Monday, May 23, 2011

Hip Hop As Community Unifier

Have you been following Brother Ali on Facebook? You should. Ali is flipping the script on hip-hop, taking it from the voice of the angry and bitter forgotten and taking up the voice of unifier and pastor. Ali isn't an outsider cutting hip-hop into a shape more edible for mainstream audiences. He is from the hood (Minneapolis, to be exact) and knows poverty and hardship.

Ali's music and upbeat Facebook messages don't air a voice of persecution or hardship, even if he has all the reason to do so. On his latest album "Us," he took the community unifier (I avoided the term "organizer" because of its many political implications) approach on the title song:

Here's a taste of his statuses on Facebook as well, with this one from May 13:
Had a lot of great answers to the questions but I want to specifically thank Abdulaziz Dandan who commented eloquently, lovingly and truthfully on the question of Racism's existence in America. I don't know you, but I admire your courage and honesty.

Another from the same day:

I was born privileged, but nurtured by the love/wisdom of oppressed people. Left me with a fanatic fixation on universal Justice. I sincerely hope that if we privileged people take anything away from Hip Hop, it's a deep appreciation for the precious human souls who created it. I've asked these questions to see where our heads are in 2011. Truthfully, we can do better. Love you all very much.

Hearing and reading such things give you hope for hip-hop. The genre came out on a wave of reverberating cultural anger, culminating in the west coast/east coast beefs that took the lives of Biggie and Tupac, followed by the miniature beefs of Nas and Jay-Z and then Eminem and The Source. These beefs all represented, even if the actors didn't do it consciously, varying elements in society. They made it easy for the outsider to misjudge hip-hop, as well.

Maybe it's the recession, Obama or something in the water but the beef seems to have stopped and rappers from all different avenues are working together epically. Today I had the pleasure of being in the studio with my man Carl Roe, an upcoming rapper in the northwest who is recording an EP to be released on the internet.

While talking about the studio owners, etc., it somehow got to the subject of the owner handing eventual ownership to Randy, who obviously knew what he was doing behind the boards. Carl said, "That's great to see and not very common. People helping out one another."

That strand of thought carried over later, as Carl seemed really grateful for the press we've given him here and the cover of several mixtape and podcast covers. His visage is a permanent fixture on the right side of the website and we're going to tout his EP when it comes out. Carl told me that before he joined the military, he had gotten some newspaper coverage but never anything significant.

I'd reached out to him partly because he was in the area and because, after hearing him, I thought the sound would go over well with alot of people. As I've learned more about him, I'm tremendously excited about having him as the musical engine of the Blood Is One machine. We do need to help each other out, keep each other protected and generally look out for one another. That won't happen through supporting a politician or giving to a church but actually going out and helping one another. I look forward to doing it and I think hip-hop has a significantly untapped ability to help get there.

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