"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Friday, July 29, 2005
Atrocities of man
In hearing about the terrorist attacks in London, I felt that deep sadness, anger and frustration I always feel when I hear about civilians being victims of targeted military operations. Nothing excuses such atrocities, though we must always attempt to understand them.

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, I realized that I found it very difficult to compose a statement or write a column about these murders. It was a day or so in the aftermath of the attacks that I started to understand my feelings.

Fifty-two people were murdered in the London attacks, and hundreds were injured. Families, as a result, have been destroyed or, at the least, devastated. In North America and Europe, various countries have flown their flags at half-mast. There have been moments of silence in country after country. National leaders have spoken out, denouncing these criminal acts.

Yet, when I think about it, I cannot remember Europe or North America expressing the same amount of sadness or outrage, when terror was inflicted on the people of East Timor by the Indonesian military, whether in the massacres of 1975 or the massacres of 1999. I could not remember such expressions at the regular reports of terror inflicted by the Sudanese government and their janjaweed allies against civilians in Darfur. I could not remember fury when, following the February 2004 coup, supporters of ousted Haitian President Aristide were tortured and terrorized using methods that could only have emerged from the minds of demons.

It is clear to many of us that race almost always plays some role in this equation. The reality is that the lives of Black, Brown and Yellow peoples are simply not given the same value as Whites in the mainstream North American media and most official circles. The terror that is experienced in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, often at the hands of allies of the U.S.A., is simply not treated as in any way equivalent to the terror experienced on September 11, 2001 in the U.S. or the July 2005 London bombings.

Race, however, is only one part of the equation, and this is something that we need to consider. It is not just race, but also familiarity, for lack of a better term, that seems to influence the way that so many people in the U.S.A. differentiate terror from…terror. For most of us in the USA, we are familiar with the city of London from pictures we have seen, or films that we have watched. It is a modern, metropolitan center, with which people from the USA can, by and large, identify. One hears about a bombing in London and one can imagine it not just happening in London, but it could just as easily be the No. 6 train running from the Bronx to Manhattan. It could be the Atlanta MARTA heading downtown from the airport. It could be any bus traveling the streets of Los Angeles. It all seems so familiar, so close.

How many of us, by contrast, have any sense as to what East Timor looks like, the culture of the people, let alone where it is to be found? How many of us have seen a refugee camp, except for a split second on television news or in an ad? It all seems so alien, almost literally out of this world, and something with which it is hard for so many people in the USA to identify…in part because we have to think outside of the normal parameters of our lives.
Terror, then, becomes something that could happen to me, not because it happened in East Timor or Darfur, but because it occurred in London, and London looks not that different from home. The fact that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of East

Timorese were murdered by an ally of the US.A. seems so academic to many people, because, after all, it was not an arbitrary bombing in a major metropolitan area, but simply the slaughtering of families by a barbaric army. Is that not what war is about, one might ask?

Insofar as we permit the media and the apologists for oppressive foreign policies to distance regular people from the realities of much of the world, it is we who lose our humanity. Terror in East Timor, the Congo, Darfur, Palestine, or Guatemala is no less atrocious than the terror unleashed through the killing of 52 innocent civilians in London. Rather, it is something occurring on a scale that most of us find nearly incomprehensible.

Yes, I cry for those murdered in London, but I also cry and scream for those forced to live in a never ending nightmare of media-ignored terror, a terror all too often permitted or encouraged by our own leaders.

posted by R J Noriega at 2:47 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Terrorism is not an ideology - merely a technique

Keeble McFarlane

While the forensic specialists in London go about their grim task of identifying the unfortunate people who were blown up on the London transit system a couple of weeks ago, the George and Tony show continues. Boy George announced from Washington that the war on terrorism would continue, and pretty soon heard the sentiment echoed across the Atlantic from the halls of Downing Street. But the man who got things right was neither Bush nor Blair - it was the controversial Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, the same one who attacked the terrorists, as well as those who planted some more bombs this week, thankfully without casualties.

He denounces the terrorists, who, he feels, will ultimately fail in their efforts to destabilise the society. But he also denounces governments which, he says, use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy.

In the manner of the boy in the Hans Christian Andersen story about the emperor's new clothes, Livingstone is not afraid to point out that the emperor is naked, and not wearing the magic clothes all the courtiers and subjects acknowledge in line with the Edward and Percy story they'd been fed. He told the BBC that since the first world war, western interests in the Middle East had been motivated by a desire to control the flow of oil, and he says "western double standards" in the region have contributed to the growth of extremism and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Tony Blair, who was most eloquent in rallying his people on the day of the bombings, naturally has to disagree with Livingstone. He also refuses to entertain any suggestion that his country's invasion and occupation of Iraq along with the United States has any connection with the bombing by four young British men, one of whom left Jamaica as an infant.

