In Part I of his interview with BBC broadcasted in 2009, prominent rapper & social icon Jay-Z expressed his views on many contentious issues gripping the politics of America & the international community today.
The photograph above is very significant to this blog entry. It is a picture of Kanye West & Jay-Z during their Watch The Throne tour throughout the US. The title of this blog, is the title of quite a meaningful song on the album: “We Made It in America”. The song laments on the grievances & legacies of the African-American people, as well as the African culture from which they were essentially kidnapped; & which continues be exploited today.
This is Part II of the interview, continued:
The song is inspiring. The message too. Not only does it expose the crimes of the US against its own people, it expresses the genius of the African people, in the realms of art, music & culture. Watch The Throne, was a political masterpiece. A magnum opus. All the words fit. I felt like I was LISTENING to Plato’s The Republic. It’s the soundtrack, if indeed The Republic were a movie.
Essentially the political undertones of Watch The Throne are echoing the socio-economic grievances of all disenfranchised, marginalized, gentrified & exploited minorities. The twisted sense of “individualism” in the Western culture justified the historic atrocity of the trans-atlantic slave-trade, which exists today in a more elusive form, such as police brutality, gentrification, disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, income inequality & unequal opportunities for minorities.
These grievances are echoed by intellectuals of the 19th & 20th century, mostly non-American. I’ve listed a few examples below.
George Orwell, famed writer of 1984 & Animal Farm, was a “democratic-socialist” who warned against capitalism & communism, arguing the two led to statism.
Albert Camus, an anarchist, was sympathetic to communism but stressed that collective apparatuses might lead to corruption and statism.
Any Rand, hailed by Conservatives, defines the epitome of the hypocritical dogma of anarchical-capitalism. A self-proclaimed anarchist, Rand proved she was not loyal to her own creed, as she relied thoroughly on state welfare & sponsorship from the state of Israel, inconsistent with her atheism as well as her free-market fundamentalism.
All these perspectives force the following questions to float around in my head:
Is socialism another power-grabber?
It seems like the US & Europe despise socialist entities.
Are we the devil or are they?
Who’s killing who?
While most fight for freedom for some, who fights for freedom for all?
So what is the evil? It seems that hyper-individualism mirrors the tyranny of hyper-collectivism, both of which result in the exploitation of minority classes.
Prominent African-American scholar Cornel West associates the suppression of Civil Rights with statism as well as capitalism. He argues that America is not a democracy, because it serves an elite class at the expense of the will of the people. Furthermore, West suggests that capitalism results in many of the imbalances in the economy that cause misery for the lower classes.
I would argue, like 20th century German economist Fredrick List, that every successful nation-state adopts mixed economics combining state intervention with free market flow, which suggests that democracy & capitalism alone cannot guarantee the protection of individual rights. In many ways, democracy has engrained & perpetuated the tradition of exclusivity in the West which deems minorities, including blacks, latinos, arabs, gays, muslims & atheists are second class citizens, with little access to mobility in the economic ladder.
Freedom, salvation & happiness are not products of capitalism, materialism or the intellectual dogma of hyper-collectivism.
Rather, these virtues are achieved through humility, hard-work & self-reliance and the rest follows. Meanwhile, the power-hungry aim to deprive man of these freedoms, through propaganda & excessive force. How well do democracy & capitalism alone ensure these virtues? Historically, they’ve done as much as communism to improve the living conditions of the lower classes.
In his recent acceptance speech at the BET Honors ceremony, Kanye West took time to reflect on issues that form the bedrock of the Hip-Hop culture. Here is a snippet:
Fundamentalists, be they religious or atheistic in essence wholly worship man-made ideologies that eventually collapse on themselves, such as the neoconservative model of hyper-capitalism exhibited by NATO countries or the police-like communism of the USSR.
The association between the American & European traditions of suppressing & exploiting foreign countries is based in their logic of exclusivity. That is why 1% of Americans own America, while the vast majority remains living check-to-check. That is why, while the institution of slavery ended some time ago, the US remains at the top of the list for highest incarceration rates in the world, with the highest prisoner count than any other in the world. Yet, Iran is the great satan. Syria is the great satan. Venezuela. We go to war for oil & that oil never trickles down to the poor. In fact, it is usually the taxpayer funding all of this, against his will for the most part.
