Monday, September 13, 2010

Remembering 2Pac

A big thanks to hip hop journalist Davey D for sharing these important thoughts and insightful interview as we commemorate the anniversary of 2Pac's death.

As we Commemorate the Anniversary of 2Pac’s Death-Who Speaks for the ‘Have Nots’ in 2010? « Davey D’

by Davey D

Every year around this time many of us within Hip Hop take some time out and reflect on the life and times of Tupac Amaru Shakur as commemorate the anniversary of his tragic death Sept 13 1996. With each passing year its interesting to note that as a younger generation grows older, icons like 2Pac don’t seem to mean as much. For example, I’m not sure I heard anyone shout him out during the MTV VMAs.. Not sure if people took time to acknowledge him during the red carpet interviews or if anyone bothered to ask their thoughts. Did anyone ask ‘What do you think 2Pac would be doing if he was here?’ ’What do you think 2Pac would say about our current economic situation?’ ”What would Pac have said about that preacher wanting to burn Qu’rans or all the hoopla made at Ground Zero about that Mosque/ Community center? What would he have said about the looming sentencing trial for the cop who killed Oscar Grant or the riots that have taken place in LA after cops shot an immigrant? What would Pac have said about all those homes being destroyed and people killed during the tragic fire in San Bruno which we are now finding was because of negligence by PG&E? Considering that’s an area where a lot of people of color live, do you think Pac would’ve been screaming on that? Such speculative question gets asked because it’s all but absent from those who are privileged to have access to a mic.

Continue reading full article here:

Also, peep these interviews:

Remembering 2Pac pt1 Intv w/ Shock G of Digital Undergrnd-He speaks about who deserves credit for putting Pac on @swiftfm

Remembering 2Pac pt2-Shock G talks about who and what was influencing Pac when he first got down w/ DU.. #2Pac @swiftfm

Remembering 2Pac pt3: Shock G talks about the influence of the Black Panthers on DU & 2Pac.. very insightful.. @swiftfm

Hip-Hop Politics and Capitalism: The Story of Thugnificent

Guest blogger, Dr. Gosa, provides more food for thought in his latest essay. Thank you for sharing.

Hip-Hop Politics and Capitalism: The Story of Thugnificent

Written by Dr. Travis Gosa

I spent the Labor Day weekend watching reruns of Aaron McGruder’s animated television series “The Boondocks.” The story-arc of Otis Jenkins, aka, “Thugnificent,” got me thinking about the contradictions of hip-hop, capitalism, and politics. Money and politics, it would seem, have been at the heart of every debate about “the state of hip-hop” in the last two decades. The fictional Thugnificent offers a satirical review of commercial rap and hip-hop politics since the mid-1990s.

On “The Boondocks,” Thugnificent embodies the prefabricated, corporate rap image. (Physically, he resembled real life rapper-actor Ludacris, interesting.) His album entitled “From Rags to B*tches” includes the southern club-bangers “Booty Butt Cheeks” and “Stomp ‘Em in the Nuts.” He’s an iced-out, ghetto representative rollin’ with the “Lethal Interjection Crew,” though ‘Nificent is neither the thug nor outlaw imagined in his music.

In season 2 (episode 5) Thugnificent builds a platinum- and gold-plated mansion next door to the Freeman family in the white suburb of Woodcrest. Instead of shooting at crooked cops or kickin’ reality about street-corner survival, Thugnificent spends his time starting a rap-feud with Granddad. According to the melodic chorus featuring Nate Dogg, old people are old, and senior citizens need to stop snitchin’ to the police. Despite the vapid content of his music, the rapper claims to represent the next stage of black liberation struggle. His mansion features a huge painting of a god-like Thugnificent towering above the images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

In season 3 (episode 1), Thugnificent attempts to cash-in on Obama-mania sweeping the country: He becomes a political activist. ‘Nificent now appears auto-tuned, smiling, and dancing with White Hollywood liberals (such as George Clooney) on the Will.I.Am Obama-tribute video “D*ck riding Obama.” He trades his ice and XXXL white tee for tight hipster clothes and a bow-tie. Appearing on Bill Maher’s Real Time, however, it is shown that Thugnificent knows nothing about politics—not even the three branches of government (yes, this is a spoof of J-Hova on Bill Maher).

After the election (season 3, episode 2), Thugnificent believes he is bigger than rap music, and releases an all-autotuned, R&B concept album (sound like Kanye or P. Diddy?). The album fails, and Thugnificent attempts to reclaim his fame by starting rap-beefs with teen-rappers (an allusion to the Ice-T/Souljaboy beef). In the same episode, we also learn that the real Otis Jenkins (1) is a middle-class college graduate (he has a bachelor’s degree in Communications), and that (2) his ex-drug dealer persona was just clever marketing.

