Hip-Hop Fridays: Exclusive Q & A With Ernie Paniccioli, Hip-Hop Photographer and Author of “Who Shot Ya?” (Part II)
[Editor's note: In this second and final portion of BlackElectorate.com's exclusive interview with Ernie Paniccioli, the "dean of Hip-Hop photographers" expresses his view on the controversial Outkast performance at the Grammys and Black -Native American relations; misogyny and "homophobia" in rap; voter registration drives and political activism in Hip-Hop; COINTELPRO; and using Hip-Hop to educate young people.]
Cedric Muhammad: You and I have discussed the concept of identity as it pertains to Blacks and Native Americans and areas where some are having problems understanding the basis for unity. Could you take me through the various levels in which you have thought of this subject – from your native identity, your belonging to a “nation” of people and a tribe, as well as your understanding of the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that both the Black and Red people are original people; and how all of this informs your view of the controversy over Outkast’s performance at the Grammys which offended many Native Americans?
Ernie Paniccioli: Well consider it from my personal experience in growing up among Black people and on the level of my interaction with the Nation Of Islam. I can remember first seeing them when I was younger - just, hundreds of Black men descending on Brooklyn, and I have never seen Black men look like that before. Spotless, from head to toe, and groomed like you wouldn’t believe, muscular, and their eyes looking like warriors. I never seen nothing like that before. That was my introduction to Black culture. On another level as a child, because I grew up in such a crazy environment in Brooklyn, Spanish kids would come up to me and speak Spanish and since I couldn’t speak Spanish I would get a beatdown. The Italian kids would look at me and call me a half-breed or something and I would get another beatdown. I have to say this for the Irish kids – they were tough, they didn’t care who you were, and they left you alone. But it seemed like everyone else had an axe to grind. I remember one time I was getting a severe beatdown by a group of like 7 kids all of whom were like five or six years older than me. And I was on the ground bleeding and it was 100 degrees outside and I remember looking up, with blood all over me, and seeing these Black guys who were fighting the 5 or 7 people who were attacking me; and the next day I joined that gang, to which they belonged, which was known as the Bishops – in Brooklyn. And in time, even though I came in at 9 or 10 years old, in time I became the warlord in that section in Brooklyn. So, that is my introduction. And from that day to this day I have never had a Black man look at me askance, and as a matter of fact, I will tell you that there was hardly a day that I could hardly walk through Harlem – although now it is increasingly either White or Hispanic – without getting “jumped” and not by gangs but by old ladies hugging me, saying , ‘Damn you look like my grandfather or my grandmother…’ because I had hair going down my back, and they would say, ‘ I am half-Cherokee…’ or ‘I am half-Seminole…’ or , ‘I am half-Blackfoot…’ and they would hug me and embrace me, and at times, take me home and feed me. As far as lack of love and identity, that was never a situation for me because I got love that was unbelievable just by walking down the street, and it reminds me of what KRS-One said, ‘when you walk, walk with authority, tell the negative people don’t bother me.’ You know I have to always bring Hip-Hop lyrics into it. But when I walk, I walk with authority. I don’t carry a knife, gun or bazooka. I don’t have a bullet-proof (vest) or nothing. All I have is me, and I walk with authority and the people respect and respond to that. And like I said, man, I walk through Black neighborhoods and the elderly folks embrace me, and a lot of young people who are seeking knowledge. So I really don’t see a split with the Black and the Red, plus there is my relationship with the Nation Of Islam. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told all of his followers that you have to respect the landlords of this nation. Ok, so anywhere I go in the United States, I can be walking somewhere, and some Brother will walk up to me and not necessarily with a bow-tie on, but he will say something like, ‘Brother, I saw you in a tape with the Minister (Farrakhan) and I just wanted to let you know that I got your back.’ And from the leader on down, I have gotten that respect and our people have gotten that respect at Saviours’ Day celebrations and at the Day Of Atonement you will always see Native people and Native chiefs up there (on the dais or rostrum) talking. So that respect has always been there. I don’t see a problem with that. I think that what Outkast did – and regardless to who this Brother is and Arista, and I have worked with Arista for years, and I respect Outkast as artists and they are one of the more progressive groups – but they allowed themselves to do something that was foolish. They have not apologized. Andre specifically has not apologized and I call out to him as a Brother, to get out there and do what you are supposed to do. Don’t hide behind those ‘suits’ at Arista because the minute you don’t sell you are going to be kicked to the curb and your ghetto pass will have been revoked and don’t worry about how many people are buying your album or not buying your album. At the end of the day it is just you and your Creator and your soul. And you need to look inside of yourself and apologize to the people you have hurt, offended and the violence you have created against children of Native blood. And don’t hide behind that ol’ Creole or Black Indian thing or Mardi Gras. You are not in Mardi Gras! You are in front of a half-billion people on stage who don’t understand it and see it as a mockery and it empowers those people like it empowers young White kids who use the n-word. It empowers a lot of fools to act that same way, which is only going to create more violence and dissension. So if you are a positive person and you have a good soul, you need to come out Andre. Forget your record label. Forget all of that stuff. Forget the weed clouds, and the cars, and the strip joints and all of that other nonsense. Because I respect you Andre, you are an artist creating great art, but you need to apologize and be humble. That humility will help manifest you as an artist. And I can’t imagine Bob Marley or Jimmie Hendrix doing what you did and not apologizing. Bob Marley is a person that we need to look at. Look at his lyrics. Everything was about uprising and the revolution, and struggle, and burning, and purifying and cleaning ourselves. So we need to look at him as an example. We need to look at Chuck D. with that amazing album he did called, “Fine Arts Militia”, and everything else he did. We need to look at him. Chuck would never put himself in a position where he did anything that offended a group of people. He would never do that. So Andre, you need to get out there like a man and apologize to a whole race of people, and then you will come back stronger and more beloved and more beautiful, and with more of a shine than you could ever imagine that you could ever have from record sales or anything else. Arista Records and all of these other people better be careful because we are planning a nation-wide boycott of CBS, the Grammys and Outkast. So go ahead and play, but there is nothing like the power of the people.
Cedric Muhammad: What tribe or Nation are you from Brother Ernie?
Ernie Paniccioli: Canada. The Cree Nation. And I have been separated from that except for the power of my spirit and the love of my Brothers and Sisters. I was not raised on a reservation. I was not raised in tradition. I was raised on the streets of Brooklyn. Ok? But there are people from Haiti who are raised in the streets of Brooklyn. There are people from Senegal who are raised in the streets of Brooklyn and who have never been home but they manifest their culture and that energy and that spirit. So I don’t apologize to anyone for that and this is who I am on this earth as a man on this time.
Cedric Muhammad: How do you think greater knowledge of and sensitivity to the oneness of the Black and the Red – as Original people – will occur?
Ernie Paniccioli: First, you have to know who you are. You would not believe the amount of e-mails I receive from people who don’t know who they are. If they don’t know who they are; they can’t know who their tribe is, they can’t understand who they are as part of a global phenomenon at this time. Right now you are in a time of deviltry. You are in a time of revelation. You are in a time where the government says, ‘Yo, yeah we got a secret government - what?!?’ They holler like Noreaga, “…what, what…” Remember that song? That is what Bush is doing and that is what this whole generation of vipers is doing. But I got something to beat them with which is prophecy. Because the chiefs and the holy men, seven generations ago, said that , ‘in the seventh generation you would have a generation of warriors.’ We have a generation of warriors but we don’t have any leadership for that warrior spirit. So we have a generation that is seeking wisdom, knowledge, and self-awareness. How do you find out who the Black and the Red are? First, the Black has to find out who they are and that has been buried in the mythology of history. What they call “his-story”. So you need to read things like Message To The Black Man by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and The Autobiography of Malcolm X and then you need to go deeper than that and start reading things by Ivan Van Sertima, in particular, They Came Before Columbus. Many, many people can give you that information. "Dr. Ben", (Dr. Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan), who was my teacher when I was 13 years old. When I left home and was in the streets this man taught me at his knee. And there are many, many other people – Brother Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Start Reading! Don’t listen to that nonsense on the radio. Start reading. Go to the mosque. Go to the church and hear what they are saying. Read the scriptures. Read the Qur’an. Read, Damn it! And when you finish reading, read to your children. Read to one another, and form a reading class. Do something revolutionary. If you want to do something revolutionary, don’t pick up a gun or a rifle - because the man has atomic weapons. If you want to do something revolutionary, read. If you want to do something revolutionary, turn off the television. If you want to do something revolutionary stop walking around with headphones on and start reading the streets. Start reading the symbology around you. Look at why every part of the ghetto has churches and liquor stores. Start reading with your third-eye. Turn off the radio and don’t let Wendy Williams or 50 Cent guide your thinking, because they are in it to make money. Read and decide for yourself . And even put down a book, and just go walk. Everyday you should walk 3 or four miles and just look at your community. And then after a while you will begin to be perceptive and ask, ‘why every five feet I got a McDonald’s and every 20 feet I have a liquor store, and why every thirty feet I have a church or a store front?’ Where is the drug treatment center? Where is the place that I can go and learn how to eat? Where is the place where I can go and learn martial arts without having to pay Tiger Schulman $800 a week? Where can I go to join a group where I can learn how to be a man? And why is it that we don’t have any men out there who are using the M-word? How come it is I can’t find anyone who is willing to say, ‘I am a man’? People are saying well that is gender-oriented or insensitive. But I am a man and I have to walk and dress like a man. And that means instead of having 300 sneakers, I have one pair of shoes. And instead of having the White T-shirt that goes down to your knees and the crotch of your pants touching your shoe, that you start thinking – how would this look if somebody took a picture of this and showed it to my children in 15 years? And having two different color doo-rags on and a hat tilted sideways. What is that a uniform? A uniform of what? If you are wearing a uniform it means that you either have a job or you are part of a military force. What military force or job is it which compels you to wear that uniform? Think, stop, analyze and learn language because language is power. If I walk up to a young kid in the ghetto and call him an aborigine, he is ready to fight me but if he analyzes the word ‘aboriginal’ it means that he was first!
Cedric Muhammad: You have read many of my writings and I am not sure that you have read my multi-part series on RapCOINTELPRO. Not too many people know what led to me starting the series or why I started, but it began as a response to a question from Wendy Day of Rap Coalition. She called me one day and asked me for a historic definition of COINTELPRO. She had already brilliantly taken that phrase “Rapcointelpro” and flipped it as a means to make artists more intelligent about the music business. I told her that I would do that by writing a piece at BlackElectorate.com, and that I would give her a real thorough definition. And that is the trigger event of how the series came about, although there were other things that preceded that. So, in my last installment – part fourteen - the title was, ‘President Kennedy, Tupac, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, and Minister Farrakhan’, I began by touching lightly on a belief that I have had for years, which is that the assassination of President Kennedy, combined with the study of the FBI’s COINTELPRO will tell you more about the 10% and those who rule this world, and who the greatest enemies of Hip-Hop are than practically any other two subjects you could study. And because I know that you are a great student of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and COINTELPRO, and you have experienced it and seen it from the standpoint of the Black community as well as the Native community; what are your thoughts on what I just said, as well as your independent view of the value of the study of JFK’s murder and COINTELPRO – how has that informed you?
