You want change, the best place to start is within. David Banner outlines his place in Hip-Hop culture on “Malcolm X (A SONG TO ME),” detailing how he won’t be engaging in much of the nonsense permeating the music. When he was Atlanta last week for Red Bull’s Emsee Battle, Banner told me he won’t be doing much music like this after Sex, Drugs & Video Games. I sincerely hope he reconsiders.
Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm X’
Tags: 2012, birthday, black nationalism, Malcolm X, speech, Talented Tenth, Tupac Shakur, video
On what would have been Malcolm X’s 87 birthday, we take a look back on a Hip-Hop legend that he greatly influenced. 20 years ago, a young Tupac was asked to speak at a dinner honoring Malcolm’s life. Instead of a safe presentation, Pac choose to the challenge the black intelligentsia present to put action behind their words in engaging the youth. Some of Pac’s ideas were undeveloped (ie. his stance on higher education), but you can also see the hints of black nationalism and economic empowerment that were major concerns of Malcolm’s final years. Some questions to ponder. What would be Malcolm X’s opinion on the Hip-Hop generation and the music coming from it today? How differently, if any, would Hip-Hop culture view him had he lived?
Tags: DJ Revolution, KB Imean, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, Malcolm X, Malcom and Martin, Marco Polo, Martin Luther King, Styliztik Jones
“I’m Godbody/ Not trying to be mobsters…”
Malcom and Martin are two weeks out from their ambitious debut, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, on February 1. In case you missed their proper mixtape introduction back in November, the group is composed of DJ Revolution, and West Coast emcees Styliztik Jones and KB Imean. As the name implies, this collective is focused on making music to inspire future community leaders.
“Stand 4 Something” is a non-album track. The moderately paced guitar-funk elicits a laid-back, 70s vibe. Neither emcee are complex, lyrical monsters, but their points on the benefits of community action over organized crime fantasies/glorification still hit home.
Add this with their official first single, the Marco Polo-produced “Movement Music,” and it sounds like Malcolm and Martin are on their way to dropping a well-made, throwback mid 90′s album. The throwback feel is not just with the beats, but in the spirit of how they approach the music with a love of the art and culture.
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me will be available through Soulspazm Records.
MALCOLM AND MARTIN “STAND 4 SOMETHING”
MALCOM AND MARTIN “MOVEMENT MUSIC” [PRODUCED BY MARCO POLO]
Tags: BDP, Criminal Minded, DJ Revolution, KRS-One, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King
For any group to name themselves are Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the music has to be as heavy and revolutionary as the two legendary leaders. DJ Revolution, Styliztik Jones, and KB Imean are seeking to do just that with their mixtape called Malcolm and Martin were…Criminal Minded.
DJ Revolution founded this group with the objective of inspiring future community leaders. This mixtape, which serves as a lead for their 2011 debut LP, is an ambitious remake of BDP’s classic 1987 album Criminal Minded. The core of the beats remain intact, but with new lyrics from the emcees, and cuts and scratches from DJ Revolution.
The entire project can be previewed at the link below. The first single, “Pigs Is Over,” substitutes the police as the diss targets over the Juice Crew.
Their album Life Doesn’t Frighten Me will hit stores on February 1, 2011 via SoulSpazm Records.
MALCOLM AND MARTIN “PIGS IS OVER”
Tags: Airtight's Revenge, Bilal, Interscope, Love For Sale, Malcolm X
Next month Bilal Oliver returns with Airtight’s Revenge, his first studio album in nine years.
In this exclusive interview with Beats, Boxing and Mayhem, Bilal delves into the concept behind the album and his struggles marketing a multi-faceted identity as a black musician in today’s music industry.
Airtight’s Revenge features Bilal on the cover mimicking Malcolm X’s famous 1964 Ebony Magazine photo. Instead of holding a M1 Carbine rifle like the revered activist, Bilal peers out the window gripping a microphone stand. The purpose, he says, was to convey his unwavering stance to release his music without artistic compromise.
“The concept is getting my art out by any means necessary. Even through all the pitfalls, the dark side of industry and the bullshit you go through,” he explained to Beats, Boxing and Mayhem. “I’m going to get it out in the manner it should be; not watered down or anything against how I want it. That photo is a reminder of that. It’s uncut, raw music that I’m putting out. And I’m willing to do whatever to get it out.”
That uncompromising position resulted in the dissolution of his first major label deal with Interscope Records. His 2001 debut 1st Born Second was critically acclaimed but failed to reach a large audience in spite of appearances from Dr. Dre, Mos Def, Common and J Dilla.
Instead of altering his sound for mainstream viability, he further experimented with blues and jazz arrangements inspired by Charles Mingus and Howlin’ Wolf for his sophomore set Love For Sale. Interscope flatly deemed the project “unmarketable” and promptly shelved it, informing Bilal to start making a new album from scratch. Following a period of self-doubt, he decided to leave the label after being re-energized by positive feedback from fans who heard the leaked album.
There is a distinct tone of bemusement in Bilal’s voice when he reflects on that situation. With a new album that addresses topics ranging from the current economic crisis (“The Dollar”) to the absurdity of religious fundamentalism (“Who Are You”), the singer notes that black artists today are being pushed by major labels to conformity and not allowed creative leeway bestowed on their white counterparts
“My music is no weirder than any white indie band,” he argued. “But we’re in a system right now where they think white indie and rock bands can experiment all they want but black artists have to follow the corporate guidelines. It used to be the total opposite years ago. All I want to do is push the envelope in music. I want that regardless of the label situation. But now I’m in a good place to do that.”
Airtight’s Revenge will be available on September 14th on Plug Research. It features production contributions from Shafiq Husayn, 88 Keys adn Nottz.
