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Hip-Hop Fridays: The "Consciousness" Of Wu-Tang Clan, Suge Knight and Jay-Z Part 2

con·scious (knshs)
1a. Having an awareness of one's environment and one's own existence, sensations, and thoughts. See Synonyms at aware.

b.Mentally perceptive or alert; awake: The patient remained fully conscious after the local anesthetic was administered.

2. Capable of thought, will, or perception: the development of conscious life on the planet.

3.Subjectively known or felt: conscious remorse.

4.Intentionally conceived or done; deliberate: a conscious insult; made a conscious effort to speak more clearly.

5.Inwardly attentive or sensible; mindful: was increasingly conscious of being watched.

6.Especially aware of or preoccupied with. Often used in combination: a cost-conscious approach to further development; a health-conscious diet.

In psychoanalysis, the component of waking awareness perceptible by a person at any given instant; consciousness.

[From Latin cnscius : com-, com- + scre, to know; see skei- in Indo-European Roots.]

In Wu-Tang, Suge Knight and Jay-Z, we see at least three diferent aspects of consciousness. How is consciousness defined?

con·scious·ness (knshs-ns)

1.The state or condition of being conscious.

2. A sense of one's personal or collective identity, including the attitudes, beliefs, and sensitivities held by or considered characteristic of an individual or group: Love of freedom runs deep in the national consciousness.

3a. Special awareness or sensitivity: class consciousness; race consciousness.

3b. Alertness to or concern for a particular issue or situation: a movement aimed at raising the general public's consciousness of social injustice.


Suge Knight. In part of a recent documentary on the establishment and evolution of Death Row Records Suge Knight makes the following statement which has a direct relevance to the subject that we have been writing about. He says, "I think the most important thing in my situation is that I wasn't coached. I think that if a person is coached about the business they will continue to make the same mistakes that other entrepreneurs have been making all along." As with other "conscious" paradigm shifters, Suge Knight in many respects broke the mold. And he did so because he did not accept the status quo and he was not conditioned, trained or miseducated according to the prevailing norm or pattern of the music business. This all goes back to a point that we made which challenges the popular notion in the Hip-Hop community that "consciousness" is exemplified by an artist that includes a positive message in their rhymes or who espouses rhetoric that in political circles is deemed to be "radical" or "revolutionary". It is important for those of us who are members of the 30-year old Hip-Hop community to consider the viewpoint on this subject from the men and women who lived through the 1960s and 70s and participated in the actual struggles that many "conscious" Hip-Hop artists are infatuated with. As an example, although I disagreed with his estimation of the value of "conscious" Hip-Hop artists like Public Enemy I did benefit from the perspective of a well-known political prisoner, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, who I met some years ago. Dhoruba Bin Wahad told me and many others that he had very little respect for Hip-Hop artists who were becoming famous and respected partly through the use of references to the 60s and 70s in their raps. He stated forthrightly that weaving cliches and phrases from that era into music does not make one a revolutionary. Interesting. In Suge Knight, we see another challenge to the artist-rhetorictician-as-the-embodiment-of consciousness. Suge's unorthodox approach in confronting aspects of the institutionalized economic structure of the music industry which is based largely on Black human capital, is clearly "conscious" and in many respects arguably more influential, liberating and positive in terms of protecting the future of Black art than a collection of conscious albums.

Wu-Tang. With the Clan an example of what the power of unity and organization through a degree of mastery and understanding of a body of knowledge can produce. Through the years of apparent chaos, volatile personalities and creative evolution, many have missed the point as to why 9 young Black men, for nearly a decade, and under 30 through the vast majority of those years, were able to stay together and represent a united front in both creative, legal and business aspects of the music industry. I often wonder why the fact that Wu-Tang's unity, through all of the trials and tribulations, is not a primary topic of conversation when the group's value, impact and influence is not discussed. The reason, from my perspective, for the group's unity and success, is the individual and joint study, use, and application of the Lessons of the members of what is popularly known as the 5% Nation Of Islam. The Lessons or "the 120" as they are commonly referred to, were the paradigm by which almost every single idea, strategy and tactic formulated and implemented by the original 9 Clan members with the guidance of RZA (1 of the 9), Power, Divine and Mook. I cannot remember one business decision, creative idea or legal negotiation that I was part of while I was general manager with Wu-Tang that was not internally discussed and contemplated, at least tangentially, from the perspective of the Lessons. From the use of the Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabets; to discussions and cipher sessions; and to the famous "Clan meetings" the worldview of the 5% Nation Of Islam was influential in every thing that the Clan did and it certainly was the source of the vision that RZA laid out. And this includes "Park Hill Day", which we organized in the 1990s once a year in honor of the Park Hill projects that many of the Clan members were from, I do not know of any other rap group that regularly, over a period of at least 4 years, fed more people in the innercity - physically and mentally.

