come come stare at this same person. A cop can stare at you, tell you to lay down on the floor, kick you in the back and you’ve got no beef with that.
Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now, do you listen to Star and Buc Wild at all?
Saigon: Uh, naw.
Cedric Muhammad: Well, about two weeks ago, Star had a show topic called, "Will The Negro Do For Self?" And he called me up and invited me to participate in a dialogue with him, during commercial breaks and through e-mail, and so we were building with one another and going back and forth over a lot of different research material and factors that pertained to that question. He had a very thoughtful discussion that day on his show. But that question - setting aside the word ‘Negro’ for a moment, because I know people have different meanings and views associated with it – in light of what you have just put forth and how it relates to our unique condition coming up from slavery, when do you think, if at all, we will do for self?
Saigon: Man, I am hoping, it is like wishful thinking. Because the number one reality is that I honestly think - and this is why I love my name, ‘Saigon’, because its a war torn city. Sometimes I feel like I am at war with my conscience, because I feel like I am fighting a battle that I can’t win. It is like a battle that no matter what you do, you are just not going to win. And I know that I am going to fight until I die, a war that I know I can’t win because my Brothers are so f---ed up in the head. Like, I am willing to sit here and risk my life and nothing is ever going to change. Because, number one, I don’t think that they will actually let us come up to a point where they will actually let us compete with them. I think they will blow up the world before they let us get to that point. That is why, I am like, at times, ‘I’m about to just go and try and get this money’. But then I’m like ‘Nah.’ My conscience won’t let me. Because once you are conscious of something, it is like touching a hot stove when you know it will burn you. Before you know it is hot you put your hand on it. After you learn, you won’t put your hand on it. So it is like, do I see us coming up out of this and things getting better? I won’t see it. My children won’t see it. Their children probably won’t see it but hopefully, Lord Willing, it probably could happen, but realistically speaking, Ced, I doubt it man.
Number one, we have been indoctrinated by a people. As Black Americans, we weren’t only trained, we went through acculturation. We had everything stripped of us, our culture, who we were. It would take some serious reprogramming for us to get on the right path because we hate each other. Black people, I can honestly say, hate each other man. There is so little bit of love amongst our own people. Look how we treat our women. We don’t even take care of our kids, man. Us, as men we have dropped the ball so much. Our parents dropped the ball. But you have got to think of who they really are. Our parents went through the Civil Rights Movement, there parents went through sharecropping, and there parents were slaves. We are just learning what our parents taught us.
I’m 27, when my generation, doesn’t know nothing and we got our kids growing up being raised by MTV, and these channels that make you feel like its cool for two women to be married and two men to be together, and that is not weird to them, and its cool for us to be killing one another in all of these violent movies, and video games – things are getting worse. We grew up with thirteen channels. I remember when cable first came out. These kids now have 400 hundred channels on TV. So they are way more out of tune with their culture than we were. We knew a little bit about being Black when we were growing up. We had the James Brown song, ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud.’ We had those (type of songs). We have seen people wear natural Afros. Yo, do you know how hard it is to find a girl without a perm nowadays?
Cedric Muhammad: Tell me about it. Tell me about it…
Saigon: Or without a weave? I am like what is all this weave shit? Come on, B. Like, where did all of this come from? Why do all of you all feel like you need long straight Black hair like the White woman?
Cedric Muhammad: Yo, you know what’s crazy, we just saw that one of the new websites linking to BlackElectorate.com is NaturalHairDigest.com. I couldn’t even believe it was out there. But you are right.
Saigon: That’s crazy to me. That shows you how we have an identity crisis. We don’t even know how to identify who we are. We don’t know who we are, man. And there are so few people who are like me and yourself who are aware of certain things and then when we try and come and teach these young kids, they don’t want to hear none of that. They want to hear, ‘DipSet, DipSet!, Bang on the left, Bang on the right.’ That’s why a lot of people say to me, ‘you contradict yourself in the music, one minute you are positive and the next minute it is negative.’ But, if I didn’t do that nobody would pay attention to me at all. And I seen Dead Prez make that mistake and I told them, ‘You have to come to the people as they are.’ Like the Father did. The Father taught the kids mathematics by shooting dice with them. He didn’t come as, ‘I’m smart and you’re dumb.’ But when you just preach, that’s what it makes it seem like. And nobody wants to be preached to like that. You have to come to the people as they are.
Cedric Muhammad: He spoke their language…
Saigon: Exactly, you have to speak their language. Jesus hung out with thieves, murderers, robbers and prostitutes. He didn’t come like, ‘I’m holy. I’m Jesus Christ, I’m a Prophet and you’re a beast, so we can’t deal.’ He came to the people like, ‘Yo, son, let me put you on to something, man.’ And that is why I make those kind of records, but even when I make those records I do it in such a subliminal way, if you listen there is still a message in it. There is still a message in it. That is the way I get people to pay attention to me. Because if you can’t get a person’s ear, then all your shit is in vain.