Bilal’s full interview with Beats, Boxing and Mayhem will be published on Monday August 16th.
Tags: Black church, Che Guevara, Cuba, El Che, Fidel Castro, Frederick Douglass, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Kanye West, KRS-One, Malcolm X, Meyer Lansky, Rhymefest, Rick Ross, tithing, Tupac Shakur, W.E.B. DuBois
Rhymefest (Che Smith) is on a mission of liberation. Not just liberation of himself, but Hip-Hop as a whole. It’s been 4 years since the positive accolades he received for Blue Collar, but since then Rhymefest has had to contend with numerous album delays and struggling to keep his name afloat. To that end, he’s released 2 creative mixtapes in the Michael Jackson dedication Man in the Mirror and The Manual. Now, he’s ready to deliver his most ambitious project to date on June 8 with El Che, inspired byArgentinean revolutionary and his namesake Che Guevara.
But are Hip-Hop fans ready for his vision? Will they accept a more serious Rhymefest challenging them on social and political issues?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Congratulations on finally getting the album done. There was an initial release date in May, so was the pushback more to do with you adding material or with the label?
Rhymefest: No, it was distribution. We’re getting the album distributed through EMI. EMI is going through a bit of a shakeup themselves, [I’m saying that] without trying to throw salt on anybody. But no matter what’s going on with the business, the fans will say its Rhymefest’s fault. So what I need to do is take a picture with a copy of the album and let people know it does exist.
Personally, if they preorder and it doesn’t come out June 8, I’m willing to go anywhere in the country and do whatever they want. Whether it’s cleaning their crib, going to work with them, going to club, and rapping for them! I’m willing to do whatever I got to do but I know it’s coming out June 8. It’s [just] a distribution issue from when they receive the CD’s to getting it out in the stores.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Before we get to the tracks, there’s a lot of imagery on the album cover alone. Let’s start with Frederick Douglass’ second autobiography you picked, My Bondage and My Freedom. A lot of people are familiar with the first one, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. What made you go with the selection you chose over his other writings?
Rhymefest: Well, what was important to me is it described the younger Frederick Douglass. It gets personal with his life story. Really what I’m doing through music is suggestive reading. Like, do you know how Frederick Douglass taught himself to read? That there were some white people that helped him? How much he helped Lincoln in constructing the case for the Civil War?
These things are very important to know. Before Barack Obama, before Martin Luther King, there was Frederick Douglass. That dude is pretty ill. So ill that I named my son Frederick Douglass’ father’s name, which was Bilal. My son’s middle name is after that.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The other book up there is Invisible Man, which is very profound coming from an artist. We know in the book the protagonist felt invisible because no one saw the true him, just stereotypes. As a rapper, how do you use that to your advantage, since Hip-Hop culture is overrun with stereotypes and caricatures?
Rhymefest: Hundreds of people hit me up all the time and say, “I wish more people knew about you. You’re the most underrated rapper.” I get that all the time. If these people say this, but they know about me, if all y’all just went out and brought the album, who cares? I feel like me and my fans are part of a secret Hip-Hop society that the larger society may not understand. But we are making moves.
If I sell 15,000 records I won. I paid for this shit myself! If I get that $150 grand, I can use that and put out another album in 6 months. The hardest part was getting over the hump of getting it out, because of the whole shakeup with J Records. I just recently got off of J Records and Allido Records. And really this album is coming 7-8 months after I left the record label. So that I means all I had to do these past few years was just get off the fucking label! But I had been too much of a slave to understand that.
Now I feel like Frederick Douglass. When he became liberated, he was able to break free and become the orator we know now. J Records helped me to become known as Rhymefest, but after that they held me as a slave. Now I’m able to break free and be who I am. When I made the Man in the Mirror and The Manual mixtapes that was because the label wasn’t putting out singles and albums.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: How much did fear hold you back from initially taking that step? A lot of artists feel that can’t do it out their own, and that their creative side will be hampered if they try to handle too much business.
Rhymefest: Hmmm fear…no. Kanye taught me that the only limitations we have is ourselves. If you are successful or a failure, it’s dependent on you [and] no one else. What held me so long to the label was that they were giving me a stipend even though I wasn’t coming out with any records. They put me up in New York in the financial district, had me living in corporate housing. I didn’t realize that time was passing me by. I’m doing all this stuff, mixtapes, but not making any albums or selling any records.
There were people at the label getting kickbacks. I saw how the money thing works. Like we’re going to do a $450,000 video, but you can only use these 3 directors. But it’ll be directors they already got. So when they go into Clive Davis, they can be like look, we spent this much money, but it still didn’t do what we thought it would do. But they really didn’t spend that much money. They really got a kickback. But the artist sometimes doesn’t realize that.
I’m not blaming anyone. For the period I was there, J Records treated me very fairly. But I don’t think they knew what to do with me. They weren’t used to operating from the grass roots, which is the type of artist I am. They were used to paying their way through things. That doesn’t work with me because I’m the type of artist to say something. I don’t do politics very well, I do truth and justice. But I’m learning it better through being independent.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Last year you stated there was a general lack of respect in Hip-hop for tradition. Have you seen any improvement since then amongst your fellow artists and fans?
Rhymefest: I was wrong. One thing I didn’t realize is that Hip-Hop doesn’t exist anymore. C’mon, think about the 4 elements: graffiti, breaking, deejaying, and emceeing. Emcees don’t exist. That’s somebody who gets on the stage, doesn’t have to rap, but can hype up the crowd while the DJ is playing. He has all the chants, all that shit. Everybody now is “listen to me, listen to my raps.” No one can hype up a crowd no more like that. Emcees are dead.