For a period of years I was present as the Clan hosted what was called "The Feast of the 12 Jewels" based upon "the 12 Jewels of Islam":

1. Knowledge
2. Wisdom
3. Understanding
4. Freedom
5. Justice
6. Equality
7. Food
8. Clothing
9. Shelter

In one such "Feast of The 12 Jewels" in Chicago, Illinois, that I helped to organize, the Clan helped to feed over 1,000 people in a single day with righteous food and presentations from youth and spiritual leaders including Minister Ishmael Muhammad, Assistant Minister to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan at the Nation Of Islam's Mosque Maryam, pan-African leader Conrad Worrill, and Rev. Albert Sampson, a popular pastor in Chicago who was ordained by Dr. Martin Luther King. The event took place at Operation Push headquarters and was graciously hosted with the permission of Rev. Jesse Jackson, who welcomed us on the morning of the event. Over the time period from the mid to late 90s, I do not know of a Hip-Hop group, before or since, that was able to physically and mentally feed and educate as many young people as Wu-Tang did at rallies and events like these that the Clan quietly organized and supported with its own financial resources.

Jay-Z. Here is what we wrote about the Jay-Z/R.Kelly collaboration last week and specifically Jay-Z's role in the monumental project:

With the power of his human capital -his talent, and the unity with his Brother, R. Kelly, he is shaking the foundation of two corporate conglomerates. Is this pure "capitalism" like some who seem only able to see Jay-Z in a materialistic light may describe it,or is it one of the greatest power moves in Black music history that we are looking at?

Here is part of what writer Shaheem Reid wrote of the major press conference held in New York City yesterday to announce The Best Of Both Worlds project and release date. Note the substance of the quote from Jay-Z, which we have put in boldface:

And if Jay and Kelly can put their egos to the side long enough to wrap up and promote their album, then their labels - Def Jam and Jive, respectively - can surely figure out a way to join forces and make cheddar together. As determined by a coin toss, the album will be distributed on Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam in the U.S. and Canada, while Jive will handle distribution internationally.

"[We hope this is] a trend for more unity for black people on a whole," Jay told the crowd. "You've got a cab company, I've got a cab company, we're fighting for the same money? Maybe we can join forces..."


We end this two-part series with an e-mail that we received from some of our viewers in the United Kingdom in reference to Part 1 of this series. The e-mail focuses on an experience that some of our viewers who are concert promoters in the UK, had with Jay-Z and Suge Knight.

Here is what these Brothers and Sisters from overseas had to say in response to what we wrote in Part 1:

We passed this article to 16 different people, including the editors of the 'voice' and 'new nation', respectively Britains biggest black read newspapers.

This article was so well constructed and argued that it needs to be read over and over again by anyone who is interested in the liberation struggle of black people from a financial, historical and music industry perspective.

From a personal perspective I have never believed the often unjustified 'hating' of Suge Knight or for that matter Jay-Z.

As an owner of four music establishments and a record label I can state that I have dealt with both Jay Z personally and Suge Knight via telephone hook ups. For the record, Suge Knight 'gave' me Snoop, Dre and Lady of Rage to promote via concerts in the UK in 1993 on the basis that we were a strong well run Black company. This at a time when when the power structure that controls this entity were offering an equal amount to death row at the time.

Suge even declined the usual deposit. His then wife, Sharitha, collected the full amount upon arrival into this country.

We sold out venue after venue. In October 1999 Jay Z arrived in the UK and was approached by myself to participate in a charity event that was raising money for sickle cell anaemia. Even though he was clearly tired he
attended the event 5 hours later and performed three tracks in front of a
crowd of 1900 under 18's, 90% of whom were Black.

We handed over a cash payment to Dr. Nicky Thomas, who heads the sickle cell unit at St. Thomas hospital in London, of £18672.00. ($27634).

Suge & Jay-Z unconcious?

I really don't think so.

Thanks once again for an article of great stature.

p.s. the above mentioned charity events which are always sold out were
attended in 1998/99 by Puffy, 112, Dru Hill, Mr. Vegas, Bounty Killa.

For the sake of 'positivity' I will not mention four of the 'concious' acts
that were downright rude and aggressive when asked.

Signed by:

Ralph Daley, Richard Irving, Colin Muhaummad, Davina Davis, Oscar Frome &
Emily Bronckhurst

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, January 25, 2002

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