Hip-Hop Fridays: RapCOINTELPRO Part XVI: The Four Most Important Artists On The Horizon - Saigon, Immortal Technique, Mikkey, and Papoose
A few months back I noticed something striking in reference to the Nas Streets Disciple album. There existed a clear age gap in those who liked the album and those who did not. I noticed that virtually everyone that I spoke to who was in the mid 20’s and above really enjoyed the album, while those who were around 17 into their early 20s indicated that they were disappointed by the creative work. The reasons were revealing. The former group approved of the project because they felt it was ‘conscious’, ‘introspective’ and ‘mature’, while the latter group had the opposite feeling because , as one young Brother told me, ‘he’s not talking enough about himself and he's saying all that pro-Black stuff.’.
But one day, I met a Brother in his early twenties who told me he loved the album. This same Brother also explained to me how much he enjoys the artists that came out in Hip-Hop’s late 80s – early 90s ‘golden era’. I told him that I was impressed by his tastes and thinking, and that he was certainly in the minority of those members of his peer group that I had spoken to. And as I spoke to him, something very important crystallized for me. I honestly accepted and expressed to him that although I think it is wonderful that he appreciated artists like KRS-One, Brand Nubian, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane; the young artists of today were more important to me than any of these great ones. I explained to him that in my early 30s I am accepting the reality of a tremendous divide in the Hip-Hop community between those who were raised on Hip-Hop music in the 80s and those who are coming up on that which is popular today. I told this Brother that as hard as it might be for those in the elder half of the Hip-Hop generation to accept, our ‘golden era’ is not even on the minds of those who are in their teens and their very early twenties. And as a result, we, in the former group have to be mindful of how we judge the development and evolution of those who have ‘grown up’ on Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Trina, and the Cash Money Millionaires.
I said to this Brother, with a smile and chuckle that although my appearance might indicate otherwise, I am growing to accept that in many ways I am ‘old’ to his peer group and am getting comfortable with that reality. I told him that the view of many in my peer group about how ‘great Hip-Hop used to be’ has caused many of us to romanticize our era and to even become self-righteous and judgmental about the relevance and role of rap in the lives of today’s youth. As I write this I am reminded that I have even been in settings, at conferences and other gatherings where those, some of whom are barely thirty years old, use rhetoric and display an attitude toward the younger members of the Hip-Hop generation that reminds me of how those thirty and forty years my senior, used to lecture and ‘preach’ to us about what is wrong with my peer group and demand that we listen to them for guidance. I recognized the futility of that approach yesterday as I do today. I told that young Brother that it is more important for he and I that an artist in his peer group appear and be honored and respected than it is for the older artists of the ‘golden era’ to come back with new albums and be accepted by the youth of today. I even added that this development is even more important than it is for thirty-something year old multi-platinum rappers like Jay-Z and 50 Cent to become more and more conscious in their creative work.
It was an honor for us at BlackElectorate.com to have been able to interview two of the greatest artists to have put it down during the ‘golden era’ – Wise Intelligent of the Poor Righteous Teachers and Brother J. of X-Clan. I love both of them for helping to ‘raise’ me. But even though both of these giants are releasing new music, and I and others will be promoting their work I am under no illusion that their presence on the rap scene of today will capture the hearts and minds of the youngest members of the Hip-Hop generation. No, it is not my greatest expectation or hope that the artists of my ‘golden era’ will be popular again today, rather it is among my greatest desires that the heart, mind and soul of Wise Intelligent, Brother J., Chuck D., KRS-One, Rakim, Queen Latifah and Big Daddy Kane will be popular again among today’s young Hip-Hop artists. I am not expecting any of these great artists to physically return to popularity. No, I am expecting the return and reappearance of their spirit in the person(s) of the artists that are respected by, and come from, the youngest members of the Hip-Hop generation - those who best speak the language of significant portions of today’s youth, understand the climate in which they live, and what affects and moves them.