Let’s look at graffiti. Ain’t nobody really tagging no more [laughs]. Like “look at this mural I made, and we’re competing over this shit.” People do it, but it’s not what it was. It used to be a phenomenon.
Let’s look at breaking. They have b-boy events, but it’s a very small circle. It’s not like Drake comes out, and people are breaking. Not saying it’s a bad thing, it just doesn’t happen no more.
Deejaying is all a political game now. DJs and rappers are against each other. Rappers don’t value a DJ on stage no more. It used to be Eric B and Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. There are no more DJs who precede the rapper’s name.
So Hip-Hop as we knew is like jazz at this point. I can’t really get mad. It exists on a scale so small you might as well call it dead. But even from Disco we got techno, Bass music. From Hip-Hop we got Soulja Boy, Drake; the hybrid singing rap. We got to call it something else because it ain’t Hip-Hop. It’s not bad; it’s evolved into something else.
When this is read people will have opinions, and some are not sophisticated enough to have this conversation and think about it on a plane that’s not black or white. “Oh you’re dissing it!” No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying Hip-Hop has evolved to a whole ‘nother culture. It’s very interesting that it’s mixed corporatism with music, cheap and easy. But the beats have gotten better, and there needs to be melody, not just lyrics. A lot of rappers used to not have that. More rhythm, you really have to be a dope singer and rapper these days.
Now I can’t do that, it’s not what I do. Now I could be mad like “these niggas is singing rapping!” But I think we have to call it something else, another genre like Hip-Pop. It’s important as we cross different thresholds in history that we mark and define them. Right now it’s time to define what we do as something else, not just Hip-Hop.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: This reminds me of what changes we heard in the 80s to popular music like New Wave and how synthetic sounds dominated. Do you hear that as well in music today?
Rhymefest: Yes! But I also hear a bit of 90s R&B. If you listen to Drake, you can hear it. I hear a little bit of Jodeci in his stuff being brought back. I also hear 90’s rap patterns on some of these tracks. I would update my respect comment for Hip-Hop and say we need music appreciation, respect for music.
If you’re going to rap, and you hear people say “man, you sound like A Tribe Called Quest.” Go back and listen to those albums. People used to say I sounded like Biz. So I got real familiar with Biz Markie. How can I update my style? Look at some of his patterns and update and make it hot!
Music is really for trained ears. When you listen to jazz, you can’t just sit there with no one explaining it to you, how the horn and piano talks. Hip-Hop is the same way! How you gonna just sit down and listen to KRS-One’s By All Means Necessary if no one puts it in context for you? Same with Criminal Minded; how can you appreciate it? You can still listen to it.
You can’t even appreciate Pac right row! Let’s move up for the readers who don’t know about KRS and don’t care. You can’t understand Tupac unless you have Tupac in context. You can listen to a few songs and say that’s dope, but you need the story that goes with it. When you listen “White Man’s World” or “Trapped,” you have to understand where he was in his career. Then you listen to it and it means another level to you.
Good music is truly like the Bible.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Being a true, original artist has always been in conflict with monetary gain, because normally what makes you the most money is the antithesis of true art. For yourself, do you continue to feel pressure with that? Because the acclaim can still come, but it’s normally years after the fact. You referenced jazz, and the Bebop movement comes to mind.
Rhymefest: You gotta realize this; who gave Dr. King the biggest obstacles to his goal for civil rights for all, Black or white people?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: His own people.
Rhymefest: Who give Malcolm X the biggest obstacle? And we know that because of who they say killed him, his own people! When Clive Davis signed me I told him” I don’t know why you signed me, you made a mistake.” He said why, and I said because I can read [laughs].
He laughed and patted my on the shoulder, like “nigga you don’t understand I run the world! You’ll never get anywhere!” I know I will not be understood and heard until I’m out of here. I already prepared for that, bro. It doesn’t matter if I sell 3 million or 3000. Number one, I don’t rap for money, I have other ventures I do.
Number two, I’m really trying to do something. I’m with kids, walking them home with Safe Passage programs and all that. I can walk through my neighborhood. I see shorties fighting and I go out and say “I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but this is a little girl. That ain’t the way; we have to move like this…” I’m not scared of my people, but I realize these are the ones that are going to kill me. These are the ones that will talk about me like a dog while I’m here.
It’s all good. True love is unconditional. True heroism is to stand in the face of your obstacle and say “I love you even if you kill me.” You can’t have a true revolution without love.
Me and Rick Ross had a real deep discussion about this. I gained a lot of respect for Ross after we sat and talked. He asked me whether I wanted to be feared or loved. I said was Al Capone feared or loved? He said feared. I said was Dr. King feared or loved? He said loved. Ross said he rather be feared. I said man, Al Capone died by himself of syphilis, isolated. Dr. King loved so hard he was feared, and they had to assassinate him.
At the end of the day, true love makes motherfuckers scared. It inspires true fear, not the fear where motherfuckers laugh at you and lock you up. Every true revolution starts with love, whether it’s love of your block, love of your kids, or love of these people. You have to start with love. If you start with fear you just look crazy.
When motherfuckers stop fearing Mike Tyson, everybody started knocking him out. When everybody stopped being afraid of Suge Knight, everybody started talking shit. But Muhammad Ali loved so hard, that he scared the world! I love my people so much that I ain’t got time. They don’t love me though, but it’s all good.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I wanted to ask you about the “Prosperity” track on the album, where you speak on the Black Church. It reminded me of what W.E.B. DuBois said in The Souls of Black Folk about the church being a cornerstone of black culture, a “safe place” so to speak in the early 20th century. These days it appears to be the exact opposite. What are your feelings on religion and the church in particular in today’s society?
