Hip-Hop Fridays: Exclusive Q & A With Ernie Paniccioli, Hip-Hop Photographer-Author, “Who Shot Ya?” (Part I)
On February 24, 2004 I had the experience of witnessing a unique and riveting presentation of culture and history, conducted by Ernie Paniccioli, before an enthusiastic auditorium of young students at the Lord Stirling Community School in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The man referred to by many as “the dean of Hip-Hop photographers”, used a portion of his vast volume of Hip-Hop photography, taken over 30 years, as part of an interactive, "call-and-response" slide presentation, to lovingly educate, inspire and even add discipline to his enthusiastic audience. Using exclusive photographs of 50 Cent, B2K, Tupac, TLC, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Kim, Queen Latifah and many, many more; Mr. Paniccioli taught students, barely in their teens, profound lessons about Black history, the music business, natural identity, economics, family values, respect, politics, and creative and critical thinking. It was a mesmerizing experience for many, including professional educators who were present.
Ernie Paniccioli, most recently garnered critical acclaim for his Hip-Hop photobook, “Who Shot Ya?”, edited by Kevin Powell, which features three decades of Hip-Hop photography. But his careful witnessing and documenting of a cultural phenomenon is only part of who this man is. A Cree Indian, born in New York City, who would later serve in Vietnam; the “Hip-Hop photographer” that many know in public; is a proud father and husband who is even more passionate about “waking up” the uninformed, and taking care of his family and tribe than he is about his unique talent; which has enabled him to chronicle arguably the most powerful cultural phenomenon to emerge in the last 40 years.
BlackElectorate.com publisher, Cedric Muhammad, spent an afternoon with Ernie Paniccioli at Lord Stirling on February 24th; and hours of conversation and dialogue between the two have been shared since then. On March 4th and and again on the 11th, the painter-turned-photographer granted the former general manager of Wu-Tang Clan an exclusive interview. The wide-ranging conversation, divided in two portions, covered Mr. Paniccioli’s view of the art and science of photography; the impact of his work; the evolution of Hip-Hop over the last 30 years; the relationship between politics, activism and the cultural artform; Black - Native American relations; the reality of FBI COINTELPRO tactics being exercised against the culture; misogyny and “homophobia”; the power of imagery on the minds young people, and much more.
Part I of this interview centers on "Who Shot Ya'?”; the art/science of photography; and the evolution of Hip-Hop.
Cedric Muhammad: For lack of a better expression, Brother, I was ‘blown away’ by the impact that I saw, of the power of your presentation, as it affected the young people at Lord Sterling School, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I think that provides a context for a question regarding how you see yourself and your role. Some have referred to you as a premier if not the Hip-Hop photographer. As I saw you give that presentation, I saw you as a profound educator, historian and witness-bearer of truth, humanity and an entire cultural phenomenon. I wanted to know how you see yourself.
Ernie Paniccioli: Brother, I am not one of those cats that will look and say what I am or what I am not. What I do has to speak for itself. And more importantly, those people that I touch manifest the effect of my work and move forward. What they do with what I have given - in their actions - determines who and what I am. I can remember so many times at different Nation Of Islam functions where I would always see either myself and other speakers get applause. And I would always see Minister Farrakhan say (in response to applause), “All praise is due to Allah.” In whatever I do on this planet I call myself “Miles Davis’ trumpet”. That trumpet, sitting by itself on a shelf is a nice-looking instrument, but it didn’t do anything of itself. But when the master blew into it and made those amazing beautiful notes, people responded, so deeply. So basically what I try to do is keep my instrument pure so that the Creator speaks. And if you look throughout history all of the prophets and holy people – they were just men and women who were chosen. They did not seek the role. Nobody wants to be a prophet or a disciple. It happens. They were instruments. And they were all flawed men – whether Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. That is all I am – an instrument. And I am an instrument who was developed through pain, suffering, hardship and psychic turmoil – being homeless, before I even reached puberty; being in the streets; and seeing my stepfather imprisoned for his beliefs; seeing the brutality that this country directed all over the world, while I was in the military; this is what made me who I am today. And also, experiences like speaking to Brother Khalid Muhammad for six months as well as being with Steve Cokley, and looking at Dick Gregory, Kwame Toure, and people who had something to say; not these little jack-legged clowns who are running around calling themselves activists and trying to fill their pockets and get praise from the White media. I am talking about Brothers who really love the culture, and that is what inspired me and made me who and what I am. And I also feel that I have got a limited amount of time on this planet and what I have to do is follow the precept of ‘each one teach one’. Each Brother and Sister who comes into my cycle and cipher I try and build with, and try and empower them because I can’t be everywhere and I am not going to be here forever. But if each person that I touch, if they have a little spark of the little spark that touched me, what happens is that we build a global movement at a time of confusion, pain, disruption and chaos – a time the Indians from the India call, Kali (the Hindu Goddess of
Chaos and disorder). This is a time of Kali. This is a dreadful time.