Ernie Paniccioli: Every act of coup d’etat had a specific point of reference, whether it was the killing of Patrice Lumumba or the installation of the Shah of Iran or 100 other things. The United States of America, in the last century – the one preeminent act was the killing of JFK. Everything revolves around that. Whether it is J. Edgar Hoover, the Bush organization, the Skull and Bones, the secret societies. It all revolves around that. There is a book called, “ Accessories After The Fact” by Sylvia Meagher. There are hundreds of books on the Kennedy assassination – most of them are misinformation, unfortunately. And yet, if you go and look at those who create misinformation, what they do is put in a lie between two truths. So, as you read those books with your third eye – knowledge, wisdom and overstanding – you will begin to see the truths and separate them. And there are some amazing books like, “Oswald And The CIA”. And for you to understand this New World Order, you have to understand Oswald and how he was used and there was a book called, “On The Trail Of The Assassins” by Jim Garrison, and you need to understand that. If nothing else what it does is give you a sense of history and a sense of learning how to read and decipher language which is powerful. COINTELPRO is nothing more and nothing less than an effort and a sense of spying and trying to direct the energy of minority communities in the United States, because minority communities are the most disenfranchised. And it is a way to get those communities to behave in such a way that they are no longer perceived as a threat to the forces of the New World Order. COINTELPRO is a way of using your neighbor to ‘rat’ on you if you are politically active. It is nothing more or less. When you go to the supermarket they can tell exactly what you do. They know whether you have women in the house because you buy sanitary napkins, whether you eat pork, how much alcohol you consume. They know everything about your habits and if they see enough negative habits, like alcohol and cigarettes and the over consumption of pork, then they know that you are not a threat. You are not perceived as a threat and therefore you are not any problem, on one level. But yet, on another level you are always going to be a problem. So, on one level you have an extreme person, who may be in the Nation Of Islam or some other group. They are considered a perceived threat. At the other level you may not be politically active or have membership in “extreme” groups but because of your bloodline… you might be a cat that drinks beer and watches TV and think you are not a threat but you are (because of your lineage). So, people say, ‘Brother Ernie aren’t you afraid because of your criticism and your analysis of this beast?’ And I say, “No, even though you may not think you are perceived as a threat because you don’t do anything that would warrant it, you are actually still perceived as a threat”. As a matter of fact in the 1960s all you had to do to get an FBI record, if you were a person of color, was to go to school. Try for higher education and they had a file on you. Well, now the entire nation (America) is perceived as a threat in something called Project Echelon. Every time you type on a keyboard or make a phone call it is recorded. And what I say to those who fear the beast is that the beast knows everything, they listen to everything. They analyze how flies have relationships and they are analyzing everything we do. They need to know “everything” – what we eat, who we are hanging out with, and our thoughts – but you know what our power is? We have a spiritual force and we need to focus on that. They know everything but they don’t know the value of everything. And it is that lack of sense of values that makes them weak. Look at these people who are running everything, without the power of the army, they are weak! Remember the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”? That was a lecture for us. Follow the yellow brick road, etc… the white man behind the curtain who appeared to have so much power, and of course there was the little dog. See today, how we refer to one another, “Yo that is my dawg…” Well, it was the little dog that pulled the curtain and exposed what was behind there. And what was behind the curtain? Was it a great and powerful Oz or was it a little punk? What I suggest to you is that you look at the Wizard Of Oz as a political statement. Look at Frankenstein as a political statement. Frankenstein was a Negro, created from this and that and everything else. You have to understand something – and this goes back to the last topic of Black and Red – before the European came there was no “Negro”. There was no “Indian” here. There were nations and tribes that inhabited this entire continent – North and South of this so-called America. There was no so-called Negro. There was no so-called Indian. This was Frankenstein created– he never existed before. And what did Frankenstein do when he realized who he was? He killed his creator and his family, when he got knowledge of self. So Frankenstein is a very powerful thing. And so is Dracula. I will tell you what that is all about later. It deals with the homosexual thing. I bite you on the neck and you bite her on the neck. Ok? Now that is going to create some dissension there – that Dracula thing, that vampire thing but I am putting it out there, I don’t care. Frankenstein was a Negro, not a Black man – a Negro, at the end when he realized who he was and rose up against his master he became a Black man. Look at these movies but look at them through the third eye. Look at the Star Wars trilogy. The original one was about a rebel alliance and Darth Vader was just like the head of COINTELRPRO (J. Edgar Hoover). Afrika Bambaataa teaches us to look at these movies carefully. Look at The Matrix. Look at these movies as a warning to us and as a form of education rather than entertainment. Look at the Matrix and think of our future – everyone has barcodes on their neck and shaved heads. That’s another thing for us to talk about here. I wear my hair down my back. Brothers all over the country right now are shaving their heads. Remember what Bob Marley said about baldheads – ‘we are going to drag them crazy baldheads out of town.’ OK, cutting your head is for a reason and I said this several years ago. I said the reason they are making that more popular is so that when you get into the military you don’t have a negative reaction. One of the reasons why people used to not want to go into the military was because they did not want to cut their hair. Now, everybody has a shaved head. This is part of COINTELPRO. Because the best way to diffuse any type of dissension in the ghettos is to have the young men in the military, or drafted, because when you are ducking bullets in Iraq you are not going to be concerned about what is going on in your community.