Rhymefest: Yo man you’re very intelligent, very informed and you’re asking things if I’m not knowledgeable, I’ll make myself look like an asshole. I really admire you. You’re something I haven’t seen in awhile G; you’re a real fucking journalist! What the f**k?!
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: [Laughs] Thank you. That’s why any of us should be in this, to improve the culture.
Rhymefest: And that’s one of the reasons Hip-Hop is suffering. We’ll blame the artists, labels, but no one blames journalists, DJs. If someone really asked one of these ignorant ass rappers if they really feel they’re hurting the youth and didn’t let them deflect to another question, maybe artists would hold themselves to higher standards. Because artists do leave interviews sometimes like “what the fuck, what do we have to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
You’re holding me to a standard that I hope you wouldn’t just do with me because you know I can answer it. I hope you hold every artist to it. Because we as fans need to know what we’re getting and who we’re getting it from. Just wanted to say thank you man.
[Now] back to your question about “Prosperity.” I’m always going to do something about the church and God. My music always has a celestial spirit. I was trying to separate the business of church from what church is supposed to be doing for us. If you look in the Bible, Jesus walks in the the church and says “how dare you use my father’s house as a market?,” and starts knocking stuff over. That was some strong stuff to do back in the day, revolutionary! People don’t look at Jesus that way or violent, but I don’t think Jesus had a problem with violence. How can Jesus have a problem with violence knowing how radical his Father was? You think Jesus wouldn’t kill for God? God was just like they need to hear this. But Jesus knew love was the best way, but he still shook them up and scared them.
With “Prosperity” I was sitting at home watching BET and that guy Kerney Thomas, the one that screams “Gooooooooooooooood, will change your life!” What the fuck is this?! In Chicago they’ll have Sunday morning service. Then they’ll say go home and come back to church for an evening meal with a night service. For those who missed, you can come on Monday or Wednesday with 3 services; this shit is a business! It’s a God damn business!
Some places you have to fill out slips to join, where they’ll take your tax and wage information and automatically deduct your tithes to be a member. Or if you don’t have money, you can donate your time. But then they have you working the shit like a full time job! “You didn’t show up today, sister.” What the fuck?! Is this God?
I’ve studied different religions. If you look at the mosque, they’re like “come in, the bucket’s right here, you know what you’re supposed to do.” Nothing is passed around and people take care of their responsibilities. It’s between them and God and no one makes you feel bad and tries to sell you Heaven. So on “Prosperity” I felt I had to deal with that issue.
And that’s not to say Islam is better than Christianity as a religion. I’m talking about how religion deals with the business of tithing. Even in Jewish synagogues, they’re not making it a damn business. I don’t think that corporations should be in the churches. I don’t think there should be Coca Cola banners in church, TD Jakes. I say names.
Government should not be involved in church. I don’t believe in faith-based programs. The government can always say “whoever is bringing Dr. King to town, we shutting you’re church down.” And back in the day black ministers did that. That’s what happened when government gets involved in religion. And then you start to have extreme governments as well when the church influences, and then you have a problem because everybody ain’t Christian or Muslim.
I’m not for mega or corner store churches. There should be one or two community churches. [But] these damn mega churches? C’mon man that’s not Godly. That’s a scam! Those dudes and some of them mosques are doing the same thing the dudes on the street are doing, but they think they’re better because they’re doing it within the house of God which is truly more blasphemous. At least a street motherfucker is ignorant and that is an excuse.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: If Jesus were to come back now, it’s likely he’d tear down many things in these churches.
Rhymefest: If you think I’m wrong, all you have to do is ask yourself this one question. If Jesus came back, which church would he join?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Profound, indeed. Let’s talk about 2 album tracks in “Say Whassup” and “Chocolate,” where you’re basically celebrating the beauty of women and black women in particular. Why is that so difficult for Hip-hop artists to do, even though the majority of us have been raised by women?
Rhymefest: Interesting that you bring that up because on “Truth OnYou” I’m saying something totally opposite. On my singles I give the commercial on how we’re going to act. I know sometimes we feel different and you hear that on the album, but the singles are what we want to put out there about ourselves because that’s important. “Say Whassup” I got Phonte on it, and it says we don’t have to have sex right now. Let’s just have a conversation and build something really sexy, have something build up between us.
I realized this from going through a lot of different relationships and having drama from one night stands and going after someone simply from sexual attraction, and having children that are unexpected and dealing with this person for the rest of your fucking life! [laughs] Sometimes I just want to chill out with a chick. Man, can I just get a chick with good conversation? I’ve had big asses; I’ve had long hair and pretty eyes.
The price and value of pussy has really plummeted. But the price of a good woman has skyrocketed because it’s rare! Good pussy is everywhere, like a diamond in Africa. Now the value of a good woman is like digging for oil. So when you hear “Chocolate” and “Say Whassup,” that’s me looking for a good woman. I’m out here looking for conversation, someone well-read.
I know this girl, and I told her the problem was she never had a God damn book in her hand. What’s the last book you read? Motherfuckers don’t read anymore. You got iPads; you don’t even have to flip the pages if you don’t want to. Your mind is like your body, if you don’t exercise it, it gets weak. It’s the same thing with your spirit. People are just lazy; what the hell are you living for if you can’t do the simple shit?
You already won the biggest battle. Out of millions of sperm one got to the egg and became who you are. You fought a million motherfuckers and won. So you get here and you don’t want to be shit? You’re a waste of everything!
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Your name is Che, but the album title of El Che and the content has a lot of allusions to the Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara. Once you get outside of Hip-Hop he’s pretty controversial due to his Marxist beliefs and some of his revolutionary activities. What made you comfortable using him?