It wasn't very long ago that Bush urged his opponents abroad to "bring 'em on!". Well they certainly have. He continues to link the attack on the World Trade Centre with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with it. In fact, Osama Bin Laden hated Saddam about as much as he hates the decadent, demonic and ungodly West, for Saddam was certainly not a devout Muslim and led a secular, considerably foreign-influenced government.

Bush certainly was correct to target Afghanistan, where bin Laden ran around with his band of joyless, hateful, single-minded cohorts. And he certainly had support from much of the world in that endeavour. But he dropped the ball, shifting his attention to Iraq, which, as we have heard, he wanted to attack even before Osama's boys flew those planes into the two buildings in New York. In the two years since the US and its client states attacked, Iraq has become a seething mass of misery, starvation, disorder, terror and death. And it's become a prime source of new terrorists. So Bush has ended up causing exactly the opposite effect to what he claimed he wanted to achieve.

While terrorism is a horrible thing for the vast majority of us to contemplate, it is not as mindless as it may seem. It can be an extremely effective tool to achieve ends - ends such as convincing occupying powers it is in their best interests to leave the place they are occupying.

Irish activists who wanted to drive out the British and establish their own republic in the early part of the last century blew up public places and conducted attacks on prominent places until the British came around and negotiated with them. Several decades later, the Irish republic is the most prosperous it has been in its entire history. The republicans in the rump which remains attached to Britain continued that activity for the last one-third of the 20th century, until the British withdrew its army and met the activists at the bargaining table. There's been an uneasy truce for the past few years, but it appears the peace could take root.

After World War Two, Algerians agitated to end France's colonial hold on their north African country. The French refused, and a campaign of terrorism ensued, ending only when the people in the Elysée Palace got the message and sat down to talk. In the 1950s, nationalists in Kenya known as the Mau Mau terrorised the comfortable British colonial regime until they agreed to discuss independence.

In the late 1940s, when Jewish refugees from Hitler's charnel-house flooded into Palestine, they conducted a terror campaign to force the British out and to establish their own state. Ironically, in recent years it is they who have become targets of terrorist bombs by downtrodden Palestinians who see on a daily basis, soldiers manning check-points, conducting rough-and-ready patrols in their cities and towns, and fanatical settlers setting up shop on land they seized.

The radical Islamist outfit known as the Mujahideen that fought against the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan, were supported with cash and light anti-aircraft missiles by the CIA, which zealously carried out Ronald Reagan's desire of bringing about the collapse of what he had dubbed "The Evil Empire". Well, as they say, what goes round, comes round. Most ironically, those self-same freedom fighters turned their attention to the United States, and staged attacks in a number of places - against embassies in east Africa, for example, and against the US navy in Aden.

What all this bravado about the "War on Terrorism" disguises is an inability, or unwillingness, to look at the underlying forces which engender terrorism. Bush and Blair elevate terrorism to the level of an ideology, but that's a simplistic formula intended to bolster the archaic mentality of using brute force to solve every dispute. The fact is, terrorism is not an ideology, but merely a technique. It's not a pleasant business - just cast your mind to any of a string of attacks on ordinary people going about their daily business - be they Sinhalese in Sri Lanka blown up by a bomb worn around the waist of a Tamil Tiger; subway riders in Japan in a gas attack by religious fanatics; passengers blown out of the sky by fanatics in Canada who want a separate state for Sikhs in India, a Cuban plane exploding near Barbados from a bomb planted by anti-Castro terrorists, one of whom Bush is now harbouring in the United States; or commuters aboard the tube and the Number 30 bus this month.

Nasty and unpleasant as it may be, terrorism works because it works. Despite the propaganda, poverty and underdevelopment are not the cause. How come there's no terrorism in the poorest parts of Latin America or Africa?
Most terrorists are educated, reasonably well-off people with a highly developed sense of grievance and the belief that their cause is bigger than themselves. Bearing in mind the maxim that diplomacy is war by other means, until we get into the habit of negotiating our differences, for some people terrorism will continue to be a bargaining tool.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:40 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, July 18, 2005
The Rough Guide To
African Rap

Rappers, rebels and ragamuffins

‘The Revolution is right here in front of you,’ raps Ty, on the opening track of this collection. A musical revelation awaits listeners as they delve into our album of the kind of grooves that are rocking twenty-first century urban Africa and the Diaspora. Within Africa, rap is rampant among the youth and the not-so-youthful. Private radio and TV stations – which have burgeoned since the early 1990s – broadcast rap and reggae music for sound commercial reasons. African rappers have been signed up by international record companies and in the process introduced to wider audiences.