Look what just happened in Haiti. They said the man (President Aristide) left. But according to him he was taken out by armed thugs of the United States army. That is 120 miles from our shore. Look at the world today, we need voices of freedom. And to quote my brother, John Trudeau, a Native American poet, he said that he couldn’t understand why a little skinny Indian with holes in his jeans, and maybe 3 dollars in his pocket - he couldn’t understand why the government would follow him around, and bug his phone. He didn’t have a knife much less a gun. He couldn’t understand it until one of the elders explained that what he did which was most dangerous to all governments was promote clarity of thought. That was an inspiration to me and that is all that I want to do today, that is bring clarity of thought. I call myself a Red alarm clock. What I do is wake you up. What you do after you become awake is up to you. But it is my job, and my duty, as a poor righteous teacher, to be the one to help to wake up the sleeping or revive the dead, per the parable of Lazarus.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, as it relates to your specific talent, gift, profession of photography, how are you fulfilling that function as “Miles Davis’ trumpet”?
Ernie Paniccioli: I did not choose to be a photographer. I wanted to be a painter. Photography chose me. What I did is that I saw the world around me and I tried to capture it in paintings and drawings. When I began to photograph graffiti I began to meet young people who were telling me that something was happening, and unlike all of the people who are running around today talking Hip-Hop and (representing) Hip-Hop, if you were back here in the 1970s there was no such word (as Hip-Hop). We didn’t know what it was, we just knew it was a powerful thing. It is like now, if you turn on the radio and look at videos and the state of Hip-Hop there is no real name for it. I call it chaos and colonization. As a matter of fact I call it the second phase of the second colonization. The first colonization was when they came and took our people and our land in Africa, and put them in the condition of slavery. That was the first colonization. The second colonization was when they told us that Jesus Christ looked like Robert Redford and when they told us that Christopher Columbus discovered an entire continent. The second phase of the second colonization which they almost forbade me to put in my book, which I put in anyway – against all odds, against Rupert Murdoch, against Harper Collins, against everybody – is when we willingly enslave ourselves with Gameboy, sports, weed, beer, sneakers, half-naked women, pornography; with garbage and where the tell-lie-vision controls our lives; and where what a football player scores is more important than the absolute insulting of an entire people; where you know more about sports than your own wife’s birthday or her period cycle or the birthday of your children. Look at how many are more entranced by some athlete, or rapper, or some other fool who is walking around with a neck load of platinum or diamonds that were stolen from South Africa. People are more entranced by some $800,000 vehicle that has TVs, radios and swimming pools in it, than in the miracles of their own existence on this planet. Another thing that I see is this explosion onto the scene of these gay marriages. And that is an extreme situation but at the same time I see the extreme emasculation where men are afraid to use the m-word. I hear them use the other m-word calling people mother --------s. But they won’t stand up and say, ‘I am a Man!’ and ‘I have a responsibility and duty to my people.’ They are afraid to call themselves men because they think they will be called a misogynist and that somehow by saying you are a man, you are anti-woman. But Chuck D., after they called him anti-White; he said ‘I am not anti-White, I am just pro-Black.’ Well I am not anti-anything, I am just pro-Man. If you are a man you have to act like a man and conduct yourself like a man; and if you have children, damn it, you are supposed to take care of your children, nurture those children, and educate those children and support those children, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and as a human being on this earth - preparing and helping them through what is happening and what is about to happen, which is global conquest.