It is times likes these when I begin to question the logic of ‘democracy.’ There isn’t even 1 single definition of democracy. It is a vague term that is thrown around. Most people think it means representative government. Some think it means majority wins. Others believe it means universal law. I would say one of the distinctive features are the electoral process & term limitations. Democracy, especially by the Right-Wing, is viewed as the protector & guaranteer of capitalism & free market competition. But in reality, it seems, like communism, only to concentrate wealth in the hands of an already established elite so as to convince the masses they are free, to sustain them for lack of self-sustenance & to thereby garner their support for all political/colonial initiatives. The free-market is not protected by democracy or capitalism, but rather, just as in communism, becomes held hostage to the ignorance of mass-minded forces of collectivism. The freedoms awarded to the elite are limited to the mass because of a fear of intimidation & competition. A lot of propaganda is aimed at trying to convince us (both capitalism & communism do this) that earth’s resources are scarce & need proper redistribution.
But “exclusivity is the new N word,” said the courageous Kanye West during his most latest interview with Zane Lowe, in reference to the culture of hubris & bigotry that has disenfranchised all minorities & expressionists from the conversation of social justice.
Hip-Hop is always vilified. Guns, crime, jewelry, flamboyance, extreme rhetoric, vulgarity.
Malcolm X once said that governments often oppress people and then chastise them when they express their discontent or attempt a revolution.
It is always easy to rationalize hate of the oppressed, especially for the privileged classes who don’t understand what it means to have nothing, to be hated, and to have their voice suppressed.
The culture of the caucasian community likes to apply harsh & strict values on society, meanwhile, their societal representatives are often caught in scandals in which they are indulging in hypocritical activities.
These ‘strict values’ emanate from a sort of, Disney-esque fairy tale conceptualization of reality, in which man is an innocent child being ‘corrupted’ by cultures like hip-hop. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Lion King. My point is not to criticize Disney, but on the contrary, the misconstruing of such fairy-tale enterprises which often establish, engrain & enforce social constructs.
The irony is that the reality is quite the opposite.
Hip-Hop was born out of the corruption of social representatives, from politics to big business. Drawing influence from the ideologies of fanaticism, white supremacy & the Jim Crow culture became a form of institutionalized disenfranchisement which perpetuates almost permanently a state of destitute poverty.
Meanwhile the “white man”, the “Donald Sterlings” of America do whatever it takes behind closed doors to secure their fortunes, which are ironically usually made off the backs of non-whites.
The system of disenfranchisement and racism in America is closely linked to its view of the rest of the world. The late Edward Said, a prominent Palestinian intellectual, labeled this self-righteous dogma of the ‘white man’ as Orientalism, which he argued, revealed a long-standing tradition of Western Civilization’s oversimplification of Eastern (or non-Western) culture. its tools of invasion and oppression abroad, from the Middle East, to Africa, to South America, to the Far East. This ideological bigotry formed much of the cultural foundations of the Occident, or the West, which was essentially used as a justification of the enslavement and exploitation of the Orient. It was responsible for the trans-atlantic slave trade, and the modern system of disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the US.
That is why perhaps the majority of the anti-supremacist collective uprisings which arose in the 19th and 20th centuries occurred in South America, Asia, the Middle East & Africa. And all the while the propaganda and military systems have been at work in the West. Fox News is our Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi’s propaganda artist.
In their collaborative album, Distant Relatives, legendary MC Nas & Reggae godson Damien Marley express these grievances thoroughly. The following is one of the tracks off the album, “Road to Zion”, with undertones that capture the the trials of modern man, the modern Black man, in a turbulent world.
Let it also be known that just like any genre of music or medium of art can be exploited for the sake of political interests, so too can hip-hop. Since the deaths of giants B.I.G. & Pac, hip-hop’s mainstream has been left largely devoid of even the most remote references to oppression & black consciousness. Among the leaders of movement in today’s America are Kanye West & Jay-Z, whose albums never fall short of addressing personal & social grievances.
As an Arab-American, I would like to express that the modern struggle for freedom is shared by most minorities. I once heard a prominent figure within the African-American community suggest, “the Muslim is the new (black man)”. With Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment at its peak, not to mention the deprivation of the Palestinians at its worst condition, it is more than necessary for me to underline the importance of the role played by the cultures of the Middle East in contributing to hip-hop & the initiative for genuine art & freedom. Thanks to OkayPlayer, I came across Here is a track by another legendary MC, none other than Method Man of the Wu, titled P.L.O. Style, which surfaced at a time when the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict reached heights of unprecedented contention.
The political, religious & socio-economic conditions of the African-American communities birthed hip-hop, in the words of OG Q-Tip.
It was in response to Iggy Azalia’s rants about her role in pop-culture.