I think I have found signs of what I have been looking for, in four artists in particular. Saigon, Immortal Technique, Mikkey and Papoose. Here is information and some of my early thoughts on each of them, all of whom are works in progress:
Saigon. Ever since Tamara from Atlantic Records sent it to me, I have been rocking my Saigon “Abandoned Nation” T-Shirt with pride of late. It is not every day that you hear a young Brother who will lyrically confront the increase of gang affiliation among the youngest members of today’s Hip-Hop generation with street credibility. I direct your attention to his one-of-a-kind track, “Color Purple” where Saigon calls political parties gangs in relation to sending us to war in Iraq; tells Bloods and Crips that the merger of their red and blue colors, respectively, creates purple - the color of love; and ends the song by saying, “ I can’t believe how these rappers be promoting this gang shit, like it’s cool or somethin’, like we ain’t killin’ one another, like we ain’t tearing down our own communities and shit, get real man, bangin on each other – how smart is that?” And if that isn’t enough reflect over this portion of a recent interview that Saigon granted Don Diva magazine regarding his upcoming album, “Abandoned Nation”: "I’m trying to change the world with this shit. The title of the album is, “Greatest Story Never Told,” after Clarence 13 X the father who started the 5% Nation. I’m trying to pick up where he left off. This music shit is the most powerful weapon we got, ya know? We got to use it for more than just promoting some white man’s car or clothing company and shit. We gotta use it to build.” No wonder the man is endorsed by both Nas and Jay-Z and holds his own on a collaboration with Hip-Hop legend Kool G. Rap, “Letter P."
Now Playing: “DJ Whoo Kid & Just Blaze Present: Abandanoned Nation Featuring Saigon,” Mixtape
New Album Coming: Fall, 2005
Immortal Technique: You ain’t never heard nothing like this before. It is something like listening to a variety of flows. Imagine Kool G. Rap, Big Pun, and Scarface-like deliveries with Public Enemy lyrical content, but harder. Last year around this very time, I had the honor of appearing with Immortal Technique as a guest on Activist/Educator/Opinion Leader Rosa Clemente’s “RapCOINTELPRO” special on WBAI-FM. Immortal Technique, the once incarcerated Peruvian is as lucid in commentary as he is articulate over a beat. I think we would be very hard pressed to find a more informed MC, anywhere. And his consciousness is not only political it is street-informed and relevant. Avoiding the pitfalls of artists who can’t handle the content they are imparting, Immortal Technique is the rare Hip-Hip artist who doesn’t allow revolutionary rhetoric to overpower his flow. In addition don’t think Immortal Technique when you read my criticism of ‘conscious’ rappers, “The Consciousness of Suge Knight, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang". Immortal Technique openly speaks about the superior wisdom exercised in one earning $400,000 by selling 40,000 units of a CD put out independently and sold for $10 per unit. You can add on by purchasing Immortal’s Revolutionary Volume I and Volume II. To better understand the political implications of his background and why this artist is especially important in an era of Black-Brown relations and the legacy of COINTELPRO, here is an excerpt of his bio:
Born in a military hospital in South America, Immortal Technique was brought to the United States in the early 80's while a civil war was breaking out in his native Peru. The US supported puppet democracy and Guerilla factions were locked in a bitter struggle which ended like most do in Latin America, with the military and economic aid of the State Dept. through channels like the CIA. Although he had escaped the belligerent poverty and social turmoil of life in the 3rd world, he was now residing in Harlem which had its own share of drama. Growing up on the streets of New York, the young man became enamored with Hip Hop culture, writing graffiti and starting to rhyme at an early age. Although he frequently cut school and ended up being arrested time and time again for his wild behavior, the kid still managed to finish high school and got accepted to a state university. Unfortunately the survivalist and aggressive attitude that was the norm in New York City caused him to be involved in more violent altercations at school, whether it was with other brothers, false flaggers or the relentlessly racist population of an uncultured Middle America.
Compiling multiple assault charges in New York State and in other states eventually caught up to the uncompromisingly hardheaded actions of one Immortal Technique. He faced several charges for Aggravated Assault in the tri-state area. Realizing his inevitable incarceration, Technique began to prolifically write down his ideas about what he had lived and seen in the struggle back at home in relation to his visits back to his native land. He came to embrace his African roots that stemmed from his grandfather and understood the nature of racism and ignorance in its role in Latino culture, separating oppressed peoples and keeping them divided. He also began to study in depth about the Revolutionary ideas that had caused a history of uprising in the indigenous community of his Native South America...