Rhymefest: Those people [who don’t like Che] were taught wrong. The exiled Cubans who talk about Che murdered this person, what about the people George Bush murdered? I don’t see you moving out of America or calling him evil!
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, may God bless them both! They had an illiterate country [in Cuba]. They made the country literate; they educated the people. The greatest doctors in the world come from Cuba, [they have] a strong military. Guess what happens when you try to get a government right. The people that they killed were trying to kill them and take over. Let’s talk about the Bay of Pigs, you know about that? You know they were trying to assassinate the man through cigars, hairs, the CIA, Mafia, and the United Fruit Company? What do you know about that? What about the fact the white Cubans were some of the most racist people in the hemisphere, and Che Guevara said no, you have to open these universities to the brown and black people. If you don’t open them, then we’ll knock the doors down.
What about Malcolm X and Che Guevara having conversations about sending black men from America to Cuba to be trained for urban combat and guerilla warfare? When Castro came to America and the white hotels wouldn’t give him a room, he went to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem and the black people opened their doors to him. There is a history the white Cubans in Miami don’t talk about.
After Hurricane Katrina, Castro offered to send 500 doctors to America. What were the people criticizing Castro doing? People say Che was racist? He went to Africa to try and train the people in the Congo to get the French out of there. People don’t want to debate me on that. That was revolutionary love.
You want to do something, address this white racism that goes on in the Cuban community against black people in America and Afro-Cubans. If Elian Gonzalez was a black Cuban would it have been the same outrage? Cubans and Haitians in Miami should be working together. But everybody wants to be separate. This idea of supremacy because of color or a caste system is wrong.
So when I say El Che, I take everything that goes with that.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You expect the US Cuba embargo to be lifted soon, maybe even this presidency?
Rhymefest: Yes, it’s already being worked on. As much as people talk about Cuba, they want to get over there and see their relatives, too. We will see it in our lifetimes. But we just can’t open up the doors and have the Mafia run back in and take over like they are in Florida. Cuba has to stay for the Cuban people, and not become a playground for decadence again.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You raise an interesting point about the Mafia being involved, as people like Meyer Lansky had infiltrated the government and monopolized the country before the Cuban Revolution eliminated them. But even today we have artists adopting personas and names of Mafia members who despised people of color and help ravage their communities with narcotics. Why do Hip-Hop artists overlook these facts?
Rhymefest: Well Guevara wasn’t about corporatism and how much money I can get and floss. Guevara attracted woman and people to him because he was a warrior. Nobody wants to be that anymore, we want fast money and the life. All these ideas we rapped about are ideas that were planted in us.
It’s not cool to do a song about the effects of domestic violence. That’s what made Michael Jackson so dope. He could do a song like “Smooth Criminal” and make that shit party and make it dope with a message in it. He could do a song like “Billie Jean” with a message in it about a one night stand, or a “Human Nature” and make that shit a pop song. Nobody can do that now without making it fallaciously sexy.
So you think rappers can do that? Shit, those rappers have been run off a long time ago or isolated: me, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique, and Dead Prez. They made people think we ain’t shit. They demagnetize us so fans will say “they ain’t shit, they ain’t hot, them niggas ain’t on BET or the radio!” We have to do for self. Instead of saying why don’t black people get Oscars, we have to say why the fuck do we want your Oscar? Let’s make the Source Awards better. Nominate them and have them lose to some shit we did. Have it lose to Why Did I Get Married 2 [laughs].
That’s why this independent thing is so important. It’s important to buy that Little Brother Leftback. I’m happy they sold before without promotion. It’s important to buy El Che because if people don’t buy it, I’m not making any more records for free. I’ve gave y’all music for free. If you don’t support it, it tells me you don’t want it.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: On the “Talk Yo’ Shit” track, you make reference to the decisions Wale made on his debut (“Even before Wale bricked/I tried to pull him to the side and say those white boys won’t sell your shit!”). Was that more so in reference to his label or the type of songs he chose to make?
Rhymefest: I think it goes hand and hand. They make you think you got to have a hit, this is all you got. So you start thinking about how to make a hit over a good song. Music listeners are very sophisticated and they can see through it. Wale has so much talent, and he has charisma. He’s a propagandist king. He knows how to get people to listen to him, how to garner a crowd, and get the right people in his corner. All he needs to do now is do something from the heart and show people he’s serious.
I can’t say I know everything he did [with the album]. But if you go out and try to fool people, they’ll step away quietly. You got to come from the heart. We can say whatever about Gucci Mane and Wocka Flocka, but they’re coming from the heart. No matter what you think about it [laughs]. So people feel it. I think smart people strategize themselves out of shit sometimes. Smart people are real quick to say f**k somebody [laughs]. I have a problem with that sometimes.
That’s what Malcolm X did. Elijah told him to be quiet about John Kennedy’s assassination and Malcolm X was like “fuck him!” That messed everything up [laughs].
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Your closing thoughts on El Che for those who may still be on the fence?
Rhymefest: June 8 is the decisive date for not only for Rhymefest, but for Che, [which is] who I am. I guarantee this will be out, and I hope everyone who supports real Hip-Hop will make a move to purchase and appreciate it. And thank you again for a wonderful interview.
Tags: Bhagavad Gita, Clarence 13X, Father Allah, Malcolm X, Ol Dirty Bastard, religion, The Nation of Gods and Earths, The RZA, The Tao of the Wu, The Vedas, Wu Tang Clan
It’s rare these days that an emcee can share their spiritual and philosophical sides and not be ridiculed for it. The RZA is an obvious exception. The mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan added best-selling author to his resume with his first project the Wu-Tang Manual. This Thursday (October 15), he debuts The Tao of the Wu, an autobiographical text detailing lessons RZA’s learned from his humble beginnings in Staten Island, to his ascent to the top of the music and film industries. Along the way there’s been pain, loss, and triumph. Come share in the wisdom of one of Hip-Hop’s most brilliant minds.
