Tuesday, March 1, 2011
New Wise Intelligent interview w/Cedric Muhammad...The Second Coming of K.O.S. (Knowledge of Self): What Will Spark It?
The Second Coming of K.O.S. (Knowledge of Self): What Will Spark It?
By Cedric Muhammad
All of us, in different ways, entertain, debate or ponder the question of just what is appropriate lyrical content in rap music? and the question of whether it is the duty of Hip-Hop artists to popularize knowledge, understanding and wisdom? Some of us have clear answers on these questions while others say it is not that easy to answer. The opinion of a late 30-something like myself is often different than that of a 14-year old, and I always find it interesting to see where the consensus is on the subject, across age and region. The relationship between artistic expression and any responsibility we feel it has to inform and enlighten thought and behavior is always a controversial topic – with an almost endless number of angles being brought up and out.
Of late I have concerned myself primarily with the economic aspects of the matter because I believe the relationship between art and commerce – which always exists - has been either ignored, diminished or oversimplified (by lovers and haters of business activity) by most opinion leaders in Hip-Hop. I have expressed that perspective in this Hip-Hoppreneur column which I am honored to have had published for a year now at AllHipHop.com.
My most recent thoughts (which I’ll keep to myself this week -smile) in this area and the question of whether or not a return to earlier days in Hip-Hop (when historical knowledge was championed and fashionable) is possible or even desirable were stimulated by the work of two artists: mikeflo – an emcee, DJ (for dead prez), producer and teacher; and Wise Intelligent of the legendary Poor Righteous Teachers, who also records under the identity/personality of Djezuz Djonez (and who continues to work with youth all over the country and in particular, his native Trenton, New Jersey).
I’ve been enjoying mikfelo’s mixtape (http://mikeflo.wordpress.com/), “Fly, Fresh, and Responsible,” hosted by M1 of dead prez, and Wise Intelligent’s “Illuminati’: (http://soundcloud.com/wiseintelligent/wise-intelligent-illuminati) off of his new album “Wise Intelligent Iz…The UnConKable Djezuz Djonez” (along with an outstanding blog deconstructing his own lyrics at: http://www.wiseintelligent.com/)
From two very important perspectives mikelfo and Wise make valuable contributions to discussing this decades old debate, in a timely and relevant manner. Seeking to place their up-to-date perspectives opposite this ‘timeless’ discussion (that at times gets stale, preachy, and even down ignorant) I interviewed both of them on their work and the success and challenge of entertaining and cultivating souls while feeding the intellect of a generation that wasn’t raised on Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Queen Latifah, X-Clan, Ice Cube, or Brand Nubian.
Cedric Muhammad: What is the motivation behind “Fly, Fresh and Responsible” and its connection (if any) to the principles of R.B.G. ‘Revolutionary But Gangsta” coined by Dead Prez?
mikeflo: The motivation behind “Fly, Fresh & Responsible” comes from an undying need to provide balance to an industry bombarded with an influx of imagery that is NOT useful in the war against all Afrikan people at home and abroad. Its a call to action for artists to remember that they can be fly and fresh, yet also be held accountable to their families (which I am and ALWAYS MUST THANK for my development as a man), communities and to Hip Hop as a whole. Impressionable minds are watching our every move and it is paramount that we communicate proactive and promising messages WITHOUT preaching. “Revolutionary But Gangsta” says exactly that for dead prez and for me it is the same. Its not enough to merely preach to the amen corner, but to meet the people where they are and take them to where they want to be, even if they aren’t sure where to go…..we speak clearly and make it plain.
Cedric Muhammad: Certain tracks on the mixtape flip recent popular records and turn the title, phrases, and hooks in a different direction than artists like Kanye West or Drake, for example, intended. Have you found that approach useful in connecting with young fans of the music - and introducing history lessons, concepts, and books they otherwise may not know or learn about?
mikeflo: Yes, I’ve found this approach very successful because at the end of the day the food must taste good. Its no different than taking a popular dish and substituting ingredients yet still maintaining the taste and integrity of that particular dish. At the end of the day people want to unite with things that are sonically pleasing and if you can manage to communicate some relevant messages then its all worth it. I have fun with takeovers but put just as much or even more into my original material. Young people love to hear what they know being translated in a different way, especially when you’re really spittin’ and relating to them.
Cedric Muhammad: Years ago in a Final Call interview I said (http://www.blackelectorate.com/print_article.asp?ID=1425):
“I think that it’s important for historical context that I make a reference to one of the memos of the counterintelligence program of the FBI dated August 25, 1967. It actually said that no political activist or somebody with an ideology that was perceived as a threat to the establishment should have access to a mass communication media. That’s actually the quote, “mass communication media.” And so, J. Edgar Hoover was fearful of any ideology or philosophy or charismatic leader or organization having access to a medium. And so, before we even get into the question of which rappers are more conscious than others, I think we have to respect the power of the medium itself. Hip Hop culture, the music and of course, radio, the records, the videos and other forms through which people can project messages and images that may spark a movement.”