From South Africa, Prophets Of Da City scored some of the earliest international acclaim, with their condensed history of hip-hop filtered through the township experience. Other pioneers include Positive Black Soul from Senegal, Ghana's hip-life king Reggie Rockstone, Tata Pound from Mali, Kalamashaka from Kenya and a host of others. Now around 2000 rap outfits exist in Dakar alone. South Africa and Tanzania are other top hot spots of African hip-hop, but every country has its share of rappers. Hip-hop originally only appealed to the younger generation – which one producer described as ‘an internationalist disenfranchised nation’ – but with the use of indigenous ingredients (including beats, instruments and vocal references) even the older folk are getting behind the new music. Prophets Of Da City have referred to township mbaqanga, Positive Black Soul sample traditional instruments such as kora, tama and xalam, Rockstone reprises Afro-beat and K-Melia subvert soukous guitar licks, etc.

Just like highlife, rumba, jazz or reggae, African hip-hop is a conscious reflection of transatlantic culture, but Europe has been the launch pad for many international breakthroughs. The help and publicity provided by figureheads such as Manu Dibango have aided artists such as MC Solaar, the French rapper of West African origin. Music from the soundtrack of La Haine, the French feature film set in the immigrant quarters of Paris, also made a mark.

Probably the first people to see African hip-hop in a broader context were the rappers from Francophone Africa touring neighbouring countries from the mid-1990s onwards and working in Paris. Positive Black Soul were pioneers, but others were building up career bases, including Passi, Arsenik and other members of Bisso Na Bisso, who shook up the whole scene in 1998. Not all the tracks on this disc are strictly hip-hop, however, but the rap element is ever present.

In Africa, wordplay has always been a great source of entertainment and social commentary – the various languages (totalling around 2000) impose different rules on the common groove. In the late twentieth century, access to sophisticated recording equipment improved so much that music was democratized: African musicians no longer had to depend on working for a (possibly despotic) bandleader, who not only owned and dispensed the instruments but demanded a lifetime of loyalty. Musicians could create music by and, if necessary, for themselves. Rappers have responded to social and political issues by addressing such subjects as poverty, AIDS, famine, corruption and globalization at a time when the changing economic, political and media climate across Africa has resulted in less censorship and more freedom to be critical of people in power. Rappers have had an important say during elections in South Africa, Senegal and Kenya. For African rappers to choose this conscious approach instead of the ‘bling-bling’ materialistic stance reflects the way other music functions as a medium in their societies – from the griots (musicians by birthright) to the lambasting of a Fela or a Franco.

Love songs are also a part of rap culture, even among the more ‘hardcore’ or conscious rappers – but then boasting about adventures with the opposite sex has always been integral to any popular music. Gangsta culture is another source of inspiration, but on different levels. In Cape Town, for example, there are real gangsters killing each other and innocent bystanders, although elsewhere reference to guns and killing is often more metaphorical.

Many people believe that an essential characteristic of hip-hop culture is its tendency to represent the ‘local’ in the bigger picture. In this way, localized slang, styles of dressing and posing, and discussing very local topics, can be a way to define a position towards other youth, and within the national or international hip-hop scene.

Despite the importance of content, non-speakers of a language can still appreciate the flow of a rapper’s syllable play as if it were an instrumental track. The way language is used is crucial, for example, in Senegal, where oral literature and Western-style rap are so similar, and where the borders between talking, reciting and rapping seem to blur. Some of the artists and several tracks on this album have never been heard in the West. But rappers move across cultural divides more easily than band musicians. Their community is a more global one, and several of the artists on this disc keep one foot in Africa and the other outside.

In gathering the music and information for this disc, we owe a big shout-out to Thomas Gesthuizen, who has championed the cause of African rap for the past ten years through his website, an online radio station (Rumba-Kali) and a Non-Governmental Organization (Madunia), which works in Tanzania producing discs and videos. His projects have undoubtedly helped generate international awareness about African hip-hop, having broadcast or promoted rap from more than thirty African countries.
posted by R J Noriega at 7:45 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
african rap
The Rough Guide to African Rap

by Various Artists

(World Music Network RGNET 1126 CD)

The idea of Africa--if not the actual place--has long been pivotal in much Black music. It forms the basis of reggae; it's arguable that the idea of 'home' so prominent in gospel was all the more poignant because of the brutal making of the diaspora; even rap, that most urban of forms, is increasingly interested in its Afrocentric roots. We know what these songs sound like, but what about the flip side? That's where the Rough Guide's excellent introduction comes in.

There is, it has to be said, a huge pleasure in hearing the talents of groups such as South Africa's Trybe, Angola's Das Primerio, Kenya's Kalamashaka--all strong presences among the 14 tracks here. On the one hand, we're hearing rap being reflected back to its roots; on the other, hearing--in a rich linguistic mix of indigenous and European tongues--lyrics that say much about the colonial heritage of the continent.