Now Playing: "Bin Laden"
New Album Coming: Middle Passage, October 2005
Mikkey: Groomed by Gil Scott Heron with production from Mannie Fresh and Kanye West. Enough said? We could move on to more about this Brother, but you wonder “groomed by Gil Scott Heron?”. Well, here is how the relationship is described in a recent press release announcing that Mikkey was signed to Virgin Records by star maker/producer Jermaine Dupri:
"Mikkey always had an intellectual spark and such an impeccable flow that it was recognized throughout Chicago. In fact, one night, unknowing to Mikkey, he had a special visitor in the crowd, Gil Scott Heron. And after hearing Mikkey's delivery, flow and uncompromising lyrics, Gil Scott Heron was very determined to take Mikkey out of the streets lifestyle. In fact, Gil Scott Heron came out of his reclusive space to train Mikkey for several years, about politics, war, society, and the world as we know it. After what seemed to be years of training, Gil Scott Heron finally gave Mikkey the approval to televise the revolution. Gil Scott Heron explains, "I've given up on rap music until I met Mikkey, it was a lot of good beats with no real substance. It seemed that rappers only talked about drugs, and exploiting our people no real art. Mikkey on the other hand will provide a different vibe, and I am passing him the baton to televise the revolution".
So with a background like that you can expect big things. And I certainly was satisfied when I heard Mikkey’s lyrical display on his new track "Revolution" and others available at the UnCrowned City website. He merges style and substances. And you have got to respect it, or even love it when an MC acknowledges the insight of Ice Cube and brings back the concept and phrase ‘house nigga’, puts it in their lyrics and even applies it to the hierarchy of the music industry. Mikkey recently said of the influence of the 'Death Certificate' Ice Cube, "Man, ‘Death Certificate’ changed my life. Cube was the most gangsta out but [he] wasn't a dumb nigga, and definitely wasn't a house nigga. He pulled no punches. I plan on carrying that torch." And in a recent interview published at AllHipHop.com in response to a question regarding why he is calling his album Nat Turner’s Revenge Mikkey said, "It’s just the whole mind frame that I am in. Nat Turner was a slave that ran away and led a revolt in Virginia. And basically, I feel like the industry has always had these master and slave relationships. But I'm finally breaking free of that relationship I had with Cash Money/Universal. Now I feel like I am leading a rebellion of all of these ex-slaves that were tied down in situations where people were not benefiting them. It’s also paying homage to a great Black hero, by saying every time that a Black man becomes successful, or makes something of themselves, it’s like Nat Turner is having his revenge. Nat Turner was hanged, murdered, and skinned alive, so its like he's getting his revenge silently, even though he is dead."
Now Playing: "Revolution"
New Album Coming: Nat Turner’s Revenge, Fall 2005
Papoose: The more unlikely an event the more information it yields. Who would have expected that it would be The Drama King, DJ Kay Slay, who would bring us the artist that would lyrically expose the COINTELPRO-like surveillance of Hip-Hop artists by law enforcement agencies? But that is exactly what happened when the Streetsweeper’s Papoose delivered the expose, "Sharades", representing the spirit of the so-called "Hip Hop Police", in the first person. Here is a sample:
Gimme the keys to Shyne Po handcuffs
Gimme the keys to Lil' Kim handcuffs
Gimme the keys to C-Murder handcuffs
So I could tighten 'em and let the cell slam shut
Gangsta rapper, it's time to man up
'Fore I tighten your handcuffs
Cause they all make songs about killing each other
When I bring 'em in for questioning they all squeal on each other
You stick a needle deep in your skin and carve it wit ink
You call it tattoo, I call it the mark of the beast
We identify criminals who rob on the streets
By scars or tattoos don't you bother to think?
They blame me for Biggie murder, but the case died out
So now that's for me to know and for you to find out
I got the industry on lock and key
Who am I?
I'm the hip-hop police
With a flow and voice somewhat reminiscent of the late great Big L, the recipient of the late Justo’s Mixtape Award, “The Best Underground Artist On A Mixtape”, Papoose has the uncanny ability to weave a positive message into some of the hardest lyrics one can hear. He is impressive in his ability to represent the duality of Black life is a quality that reminds me of Styles P. of The Lox. You want evidence? Check this verse from “Let’s Play Monopoly”:
Momma's in tha kitchen cookin' that rice
Father's outside shootin' them dice
Brother's in jail, raisin' hell
Sister's on the corner sellin' fruit cocktail
Family alcoholics still sippin' his booze
That's why I'm rappin over rhythm n' blues
To all you rich black folks wit ya glistenin' jewels
Entrepreneurs, all you millionare dudes
Before you catch another case, limit your moves
Johnny Cochran got a brain tumor, I deliver the news
What if mother nature aborted the sky
When would we shoot our fireworks on the fourth of July?