The story of Thugnificent is the story of mainstream hip-hop since the mid-1990s. As ?uestlove explained in Rolling Stone magazine a few years back, “minstrelsy” in the form of “one-dimensional” hustlers-turned-rappers-turned-businessmen has come to define popular hip-hop. “Hip-hop [was],” according to the afro-adorned drummer, “’Black America’s CNN’—but now it’s turned into black America’s UPN.”

Busy negotiating million-dollar merchandizing deals and mingling with the status elite, the hip-hop-capitalist has little time for making good music, or relating the struggles of everyday people. The result is not empowerment, but the transformation of a people’s music into another spectacle of black folk “acting a fool” as global entertainment. The newest attraction seems to be playing the hip-hop ambassador, and politicking with the white left and DC insiders. Aren’t thugs supposed to throw a middle-finger to the government, the same government that threw 2 Live Crew in jail in 1990, and put hip-hop on trial on Capitol Hill in both 1994 and 2007?

The confusion surrounding money and politics represents the biggest challenge facing hip-hop culture, and perhaps black politics writ-large. The story of Thugnificent/hip-hop is a misunderstanding of *individual* upward mobility as black liberation ideology. Going from “Rags to B*tches” (or ashy-to-classy) is NOT the message of black empowerment through economic production voiced by Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, or the Nation of Islam. Those cats were talking co-operative economics and institution building, not M.O.B. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of America writing bad checks to black folk (“the declaration of independence = a check marked “insufficient funds””), but “the struggle” has never been all about the benjis.

Reverberating in hip-hop is an ethos of staunch individualism that remixes Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches American Dream mythology with Al Pacino’s/Tony Montana’s political philosophy of Scarface (1983): “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” The Hip-Hop Generation’s love affair with that Oliver Stone flick is seen in extensive use of quotes, samples, and modeling of the Tony Montana narrative. (When the MTV show “Cribs,” a hip hop inspired version of “The Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous,” was still being aired, it was cliché to show off one’s Scarface movie poster, refrigerator filled with Cristal champagne, and well-positioned stripper pole.)

A few rap icons got the money and the women (at least in the music videos), but where is the real power of the hip-hop community? Politicians (The Democrats) might enlist rappers every four years to get the youths to “rap da vote,” but is that really power? As the Thugnificent story reveals, music and money does not automatically translate into political capital.

Reflecting on Jay-Z’s emergence as representative of the “hip-hop voting bloc” in the 2008 election, underground rapper Reks spit it this way,

Bill O'Reilly don't respect Jay-Z in no suit, you still a coon in they eyes, hope you soon realize”

Now, I would never spit anything reckless about Jay-Z (I don’t mess with Illuminati operatives), but Reks raises an important question: how exactly has cash and celebrity translated into political respect? P. Diddy/Puff/Mr. Combs has been parlaying the hip-hop vote since his 2004 “Vote or Die” campaign. Along with Jigga, Diddy reigns supreme in both business and popular culture. Rubbing elbows with the status elite in the Hamptons, DC, and NYC is what he’s about. But what has coalesced from all his efforts?

In terms of political activism, mobilization, and organization—well, not much apparently. (Hip-hop philanthropy is another story). However, I don’t think that’s not what the Thugnificent model of politics is about. Actual political activism and mobilization is old school, like mid 20th century. Rather, Puff summarizes the empowerment strategy that is actually embraced by the rap-capitalists. On the Wacka Flocka Flame Video, “O Let’s Do It Remix,” he explains

“I got my billions up, f*ckin’ wit these white folks/Now I don’t give a f*ck ‘cause I’m richer than these white folks…All I drink is my sh*t, Ciroc by the caseload…”

These rhymes represent what has become the “new” black power ideology touted by hip-hop. Interestingly, Puff delivers these lines while posturing with (rapper) Rick Ross, the ex-police officer wrapped in the chinchilla and fox-head fur. After 37 years of hip-hop, Diddy summarizes what too often passes for hip-hop politics: gettin’ money (and drinking French vodka made from grapes, yum-o). We are Thugnificent, indeed.

Travis Gosa (

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is Hip-Hop Education A Hustle? Getting Serious About Rap Pedagogy

Written by Dr. Travis Gosa

Sorry for the hate, but I feel obligated to ether Mr. Duey, the rapping math teacher who’s been “putting some flow to STEM subjects.” At the end of August, the white middle-school-teacher-slash-rapper-slash-party-entertainer (I can’t knock the hustle) dropped his second educational rap CD entitled “Class Dis-Missed 2.”The tracklist features 18 educational rap songs including “Big Ballin’ Planets” (an astronomy tune) and “Dewey Decimal System” (reppin’ library science ya’ll).

