The Definition Of A Hip-Hoppreneur ™
Last month, while on a trip out of D.C., I found myself in Union Station in line waiting to obtain my reserved ticket. Ahead of me I noticed two Brothers at the counter. I was close enough to recognize who they were and hear some of their conversation with the Amtrak representative. The two Brothers were the members of the Hip-Hop group, Clipse. They were humble, respectful and kind in demeanor and in the words they exchanged with the Brother at the counter. They also had a ton of luggage, giving me some bad memories of the worst part of my touring days with Wu-Tang Clan (smile).
In the hand of Malice, of Clipse, I noticed the now classic book, 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Immediately, the Biblical verse from Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherd who feeds himself (but not his flock…)” came to mind. It was nothing personal. The Clipse make hot music and songs (they are produced by Pharrell who always seems to give them some of his best beats) and while I have never bought any of their music or recommended it, I always watch their videos when they come on, and listen to their tracks, if I happen to catch them in play. By my account, they are a pretty good group and very talented lyricists with witty lines that show some consciousness (a friend of mine keeps telling me about this hot line they have on a new track), but I wonder to what extent they promote the full extent of the knowledge, wisdom, or understanding they take in for themselves.
For about six years, I have considered four types of Black leaders as potentially in the category of the verse that came to mind that day in Washington, D.C. They are 1) the Black preachers 2) the leaders of African nations 3) the Black politicians and 4) the Black rappers. While a great many have a problem with the material manner in which these leaders 'feed' themselves (while those they represent languish in poverty), my greater concern is the gap that exists regarding the spiritual food they take in, as compared to what they offer or 'feed' to those who follow them. To me, there is nothing worse than the combination of knowing better than you do, and sharing not just less than you know, but the worst part of what you know, with those who admire you. All of us can, at one time or another, fall in that category, of course. Including myself. Hypocrisy, and willful misguidance are crimes of the highest order with God, those who hold to ethical standards, and the masses of the people. That is why in the Lessons received by Registered Muslims in the Nation Of Islam, and studied and held dearly by the Nation of Gods and Earths, the question is asked, "What is the Duty of a civilized person?"
For several years now, I have thought of some of the rappers of today, as fulfilling the sign or type of what is written in the history of Muhammad of 1,400 years ago regarding the poets – an influential group of young people (and many older) in the society of Arabia of that day. In some of the accounts that I have read regarding their lyrical content, and the sway they held in parts of Arabia, I have felt as if I am reading a word picture of the rap artists of today.
In addition to that history, there are several verses written of in the scriptures that bring the rapper of today to mind. One such section is Surah 26: 224 to 227 which reads (in the Maulana Muhammad Ali translation):
And the poets – the deviators follow them.
Seest thou not that they wander in every valley
And that they say that which they do not?
Except those who believe and do good and remember Allah much, and defend themselves after they are oppressed. And they who do wrong, will know to what final place of turning they will turn back.
In commentary on these verses Muhammad Ali writes, “The poet never leads his followers to a life of righteousness, while the Qur’an was bringing about a pure transformation in the lives of those who followed it. Again, the poets say things which they do not practice, whereas the Prophet was not only a preacher of righteousness, but also an exemplar who translated into practice what he taught in words.”
These verses are translated (with footnote numbers in parenthesis) in the Yusef Ali translation as:
And the Poets (3237) – It is those straying in Evil, who follow them:
Seest thou not that they wander distractedly in every valley?
And that they say what they practice not? – Except those who believe (3238), work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah, and defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust (3239) assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take.
In commentary on these verses Yusef Ali writes in the following footnotes:
3237.The Poets: to be read along with the exceptions mentioned in verse 227 below. Poetry and other arts are not in themselves evil, but may, on the contrary, be used in the service of religion and righteousness. But there is a danger that they may be prostituted for base purposes. If they are insincere (“they say what they do not”) or are divorced from actual life or its goodness or its serious purpose, they may become instruments of evil or futility. They then wander without any set purpose, and seek the depths (valleys) of human folly rather than the heights of divine light.
