Posted in Headlines, Hip Hop, Music, Politics

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 07 Reagan

When my wife and I entertain guests, you know, back in the days when we could have gatherings at our house without worrying about somebody’s grandma dying because we wanted to gather together in community and eat tacos and listen to music and discuss things with like minded people. Anyway, when I make playlists for company, I try to place similar genres together in small sets, so hopefully everybody gets to hear a little something they like. We are at the pinnacle of a Hip-Hop set in our Playlist for the Apocalypse.

Killer Mike embodies so much of what I love about Hip-Hop. When I was 12 years old, I listened to NWA because that’s what rebellious white kids listened to in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But I fell in love with Hip-Hop later, after Ice Cube went solo. In 1992, when his third solo album The Predator was released, it offered me a completely different commentary on the LA Riots than what I got from my parents or the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. As I say in a spoken word piece I often perform

I learned about Rodney King, Dr. King, my white privilege and Malcolm
I fell asleep every night for a year listening to that album…
I’m not kidding when I say
I sit beneath the lilac tree in the cool breeze
While Ice Cube spit hot ash
And that’s why I sought a seminary degree
Because despite a thousand sermons
He was the very first person
I heard preach about Justice

Killer Mike and Ice Cube are kindred spirits. Killer Mike is a self described “Pan Africanist Gangster Rapper, Civic Leader & Activist.” Just the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, or at least listen to on a frigid May afternoon during quarantine. Some days I go a little bit insane staying in the house. Today I set up my deck chairs and furniture for my outside listening area on my front porch. The plan was to listen to the playlist, drink coffee and write outside. But I decided it was too cold outside today here in West Michigan. So Killer Mike’s music will have to help me transcend these four walls.

When I feel helpless about how comically sad our society is while people protest not being able to get their nails done, Killer Mike’s music reminds me of the true priorities of protest: taking on systems of power. Today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track, “Reagan” uses the imagery of the Beast from the book of Revelation and likens it to the American government, particularly Ronald Reagan. And don’t come here with that Fox News, Geraldo Rivera, “hip-hop has done more damage than racism” bullshit either. Mike’s not having it! He offers an in house critique of some of the themes in Hip-Hop that at times seem like “advertisements for agony and pain.” What Mike offers is a meta-critique of sorts. It is one in which, governmental and world powers might be held to closer scrutiny because of their enormous power and responsibility. In the end, we all carry the burden of our collective responsibility, even if some people with their great and terrible abuses of power shoulder more of the guilt. But nobody is spared in Mike’s prophetic critique of American politics

Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Qaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mister Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead

Posted in Hip Hop, Music, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 06 Upside Down

Royce da 5’9″ is one of the five greatest rappers alive.

Oh! Wouldn’t you like to know? I’m not arguing about my Top Five list with Hip-Hop heads today, haha. Not that I think too many Hip-Hop heads read what I write. But I guess you never know. That I know of, I have a small and very eclectic conglomerate of people who follow or at least check my feed with some regularity: Family or friends I grew up with (mostly, conservative evangelicals but there’s a few exceptions), friends and acquaintances from seminary (progressive evangelicals with a few exceptions), friends I have made in the spoken word and artistic scene in West MI (mostly social progressives from a wide variety of ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds). And maybe a few vinyl enthusiasts.

So I don’t know how you’ll feel about today’s song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because you say it when you’re around your black friends and they don’t correct you, you might not like this song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because you say it when you’re drunk and listening to 2 Chainz and all you’re white friends laugh and think it’s okay, you might not like this song. If you’re white and you think it’s okay to say the N word because “they” say it and you think that it’s “reverse racism” when you’re not allowed to say it, you might not like this song.

Some of my favorite passages on Royce’s most recent album, The Allegory, are the skits. I am not a big fa of concept albums in general or skits in Hip-Hop *usually.* But everything works perfectly here; and for one hour and eight minutes, through 22 seamless tracks, Royce takes his listeners on a super woke head trip full of historical tidbits, and social commentary on wealth, investing, American spending habits and some words about how Hip-Hop brings more races and various walks of life together than any other art form or “ism” on earth (with some help from long time collaborator Eminem). By far my favorite of these, are the Ms. Grace Intro and Interlude, where a father and daughter have some candid conversations:

Daddy taught you that you a goddess so you could never be anybody’s what?
Bitch or ho
Who was Huey P. Newton?
An African political activist, a revolutionary who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966
Who’s coming to save you?
Nobody, I have to save myself
If I die today, then what’s your job?
Pick up where you left off and take care of my siblings
Good job, good job

If you don’t know, Huey P. Newton was the founder of the Black Panthers. A lot of progressives (myself included) are disappointed with a Presidential primary season that started with one of the widest, most diverse candidate pools ever, only to wind up with a party coalescing around a morally unscrupulous centrists. And with Pandemic in the air and people facing enormous financial uncertainties, a lot of people are talking about “revolution.” These days almost all talk I hear of revolution, focuses exclusively on wealth inequality. But I think we need to revisit some of the revolutionaries of the past.