Cedric Muhammad: Brother Ernie, I would like to isolate your entry into Hip-Hop with the tool of photography – with that art and science – how did that happen specifically as it relates to the emergence of graffiti?
Ernie Paniccioli: Well, there was something happening, which is now looked back upon through revisionist history as Hip-Hop. But what it was, was something far more significant. I saw it as a chance for revolution. At the same time that Hip-Hop was emerging, in the United States, out of the ghetto, slums and shanty towns of Jamaica came something called Reggae. ‘Get up stand up for your right!’. These cats were coming out with some powerful, powerful things. Of course the powers that be were scared out of their wits and they created something called dancehall, which is all about slackness and they tried to kill that rhythm as best they could because that was pure African revolutionary music that was coming out of Jamaica. In this country you had songs like ‘The Message’ and ‘White Lines’ (by Grandmaster Flash), which was powerful stuff that scared the government. And along came Public Enemy. But back in that time we knew something was happening but we didn’t know what it was, but what we did was we flowed. And that is how I became a photographer by flowing and meeting people like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Kaz, and hundreds of Brothers and Sisters like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, the Zulu Nation who were awesome. This was spoken and oral tradition that we were witnessing called rap, but it was actually Hip-Hop. And I saw Hip-Hop as a tool for social revolution and I saw it getting more and more powerful with people like Lakim Shabazz and Public Enemy and even Ice Cube on that amazing song they did back then with Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy called “Burn Hollywood Burn”. There was so much stuff going on back then and even Latifah back then was called, Queen Latifah saying, ‘…who you callin’ a bitch?’. I thought of it as possibly a catalyst for revolution because psychological change brings about physical revolution. It was a chance to empower people throughout the nation and that is how I became involved in it as a photographer and pretty soon people started calling me, ‘Ernie The Photographer’. I was not skilled but I already had twenty years of painting, so when I picked up a camera I knew about light, shape, and composition. When I pick up a camera I can instantly make iconic images because I have been doing it in my house, my walls and in my life. When I picked up the camera it was instantaneous that I could do this. Instead of focusing on some flashy disco-dressed character what I was doing was actually beginning to capture the world of street and the environment around me and if you look at my early work you will see that I even captured the punk movement which again was – in their own way – a step away from the society, away from what they saw as dead, inert and not living. I captured the punk, I captured the early stage of the street. Jamel Shabazz is another Brother who practically did the same thing. To this day we look at each other’s pictures and we are like , ‘whoa’; because it looks like we Xerox’d one another because back then in the 1970’s, even though we did not know each other we were doing the same thing because we were guided by the same voice and we were part of the same breath and power. And that is how I became a photographer, through my skills as a painter, I immediately did that and also through my very life, I was gravitated toward things that were powerful and not just pretty.
Cedric Muhammad: If I could, before I jump into, “Who Shot ‘Ya?” I want to isolate some of those things you just referred to. If you could, in laymen’s terms, as best as you can, what goes on in your mind when someone gives you an idea or you receive it, and you are inspired to capture a subject? Please take me through some of those dynamics from the time that an idea comes into your mind all the way up to the moment that you are focusing the lens.
Ernie Paniccioli: Well I will answer your question with a question which I know is rude (laughter). Do you know how to swim, ride a bike or drive a car?
Cedric Muhammad:Yes, sure.
Ernie Paniccioli: When you do those things – do you think of what you are doing or do you do them with a certain higher conscience so that you won’t drown or crash, run over some body or fall off your bike?
Cedric Muhammad: Sure.