My beef is not with Mr. Duey’s flow on “Plate Tectonics” or “Long Division.” In fact, I would compare Mr. Duey’s lyrical ability to be similar to that of Mase, Silk da Shocker, or Sudanese-Australian rapper Bangs (“Take U To Da Movies”). Mr. Duey is no Rakim, and I’ve heard worse.

No, I’m ridin’ on Mr. Duey for doing what has become popular of late: the complete bastardization and misappropriation of hip-hop education for profit. Too often, what is packaged as “hip-hop education” and “rap pedagogy” is nothing more than what Greg Tate calls “the marriage of heaven and hell, of New World African ingenuity and that trick of the devil known as global hyper-capitalism.”

As K-12 and higher education continue to undergo privatization and massive corporatization, so-called “hip-hop education” has become the newest way to increase profits. The commodification of education has arrived in many forms, including predatory student loan debt; $10,000 pre-school tuition, Baby Einstein videos, $1000 SAT training sessions, and professional college essay editing. The education industry exploits the fear of middle-class parents, those now struggling to live pay check to pay check in these harsh economic times of housing foreclosures and massive downsizing. Parents will do almost anything to give their children a competitive edge in school, so I suspect that a few mommies will spend their last $12.95 on the “Class Dis-Missed 2 LP.”

Improving the academic achievement of poor, black/Latina/indigenous children has also become part of the educational marketplace. Ed policy has devolved mostly into economic analyses of teacher productivity (read test score production), accountability, paid incentives, and standardization. Under “No Child Left Behind” or “Race to the Top,” states and localities are raking in big bucks for promising to increase the output of darker skinned student-laborers. Even the most celebrated education reform programs, like CEO Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), operate as education corporations.

An education researcher by day, I am familiar with the test score outputs of HCZ, and I am a huge supporter of the health work done on CEO Canada’s watch—childhood obesity and early on-set diabetes are no joke in black communities. I take issue with handing over the education of children and communities to businesses. HCZ is a $75 million dollar education business. Don’t believe me, read the “business plan” of HCZ. About 30% of the money comes from the government (your money), but the controlling share (60%) appears to come from private interests. What does it mean to have companies like Microsoft, BP, AT&T, or Wal-Mart in control of the purse-strings of programs set to uplift the country’s most vulnerable children? Whose interests are really being served?

This is my main problem with most “hip-hop education” programs, not just Mr. Duey’s “Learning Through Rap” CDs. These programs do little to shift the scales of inequality, or to problematize American education or society. I see a clever rebranding of Eurocentric education with the “yo-yo, bling, bling” aesthetics of corporate rap media. Like Nelly’s Pimp Juice (the carbonated energy drink) or those Sean Ditty Combs 1000 Thread count sateen bed linens, rap education products tend to transfer wealth from the masses to a few individuals. Flocabulary education guides and hip-hop S.A.T flash cards may help students pass tests (I’ve read zero scientific or peer-reviewed studies that these products actually work). But these materials might also serve to further indoctrinate students into the wider hip-hop consumer culture. Seen in this light, the marriage of hyper-capital hip-hop and corporate education is a perfect match.

Most hip-hop heads already know that rap music underwent extreme corporatization in the early 1990s. Media consolidation and take-over by multi-national corporations help explain why we went from “Fight the Power” in 1989 to “Gin N’ Juice” in 1994. However, rap scholars rarely note that educational institutions and educators also became a neo-imperialist force during this time. Consider the university movement towards “hip-hop studies” as an example. In 1991, the first academic conference on hip-hop was held at Howard University. In 2009, there were over 300 hip-hop courses being taught at the college level, with Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell maintaining library archives on hip-hop culture.

This has amounted to an intellectual land-grab, one that has been mostly exploiting hip-hop. In a brave essay on hip-hop pedagogy, Ayanna F. Brown describes this as nothing less than the raping of hip-hop culture. She poses an interesting question, does rap in the classroom further dilute social consciousness?

Rap has become a commodity used for material gain—not just within the hip-hop community, but also among large corporations who have invested large amounts of money into marketing mainstream products. One of the consequences of the mass marketing of rap has been its dilution to fit the social consciousness of mainstream society. Subsequently, the commodification of rap and its acceptance in dominant society has been partially based on diluted forms of rap. Do classroom activities contribute to this type of commodification in the selection of what type of rap to use, and which artists are appropriate for classroom-based activities?