I don’t listen to her music. I listen to real hip-hop. Take that as you will. A lot of people might try to argue with me about the rights of all individuals to express themselves, and I agree. I also believe in the rights of individuals to choose what they consider to be dope, or wack.
In his album, Yeezus, I believe Kanye is doing something very specific. He is challenging the foundation of Western civilization which has been responsible for institutionalized oppression of African-Americans. More specifically, Kanye has adopted the philosophical grievances of ‘controversial’ german philosopher Frederich Nietzsche, by criticizing the religious dogma of the Judeo-Christian conception of reality, morality & behavior. The Ubermensch, or highest potential of the individual, is suppressed by pseudo-religious propaganda, which Nietzsche believed was responsible for the pollution of the concept of God. This process, he called the “death of God.”
In a recent article he published, rapper Ras Kass explains the meaning behind his song, “How To Kill God”, in which he elaborated on the association between religious dogma & oppression of African-Americans and other minorities.
There is a tendency for American media outlets to lose it when artists, philosophers or popular figures of any persuasion make critical comments about the Judeo-Christian concept of God. It is quickly associated with fanaticism. The irony?
Movies like Exodus do no justice is portraying history. The Jews were probably not white. The jews, who are subjects of persecution, probably were & still are black, eastern, oriental.
When artists like Kanye West make bold claims like “I Am a God”, I could care less whether he believes it or not, because Kanye West isn’t the one brutalizing Africans in America & slaughtering children in the Middle East. I believe Kanye West’s message is to shake up the foundations of America so as to expose the hypocrisies and double-standards of this country which work against movements for collective consciousness.
The message of hip-hop has always been a positive one. It is just that, true freedom is often misunderstood and false portrayed. Hip-Hop & its artists, the genuine ones, fight to wake up the modern man, who has been sedated by forces of collectivism, conformity & power.
I’ll never forget the day this album dropped. I was in another dimension. I was inspired.
This album performed well. Its critics are caught in a web of infinite skepticism.
I bought this album and Yeezus on the same day. I believe these are probably the two greatest artists of our time. If you pay attention, I have been influenced by them in all of my work.
The political undertones in this work, like all of Jay-Z’s works, are omnipresent. The cover itself, inspired by greco-roman mythology, the inner-booklet, as well as the content, from beginning to end, captures the stark reality of an American hustler. The whole time I felt I was watching a Spike Lee movie.
Jay-Z is hated for his business approach. I think he is an artistic genius. His genius is beyond the minds of his critics, be they musicians or not. He addresses conspiracy theorists in a line from “Heaven”:
Conspiracy theorists screaming illuminati,
They can’t believe this much skill is in a human body,
6’2, how the fuck he fit in a new bugatti,
Aw fuck it you got me,
Question religion question it all,
Question existence until them questions are solved,
Meanwhile this heretic, I be out in Marrakesh,
Morocco, smoking hashish with my fellowship,
Y’all dwell on devil shit, I’m in diablo, yellow-shit,
Color of jello shit, hello bitch,
It’s me again, fresh in my easter clothes feeling like Jesus.
For all the so-called purists & the conspiracy theorists, this is a clear message. Jay-Z isn’t here to make you comfortable. He is here to make a living, express himself & expose what he sees as American hypocrisy. With references to Malcolm, Martin Luther King Jr., Wall Street, Jewish affluence and more, this album in no way falls short of being consistent with the tradition of hip-hop as a conscious movement.
Despite ongoing trends & exploitations of the culture, for the most part, there remains a largely alive movement of conscious listeners and artists who remain true to the craft and the messages upon which it was built.
It cannot be understated the impact which 200 years of slavery has had on the African-American culture. This recent interview with Azealia Banks on Hot 97 really captures the emotions of the African-American community. Whether or not you agree with her views or self-expression, I do believe it is important for Americans especially, to hear this perspective. It is true, that Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in the 19th century. But that was the end of a tactic; not of a system. The system which we would like to believe no longer exists today is strong and more alive than ever. Words alone, especially my own, cannot do justice.
Today, hip-hop is saturated with a blend of either ultra-conscious underground or ultra-materialistic mainstream. The medium is there, if you look for it. The majority, which represents the American population, remains held hostage to either the purists within the underground community or the bigots who have largely extended their grasp over the popular media-mainstream, exponentially since the deaths of major hip-hop icons Notorious B.I.G. & Tupac.
I am all for new music & innovation. But I tend not to look for it from many of the artists who the mass-media spoon-feeds us on the daily. I like sticking to my real hip-hop.