What is the place of the DJ and the Mixtape in terms of COINTELPRO and ‘mass communication medium’?
mikeflo: The role of the DJ is to counteract the counter intelligence. DJ’s should have their fingers on the pulse of the people and an eye on the prize at the same time. Many “well known” to “obscure” DJ’s are dropping the ball because they are not playing the plethora of songs they really listen to in their own lives. Instead, they follow the formula of going with the status quo in attempts to NOT ruffle too many feathers, keep advertisers happy (in the case for radio DJ’s) and song by song dumb down the culture. The DJ is just one of the elements (many say the foundation) of Hip Hop and knowledge is the 5th element that can’t be forgotten. The DJ’s role is to play good records and break good records that the average music lover may not know about. Everything is political so every tactic is significant in war. The DJ definitely plays an important role in sustaining Hip Hop culture and keeping it solid so that certain agents aren’t so confident and successful in their infiltration into what is one of our most powerful tools for liberation.
Cedric Muhammad: “Fly, Fresh and Responsible” weaves in the language of different schools of thought and communities from the Working Class/Black Power/Black Nationalist/Pan-African Movements in a very credible way. In addition acknowledgment of the role of street organizations (on the track ‘One Blood’ we hear a call for the unity of Black and Brown people and to organize ’street tribes’). Do you believe that Hip-Hop lyricists have the ability to develop a universal unifying language that has eluded some of our organizations whose disciples and members to this day seem to operate with suspicion in dealing with one another - even in facing a common enemy?
mikeflo: Excellent question Brother Cedric. Many Hip Hop lyricists have the ability to paint pictures so crystal clear that permeate all kinda hoods from coast to coast and tribe for tribe. Any effective communicator must assess his/her audience before they can address them. It is very important for artists to have a scope that includes the hood, yet reaches far beyond those same hoods that tend to unify us. At the end of the day we all want the same things and are more alike than different. The problem is that many artists are digging deep into themselves to provide more balance and thus are underestimating what the working class really wants and needs….Artists must be fearless in these days and times. The stakes are too high. And yes, it is a common enemy. We must choose a side of the fence we want to live on. No more straddling the fence, especially for those that “know better”. Period.
Cedric Muhammad Do explanations which primarily blame corporate power and corrupt music industry influence for the ‘disappearance’ of ‘consciousness’ from Hip-Hop and rap music satisfy you?
Wise Intelligent/Djezuz Djonez Well, let me say first and foremost that I do not believe that ‘consciousness’ has ‘disappeared’ from Hip Hop, neither from rap music. Hip Hop artists, in America and around the world have continued to interpret the social-political landscape of our communities, nation and world without cessation. Its more so a question of ‘conscious’ Hip Hop leaving the mainstream mediums (corporation; label/radio/video, etc.) through which the culture is delivered to the masses. With that as our backdrop, we can safely say that corporate power (which is the music/media industry) is responsible for the shifts in what we hear or not within the mediums under their control. Let’s not simplify what has happened to the literatures of freedom or “consciousness’ to the mediums of Hip Hop propagation. We have ample evidence and or examples of how ‘conscious’ media has been caused to disappear from mainstream film, television, news, print publications – including but not limited to literary works such as histories and novels. Just as Fight the Power is no longer in the mainstream, neither is Malcolm X, or Rosewood.
Just as You Must Learn is no longer in the mainstream neither is The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality or Culture Bandits. When ‘conscious’ Hip Hop or “protest songs” – as I prefer to refer to much of what I do – were cut from the BET programming so was Tavis Smiley, Teen Summit and anything that could shine the least bit of light into a budding mind. When we make Hip Hop the sole focus of this process of DUMBING DOWN, we miss the reality that this is an assault on our collective conscience by Weapons of Mass Distraction targeting everything from the music we listen to and television we watch, to the books we read and schools we attend. Harry Allen still exists and so do many young people today doing what he did when PE made him famous. But, just because mainstream does not propagate this brand of content does not mean it does not exist or is not relevant!
-Cedric Muhammad: Of late we’ve heard Jay-Z more openly make reference to terminology popularized by the Nation of Gods and Earths (which has also been referred to as the 5% Nation of Islam) and many noted his reference to Minister Farrakhan - even placing a drawing of him in his new book, Decoded. What impact if, any do you see this having on younger artists who admire Jay-Z yet did not grow up in the 1980s (as Jay-Z did) when the Lessons and Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were more common place in Hip-Hop culture/music?