We can't afford to live, so abortions rise
Can't afford the truth, so we told to lie
Can't afford a funeral, 'cause the costs is high
God damn, we can't even afford to die!
Streetsweepers Entertainment's first artist comes into the game steeped in the mixtape circuit of braggadocio freestyles and 'beef'. Some may see too much of that influence on him. But that same influence is what sharpens many artists today and is shaping the tastes of many of our young people. The respect that Papoose has earned from lyrics that may not look 'conscious' or 'political' on the surface has opened the door or should I say the hearts of many who would not otherwise get acquainted with the type of message and content contained in "Sharades" and "Let's Play Monopoly".
If one listens carefully to Mikkey, Saigon, Papoose and Immortal Technique they will realize that Black and Latino youth culture and how young people think and organize themselves for constructive and destructive purposes are a primary concern of these artists. It is also a primary concern of some in extremely high and influential circles of power surrounding federal, state and local government officials. On only two occasions in the public (once in Miami last May and once in Philadelphia this May) have I gotten into some of what I know regarding the emergence of a small group of advisers seeking to influence the thinking of national security and local law enforcement officials throughout the United States.
To sum it up succinctly, there exists a group of highly specialized individuals who have been studying Black and Latino youth culture, gangs (or “street organizations”), their organizational structure and hierarchy; and relationship to the communities from which they emerge. Inside of this group there are some who are unambiguously making the case that the gang member of the Black and Latino community is the next “warrior” or “new soldier” who will threaten the national security of the United States of America. These individuals, in their writings, make comparisons between the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and Gangster Disciples and Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For the last ten years in particular, they have been urging local law enforcement officials and those in the United States national security apparatus, to make special preparations through intelligence and military means to dismantle youth street organizations (Their motives are different from those grassroots organizations, for example who seek to end gang conflict and negotiate peace treaties between street organizations.)
These same individuals advising police chiefs, Members of Congress and the White House, have described the rap artist as "the spokesperson of the gang".
Now, if one remembers the March 4, 1968 memorandum written by late FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover, they should recall that there is a portion that states that no ‘rabble rouser’ or political ideology or radical philosophy should have access to a ‘mass communication medium’. This is what Hip-Hop music represents. It has been the dominant mass communication medium of oppressed and impoverished people for nearly twenty years, in three ways in particular. First it has had the effect of cultural unification, making Black youth, in particular, all over this country aware of one another’s culture and way of life. I never would have known aspects about the street culture of my Brothers and Sisters on the West Coast had it not been for Hip-Hop music and videos. Secondly it also has served as the definitive medium by which otherwise ignored or downplayed inner city and social realities were projected. In Chuck D’s words, rap music became the “CNN of Black America”. Third and finally, Hip-Hop music was a principal means by which the philosophy and teachings of groups and leaders who were popular in preceding decades was introduced to a latter generation. One must honestly question the depth and extent to which the philosophy, worldview and ideology of communities and organizations like the Nation Of Islam, the Nation Of Gods and Earths and the Black Panthers would have penetrated Black youth in the late 80s and early 90s without Hip-Hop. And one can certainly ask the question – how many people in teh Hip-Hop generation would be familiar with Assata Shakur today were it not for Public Enemy, Tupac, Common and Mos Def?
In that light it is a foolish, superficial and reactionary attitude and position for the Civil Rights generation and the elder members of the Hip-Hop generation to take in condemning today’s rap music in a vacuum as if it appeared in a vacuum. The same ‘mass communication medium’ that brings us some of the nastiest, misogynistic, and raunchiest lyrics today, gave us the most purified, elevated and eloquent lyrics nearly twenty years ago. Condemning today’s music and the young artists that produce it, rather than finding a method to use the medium and to groom these artists, is counter productive. We will not bring back a spirit that has departed, by lamenting its absence or complaining that the ‘prophets’ of yesterday are no longer heard. We have to move forward and look upon the younger and less heard members of this generation for signs of the embodiment and resuscitation of an essence that can never be destroyed – by our most ignorant or their most wickedly wise.
In Saigon, Mikkey, Immortal Technique, and Papoose, I see the return of that spirit. I hope and pray that we will individually and collectively water it spiritually, support it economically and defend it politically from the machinations of our open external enemies and the self-destructive behavior that we have internalized.
These are more than artists.
Visit The Black Electorate Archives and Read the Previous Installments of Cedric Muhammad's RAP COINTELPRO Series.
Friday, June 10, 2005