Exposing the good side of Black musicBy Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Mar 6, 2013 - 6:35:38 PM
“Art and culture, music, have a great role to play in any society. It’s how you use what God has given you as a gift.” —Minister Louis Farrakhan
(FinalCall.com) - While some say good artists and music are becoming extinct songs charged with intelligent, conscious-lifting, hope-filled messages and beats are available, but unexposed say hip hop and R&B artists and scholars.
They are unexposed because powers that be want to use music to poison the minds of youth and make money, believes Jay Adams, a Chicago-based R&B artist.
“How many children got to die before we wake up? How many jobs we gotta lose before we break,” Mr. Adams’ soulful voice belts out on his latest single “P.L.E.A.S.E.” (Peace, Love, Encourage, Assist, Support).
He uses the song (downloadable for free at www.jayadamsmusic.com) to call attention to the more than 400 murders in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood alone in 2012. That’s what makes his music good, he told The Final Call.
“It’s the fact that a lot of things are part of the problem. Not just kids being killed but it’s lack of jobs, which leads to poverty, which leads to violence,” he said.
Music made him want to grow up, he said. “It inspired me to want to know what it would be like to date, to be a man, to love, whereas today it only pertains to strippers and sex and drugs,” Mr. Adams shared.
However, he still respects those artists, their voices and God-given talent because he understands it’s how many feed their families, he continued. “Take Chief Keef. He took guys off the block and out of the hood that could have been doing bad things ... So it has this other side I know a lot of people wouldn’t know,” Mr. Adams said of the teenaged Chicago rapper.
Music, the masses and messages
The other side of music is its beauty to communicate to the masses equally based on what’s inside rather than their characteristics, according to revolutionary hip hop pioneer Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Public Enemy broke out in the 1980’s with songs like “Fear of Black Planet,” “Anti-N----r Machine,” and “Brothers Gonna Work It Out.” And they are still making good music 30 years later.
In their latest song on “The Evil Empire of Everything,” one of two albums Public Enemy released in 2012, the iconic rap group continues its revolutionary message of love, family and justice over material wealth. He’s simply stayed focus on what many forgot: “Music and art are parts of culture that unite people around similarities, not societal differences,” Chuck D told The Final Call.
Government control and other barriers to good music result in division and strife among artists but artists have the power to produce good art nonetheless, he argued.
Public Enemy’s music stems from an era of America’s heightened war against Black males and the Black community. It is also influenced by the messages of artists like Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, James Brown, and Sly and the Family Stone, he said.
“These people were extensions of your family if they were going to be played on the turntables of your household, and we came from that understanding and that’s how we decided to make music in that same vein,” he continued.
Public Enemy hopes Spit Digital.com, its digital distribution network, helps other artists realize they can run their own companies too. Independent distribution helps them maintain the freedom to spread their revolutionary messages without label or corporate censorship.
Chuck D feels adults today are trying to appeal to teenagers so returning to good music over hip hop airwaves demands major effort. “That’s backwards. That will always be a problem, when people try to young and dumb themselves down. You should be able to be blessed that you’re granted another year of life,” he told The Final Call.
Good music today has more to do with maturity than age, agreed Minista Paul Scott, a syndicated music columnist. The time is ripe for organized artists to forge a change, he said.
“People are approaching a time of 100 percent dissatisfaction with what they’re hearing on the radio. Quiet as it’s kept, radio DJs, real hip hop DJs, actually hate the music they are forced to play,” Mr. Scott said.
Artists can change today’s reality
“That reality can be changed,” insisted Enoch Muhammad, founder of Hip-Hop Detoxx, a Chicago-based organization, which promotes healthy lifestyle choices among teens and young adults through music, media and pop culture.
“An artist’s strength is dictated by his health and wellness, but it’s undergirded by a conscious decision to do music that’s either uplifting consciousness raising, as well as unique for them,” Mr. Muhammad said.
He added, “Look at Brother Luqman, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff and what they did; what they wrote for Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Look at Stevie Wonder and what he did and is doing ... Just look at different artists in rap, R&B. No matter what genre, they are really using their talents and gifts and are not skimping on the creative side to do it.”
Phenom, a lead artist and artist developer with Hip-Hop Detoxx, fits that description. He’d always worked with youth in schools but found that once they left, they were more heavily exposed to the social ills. Hip Hop Detoxx was a catalyst for him to help reclaim youth and break down self-degrading music.
“When youth recognize artists working in their community, that changes their perspective of what an artist is, instead of thinking it’s just being on TV,” Phenom said.
“When music has purpose that’s for the benefit of our people, that’s complete. That is good to me ... . Our community’s definition of good has been hijacked so we’re reestablishing what’s good for us through the music,” he added.
Mueed Muhammad, musically known as Kam, a West Coast rapper, attributes his positive messages to consciousness gained from becoming a member of the Nation of Islam in 1991.
It was the same year he got his first record deal.
“I had so much access right then to so much information, wisdom and knowledge. I could put it in a way nobody ever heard before,” he said.
Fresh off the streets, Kam debuted with the song “Every Single Weekend” from the Boyz in the Hood movie soundtrack. Then he entered the world of revolutionary or “conscious” gangsta rap with his song “Peace Treaty,” about the 1992 Watts gang truce.