Intersectionality! That term has probably been more overused in progressive circles in the last few years than Karen memes have been this last month. But it is still a very important task to live into. Huey Newton knew that well. He had an all inclusive vision when he spoke about revolution, “When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women’s liberation movement.” Maybe we need to talk about more than just money, when we talk about policy reform, domestic and abroad. In the meantime, enjoy the video. Butcher Comin’…



Posted in Headlines, Hip Hop, Music, Racism

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 03 Nina


The first time I heard Rapsody was over her 9th Wonder assisted single, “Believe Me” from her 2012, debut album, The Idea of Beautiful. 9th Wonder is one of my favorite producers in Hip-Hop, so I was paying attention. Rapsody has since released several outstanding projects. Her 2019 album Eve was not just another album, it is a conceptual masterpiece. At its core, Eve is an album about black femininity. Each song takes its name from a woman with such stature or charisma, she can be evoked by first name alone: Aaliyah, Oprah, Maya, and Michelle make the list. In total, Rapsody’s Eve features 19 tracks, each named for a strong black woman, including today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track, Nina.

Ropsody is an artist of the highest caliber, a fierce MC, and a self-identified Womanist. I first discovered Womanism when I was in seminary through the writings of Stacey Floyd-Thomas. While my initial exposure to Womanist theory and philosophy was limited to a subset of Christian Womanists, I also discovered Alice Walker, was exposed to a deeper reading of Maya Angelou and slowly began to see how “progressive” causes like feminism often get framed in explicitly and sometimes exclusively white terms. This is where I started to understand that the notion of “colorblindness” however well-intentioned, fell short of addressing racism at best and at its worst white-washed and erased the experiences of non-white people.

Ropsody’s “Nina” is based around a sample of Simone’s rendition of the Billie Holiday song, Strange Fruit. The song painfully and poetically comments on lynchings by likening it to strange fruit on the trees:

Southern trees bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Rapsody has so, so many dope lines in this song. Her name should be on the table every time people talk about the “greatest rappers alive.” After the initial sample she is off and running: “Emit light, rap, or Emmett Till I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill.” The task is daunting: “emit light” in a racist society, in a music industry where the bodies of women are sometimes talked about more than what they bring to the table artistically. Rapsody is up for that task. And damn if she doesn’t do it with style and the skill of a top tier MC. The whole anime/Angela/apologies/Namaste/marmalade/promenade rhyme scheme is the kind of near-rhyme technique I aspire to in a lot of my own spoken word. When assonance is done right, especially in Hip-Hop it just sounds dope.

But what she’s actually saying in those few densely packed lines is amazing: Rapsody is the real thing. A lot of rappers, a lot of people in general are fake, they’re “anime.” In fact She’s as fine as Anna Mae (Tina Turner) and won’t crack, calling to mind Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It. She knows her worth: “When you greet me it’s, Namaste.” And she “spreads love” in all inclusive Womanist fashion: “the Brooklyn way or like marmalade, no matter if you street street or more like the promenade.”

We live in a world where career politicians talk about the importance of the black community and the necessity of having a strong coalition of black supporters every election cycle and then go back to business as normal: appeasing big banks, Wall Street and super pac donors, and lobbyists. I can’t help but wonder how people of color and women of all colors must feel when campaign strategists debate the what combination of gender and ethnicity could potentially win an election. I want to tread very carefully here, as I am aware of the irony (and potentially nefarious effects) when white people try to explain black art or men try to speak on behalf of women. I would rather listen than speak. In this case, allow Rapsody to speak – not for me – but to me about who she is:

I’m from the back woods where Nina would
Sing about the life we should lead
A new dawn, another deed, I try to do some good
I felt more damned than Mississippi was
They deny Nina in Philadelphia
And still we persevere like all the 400 years of our own blood, Africa
Old panthers looking back like who gonna come up after us?
Outside the movies, I make sure before it move you
It moved me, now bow down to a Queen

Indeed, Rapsody is a queen! Look around! We are surrounded by royalty. Many don’t know their own worth. Other’s have grossly exaggerated sense of their self-worth and lord it over others.  Rapsody shows me how to both love and critique myself by painting a picture of a black woman loving herself in the midst of opposition.  If you get a chance to watch the interview above in full, pay close attention to how her “Hip-Hop Feminism” (interviewer, Dr. Yaba Blay’s term) or better her Womanism (Rapsody’s term) inherently includes men. Her thoughts on how femininity is often presented in Hip-Hop are enlightening and her brief comments on Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Nelly might not be what you expect. Enjoy the song. I hope you’re enjoying the playlist. Until tomorrow, Namaste.