"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
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 |


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