Ismael AbduSalaam: After the Wu-Tang Manual, was it always in the works to do this sequel or was it something that developed later?
RZA: Actually this book was the first idea. The Wu-Tang Manual was to appease the publicist. I wanted to do this first, but they argued that nobody knew me as an author, so maybe it would be smarter to do the Wu-Tang Manual first and then eventually come back and start showing my writing ability.
Ismael: The book posits 7 Pillars as a pathway to gain spiritual enlightenment and peace. How long did it take you to finalize these attributes into a set system?
RZA: The 7 Pillars was actually suggested to me by [co-author] Chris Norris. First we thought about 9, being we’re always dealing with 9: 9 chambers of the heart, 9 Wu members and everything like that. But then when we started going through it, we didn’t want to do 5 like it was the 5 Pillars of Islam and we were changing Islam. That’s impossible. The 7 does represent the body of work of the book and the steps that can be taken for a person to gain the wisdom that I’m trying to instill. And I still strongly advocate the 12 Jewels of the Nation of Gods and Earths. I’m not the author of those, but I’m a person that lives by them and they are 12 steps that every man should be able to obtain.
The last jewel is happiness. But there’s basically enlightenment, an awakening you gain that leads to freedom. The goal of life is to be happy.
Ismael: Personally, what would you say was the most difficult jewel for you to master?
RZA: I’ll say this. To obtain the jewels you must have them mentally, spiritually, and physically. I ain’t going to go into the other planes because that’ll take forever. Now mentally you gain them all in one night simply by memorizing them. Spiritually you can gain them by living it and making sure the next man you come across you don’t infringe on his jewels. But, physically? That’s a difficult task in our society, because you’re not given food, clothing and shelter. So that means I can get knowledge, wisdom, and understanding just from my own studies. But to get freedom, justice, and equality I have to turn to my government for that. And it may be hard to obtain that if they don’t offer it. You may find love in the realm of a woman or children, but if you don’t have food, clothing, and shelter how are you going to find peace? You ain’t going to be at peace or feel free. How are you going to be happy? So you can obtain some of the jewels but if you don’t have all of them, you liable to lack in more than one of them.
Ismael: You talk favorably about a lot of the religious stories found in the texts of the major faiths without necessarily endorsing the people who claim to represent them today. As far as religion today, many would argue by nature it is divisive and causes strife. Do you feel those are inherent qualities of religion?
RZA: Yeah, I think it is inherent in religion. The word religion, what does it really mean? That’s one question. It basically means to rely on something. If you’re relying on anything other than yourself you’re always gonna have a problem. But, to find the truth, shall we say, that was taught by these different prophets and great men don’t need a religious tradition to prove it. It’s when the traditions get involved that man creates problems. For instance, if I have a tradition to not work on Sunday, and you have a tradition to work on Sunday and we’re in the same country or workplace, we gonna have a religious dispute. You’re saying, “I need you to work, because I’m the boss.” But I’m saying I don’t have to work because of my religion.
Yum Kippur was a Jewish holiday [last month] and a lot of people aren’t going to work because the Jews are a big part of the economy that if they don’t work, it ain’t worth going to work! But some people are going to have to go because they don’t fall under the group.
Traditions cause the problems. It ain’t nothing that the prophet Muhammad said, the prophet Jesus said, it’s nothing that Moses said in truth we can dispute.
I’ll add this to you. The Qur’an says that certain prophets are sent to certain nations. It means that the messages were for certain people. In Moses’ day, the people I guess were pretty unclean, and childish in their understanding of life and culture. He had to tell them, “look, when your woman has a period you don’t have sex.” [laughs] If a man discharges on himself he needs to wash, he’s unclean until the evening. In Leviticus, the book of law, you find all kind of things that naturally you’d think someone would do. But somebody whose far from civilization wouldn’t know.
I’ll give you one more example. When the prophet Muhammad was teaching the Muslims about the oneness of Allah, he told them don’t kill your daughters and give to the orphans. He was giving this to a people who practiced infanticide and had 360 idols inside the Kaaba. So they needed to be told specifically where their foolishness was at. One thing that comes up in the Hadith that’s interesting is that they had a slave there named Bilal who wasn’t of their culture. He was from Ethiopia, formerly Abyssinia. Muhammad said Bilal’s a natural! Bilal naturally had these characteristics that Muhammad had to teach his people and family to be.
So when a prophet’s words are addressed to a group, it may not apply to all the people. There’s no need to tell me thou shall not kill when I’m not a murderer. But for those who are murderers they need to learn that law. There’s no need to tell me thou shall not steal when I’m not a thief. Those who are thieves need that. That’s another thing about religion; who are these words being applied to? Yeah, it can work for everyone, but some are further down the road.
Ismael: On the point about messengers coming to different people, I remember on the History Channel’s Bruce Lee documentary you framed him as being a messenger for how he spread martial arts around the world. Just looking at , do you see any messengers?
RZA: There’s a few of us. You got to give respect to the Teacher KRS-One. He opened up a lot of brains. Respect also to Rakim. Gotta give respect to Chuck D. A lot of Hip-Hop emcees are messengers in one way or another. Look at Jay-Z. He describes his life and a lot of things we’ve been through so he adds hope to it. I would say the Wu-Tang Clan is definitely messengers, too. I think we use our lives as examples and beyond our lives. Method Man says in one of his rhymes “Code Red that be Agent Orange/Killing you slow.” Agent orange killing you slow, what is that? But that’s contained in every bottle of orange juice you drink. There’s a message right there [laughs].