3238. Poetry and the fine arts which are to be commended are those which emanate from minds steeped in the Faith, which try to carry out in life the fine sentiments they express in their artistic work, aim at the glory of Allah rather than at self-glorification or the fulsome praise of men with feet of clay, and do not (as in Jihad) attack anything except aggressive evil. In this sense a perfect artist should be a perfect man. Perfection may not be attainable in this life, but it should be the aim of every man, and especially of one who wishes to become a supreme artist, not only in technique but in spirit and essentials. Among the commendable poets contemporary with the Holy Prophet may be mentioned Hassan and Labid: the latter had the honour of being one of the seven whose poems were selected for “hanging” (the Mu’allaqat) in the Days of Ignorance.
3239. These were the scurrilous rhymsters, who were doomed to come to an evil end.
Clearly, we all can turn on the radio today and hear ‘scurrilous rhymsters’ just as we can obtain some Hip-Hop that enlightens, inspires and informs us.
The Holy Qur’an in several places, makes it clear that the Messenger of Allah is not a Poet, nor did Allah teach him poetry. Yet, one of the four principal arguments made against him was that he was little more than a talented poet. I have looked deep in these arguments and have found that at the root of the controversy is the eloquence and influence of the Messenger's clear delivery of the message and how it affected people. Not only that, still deeper, one will find that at the core of the accusations and depictions of the Messenger as little more than a wordsmith is a recognition by all people regarding the power of the word and language on the human spirit. Some were ascribing this power to God, and others to Satan.
This week I have been thinking over this debate, which took place in Arabia around 1,400 years ago in relation to the ESPN promotion for a special it is airing on Muhammad Ali tomorrow night. One of the promotional ads asks the question, "Did Ali Invent Rap?” I have also thought over this in terms of the debate – superficial at times and very deep at others – over the source of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s eloquence and ability to explain so clearly. In a more general sense, I have thought about this in terms of White people's seeming fascination with articulate Black men. From J.C. Watts to Barack Obama, I can do a roll call on that one.
In 2001 at the Hip Hop Summit Action Network’s Summit in New York City, Minister Louis Farrakhan delivered the most profound talk I have ever seen (in person) given to an audience made up primarily of artists. By videotape, I saw the address given at the West Coast Summit, a year or so later. Those two talks, to me, are what every Hip-Hop artist should hear and watch before and after they gain public influence.
In his talk in New York, the Minister made a point that with the exception of himself, he did not believe anyone could take the Word of God any further than the Hip-Hop artists. He was saying that, as a group, no one could teach the truth, freedom, justice and equality, and the knowledge of the human family any better than the rappers. He even advised them on how to gradually clean up their lyrics and weave in current events. A wonderful strategy.
He prefaced all of his comments by explaining that he saw these talented young women and men as being so important that they were written of in the scriptures, and that they really were not artists in the narrow sense of that word, but were actually world leaders.
The Hip-Hoppreneur ™ Service that we are offering at CM Cap (http://cmcap.com) grows out of an idea that I have had for over 17 years regarding the ultimate role that Hip-Hop and arts, culture and entertainment would play in rebuilding distressed rural and urban areas. I remember gaining that insight, while in High School, watching an NBA basketball game on TV. I never relinquished it through my evolution in Hip-Hop as a fan, consumer, producer, promoter, writer, manager, and consultant. I have never lost sight of this vision through times spent at Flavor Unit, Bad Boy, and Wu-Tang.
That vision and development model has been sharpened into focus since I became more engaged with politics and economics, in a special way beginning in 1998. And it finally crystallized in 2002 when I gave advice to Roc-A-Fella Records on how to market their artists not just as hot rappers, gangsters, and hustlers but as community leaders.
The folks in marketing absolutely loved the plan and tried to implement it. But due to internal dynamics and politics, my advice wasn’t followed. Over a year or so later I received an e-mail from a supportive member of their Marketing department who told me how much he regretted not taking my advice when Beanie Sigel got into trouble in Philadelphia.