Wise Intelligent/Djezuz Djonez: Hopefully they’ll Google Minister Louis Farrakhan. Sad day in black life when black teenagers have to Google Farrakhan to know anything about who he is. Jay Z, in my opinion is one of the dopest MCs ever, without any argument – I believe. I’ve always thought that he could take a rhyme wherever he wanted to take it, along with whoever’s listening to him. I also, thought that some 99.999 percent of his catalogue focuses primarily on the same things, i.e., money, ho’s and clothes (consumer oriented materialism). I must say, you cannot be forty years old and have nothing else to talk about other than having the “baddest” R&B “bitch” wearing your chain, or how much more money you have than the people you grew up in poverty amongst? Maybe you can? At some point in our lives that conversation gets old and demeaning. So, substance is required…guess I’ll try and kick a little knowledge. I hope this is the case…at least an occasional reference to the collective heartbeat of this people.
Cedric MuhammadThere is clearly a disconnect in Hip-Hop which as you may know [in "Why T.I. Needs Chuck D….(and Soulja Boy Needs T.I.)
I have blamed for the lack of the transfer of business and creative knowledge from one generation of artists to another within the culture and industry. You also know that I have noted what I believe is a tendency for the older members of the Hip-Hop generation to be not just critical but judgmental of the tastes of its youngest members. Yet, you are over 20 years in the game, arguably still look like a teenager (and market yourself in ways that embrace youth), and are rooted in the work of community development via the use of technology which seems to captivate young people. Do you believe your personality and approach holds some keys for others?
Wise Intelligent/Djezuz Djonez: I’ll say that there has never in the history of music – as far as I am aware – been a time wherein there was a transferring of business and creative knowledge among artists (black or white).
Hell, we have barely passed down family trees for two generations in some of our households. What I do see happening is Hip Hop artists are passing business and creative knowledge down to their paternal offspring. Many Hip Hop artist and moguls are developing their children into mega artists as well as astute businessmen/women. However, you are correct in that there is no transfer of such business knowledge and skill among artists. I’m not sure if my approach holds keys, but I do know and understand that most ‘progressive’ and revolutionary movements were initiated by young people as young as 16 – 24 years old. The Civil Rights Movement with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Martin Luther King Jr. was a mere 26 years old when he stepped on the frontline. The Black Panther Party were fairly young as well. Che Guevara was what, 25 years old when he joined a young Castro? I just don’t believe all the BS about “young people don’t want” to hear or buy this or that because its “too preachy” or some other BS. We were once the 16 to 24 year olds listening to everything from Kool G Rap and NWA to Public Enemy and Too Short. We wore Dapper Dan leather outfits, fat gold chains, smoked weed and still read books, studied lessons and went to see Farrakhan and or a Leonard Jeffries speak. Being young and dumb are not synonymous. Just as being old and wise aren’t either. Wisdom and youth are not mutually exclusive.
I’m making music that explains the why of it all. Yes, some of us are cooking and selling cocaine and other drugs, yes we are filling the prisons, yes some of us are gangbanging…I’m interpreting how we got here. What created ghettoes, concentrated poverty, poor schooling, etc. ALL BLACK PEOPLE (and not just the youth) can relate to this! As long as an artist stays true to his root, his people, his source of power he’ll remain relevant far beyond the shelf life breathed into him by the mainstream apparatus.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you believe we’ll ever see an era like what existed in the 1980s-90s where the open embrace of knowledge was not only acceptable but an essential key to being popular and relevant, as an artist? If not, why not and if so - what forces, circumstances, events, individuals, and institutions would play a role or be a factor?
Wise Intelligent/Djezuz Djonez: YES, I do believe we will once again witness a healthy injection of knowledge and substance into the diets of a larger audience. I don’t think a child can drink energy drinks his entire life without one day seeking out and or asking for a glass of water. The cotton candy breakfast, lunch and dinner will eventually exhaust itself. Organic produce will once again be added to the mainstream menu when Wise Intelligent’s “ILLUMINATI” is accidentally played on Hot 97, followed by the adding of “Something About Mary” to urban radio playlists around the country. The masses are connected to mainstream mediums like babies to umbilical cords. Until they are fed knowledge through these – their mother mediums – if it ain’t in the mainstream it ain’t in their bloodstream.
* Mikeflo thanks Jaha, Garvey and Pili Asante for helping to keep him “Fly, Fresh & Responsible”. Visit www.mikeflomusic.com and http://www.deadprez.com for the latest music and travel calendar.
You can follow Wise Intelligent/Djezuz Djonez on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/wiseintelligent
His new album, “Wise Intelligent Iz…The UnConKable Djezuz Djonez” is available at iTunes, Amazon, and Shockhound
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He’s CEO of CM Cap where he provides brand management services to Hip-Hop artists:
http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/cedric-muhammad-unveils-hip-hoppreneur-%E2%84%A2-advisory-service-for-international-artists/. Cedric is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/).
His Facebook Fan page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cedric-Muhammad/57826974560?ref=ts and he can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
IT'S NO LONGER SMART TO BE DUMB!!!!