“It is just as easy to make good songs as is to make bad ones but it’s about motivation,” he said.
He too is inspired by the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Min. Farrakhan’s example.
People who want good music have to pressure commercial stations through a unified boycott but artists require something different, he insisted.
Training, guidance and good music
“We’ve got to make what we’re trying to do attractive for them to want to do conscious music. If they feel like they can just put out freaky stuff, disrespect each other, then we already know what that’s going to lead to: diseases, pregnancy, fighting, broken families, jail, no discipline, no education, and self-destruction,” Kam said.
He suggested proactive, positive training to help young artists avoid traps set by their enemy and to help them produce more positive lyrics.
The group consists of girls ages 7-12 who gained popularity when they released, “Letter to Lil Wayne.” They asked the rap superstar to refer to Black women as queens in his music, not other derogatory names.
“I feel like it sounded good but it’s disrespectful to women. And because I’m a girl, I just, I didn’t like it because it was talking about females,” Nia said about the overall state of music today. She feels Watoto’s music will eventually help make a change.
The group is producing a song about Black on Black violence, death and destruction. “People need to hear that it’s so much. … They just need to stop it and try to make a change. When people hear the lyrics to bad music, they start acting disrespectful and things, but when they hear good music, sometimes it uplifts them,” Nia told The Final Call.
Watoto’s music is largely driven by their Baltimore-based family’s activism, according to Mr. Natur. The family runs Solevivaz Nation, an organization which brings scholars to speak in their city.
“We started off playing, but our first album, ‘Unify or Die,’ did pretty good. We sold a couple of thousand copies of it,” Mr. Natur continued.
He added, “We want to bring life and love back to music because it’s gone astray. It’s talking about killing, disrespecting Black women, and heavy drugs. That’s the basic formula and they’re not letting anything else come on the radio.”
Corporate power and co-opting Black talent
According to Jasiri X, a Muslim activist and rapper, part of the problem is diverse independent hip hop labels have been stripped away by a monopoly of a few labels, concert promotors and radio stations. But underground artists are flourishing, he noted.
“There are thousands if not tens of thousands of artists making incredible music, male and female ... But we just don’t get the light because we want to have dignity and self-respect,” Jasiri said.
He has collaborated with Atlanta-based female rapper staHHr, who has been making music for the past 14 years, often with the support of other like-minded artists.
She consideres good music balanced, authentic and genuine, not forced. “The beats are very important because a lot of times people spit a lot of intelligent esoteric stuff but it doesn’t flow well. So the right beat, right energy, and the vibe are essential,” she told The Final Call.
Her music about intellect, metaphysics and natural law is distributed through stahhr.com and stahhr.bandcamp.com.
“We really right now don’t have the excuse anymore to say that we don’t know there’s another side to music ... we have to stop saying people don’t want anything other than that low vibration because I don’t accept that,” staHHr argued.
People first have to recognize a standard of what good music is, said Chicago-based rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith. The guideline is what can be considered enjoyable music by any normal person, he said. The Grammy award winner co-wrote rapper Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” which won for Best Rap Song in 2004.
Rhymefest recently collaborated with Jasiri and Detroit-based rapper Invincible on “Candidates For Sale,” a song inspired by growing corporate influence and money over politics.
The transition from predominantly good music permeating the airwaves didn’t happen by osmosis, Rhymefest argued. Artists were bought out and Black people were sold out by people who look like them, he continued.
“The same way a lot of our ministers are bought out by corporate interests and advertise corporate products in the church ... the same way they buy out our community organizers with grants but the grants are made in such a way you can’t really be effective with your mission,” he said.
But using social media helps level the playing feel, he added.
Since the inception of hip hop, Minister Farrakhan has praised the creative talent exhibited by rap artists, calling their music valuable and potentially revolutionary. He also challenges artists to use their talents to uplift rather than degrade the minds and images of young people.
The Minister has called out the corrupt, money-hungry corporate entities that continue a strangle hold on the entertainment industry and artists as they continue to export these negative images around the world.
The Satanic forces behind record companies corrupt artists and manipulate their tremendous talents to dumb down not only America but the world, the Muslim leader explained.
“So art and culture and movies and music have a great place, but the revolution of our thinking must be reflected in our art and our culture. And the talent of your young people must always be used to lift the minds of those who are touched by our music, our song, our dance, our plays our movies,” said Min. Farrakhan.
(Starla Muhammad contributed to this report.)
Lyrics, Lil Wayne and corporate hypocrisy (FCN, 03-06-2013)
Interview with a Hip Hop Legend, Chuck D (FCN, 12-04-2012)
Wise Intelligent discusses 'The Manufacturing of a Dumbed Down Rapper' (FCN, 06-12-2011)
Hip Hop, Harvard and Hoaxes: Exposing the Hood Myth (FCN, 02-02-2011)
Hip Hop Under corporate control (FCN, 06-02-2008)
Rap COINTELPRO: Subverting the power of Hip-Hop (FCN, 07-19-2005)
Farrakhan challenges the hip hop community (FCN, 07-13-2001)