Cedric Muhammad: Brother, I want to set up a question regarding political activity or activism – whether voting, protesting, boycotting and lobbying – but I want to set that question in the context of Hip-Hop as a cultural phenomenon, so could you please for the record, offer your definition or reference of the four or five elements of Hip-Hop?
Ernie Paniccioli: Sure, the five elements as defined by someone greater than myself and someone infinitely more qualified than myself – Afrika Bambaataa - are, in his estimation, first, the DJ, second, the MC, the third being the graffiti arts, and the fourth is dance, in no particular order. Hip-Hop is a tree with many branches. Those are the four main elements. The fifth is wisdom, knowledge, overstanding, love etc...I fit into the fifth category because I do none of the other four. But as a documenter of the culture, and a love of the culture, I fit into the fifth. Afrika Bambaataa fits into many. So, that is the idea. But let me just qualify this by saying that one branch of the tree, which is the MC, known commonly as “rap”, has been colonized. That is very important to understand. The most visible, and loudest element of Hip-Hop, which is the MC- rap – has been colonized.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, I wanted that context laid and framed because I wanted to ask as broadly as I could, is Hip-Hop, as cultural force inherently political or has politics been projected onto the culture - through those cultural elements that you just laid out?
Ernie Paniccioli: Hip-Hop is from the streets, and is essentially a Black rhythm. And let me go back to those elements. Each of those elements – and this is not Bambaataa speaking, this is me. Each of those elements are gifts to us from the Creator and have been with us since the 400 trillion years since His face was shown. Since He created us we have been dealing with those elements of Hip-Hop. In other words, the DJ is the reincarnation of the drum, the manifestation of the drum. The drum has always been with us. The speaker of war, joy, and marriage and death. It has always been with us. Dance has always been with us - for tribal ceremonies, for celebrations of weddings, whatever. The MC is the spoken word, it has always been with us, the Holy Men etc…that has always been with us. Graffiti art is just the latest manifestation of what goes all the way back to the pyramids. And of course the fifth element, wisdom, knowledge, and overstanding, has always been with us and has allowed us to survive.
Saying that, Hip-Hop is a straight manifestation, it is a thing of color. It came from our loins, culture and rhythms. It came from our breath and our love for one another. And therefore, since we are colonized as a people in this wilderness of North America and this madness that they call America - with three K’s. Because it is a form of continuity with ancestors, and who we are as a people, it is of course political. Since we are different from the colonizer by blood and birthright, of course it will be political. It will always be political. Even though elements of it have been colonized, the nature of Hip-Hop itself is political. Right now in New York City, and Miami, they have a Hip-Hop task force that follows around leaders in the Hip-Hop community and high-profile rappers. They have their own Hip-Hop COINTELPRO. And many of the so-called activists and leaders in Hip-Hop are whores! Media whores who are looking for the next write-up in Billboard, and the next write-up in Vibe and whatever ‘White shine’ they can get. They say, ‘Brother I love you; and Sister I love you…’ and ‘The Black man is this and that…’ and ‘R. Kelly this…’ and ‘Michael Jackson that…’. They are frauds. And when the time comes I am going to be denouncing those frauds. Log onto the Zulu website and read my poem, my warning, or my threat, an insult to these people. It is called ‘Imagine’. But it is also a love poem. It is about us, for us. It is the real FUBU – for us and by us; and not that clothing line that was sold to Koreans. This is the real FUBU!
Cedric Muhammad: (laughter) In light of that, how do you define Hip-Hop activism?