Ernie Paniccioli: That is what I do. I do those things on instinct. I work on instinct. And I will not photograph a person unless I communicate with that person first, and find out who that person is because a lot of things happen when you do that. First you learn about that person, second you teach that person something about yourself and what you are looking for and number three, you look for the God in that person and you try to photograph what makes that person unique. It is my belief that God, the Creator, Allah, Buddah, Jesus, Yahweh, Amen-Ra or Whomever you may call Him – the Creator put in each of us a separate breath. You could have identical twins who are born and raised together for twenty-five years, and they are entirely different. So, I look for what makes them unique. It is like we all have different fingerprints and different voices. You could call me from California and say , “Hey Brother,…” and I would know who you are by your voice. The Creator has made us all different in every single way and what I look for is that uniqueness, that magic and God in you. Also, I try to figure out who you are and what you represent and I photograph that. That does not mean that I just photograph the 5%. I don’t do that. I photograph the 85%, and I have even photographed Henry Kissinger who is definitely part of the 10%. I have photographed and worked with Colin Powell, Presidents and Kings. I have photographed the 5%, 10%, and 85% because my job, I believe, like Gordon Parks, before me, and like many, many people is to capture the world, to document the times, and where we are (Ernie Paniccioli is speaking here of the concept authored by Master Fard Muhammad the Founder of the Lost-Found Nation Of Islam in the West; which places human beings into three categories – the 5%, 10%, and 85% - based upon their knowledge of God and self; their exercised power, and the lifestyle they lead. A fuller definition, of these three groups is given by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in response to questions posed by Master Fard Muhammad as part of six written lessons given to registered members of the Nation Of Islam. Parts of these lessons were also popularized largely through teaching in the streets of New York City and via rap music, by members of the 5% Nation Of Islam also known as "The 5 Percenters").
It becomes on one level like self-government, like breathing, but with breathing, if you are a Zen master you understand that with your breath you are breathing with the whole universe. And you start thinking a certain way. Some of it is automatic, some of it is conscious and some of it is God-driven. So, I can’t give you a more concise answer than that. Another thing that I do, and for any person, especially the young who pick up a camera – I want to say something that will give you power right now. Every day that you are working with that instrument, whether you are a writer, a singer, a producer, a cameraman, a photographer, a videographer – live each day like it is your last on this earth. Just think – “what would you do on your last day?”. Even this interview, I am doing it like I am going to be called in an hour. I am going to do it like that. Like with Malcolm X, as he found out, he wasn’t here forever. And you notice that with everything that he did he did it like it was his last day on earth. If you do that you get a power that you could not believe. And like at that school Cedric, when I told those children about slavery (Ernie Paniccioli told the children that they were not “descendants from slaves” but that despite the history of enslavement, their identity still came from the Creator and the essence within them), I am not sure if that message got through to a lot of people, but once you change your perception of who and what you are, and the time, you get power. And one of the ways that you get power is not through some high-energy drink or some super-caffinated liquid, eating raw steak, or some other madness, or lifting a huge amount of weight. Many times you get strength from what you take away from somebody. If you take away fear, bad self-esteem, or ignorance; a lot of times it is what you take away from someone that gives them power. If you take away the idea that too many young people have now - that they are going to live forever, if you make them understand that the Creator may give them one day left on this earth, and if you live each day – if you have children – don’t say ‘oh, well I will help you with that tomorrow’, no, you kiss them today like it was goodbye. I have lost my mother and father and two stepfathers. Ok, they are gone. I have lost Brothers. Ok they are gone. So what you have to do is treat those people, and your photography, and your skills, and your voice like this is your last day on earth. And when you do that you get a power that you never had before because you become right and exact, and you cut out all of the frivolous stuff. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. Damn it, if you are dancing and singing, or playing or joking, tell that joke like it is the last one you will ever tell. I don’t want you to be all dried up inside like a prune. No, enjoy life, but look at it as if it is a gift and something that is temporary and not something that is going to last for a hundred years. And if you live like that, even if you live 100 years you would have made a profound impact on the world around you. So each day I wake up the first words out of my mouth are ‘thank you’. And the last words out of my mouth are ‘thank you’. And I live that day like it is a gift and I take everything, from a glass of water that somebody gives me, to a hug, to a smile as something sacred. I live each day like it is my last.
Cedric Muhammad: I appreciate that. Let’s move into your book, ‘Who Shot ‘Ya?” In what context did that work appear, what does it mean to you, and last – did that book represent a tension between a pure, pristine, creative force in your work and the commercialization and the “commodification” of a culture?