What's most intriguing about African Rap is its difference. Instruments, rather than samplers and breakbeats, are the order of the day. Continually impressive is the acrobatic lyrical prowess, as crews such as Tanzania's Hard Blasters or Senegal's Pee Frois create verbal rhythm tracks of dazzling dexterity. Above all, The Rough Guide to African Rap is a refreshing change from the gangster strut and bling-bling avarice that's made much Western rap so formulaic.



posted by R J Noriega at 7:40 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Stolen Culture
Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

The current craze in rap/hip-hop music, commonly called 'gangsta rap,' is widely criticized by middle-class, and middle-aged, observers, who see the music as (if they see it as 'music' at all!) nihilistic, foul, negative, and profoundly anti-woman in tone. It is this very negative response of the elders of the Civil Rights and Feminist eras that further endears it to the very young, who have few thrills in their lives that are sweeter than upsetting their parents and other elders.

However, neither the phenomenon called 'gangsta' music, nor the related pimpology that is reflected in popular music, comes out of the other. Both trends arise from the commercial exploitation of Black popular culture, and also from the political repression visited upon Black America from the national government.

In a recent discussion with a twenty-something who was a new import to Death Row, the writer was surprised by the young man's positive remarks about pimps and pimping. When several elder men asked him about his ideas, and where they came from, they were further surprised that the source for his positive views was a 1970s-era flick called "The Mack," which glorified pimp life. He, in turn, was truly surprised to learn that the movie was a fantasy, and that in many communities, such as his hometown, Philadelphia, the term, "pimp," was a term of derision; a put-down.

"You mean it wasn't really like that, ina old days, like it was in 'The Mack'?", he asked, incredulously. Such is the power of film, that a youngster can view such escapist fantasy, and think it portrayed true life. How many young rappers, who glorify pimp life in their music, think the same thing?

There is another, far more sinister reason, explained by Geronimo ji-jaga, the former Defense Minister of the L.A. Black Panther Party, and former political prisoner:

Huey Newton gave a lecture on that one time
and we had foreseen that this was gonna
happen. After the leadership of the Black
Panther Party was attacked at the end of
the '60s and the early '70s, throughout the
Black and other oppressed communities,
the role models for the up-coming
generations became the pimps, the
gangsters, the drug-dealers, etc. This is
what the government wanted to happen.
The net result was that the gangs were
being formed, coming together with a
gangster mentality, as opposed to the
revolutionary progressive mentality we
would have given them. So, by
eliminating or driving the progressive
leadership -- the correct role models
underground, killing them and putting
them into prison eliminating them --
all of these younger generations were
left prey to whatever the government
wanted to put them into.
[fr. Interview with H. Kleffner (1993)]

Therefore, the 'gangsta'-pimp twist has its origins in economic, cultural exploitation, as well as government, political repression.

Similarly, long-time readers of this column will recall the tale of yet another young Death Row denizen, who, although he possessed an acute intelligence, knew absolutely nothing significant about the Black Panther Party, even though he was born, lived, and almost died in North Philadelphia streets, perhaps a mile from where the old Panther office stood, on Columbia Avenue (since renamed after the late civil rights lawyer, Cecil B. Moore).

His most influential cultural consumption?

While he listened to rap, he was turned on the most by the exploits of Cuban gangster, Tony Montana, of the film, "Scarface." More young rappers were perhaps deeply influenced by the obscene wealth accrued by the immigrant cocaine dealer, than by the exploits of other rappers.

The lesson here is that toxic cultural productions further produces toxic cultural products, and while one is lauded as powerful art, the other is damned as dangerous doggerel. What is missed, however, is that they are all intimately related.

For both art forms are based on what the late Dr. Huey P. Newton (founder, Black Panther Party) called the "illegitimate capitalists," or those who sought to acquire capital through extra-legal means. And both reflected U.S. populations that were excluded from well-paying avenues of American economic life. One produces the other.

© 2001 Mumia Abu-Jamal


This column may be reprinted and/or distributed by electronic means, but only for non-commercial use, and only with the inclusion of the following copyright information: Text (c) copyright 2001 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

posted by R J Noriega at 8:35 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
R&B identity
R&B: Evolving to Regain Its Identity

By Mark Anthony Neal,

Resembling very little of the classic Rhythm & Blues style from which it takes its name -- and commonly viewed as the stepchild of soul, R&B has always had to fight for its legitimacy. The music that we call R&B today was the immediate product of corporate America's takeover of the black music industry in the 1970s. Much of the takeover's blueprint was contained in a mysterious document called the Harvard Report, essentially a class project done by a few Harvard Business School students in 1972. R&B was the ultimate corporate marketing plan devised to reach a wider spectrum of black audiences (and consumers), particularly an emerging black middle class, and as such so-called urban radio would play a pivotal role in its development. For nearly 30 years the genre has been synonymous with big-market urban radio; therein lies the tragic state of contemporary R&B.