Ernie Paniccioli: I don’t like the word ‘activism’. Most activists that I have known in my near six decades on this planet have been punks, who are looking for money and the next write-up in a White glossy magazine saying (of them), ‘…oh this is the next political activist.” Most of them are straight-up frauds. To me, either you are a freedom fighter, a scholar, a soldier, a warrior or you ain’t nothing. Malcolm was a freedom fighter. Jesse was an activist, shall I go on? You know the names. I just read the article you had on your website, BlackElectorate.com, about Sharpton, and his campaign manager. It almost made my stomach crawl. How come that is not on the cover of the New York Times? So don’t tell me about activists and activism. You get a woman with three children and no husband working two jobs that’s activism. When you have got a young man who is going to school, working a job and trying to raise a family that is activism. When you have got a sister who has been raped and she is trying to counsel other women about rape and how to protect themselves, that’s activism. When you have got a Brother or a Sister who has been assaulted out in these streets, and they go and study martial arts and teach children how to defend themselves that’s activism. Some bitch-boy that gets up in an audience and has these little forums on how we all can love each other, and some psycho babble – that is punk stuff, man. I can’t even say it loud enough. When you are doing it for glory, fame and to sell books and products. That is just bitch stuff; that is the opposite of activism. When you, yourself, are dissin’ other Brothers and then you say in public that we are psychologically this or that…that is punk stuff. It is freedom or death. Very simple. You are either a fighter in the struggle to help us survive on this planet, in this wilderness of North America with the coming holocaust, or you ain’t nothing. Don’t come out here having these forums with people having kente cloths on and looking all righteous with beeds on, and smelling nice and looking like Erykah Badu. That is all frontery, man, that is nothing, going, ‘oh yes Brother…oh yes Sister…” C’ mon man. If you are going to be about it, then you have to find a way to feed people and educate them, inspire them and give them jobs, don’t just make these little bitch-ass lectures. They ask me all of the time to be part of this. I am not part of none of that man. It is freedom or death. Either you are feeding people, giving them jobs and giving them education, training them in martial arts, training them in how to eat, or the rest of it is glory man – Van Gloriuos, Ok? I am old school man, if you ain’t feeding anybody – if you ain’t adding to the mix, you are taking away from the mix, and if you are taking away from the mix then you are just another pirate, another vampire.
Cedric Muhammad: How do you feel about the recent push to get the Hip-Hop generation, community and industry or artists involved in voting and voter registration drives?
Ernie Paniccioli: (laugher). Can I pass on that question? No, I wont, I have never passed on a question in my life. I have this view (laughter again)…if people are picking horses in a race then you really don’t have a vote. In America, you have Kerry and Bush. Both of them are in Skull and Bones. They have taken secret oaths together. They have laid and wrestled nude in the mud with one another. They have been videotaped naked. Don’t take my word for it. This is part of the culture of Skull and Bones, where you have to wrestle naked in the mud with another man. Now, I ain’t wrestling naked with no man. I don’t know about you Cedric, but I kind of feel that this would not be your thing either. And to be videotaped, later in life, so that if you do anything that is considered to be against the Skull and Bones, they send these videotapes to the media etc…Now if you really want to get deep down into it, have the people do the research and find out what Skull and Bones is all about. Now, in America, you have an organization that only has 800 members and two of them are vying for President? And you are going to tell me about freedom, justice and voting? Not only that, but in a twelve-year period you have a father and his idiot son become president? And you are going to tell me about voting? Tell me who the alternatives are. Tell me who I can vote for. Let me know which one of those cats will come to my house and break bread with me. Tell me which one of those cats I can talk to personally. Which one of them can come to my neighborhood without 800 secret service agents, and jets and tanks? So that stuff really doesn’t relate to me. If someone else believes in voting, then, God Bless you. But look at this New World Order and what globalism means for us. When I can call technical support for a computer in America and I get somebody on the phone from Bangladesh and India, then something is seriously wrong and I really don’t see where voting is going to correct it because the voting process, itself, the whole democracy itself, the whole concept itself, is something alien to me. If somebody else wants to do it, or say, if Hip-Hop wants to do it and you want to get people in there who are righteous and not just quote unquote activists; then God Bless you man. I am really not apart of that, and if you all really want to do that, it is cool. Right now in New Mexico one of the Congressman is trying to lower the voting age to fourteen so at that age you get half a vote, at sixteen you have three-quarters of a vote, and at 18 you can vote. This is to encourage people to vote. But in a country that looked at us as three-fifths of a man, I really don’t understand the mathematics. And in an organization that has 800 members in it and two of them are vying for president I don’t understand the mathematics. If 30% of the people go out and vote for the Ten Percenters, and I am a Five Percenter or Poor Righteous Teacher, I really don’t understand the math. And when you can take a person like Nelly and can elevate him and help him sell a million records, and somebody like KRS-One, or Chuck D. and people that really have something to say are barely going gold, I really don’t understand the mathematics. I am really confused. I am not that intelligent and maybe I am not the right person to be asking about voting.