Ernie Paniccioli: I will begin with the first question. Kevin Powell, who was the curator at the Brooklyn Museum, and actually before that, at the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame, called, “Hip-Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes, and Rage” that dealt with Hip-Hop, was quite concerned. He had known about my work and he had seen this vast body of work of mine or heard of it. And he was quite concerned that I was excluded from that (showcase). But the reason, unbeknownst to him, that I was excluded from that is because I have never been a photographer first, and a freedom fighter second. I have never been for Hip-Hop or art first. My mindset has always been what are doing to make ourselves aware, and what are we doing to activate the minds of people? So I was more than just a photographer, and more than just a commodity, and these people felt more than comfortable having some people up there with just glossy pictures, and knuckleheads wit their hats sideways, and gold chains, and gold teeth and all of that nonsense. And Kevin was very sensitive to that and he said, ‘why is this man – this elder – who has devoted thirty years or so of his life to an art form excluded?’. Everybody, in response, was mumbling and jumbling, and the more they mumbled and jumbled the angrier Kevin Powell got, until it got to the point where Kevin said well, forget it, if he’s (Ernie Paniccioli) not in the show we aren’t having a show. Then he came to me with humility and asked me to be part of it and to be down with it. And I liked his approach and manner and the idea that I would be part of the first museum’s exposure of Hip-Hop. I didn’t like the show at the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame. They have an entire floor the size of a city block devoted to Elvis Presley and they put of course all of the “darky stuff” in a little closet some where else. The whole Hip-Hop show was segregated. It was a whole ‘back of the bus type of thing’. But at least, I saw it as a chance for us to get in the door and take it from there afterwards, but you first have to get your foot in the door. So, I accepted that and even though they had a display of Eminem’s sneakers next to Biggie’s suit (laughter), I was down with it. And from that Kevin came to me and asked me why I had never done a book, and I said that it was because most writers are full of garbage. They come and they see, they start and then they flake off. And he said to me, ‘well I will make you a pledge on my honor, that if I work with you on a book and help you get a book deal, I will ensure that I follow through on it’. So he sent me to one place and they immediately made me an offer for a lot of money, but it was a paperback, and I had already seen too many paperbacks. So, we went to Harper Collins, which had Armistad Books, and the Brother who was running things knew a lot about jazz but not Hip-Hop so we talked for two-and-a-half hours about jazz, and I related to him how jazz was a forbidden art form and how Hip-Hop was a forbidden artform. And how jazz came from the street and what the word jazz meant, and where it was popular, and that Hip-Hop basically came from the same street and ghetto root and we talked and then we had another meeting and I was sitting there, and finally he called me over and said, ‘how does it feel to have a book deal?’ and my head started to swim and then it actually got into the process of doing a book, and that process is actually dealing with commercialism and the commodification of a genre and Kevin and I tried to keep it as tight as we could and we had a blessing in that the people from Harper Collins knew so little about Hip-Hop (laughter). And that was a blessing, at first we thought it was a problem but it turned out to be a blessing because they let us do what we had to do. And of course, with Kevin being twenty or thirty years younger than me, being born and raised in Hip-Hop, and me, in it for thirty years, between us we knew enough about who was what. Now the actual selection of pictures and their representation – I would say that I am only about 60% happy with the book and I am not happy at all with the marketing of the book because Kevin and I did so much to get the book out there. Kevin got us 4 and 5 pages in Vibe magazine, and of course I appealed to all of my media contacts that I have been working with for thirty years, and we did miracles. And I had gallery show, after gallery show. The book has been out for nearly 14 or 16 months and in that time I have had 8 gallery shows, including the largest one-man gallery show in the history of New York City where I had 110 16 x 20 and larger pictures at the New York City Urban Experience Museum which was attended by 3,000 people on the opening night. And yes it is the commodification of a culture and one thing I will say in humility is that no one book can capture it all. I have my take on it, Charlie Ahern had his, Henry Chalfant had his with Spraycan Art Subway Art. As many of us as there are is how many voices you could have. You know, Grandmixer DXT will tell you better than anybody how many voices there are. But in my book I was able to put Grandwizzard Theodore who invented scratching, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa. I was able to focus on graffiti art, some of the fashion, some of the dance, so I was able to do some, I was not able to do all. And Kevin Powell’s introduction of who I am and what I am and how it coincides with the birth of Hip-Hop, I think was very eloquently written and I think that the back part of the book, “In My Lifetime: The Story Of Ernie Paniccioli” tells an abbreviated introduction to my life and struggles and we were going to make it a whole lot more political. We were going to put Khalid Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan, and Rev. Al Sharpton and just a lot of people whose voices have been heard on Hip-Hop records. But because of space and time and because we had gone from originally 300 images to 210, and it took 2 years to select the 300; and then to lose 90 of them, I don’t even know if you can imagine what kind of shock that is to your central nervous system, Cedric. Imagine you have written an 800-page book and then somebody tells you it is 500 pages, and you worked two-and-half years on the 800 pages, imagine what a shock that would be to your central nervous system.