Luther Vandross emerged as R&B's first legitimate superstar with his 1981 debut release, 'Never Too Much,' and it's a testament to how segregated the R&B audience was that Vandross was six albums into his solo career before he crossed over to the pop charts in the late 1980s. By that point R&B was in a transition (largely inspired by Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" production style), laying the foundation for seminal '90s R&B acts like Keith Sweat, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Faith Evans, Jodeci, Gerald Levert, Maxwell, Jaheim and Ashanti.

The critical figure here is, of course, Blige, who with the help of folk like Sean "Puffy" Combs, Chucky Thompson and Dave Hall, helped marry R&B with hip-hop (a process begun when Rakim dropped some lyrics on Jody Watley's 'Friends' back in 1988). What Puffy and others like Dr. Dre (post-Death Row), Timbaland and the Neptunes did was give hip-hop a presence on mainstream urban radio that it never had, but that success came at R&B's expense. As hip-hop began to dominate the pop market, R&B was forced to sell its "soul" in order to compete with hip-hop in the paper chase. Acts like Ashanti, Ciara and Usher became the face of the genre -- artists whose commercial success was in large part predicated on their alliances to hip-hop producers (Lil Jon) or prominent posses (Murder, Inc.)

But chart-topping hits like 'Yeah' and 'Goodies' only explain part of the story of the current state of R&B. Much of commercial radio is now dominated by major entities like Clear Channel, Ennis and Radio One, and the competition for "rotations" on urban radio has intensified. As a result, the major labels (also going through a process of intense consolidation) have been the ones best positioned to get their artists on the air, and it has been much more difficult for smaller and indie labels to get their artists heard. Arguably, some of the best R&B of the last five years has rarely been heard on mainstream radio --the music of Eric Roberson, Joi, Rahsaan Patterson, Lalah Hathaway, Amel Larrieux, Goapele and Kindred are prime examples. Urban radio's conservatism, at least as expressed in terms of its non-diverse playlists, explains why artists such as Van Hunt, Res, Martin Luther and even Me'Shell NdegéOcello have had to explain that they are indeed R&B artists and not funk-rock mutants.

Thankfully the space of contemporary R&B began to open up with the success of John Legend's 'Get Lifted' earlier this year. Tellingly Legend came to our attention because of his collaborations with hip-hop producer Kanye West, but while the lead single was a Kanye special that didn't go anywhere, it was the sparse and sublime 'Ordinary People' that broke through to the masses. Legend's success probably has more to do with audiences tiring of the R&B pabulum on urban radio than anything to do with his talent (a few listens to Stevie Wonder's 'Innervisions' makes this point). But alas, R&B was allowed to be thoughtful and creative in ways that it rarely has over the past few years. While R&B stalwarts like Gerald Levert and Brian McKnight seemingly phoned in their recent releases, Legend and Martin Luther ('Rebel Soul Music') have tried to push boundaries.

The story is just as hopeful on the other side of the gender divide. While fans await Mary J. Blige's next project, Faith Evans, Tweet and Amerie have released solid recordings. Evans' 'The First Lady' hints at her evolving maturity as an artist and person, now that she's loosed from the Puffy factory. And for the record, 'Mesmerized' sounds like the ghost of Lynn Collins. Like her debut 'Southern Hummingbird,' Tweet's 'It's Me Again' is probably too restrained -- and dare I say sophisticated -- for run-of-the-mill R&B audiences. But the fact that she is getting support from her label suggests that it believes an audience exists for her music. Amerie's 'Touch' is the least interesting of the recordings, but '1 Thing' is the most affecting R&B single since Beyoncé's 'Crazy in Love.' Of course, both songs share the production vision of Rich Harrison who seems hell-bent in having go-go music finally break through to the masses.
posted by R J Noriega at 3:49 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Rapping Up the Economic Ladder
'Rapping Up' the Business Angle on Urban Music
By Ken Gewertz

Gazette Staff

As a teenager in Austin, Texas, William Griffin listened to rap groups like NWA and Run DMC and even had his own rap show on a local radio station.

His love of rap and R&B continued through his years as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. But by the time he began his first year of study at Harvard Law School in September 1995, another aspect of the music had begun to interest him -- the business side.

"I began to realize that there was a great deal of turmoil in the music industry, and that a lot of black-owned music companies in particular had ideas that they couldn't get financial backing for," he said.

Griffin, who has worked as a financial analyst with Goldman, Sachs & Co., saw a way in which he might be able to use his knowledge and expertise to help urban music companies command a larger share of the burgeoning worldwide entertainment industry.

His first step was to recruit five other students with similar backgrounds and interests. All of them are African-American, all have had experience working as analysts and consultants with large financial institutions, and all of them grew up listening to rap and R&B (or "urban music," to use the current industry designation). Together they founded the Harvard Consultation Project, and as their initial undertaking they have compiled the Harvard Report on Urban Music, released May 16.