Cedric Muhammad: Thank You for your answer Brother. I would like to move into some of the more emotional gender-oriented issues. I have my own opinion that much of the intellectual discussion about male-female relationships, and gender, is alien to our culture and nature; and is being projected into Hip-Hop culture through various political ideologies and external coalition partners. But there is a commonly-expressed belief among many in the community that Hip-Hop is a “homophobic” and misogynistic culture, and is patriarchical in nature, and many people mean this in a very negative context. What is your whole take on that issue of “homophobia” and the disrespect of women and misogyny as it is frequently discussed by many Hip-Hop intellectuals and others?
Ernie Paniccioli: OK. Well. You are throwing all of the hot potatoes at me but I have gloves on so I am going to take it and hit you with an answer. Number one – homophobia. Homophobia is an irrational disrespect or fear of homosexual behavior, generally between two men but in some cases two women. Misogyny is hatred and abuse of women, Now, I feel that these activists, or voices, - those who get a lot of shine – who use gender to enrich themselves to do books, and to make money, that’s misogyny. When you call a women a sister or a man a brother and you aren’t psychologically capable of behaving with that person in a loving relationship, then that is misogyny. When you are using that to exploit it for your own enrichment, advancement and fame, that is a form of misogyny. That is directed at all of those people who are going to correct misogyny in the Black community. They are frauds. Now, let’s get back into misogyny. I have a wife and a daughter and I have nieces and goddaughters and I have always helped them to survive. My daughter is getting her master’s degree. My wife will break your arm if you put your hand on either her, her daughter or me. We are warrior people. We do not see a difference between male and female other than the man is responsible for that family unit. And if you go back to the traditions that is the way it is. The woman runs the family unit and the man is ultimately responsible for defending that home from anything, including his own excesses. This is very, very important. But if you are going to be a man in the house, you have to act like a man, you have to protect those women, educate those women, and help be the barrier or buffer for those women in between anything negative that is coming toward them, and you are to draw those things that are positive toward them. And if we stopped this nonsense of dividing the male and female, and started looking at all of those things pertaining to the female as “Sister”, ”Mother” etc…we would be better. The family structure is apart of us. We need to get rid of a lot of that other nonsense that is in the community.
Now, let’s deal with homophobia in rap. Actually, knowing some homosexual men, they say that some of the images that are in the rap videos are quite homoerotic, actually quite homosexual. They say the males that are wearing furs, and diamonds, and platinum and all chained out and got make-up on in this videos – that’s homosexual. And a lot of homosexuals love these rap videos because these men are acting out homosexual fantasies –wearing the diamonds, the earrings, the whole over-the-top look. Now, you have cats coming out in pink, in furs, and Chincila. And they are spending so much money. One of the disses that are directed at women is that they are always buying shoes – having 80 and 100 pairs. Well a lot of these cats have 100 pairs of sneakers. What is the difference in behavior? Now, you gotta ask yourself some questions and say, ‘wait a minute, slow your roll’. A lot of these so-called “homophobic” cats, are actually homoerotic and homosexual in look. Just go through the pages of any so-called Hip-Hop magazines and look, these guys are trying to out-pretty the women – trying to compete with women. What are they trying to compete with the women for? Think about that.
Cedric Muhammad: Finally, and this is a good way to end our discussion. You started with the man, we just dealt with gender, family, and male-female relations, and now let’s conclude with the youth. I will close how I opened by reiterating how impressed I was with your presentation at Lord Stirling School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and what it revealed about the power of imagery in education. One of the most striking moments of the presentation, where you were showing different slides of photographs of the artists, that you have captured, was when you showed the photos of Tupac, and the children gave him as much applause as they did B2K and if I am correct, no one in that group of young people was over 14 years of age. So that struck me on two levels. One it showed me how the reverence of Tupac by the younger artists of today has led to their fans being more informed about those who came before their favorite artists. And secondly, I thought your ability to bring photographs of B2K, right behind Tupac, right behind, Biggie, right behind TLC, and Bow Wow and Snoop Dogg, shows that your function as a witness-bearer and really as a historian of the culture allows us to jump time and space in the education process. So I wanted to know what you thought of the role of imagery on youth in education, in what you do, as well as your view of how Hip-Hop lyrics and the other elements of the culture can be powerful tools in educating our young people, who as you know, are going through so much in a lot of these schools.