Cedric Muhammad: Yeah.
Ernie Paniccioli: And there is the one thing I have to say for Kevin Powell - he prevented me from creating a book that was “Eastern-centric” (laughter). In other words, New York, New Jersey, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens-centric. He tried and succeeded in including Japanese artists – DJ Honda, and DJ Krush – and west coast artists. I have to admit this as one of my problems – I am from this experience here (in New York), as an East Coast- Eastern centric person (laughter), I don’t know a word for it, so Kevin kept me from that. The book is coming back out in June - June 1st to be exact - in paperback and hopefully because it will be half the price of the original hardcover which was $30, it will have a wider audience.
Cedric Muhammad: How many did you sell?
Ernie Paniccioli: Right now, I have no idea. I do know I have not gotten a royalty check yet. So, to the aspiring writers out there let me tell you one of their tricks, because I believe in ‘each one teach one’. Get as much money as you can – and this is for your recording artists cats as well – up front. Ok. Because when you are dealing with royalty checks you are dealing at their mercy. I don’t want to sow any seeds of discord but I do know that everywhere I go in the country and by my e-mails, and even in Europe, everybody I know has got my back. And what I hear in terms of sales is quite different. And unlike with the recording artists, I know people are not bootlegging my book (laughter). There were 25,000 copies printed, which is phenomenal for a first book and how many of those that have been sold, I don’t know. I do know that I have not reached a break-even point and we did get a nice advance, so I do know in publishing you are at the mercy of them. Also I do know that just like with recording artists, and I will let you be privy to this because I tell the facts and I name names. I am not one of these activists cats that mumble about the ‘white power establishment’. I name names, ‘cause I ain’t afraid of nobody except God. We had to sign 7.5% royalty rate. That is standard. A lot of you recording artists are going to go in there with a fifty-page contract but the bottom line is that you are going to get 7.5% if you are lucky and that is after they recoup and after expenses.
Cedric Muhammad: Now did the higher-ups at Harper Collins and Rupert Murdoch specifically, support the book, or were they in opposition to it?
Ernie Paniccioli I was told that I cannot include – and again I am naming names and going out there on the record – my essay on the second phase of the second colonization, which I put in there anyway, because I was very clear that without that there is no book. I would keep the advance and they could try and sue me and send me lawsuits in Guatemala. I don’t care. So, they agreed to that. I am sure that a corporation of that size only cares about one thing and that is making a profit. So as far as the specifics, I don’t know. The way you can tell whether or not you have struck a nerve is by looking at what they are asking you not to include. Ok, know if you have a 800-page book and they ask you to take out 25-pages I suggest to you, you could get rid of the 775 pages and that 25-pages that they are asking you to take out is what you should print. What they want excluded is what you should include.
Cedric Muhammad: Who kept out Brother Khalid and Minister Farrakhan?
Ernie Paniccioli We made a joint agreement on that simply because of space limitations and because we did not want to create a book that was killed from its inception predicated on a couple of pictures. So we had to not necessarily capitulate but we had to compromise, and I had to compromise more than anybody on the project because these are my images, this is my life and the book is reflecting me. I am not happy with the way the book is laid out. I am not happy with the way the little names are on the pictures like they were done with a sticker or little pasty. I am not happy with some things. But it is the first book. The second book I will have much more personal control of. And also, I am going on record as saying that any other books I do from now on will be by me and from me, and not as part of any collaboration. Because when I was out there ducking gunshots from the police and down in the subways (in dangerous situations) snapping shots of graffiti, I did not have anyone there with me. A lot of these cats weren’t even born yet that were involved in the project – the publicists, and so on and so forth. So the next book I am going to do is going to be a monster, and it is going to sell like a monster because it is going to be from my mind, from my hand and my eye. It is going to reflect my vision or I am not going to do another book.