The other members of the Harvard Consultation Project are: Ann Marshall, a J.D. candidate at the Law School; Kandance Weems, joint law and business degree candidate; Pauline Fischer, joint law and business degree candidate; Mark Streams, J.D. candidate; and Jonathan Waldrop, a bachelor of science/master's candidate at Harvard College.

The Project was sponsored by Music Forecasting Inc., a Maryland firm providing market research and analysis to the recording industry; and McFarlane, Mitchell and Associates, an advertising and publishing firm in New York City.

Grabbing time from their busy student schedules, the team spent the 1995-96 year doing research. During spring break, they spread out over the country, interviewing 14 music industry executives. The report is a compilation of what they have learned.

"We went in with the attitude that we have some training and some principles that can apply to this field. What we needed was to collect information that would allow us to understand what applies and what doesn't," Griffin said.

The team's research showed that while the urban music industry seemed to be doing extremely well in terms of sales, it was suffering from a great deal of internal instability.

Typical was the story of the rap group TLC, whose best-selling album, "Crazysexycool," made it the number one female group of the year, and yet, even as the recording topped the charts, TLC was forced to declare bankruptcy as the result of a contract that kept its royalties unusually low.

One of the report's findings was that while urban music is extremely popular with young audiences, the industry suffers from a lack of long-term development for artists and an extremely unstable climate for black executives. "The result of such a climate," said the report, "is a weakening of the urban music infrastructure which could handicap its ability to take advantage of the huge future growth in the global entertainment industry."

Among the report's recommendations are:

* Urban music companies should invest in the long-term development of artists rather than putting all their effort into the short-term goals of pursuing big hits or discovering the "next" Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson.

* Without kowtowing to public figures whose criticism of rap lyrics is often motivated by political opportunism, urban music firms should develop a greater sense of civic responsibility and cultivate constructive ties with the community.

* Black executives in major music companies should resist being categorized exclusively as experts on black talent and aspire to "cross over" and rise on the corporate ladder.

* The urban music industry should create its own trade association similar to the Country Music Association to monitor key legislative issues, explore new markets, mediate disputes, and develop strategic relationships with other organizations.

While it is too early to say what the report's effects will be, Griffin has already received some positive responses from top urban music executives, among them Clarence Avant, chairman of the board of Motown Records and generally regarded as the most powerful black executive in popular music.

"He called to say he was very excited about the report," Griffin said. "We've made plans to meet with him in Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of moving on some of our recommendations."

Griffin said that the Harvard Consultation Project will prepare a report on a different industry each year, focusing on how African Americans can best make progress within that field.
posted by R J Noriega at 3:45 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Da City Bass Line
Revenge of the Mad Rappers
When hip hoppers use violence to silence their critics

by Peter Noel

Hip hop journalists, under fire by rappers for portraying them as arrogant, real-life hoods and scantily clad gangsta bitches, braced for a new volley of attacks in the wake of last week's brazen assault on Jesse Washington, editor-in-chief of the Manhattan-based hip hop magazine Blaze.

Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, a member of rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs's posse of producers known as "The Hit Men," was arrested and charged in the attack on Washington.

The incident comes on the heels of another allegedly violent confrontation between teenage rap sensation Foxy Brown and Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of Blaze's parent publication, Vibe, an r&b/hip hop magazine founded by Quincy Jones.

Sources say that Brown, upset over an article in the December/January issue of Vibe with a cover photo showing the gangsta coquette practically nude, confronted Smith and struck her. (Neither Smith nor Brown would comment.)

In January 1997, while on tour promoting her first solo album, Ill NaNa, with the Lost Boyz and Camp Lo, Brown was arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, for allegedly spitting on two Holiday Inn employees and threatening to whack one with a fish bowl after she asked for an iron and they said they couldn't provide one.

Fearing that fallout from the attacks might escalate into all-out war between rappers and journalists, former Nation of Islam minister Conrad Muhammad—who now heads a group called A Movement for CHHANGE (Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment)—says he reached out to Smith, Washington, and Angelettie and offered to mediate "this craziness." Muhammad, dubbed

"the hip hop minister" for his efforts to promote peace in the sometimes violent world of gangsta rap, added that all involved "are very interested in making this thing go away."

"I see the tension rising," says a respected hip hop reporter, who remembers two ghetto griots barging into the offices of a hip hop magazine, and one declaring that "niggaz would be leavin' in body bags" if their new single did not receive a favorable rating. "There is less reason now for people on both sides to restrain themselves," the writer adds. As an upstart in the industry, he points out, "Blaze acknowledges how ridiculous some rappers can get, but they do it in a way that pisses the rappers off. Face it, the hip hop community is ruled by ghetto laws; if some magazine or journalist comes out depicting a rapper as shit, that rapper is gonna test them."