Ismael: In the book you mentioned Rakim as an artist whose early work epitomized the core sound of Hip-Hop along with Wu-Tang. Aside from those two, what other acts do you see today that have that pure sound?
RZA: I’m not totally familiar with everyone nowadays, so that’s a disadvantage. I’m sure there’s guys out there only doing 50,000-60,000 units that are doing great by our culture. But even when Kanye came with College Dropout and even Graduation, he helped a lot of college students and people in that age bracket. He did good with his lyrics. I was telling my Killarmy guys, who are hardcore and hate every rapper, he speaks directly to a core people we can’t reach. We didn’t go to college, we can’t speak for them. We speak to people who didn’t make it there.
Hip-Hop itself has been that voice for the world more than any other form of music. It’s spreading out to rock now. That early Led Zeppelin, people thought they were talking that demonic shit. But now a lot of them are talking about logical and sensible stuff that can be applied in our lives.
Ismael: When the Wu-Tang Manual first dropped there were some brothers who had issues with you posting the Lessons [Writer's Note: The core teachings of the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths] in there. I thought that was ironic considering the Lessons got disseminated among the masses simply because the Father [Clarence 13X, founder of the Nation of Gods and Earths] took it out of NOI temples and dispersed it to the people. In that regard, do you feel some of the gods have lost the core principles of the Lessons?
RZA: I think there’s only a few. I rarely come across a brother who chastises me. Those who do, it’s normally somebody testing to see if I’m validated or capable of dispersing the knowledge. One person said to me a camel can walk through the eye of a needle before a rich man can make it into heaven. I said yeah, but what is a rich man? If you saying because I’m a rich man I won’t make it to heaven, than you’re forgetting the whole core of your lessons. These Lessons should put you in heaven at once! [laughs] The richness ain’t coming from the money, but from the wealth of knowledge. I think that Jesus quote is a bad translation. I can’t see them saying a rich man don’t make it to heaven. Because really, that’s where heaven as at.
In the Holy Qur’an, it’s paradise with palaces of gold. It’s popping in paradise, baby. Milk is flowing down the river, got you wanting to stick a cup in there! [laughs] That’s supreme wealth, ok. The new city of Jerusalem in Revelations, the streets are made of gold, not just the palaces.
But brothers tried to use the rich thing on me like there’s something wrong with me because I got money and he don’t. My money doesn’t make me. My knowledge comes first from being in the struggle and living that savage life. I was able to take knowledge and apply it to my life and free my poverty. Without knowledge of self I’d be like everyone else. Knowledge without application is like a gun without bullets. You have to apply it. I’m not scared to apply it. I’m not scared to say who I am, either.
Dirty wasn’t afraid either, when he got on the awards show and said the black man is god. That’s what he believed. Whether he could prove it or not, he believed it in his heart and stood for what he believed. And at the time he was acting like a bastard [laughs].
I’m grateful that the Wu was able to spread the knowledge. Poppa Wu is one of the older brothers of the Nation and one of the earliest to learn it. I met some of the first Nine Born [Writer’s Note: The first converts to the Nation of Gods and Earths] and they all complimented me for what I did. They think I helped bring more students in recent years to them than any other source. I didn’t do it for them to have a big school. I just put the knowledge out there.
It doesn’t matter if they go to the Nation of Gods and Earths to get it, go to the church to get it, or the mosque. There’s people now reading the Bhagavad Gita [Writer’s Note: An essential scripture of Hindu religion]. To me, all of these are paths to the same destination. Don’t let nobody stop you from joining that path. The Nation of Gods and Earths is definitely a path to get on. The mosque too, and the studies of the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas [A sacred Hindu scripture]. But you know what, you can do it as simple as people have been doing in America for the last 400 years, and pick up your Holy Bible.
Ismael: Referencing the Bible, let’s look at the Creation myth. In it, when man got that enlightenment, the angels said that man has become like god, one of us knowing good and evil. With that point of reference what do you think is more difficult: to continue to live righteously once you get that enlightenment or first having your mind open enough to accept that truth?
RZA: Man is a mixture of flesh and spirit. So the angels ain’t have to worry about the flesh. That’s why Jesus had to come 2000 years later and say the flesh is what’s weak. The flesh is what gets hungry, horny, it itches. The flesh is looking for its own pleasing. It’s the pleasing of the flesh that causes man to get off his course of living righteous.
So then his greed comes in. It’s like a kid keeps going in the refrigerator after eating, yo you just ate! [laughs] They’re not hungry really, but their flesh is causing them to psychologically react. They say power leads to corruption. It shouldn’t but when the flesh gets involved, yeah. It starts to feel greater than another piece of flesh. It needs more land. You don’t need more nothing. You need more money, for what? They’re just getting it to control more people. The most powerful thing a man of power can feel is to have control and have others prostrate before him.
It’s like that sample in Chamber Music, where it says the greatest thing a man can feel is to have another man prostrate before you. In the Bible it says you should never do that, only prostrate before God. But an evil man who’s egotistical like you said and knows good and evil and has these god like qualities, wants to replace god with himself!
Nimrod was the first one to do it. He challenged Abraham and Abraham said look you’re no more God than me! Just because you have all these people following you you think you’re God himself? You want to take God’s credit, than make the sun come out the other side of the world tomorrow. Just do that one simple thing for me. Make a gnat right now [laughs]. You can’t do it. Of course he can’t. There’s mass everywhere, because it’s already in existence.
Ismael: For years none of the Clan would talk about Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s passing because it was so painful. What finally made you comfortable putting it out there in the book?