Ernie Paniccioli: First, I will go out on a limb and say our youth have never been in more danger than they are now. They are psychologically assaulted and there is an effort to colonize their minds, hearts and souls. What I am doing and what you are doing is that we are in a battle for their minds and their souls. We don’t need no fake-ass activists and we don’t need any feel-good people. That is all tired. In order to reach the youth, you have got to use Hip-Hop. Ain’t nothing else going to reach them, nothing else, nothing. But so much of our culture is colonized – the television, the videos, the MTV. The 85% and children is who we, as the 5%, poor righteous teachers, are trying to reach and draw toward us, and the 10% has got technology with racism and evil embedded in it – even with the Gameboy, with its violent and sick images; and there is madness on the Internet. 360 degrees of that is virtually under their control. We only have 5% of that 360 degrees to work with. And you cannot approach those children unless you know the language, the cadence, and the rhythm of Hip-Hop. And you cannot reach those children, even armed with the tool of Hip-Hop unless you have powerful love and force within yourself. You can’t just go out there with the “Brother and Sister” thing or the simple “I’m good and they are bad” line or “us against them”, or “He’s ignorant and I have had therapy”. You just can’t do that. You have to reach those kids with love, power, and respect. And Hip-Hop is the only medium that can do it and not only do you have to know the language and the cadence and the rhythm of Hip-Hop but you’ve gotta have that spiritual power that children can sense like a dog smells raw meat. There is no thinking it. You cannot outthink a child. There is no getting up there and saying “oh, I am this and I am that”; that don’t mean nothin’ if you can’t reach those kids, one-to-one and hug them and make them feel like you are part of what will help them get through this twenty-first century. Unless they can sense the power, the force, and the energy, the vitality and the love in you. You can’t reach them no matter what kind of tools you bring. Now, that being said, you have got to understand that all of the forces that are against these children and you have to understand how I perceive my art as a powerful tool. And I say it 1,000 times. I use Hip-Hop as a bait to educate. I try with all of the power in my body to reach the children, because if I just get up there, then I am just one more cat that bored them. But it is the power of my art and the love and energy that I bring, and you have to see me work with a small group of children and you will not believe the transformation. Teachers have been astounded. Kids that were failing now get A-pluses. Kids that were sitting in the class daydreaming are now driving the teacher crazy with questions. 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade children are coming into classes with books and challenging the teachers saying, “No, Brother Ernie said this…” and the teachers ask them ‘can you prove it?’ and they answer, ‘Yeah, here look and read this…’ And the teachers call me and tell me that what has happened is a blessing and a curse. They say the kids are learning but also wearing them out (laughter) fighting with them (with questions and facts). So, I have that power and it is a blessing and gift from the Creator and I try, with all my heart and might to save them. If I go into a situation with 100 children and I can save one, it is a blessing. When all is said and done you aren’t judged by how many Hummers you have got and how much platinum you have, and if when you wake up you have six women in your bed, and you have a house with gold bathrooms. You aren’t judged for that. You are judged by what have you given, not what you have taken.
Cedric Muhammad: Beautiful. Thank You Brother for your time and allowing us this picture of your heart and mind.
Ernie Paniccioli: Brother thank you for giving me an opportunity to reach an audience and opportunity that I may not be able to reach. And I know one thing, I am famous now, I sign autographs all of the time. That means nothing to me. What does mean something to me is when people come up to me and vibe with me, cipher with me, talk with me, and that possibly, I can act like what I am supposed to be - a Big Red alarm clock that is waking people up and saying, “Yo man, check the time!” This is serious man. Brother I am so proud of you that you are a young person and you are trying to reach the masses and not trying to feed into that nonsense.
Cedric Muhammad: Thank You.
End Of Part II
Ernie Paniccioli’s work can be seen at www.whoshotya1.com and www.rapphotos.com. Mr. Paniccioli is available for photography, gallery shows and lectures and can be contacted via e-mail at: email@example.com
Friday, March 19, 2004