While many equate the term Hip-Hoppreneur ™ with capitalism or entrepreneurship, it is deeper than that. If you get a chance, check out the powerful documentary Paper Chasers which chronicles some of Hip-Hop’s leading business personalities, moguls, and hustlers. While the phrase “I’m chasing paper” uttered ad nauseum, during the documentary suggests a self-glorification attitude toward the pursuit of money, almost the worship of it, what I hear in the hearts and minds of those who speak in this vein, is that they are chasing power, and in a way that benefits those closest to them.
Although there are numerous examples of self-destructive behavior encouraged and embodied by rappers, this culture has placed a premium on a value system that champions loyalty, unity, and a connection to where one come’s from.
Former head of the RIAA Hilary Rosen, perhaps gives the best evidence when she said in 2001 at the Hip-Hop Summit “No genre in music gives back more to their community than Hip-Hop.”
One artist who understands this is Hip-Hop artist David Banner.
Last year, I had the honor of being able to meet and advise David Banner on this subject. Over a two-hour lunch at B. Smith’s in Washington D.C. he and I discussed the nature of power and how he and I saw it at work – in Hip-Hop, the streets, and politics. At one point in our meeting he raised the challenge he was facing in BET not airing one of his videos and the controversy within his fan base over his hit record, “Play”. He asked me what I thought was going on with the normally supportive BET, and with his core fan base’s sometimes negative reaction to what was his biggest record (in terms of radio spins). I told him what I felt and thought, and gave him a suggestion on how to deal with BET. Interestingly, at the end of the lunch, he received a Blackberry text from BET stating that his video was being put back in rotation.
Immediately after this we headed over to Capitol Hill for an hour-long meeting that I arranged between David Banner and the Congressman who represented his district, Rep. Bennie Thompson. It was the first time they had formally met. It was a powerful meeting. I had one goal in mind which was achieved. I set the table for something very powerful to take place between these two leaders. They both agreed to form an alliance along with another powerful figure in Jackson, Mississippi to take care of some serious business. I hope that they one day will.
Those two meetings, David Banner, and the leadership he would provide just one month later in response to Hurricane Katrina, approach CM Cap’s definition of a Hip-Hoppreneur ™.
While I think the Hip-Hop artist is enormously influential, I now place less emphasis on their role in leading. I believe that the Hip-Hoppreneur movement, is a generational one, and not the domain of the individual rap artist. We - as a generation - have been called to something and Hip-Hop culture has shaped our minds, hearts and value systems in ways that have prepared us to accept a mission – as world leaders. What we have learned from Hip-Hop about ourselves, one another, business, politics, technology, and the role of art, has prepared us to accept an enormous assignment that I believe is written of in the scriptures, and demanded by circumstance.
Those of us who are waiting on individual celebrities to take care of this awesome mission, on their own, are mistaken. It is them, you and I , who have to step up to the plate, and in comprehensive fashion.
By that I mean two things.
One, the days of the conscious among us just narrowly viewing Hip-Hop as an appendage or wing of the political progressive community are over. I cringe when I see activists try to fit Hip-Hop culture into a political ideology that is unable to understand or appreciate it fully. Hip-Hop culture and the world leadership it has and could provide cannot be made a slave or whore to the American progressive political movement, which however sympathetic and helpful to Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous People and Asians, is still, sadly hindered by aspects of White Supremacy.
By the same token, equating Hip-Hop with capitalism, as defined by the Mob and the White American Right is also inadequate and inappropriate. Hip-Hip culture is bigger than ‘getting money’ for the sake or it, or rugged individualism. And here, the leading entrepreneurs in the culture who allow themselves to be positioned as Black mannequins of the American Dream need to be careful. Their individual success, in the face of the poverty experienced by the masses and communities who support and produce them, will one day come back to haunt them. “Woe to the shepherd who feeds himself (but not his flock…)”
What is now needed is balance and more boldness in combining the best parts of the political and economic worldview of Hip-Hop culture and leveraging and brokering its power on behalf of real wealth creation for all of us.
CM Cap’s approach is: to advise artists, moguls, entrepreneurs and activists in ways that are politically progressive, create individual wealth and result in community development.
If you think you might be a Hip-Hoppreneur ™, I hope that you will consider our services.
So, let’s get money, but as part of a larger movement and mission.
Monday, January 1, 2007