In another development, music industry sources speculated that a simmering feud between Combs and Angelettie—producer of hits such as The Benjamins and Money, Power, and Respect—may have had something to do with the alleged attack on Washington, a rumor that Washington eagerly shot down.

Almost eight months before Angelettie's arrest, he and Combs allegedly battled over the trademark to the name "The Madd Rapper," the popular underground jester who was featured in a manic interlude in the Notorious B.I.G.'s hit single "Kick in the Door." Industry insiders say Combs balked after Angelettie decided to release an album titled The Madd Rapper on his own label, Crazy Cat. Combs allegedly warned Angelettie that the name was the property of Bad Boy Entertainment, the cutting-edge company he heads. A friend, who describes Angelettie as having a "Christ-like humility," says he became as angry and frustrated as his alter ego.

"Deric was furious!" he says. "He told Puffy, ‘Man, I created the Madd Rapper.' But Puffy said, ‘You created it on my record label. I own it. You work for me.' Deric was like, ‘Fuck you! You don't own the right to my character!"'

In hip hop culture, as the late Notorious B.I.G. put it, "playas" like Combs and Angelettie can both "pull burners, make da muthafuckin' beef cook" and settle their disputes. Angelettie, however, was headed to court.

"It was getting ready to go into litigation," says another source, who is close to Combs and Angelettie. "It was a big falling out, adding to a lot of stress that was evident in Puffy's camp." (A spokeswoman for Combs said he had no comment.)

Ed Woods, Angelettie's entertainment lawyer, told the Voice that Angelettie launched the Crazy Cat label at the end of the summer and will release the Madd Rapper album—one of the most anticipated in hip hop—in January. Woods declined to comment on Angelettie's alleged quarrel with Combs.

"Although you didn't hear about it, Deric got really pissed because he has a lot riding on that album," an industry insider claims. Angelettie allegedly became more enraged after he discovered that Blaze was about to publish a photograph of the Madd Rapper. Outside of hip hop circles, the musician's identity has been secret, and no pictures have ever been published.

Around 4:30 p.m. on November 16, Angelettie and three other men allegedly barged into the magazine's Lexington Avenue office and confronted Jesse Washington. They reportedly started arguing, and Washington told police the men grabbed him and beat him with a chair and their fists before running off. Washington, who suffered facial fractures and cuts on his head, identified Angelettie as one of his assailants. Three days later, Angelettie and Anthony Hubbard, both 30, surrendered at the 17th Precinct station house in Manhattan, and were charged with second-degree assault. "They deny all these allegations," says Ian Niles, an attorney who represented Angelettie and Hubbard at their arraignment. "We're gonna fight this case vigorously."

The allegation came as a shock to Angelettie's friends in the industry, who all agreed that he is a musician who selflessly dedicates himself to helping others. They argued that he must have been provoked. Angelettie, says one confidant, understood the distinctions between identity and invisibility in hip hop culture: a rapper with too many faces has no identity at all.

"A lot of people knew he was the Madd Rapper," says the friend. "It was no secret in the industry and among the hip hop kids. What was Jesse Washington exposing that wasn't already known? If by Jesse revealing that D-Dot was the Madd Rapper, and that breached his anonymity and fucked with his record deal, I could see a nigga whippin' somebody's ass over."

Famed r&b musician James Mtume, who presented a prestigious music industry award to Angelettie earlier this year, says he cannot authenticate the accusation that Washington's imminent unmasking set the wunderkind producer off. "I don't buy it was just that," adds Mtume. "Deric is very humble. It's like you heard I went and beat up somebody because he said I was too old to be singing. Then you find out that he tried to rape my daughter. And then you say, ‘Oh, that's why.' This kid wouldn't beat up somebody for a bullshit reason like blowing his identity."

The alleged attacks on Washington and Smith will once more put hip hop on trial. Again, the spotlight will be on the real-life violence of many high-profile rappers and producers. Two recent incidents made headlines:

On November 5, Wu-Tang Clan member Russell Tyrone Jones was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill his former girlfriend. It was the 29-year-old rapper's second arrest in recent months. On September 17, Jones was arrested in West Hollywood for allegedly threatening to kill security guards at a blues club when they asked him to leave because he was "drunk, disorderly, and annoying other patrons." When they escorted him out, police said, Jones threatened to return and shoot them.

On August 30, hip hop star Noreaga fled a suburban Harrisburg hotel after being charged with assaulting a teenager in a parking lot following a disastrous concert. Noreaga, whose songs include "Stick You" and "War Report," had been booed off the stage after one song during which he allegedly shouted obscenities at the angry crowd. He rushed to the parking lot, where fans followed him to his car. After someone threw a bike at the vehicle, police said, Noreaga and his bodyguard jumped out and beat 16-year-old Clinton Burns.