RZA: His son is old enough now, and his son was there. His nuclear children are old enough to understand. That would have been a problem [before]. Second reason was the truth will always have its time. The truth out of season bears no fruit. Now it’s time. It’s 5 years later, we can speak on that and shed light to it. And it took a lot of time for me to really understand it too. I replayed that day in my head over and over looking for everything. I looked for the science, the chemistry, God, and every cause and effect that lead to that death, yo!
A year and half later Flava Flav told me a story that helped me clear my mind, because I was really puzzled about how it happened. My cousin Mario who I hadn’t seen in 4 years was coming to meet me at the studio because he wanted some money for his school tuition. And I exiled that cousin because he had stole my gun 4 years earlier. I didn’t want to fuck with him but I finally gave in. He comes on his own and right before I left I started to tell everybody don’t let nobody in. That’s what I meant to say.
Dirty was right near the elevator and I told him I’d see him in about two hours. And I left. And something in my mind said call the studio and tell them not to let nobody in. I didn’t want Mario stealing no shit, but I didn’t make the call. I was late and rushing. And then Mario was the one who comes and gives him that pill! Ain’t that crazy? If only I would’ve knew. He died when the bag of coke opened up in his stomach.
I asked everybody who was with him that day if they had done any coke. They all lied! They didn’t tell the truth until after he was finished. And they still didn’t tell that he swallowed it! Only way I found out is when Flav told me he was with the guy that booked the show for him that day. And Dirty brought a couple Gs worth of shit, and he couldn’t use but $400-$500 of it that day, and he swallowed the rest because he didn’t want to leave his shit.
If we would’ve had that little bit of information we would’ve had his stomach pumped. So I replay that day but you know what, I share my part of the story with the world.
Ismael: When you speak about your mother in the book it reminds me of the Nas lyric where he says your mom is closest thing to God you’ll ever have. What is the biggest lesson you’d say your mom instilled in you?
RZA: Hmmm. There’s so many but the one that popped in my head first is when I was doing a lot of negativity and acting crazy, I got in some legal trouble and got out of it. My mom just looked in my eyes, knew I was a good kid and said “look boy, this is your second chance. God is giving you a second chance, Rakeem. Don’t waste it. Walk the right path.” And that’s what I did. And it lead to everything that’s here today: from Wu-Tang, to my company, to my babies, everything. I listened to her, and I stopped doing the negative shit. I’m not doing nothing. I stayed away from all that shit we were doing in those days.
Here an example that Ghost can vouch for. With street business, let’s say you get a kilo. You know how much more trouble you got on your hands? [laughs] Not just the law, but the people who want to shoot and rob you. You gotta carry a gun and all this negativity is all in your life. A kilo can probably make you $100 Gs. But then you got 5 to 6 niggas to work on it. And each one of those lives are at risk because they were giving a year a gram. One gram you got a year. That’s a 1000 years of jail, easily! [laughs] If you make it through you got a $100 grand that won’t last more than 4 months. Crazy game.
That’s how stupid we were. 2 years after that I’m selling beats for $100,000. It takes 10 minutes to make in my crib without no chance of getting in trouble. [laughs] But it shows you how positivity multiplies. I’d never become a millionaire stealing clothes and all the other dumb shit we were doing as kids. 1 or 2 years of righteousness gave millionaire status. And not to say money is everything, it just shows you the multiplication of positivity. My mom inspired that.
Ismael: A lot of young men struggle with taking the step to marriage. When did you know it was the right time to take that leap with your spouse?
RZA: We became one 10 years ago. At first I wasn’t going to get married again. I was married once before. It was hell and I wasn’t going through that shit again. I didn’t like the divorce system, the whole tricknology of it. So we decided to get engaged and live as husband and wife without going through a whole ceremony of bureaucracy.
But living like this with her brought peace and harmony and my life was getting more beautiful every day. I decided to make it official so everyone in the world would look at us as one. The sad part is you can love someone and feel like your husband and wife, but if you’re not married and have children, you’re going to come across a lot of difficulty. Why go through that with them when there’s a solution?
And my woman comes from a family who has a long tradition of marriage. They live it out. Her parents were married for 30 plus years. So it was the good quality of family as well.
So I did without a shadow of doubt. Yo, I did it without a prenup…
Ismael: Wow, really?
RZA: Yeah [laughs]. Before I was like “I’m getting a prenup shit, after the last divorce.” But then I was like I’ve already defined my life with yours, so if we separated then half my life has been yours anyway so it wouldn’t really matter anymore [laughs].
Ismael: Final question, what would you say is your greatest achievement first as an artist, and then as a man?
RZA: As an artist I appreciate the birth of the Wu-Tang Clan. I’m grateful, it changed my life and thousands of families. But as far as feeling just proud, it’s really when I hear people say they’ve read the book and learned something from it, whether it’s the Wu-Tang Manual or someone who got an advance copy of this one. That shit feels very gratifying. As an artist that’s my creative high, to know my wisdom has multiplied in another vessel.
As a man, there’s nothing greater than your children. There’s nothing greater than providing for your family and being able to watch them grow. I watched them come out of the wombs of their mothers. Well at least 5 out of 7. [laughs] I’m a Hip-Hop dude so I had a few over here and over there being caught up in the hype. My children say they love me, and that’s real because my pops disappeared. If I wanted to tell him I loved him I couldn’t say nothing. It took years for us to catch up with each other. For me to be here and part of this family is a great achievement.
This generation of Hip-Hoppers are striving to be better fathers then what we’ve seen in a long time. I’m striving to be a real good father, man.
Now since you’re the man with all the answers, I have a question for you.
Ismael: What’s that?
RZA: What does your name mean?
Ismael: Ismael means “Allah will listen” and AbduSalaam means “Servant of Peace or Most Peaceful.”
RZA: All praises due.
Ismael: Indeed, brother! Peace.