Read her essay while listening to Mos Def’s The Rape Over. I’m thinking about remixing the track, and adding, “Harvard University is running this rap sh*t…”, “I let you sip up some tenure, get a Mercedes/My mack is crazy…” [I could have said Cornell, but a brotha gotta eat too. Can I live?] If we aren’t careful, hip-hop museums, universities, rapping teachers, and hedge-fund managers are going to be running hip-hop, forget about A&R and record execs—that was the 20th century jack-move.

The Mr. Huey version of hip-hop education, which his website describes as “fun for teachers and parents,” is neither hip-hop nor education. These products, I fear, are another way to ensure that children are not exposed to an educational experience that is disruptive, empowering, and emancipatory. As Houston Baker put it years ago in the book Black Studies, Rap and the Academy (1993), the goal of hip-hop in schools should be to “disrupt the fundamental whiteness [of schools] and harmonious Western education.” True hip-hop education should not be used to trick children into memorizing white history to the rhythm of a boogety-beat. For white hipster teachers and privileged youth, rap in the classroom should not resemble a cultural safari of dangerous, exotic, yet pre-manufactured black urban coolness. The definition of white privilege is the ability to appropriate the “fun” and “useful” aspects of black aesthetics, while ignoring or forwarding the suffering of actual black people.

If hip-hop education isn’t going to become the latest hustle, it’s time to start getting serious about it. I don’t claim to know what that will entail, but I know it isn’t Mr. Huey. Perhaps a better starting point for true rap pedagogy will sound like BDP’s You Must Learn! And that was way, way back in 1989. For those interested in a critical, hip-hop pedagogy texts, I’d recommend checking out Marcella Runell’s and Martha Diaz’s The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook Volume 1 or Priya Parmar’s Knowledge Reigns Supreme.

Travis Gosa (

The Twilight Zone

School started this week so I have been busy getting ready for another hectic fall semester. I have not had a chance to comment too much on the Glenn Beck "March on Washington" rally last weekend, but i did want to at least add a couple thoughts.

Watching the rally last week reminded me of late nights when i was younger...up late watching tv...and when up late enough, I would catch episodes of The Twilight Zone. Nothing as it appeared...always some type of twist.

So far the discussion has focused on the obvious:
1. yes he is crazy
2. and dangerous
3. and cynical
4. and manipulative
5. and most likely in it for profit and fame.

But his pivot from political pundit trying to ratchet up white fear to "messiah" leading his flock "back to better days" to "restore America" is definitely taking the battle to another level and is a critical lesson in framing. After watching his performance last Saturday, I knew that if he did not suffer a backlash from his own "followers" (for avoiding overt political discourse and for employing minority symbols for faith, hope and charity), he would have secured his power to manipulate a decent segment of the population to accept whatever he said....and follow suit. He would have secured his cult status.

While some in the crowd seemed perplexed by minority after minority being the center of attention for honors...the vast majority stayed with him. When the black preacher talked about going to the "original March on Washington" and being threatened by bus bombs through the south, the crowd had to separate their support for Beck and his "mission" with the reality that many of them or their parents were the ones on the other side of that civil rights battle in the 60s...blocking desegregation of schools and buses...and NOT supporting the original March on Washington.

For Beck it was a test of his "followers" to send the same messages through minority faces...would they be able to "overcome" the label of racism through token representation. In willing participants like Dr. King's niece he was able to test his theory...They welcomed her, not only because she was the niece of Dr. King, but because her message was one they embraced: conservatism. She talked about prayers in schools, a pro-life agenda and utilized anti-government rhetoric.

If she sounded more like her uncle, I'm sure she would not have been so welcomed. ..or would she have? because they TRUST Beck so much now, he can even blatantly spit on them and they would stand by him...hmm. time will tell which is true.

The moment that has not been discussed that spoke volumes to me came at the end of her speech. This was definitely the church revival test...and a way to make this not about race but religion. You are either with God...or against Him. Gospel singers praised...many in the crowd had arms raised...others, still perplexed...but still waited....for Beck. Did they feel bamboozled? maybe...but not enough to abandon their messiah (The God they were praising was just a symbol for the God they had been waiting for).

...and then it happened...the twist...i was officially in the twilight zone...Ms. King told the singers to take them home (wrap) and they sang a brief but recognizable refrain (instantly recognizable to me but probably few in that crowd of mostly white conservative Beck followers recognized it)...they started:

"Lift every voice and sing..." ...the black national anthem.

and i saw a man who looked like he had on some southern symbol (read: confederate) with his hand raised in the air...

...Beck has them yall. Get ready.

Framing matters.

here is an old essay to revisit:

The Miseducation of a Nation: Unveiling the Illusion of History