Virtually ignored in the uproar over violence between rappers and their fans are the bellicose encounters between rappers and hip hop journalists. The alleged attack by Deric Angelettie was the second time Jesse Washington said he had been accosted by an angry rapper.

In August, Washington accused Wyclef Jean of the Fugees of pointing a gun at him after Jean learned that Blaze planned to publish an unfavorable review of an album he had produced. Washington did not file charges in the incident, which allegedly occurred as the magazine was debuting. Jean told an MTV interviewer the report was a publicity stunt and insists the incident never happened.

In their disenchantment with hip hop journalists, whom they accuse of trying to tarnish their image, some rappers invoke the saying that "there are two kinds of people in the world today, the playaz [and] the playa hataz." When a hip hop journalist has been labeled a "playa hata," his detractors retaliate with lightning gangsta resolve in response to unfavorable reviews or verbal beatdowns.

The 1991 attack on Fox TV personality Dee Barnes remains one of the most brutal examples of a rapper's disdain for his critics. Dr. Dre, formerly of the rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), pleaded no contest to beating the host of the Pump It Up rap show at a Hollywood party. He was fined $2500 and placed on two years' probation. Dre also was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service and produce an antiviolence public service announcement for television.

"There is a natural tension between the hip hop artists, producers, label owners, and fair journalism," says Bill Stephney, the CEO of Step Sun Music Inc., a rap and r&b company.

The rise in tension prompted Detroit News reporter Darrell Dawsey to speak out in 1993. "For years, I've heard stories about hip-hop artists bullying the young black critics who cover rap music," Dawsey wrote. "Writers critical of certain albums have been denied interviews, removed from mailing lists, and threatened with physical harm. A hip-hop columnist in New York reports that Ice-T has threatened him for raising questions about Ice-T after he dropped the controversial song 'Cop Killer' from his metal group's album."

Dawsey himself was the alleged victim of a rap attack. "Shoot, some unknown ‘hard-core' clown even called and threatened me after I overlooked him while doing a piece on Detroit hip-hop," he wrote. "I laughed for hours. After all, what smarter way is there to get a writer to mention you than by cussing out his voicemail? (Mr. Hardcore is dead now, from what I hear.)"

Some rappers and producers contend that, partly because hip hop journalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, writers feel they have free rein to make or break an artist. "It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see," rappers Mase and Puffy lament on "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." The more prominent the rapper or producer the more vicious the attacks.

Combs has been under constant surveillance by hip hop journalists since the outbreak of the so-called East Coast–West Coast rapper rivalry, which some say led to the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Prior to Shakur's death, there had been a simmering feud between Biggie and Combs and Shakur and Death Row records boss Marion "Suge" Knight. Shakur accused Biggie of involvement in a 1994 robbery in which Shakur was shot several times and lost $40,000 in jewelry. Two years later, Shakur died from wounds suffered in a driveby shooting in Las Vegas. Biggie was killed in a driveby in Los Angeles in March 1997. No arrests have been made in either case, and police say they have received little cooperation from witnesses.

Tight lips in the industry prompted hip hop photojournalist Ernie Paniccioli to write and circulate this conspiracy theory involving some of the leading characters:

"Suge insults Puffy/Tupac gets shot & robbed/blames Puffy & Big/Tupac disses Bad Boy Crew on wax/Tupac gets killed/Dre leaves Death Row Records/Suge goes back to jail for nine years on a parole beef/Snoop goes to NY/Meets with Puff & crew/Makes them believe it's cool to go to Cali/Snoop & Puffy hold a press conference to publicly state that there is no more East West beef. (Some people still believe in the Easter Bunny.)/Bad Boy Crew goes to L.A. for The Soul Train Awards...Big is killed."

Bill Stephney blames the attacks on a generation of tempestuous young hip hoppers. "In the early '80s, hip hop actually had its own inbred criticism," he explains. "We came up in the time of The Village Voice being the center of hip hop journalism. That died somewhere in the '90s. When John Leland wrote that he actually liked Flava Flav over Chuck D of Public Enemy, Chuck said bring the noise. He didn't go looking for John Leland. Later on, of course, Greg Tate wrote something about Chuck, and Chuck referred to him as a ‘porch nigga.' Still, the artists from the generation of the battles sort of built up emotional calluses against criticism. The new generation has none of that."

Perhaps Dawsey put it best in his 1993 response to attacks on hip hop journalists. "Hip-hop's gotta face it," he wrote. "The young blacks who shaped its core are growing up, have grown up. As we get older, we're going to scrutinize our subculture, its beauty and strengths as well as its contradictions. We have an obligation to bring to hip-hop culture an intelligent critique....If a rapper falls off or comes out fake, then the black community to whom his music claims to speak ought to be able to say he's fallen off without worrying about having pistols pulled on them."

Research: W. Michelle Beckles
posted by R J Noriega at 5:32 AM | Permalink | 0 comments

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