Cedric Muhammad: Beloved, how do you see the evolution of Hip-Hop? You mentioned clearly, earlier, that in its origination or in the earliest stages of its visible emergence, there was no name for it. So how do we go from that time period when you became a witness of what was happening and saw it as a revolutionary force, to what we have today as Hip-Hop in the year 2004?
Ernie Paniccioli You called me “Beloved”, let’s use that as a starting point for my answer. When Chuck D. screamed at the top of his lungs, ‘my beloved let’s get down to business, mental self-defense and fitness’, there needed to be no more Hip-Hop; it could have stopped right there and rap could have died right then that day and there and it would have fulfilled its mission. It goes from that to singing about Courvoisier, and Tims (Timberland boots); and who has got the biggest spinning rims on their vehicle, who spends the most on their chains, and how many women you have in your bed when you wake up in the morning, and all of this other nonsense, and if you read something that I recently wrote called, “Imagine” (at the Zulu Nation website), you will see my mindset. When you go from saying “my beloved, let’s get down to business, mental self-defense and fitness” to singing about how many cars, broads, rims and Tims, and how much alcohol you consume, then you are poisoning the minds of our youth and the colonization is in full effect. And anyone who thinks that this musical form now is Hip-Hop is out of their minds and I am calling you a fool right now. Not only that but you have to go a little deeper and recognize that Hip-Hop is street music, Hip-Hop is organic. It came from our guts and our soul and from folk music and blues, reggae music, jazz etc… and now from it coming from the organic, from the gutter from street music and barbershops to the corporate boardrooms where you now have people who are not of the culture and not of the original man deciding what gets airplay and what gets 500 slots or spins a day, when you have somebody controlling it, it is no longer an organic thing; it has become inorganic. Organic is something that is helpful, uplifting, spiritually powerful, and educational and even physically empowering. Inorganic is something that is plastic that is disposable and something that is going to harm our spirits and our souls. It has gone from a group that calls itself the Poor Righteous Teachers to a group that calls themselves the Cash Money Click. Those two names will tell you everything you need to know right there. This is a sign. Take the R & B group Boyz II Men. That was one of the most powerful names that you could name a group. And the other name I mentioned – Poor Righteous Teachers. And everybody who is reading this I want you to go out and buy ten copies of the X-Clan. Look at the name “A Tribe Called Quest” - what does that mean? That is a group looking for something, a spiritual power. “Public Enemy”, “X-Clan”. You couldn’t come out back then calling yourself the “Cash Money Click” people would be throwing bricks at your head. Even the group called “The Ghetto Boys”. That tells you everything that you need to know. We are from the ghetto and we are ‘boys’. That does not mean young men – this means these are my boys, my crew, my family. And look at the name Ice Cube, Ice – T these are powerful names. And they just didn’t come out there and act like an ass. Look at the videos it has gone from organic to inorganic. When you go from “my beloved let’s get down to business, mental self-defense and fitness”. And how about the other line? Cedric I have to ask you as a man, what went on in your mind when you heard Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad in the Public Enemy record, “The Night Of The Living Bassheads” - his introduction ‘Have you forgotten, that once we were brought here we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language. We lost our religion, our culture, our God. And many of us by the way we act, we even lost our minds.”
Cedric Muhammad: Aww man…
Ernie Paniccioli Brother, when I heard that I couldn’t even breathe. Now listen to the nonsense that is being pumped out there to keep our people dumb. If you want to see how dumbed down our people are now, just go to one of these rap concerts. And look at how dumb and dangerous and violent our people are. Go look. It will break your heart. And our women portrayed as prostitutes...
End Of Part I
Ernie Paniccioli’s work can be seen at www.whostotya1.com and www.rapphotos.com. Mr. Paniccioli is available for photography, gallery shows and lectures and can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 12, 2004