Cedric Muhammad: Now tell me as much as you would like about the Abandoned Nation Foundation. You have got the floor.
Saigon: Yeah, the Abandoned Nation Foundation is something I started while I was in prison. It was just an idea and then it began to flourish because I had a lot of friends who I left back there who have children, and they were sending me letters like, ‘Yo, if you could check my wife out...’ They knew what kind of guy I was. A lot of guys, you aren’t going to send no guy to go meet with your wife and you are in prison for ten years. And you are a big muscular handsome guy whose just getting out and you know how women take the guys who just got out, they want to sleep with them. But these guys trusted me enough to go to their house and check up on their situation. You know what I mean?
Cedric Muhammad: That’s heavy.
Saigon: Yeah. That alone let me know that these dudes believe in me, man.
Cedric Muhammad: They really see you as a Brother.
Saigon: As a Brother, exactly. And it started out, with me helping out because I was broke. I was like, ‘Here’s ten dollars. Here’s fifteen dollars’ And it was like four different kids I was doing this for. I was like, ‘Damn, man, if we could start some kind of foundation, we could do this instead of four kids, for forty kids. And then four hundred kids, and then four thousand kids.’ That right there would be a great help because it would keep the family structure intact. Because the child is like, ‘Man, I’m getting these things and I know they are not coming from my mother, they are coming from my Father.’ And the same could be true if your Mother is incarcerated – which we don’t talk about enough. But the woman prison population is growing as well. But if my mother is locked up and I am being raised by my grandmother and she is like, ‘Here is these sneakers from your mother.’ You don’t start to resent your mother so much. Because I know one of the most popular jokes growing up in the ghetto when somebody’s mother or father was incarcerated was, ‘that’s why your daddy is a jailbird.’ Subliminally you start to not like your father because you feel like you are being teased off of something that he did. That breaks up the family structure. They grow up not liking their father, not even realizing why he went to jail. Not even looking at the unjust laws. They don’t even look at that. So I am thinking, they don’t make enough money to send money home, so if we can start programs where we can get tangible goods – clothes, books – to give to these kids – it keeps the family structure intact. And that’s what we have to do. We have to live more like the Jews. Not as far as being greedy capitalists, but more in terms of being more structural so that we take care of one another. We spend almost $500 billion annually in this country and we don’t have shit. That don’t make sense. And you know why? We go buy the Nike sneakers, the Addidas, the Mercedes Benz car and we don’t own shit. With all of this money we spend we still don’t own nothing. We gotta look like the dumbest (people). You go to any Black neighborhood and find me a Black business, not a Jamaican restaurant – I mean an African-American business. We might have two soulfood restaurants in the whole Bed Stuy, but you got 40 million Chinese restaurants. And you got 30 Arab Kennedy Fried Chicken joints. Then you got all of these Spanish nail shops. This is a Black neighborhood – where all all of the Black businesses at?
Cedric Muhammad: It looks like the United Nations.
Cedric Muhammad: Everybody’s got their flag up but us.
Saigon: But us. In our neighborhood. In our hood, taking our money. You go to a Jewish neighborhood, they are not going to no Chinese restaurants. What, are you kidding me? They are eating Maza Balls, B. All day. They are not going to spend any money at the Kennedy Fried Chicken. You might have one rebellious Jew who does that, you know what I mean (laughter)? And he feels like he is rebelling against what he is supposed to be doing. He’s like‘F-—k that I’m going to be down with the Blacks.’ And that one will go and step outside of their circle. But they understand the importance of economy. We actually create the economy. The only way we can go and hurt these mo---- f-----rs? We can’t go and pick up guns. The only way we can finally make them show their true colors and come to the table and reason with us and fix our communities (is through economics)...that’s my whole beef. Fix up the community man. That’s it. When I go to the ghetto and I see some of the living conditions, people shouldn’t live like that in America where there is all of this money here. Fix up people’s living conditions man. Start telling us the truth. Start letting us learn on our own. That is my big qualm. It ain’t like I want to kill the White Man. Nah, I’m not a racist, I’m not like that, but fair is fair. Be fair all the way around the board. Don’t tell us, everybody is free and everybody is equal, meanwhile you are making us live in these slums, and you got us living in some harsh f---ed up living conditions, while you live good. That don’t make sense. We aren’t the same or equal – equal how? This ain’t equal to me. And we have got to start economizing to start trying to save our money, start some Black businesses and recycle some of this money in our neighborhoods so we can start having our own.
End Of Part I
Friday, July 15, 2005
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