Navani Knows the Ferguson Decision: Where is Hip Hop?

The Grand Jury decision was made Monday night not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teen Michael Brown and I like most of America – at least my America, am heart-broken. Not surprised really, but still heart-broken. Amidst the anger and frustration I am also confused. As I watch people take the streets to protest I can’t help but wonder, where is Hip Hop in all this?

I fell in love with Hip Hop over 20 years ago for it’s rebellious nature. I loved that it talked about things that were considered taboo and went against the grain. It was brave, honest and fearless. It was a movement created and made up of people that represented me – the economically challenged, invisible person of color. For the first time people were talking about the things that went on in our communities, sharing our personal struggles and putting it out to the mainstream. It was as if we actually mattered.

Artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, NWA and later on Nas gave a glimpse into what daily life was like for the underprivileged and underserved. The communities that are so easy to ignore. It gave a voice to those without one. It felt empowering. That’s what started my love affair with Hip Hop and that’s what I miss about it today.

20 years later and Hip Hop has grown into a huge, international, powerful cash cow yet the communities that birthed it still suffer needlessly. So many people feed off of Hip Hop culture yet no one is protecting the people it represents. It baffles me that nothing has changed. The same issues of police brutality and injustice KRS-One spoke about in “Sound of Da Police” are still happening.

These are not new issues for anyone looking in from the outside. This has been going on my entire life. If you listen to “Fight the Power” you will see that. If you watch “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz n the Hood” you will see that. If you ever pick up a book written by a person of color you will see that. The same reoccurring themes continue to show up. It’s so easy for those that are not personally affected by it to be completely oblivious and turn a blind eye.

No matter what your thoughts of Michael Brown are – whether you classify him as a “thug” (which I have seen a lot of in my Facebook feed) or not, deserving or not – I just want to remind people that this is bigger than one case, one cop, one non-indictment. I grew up with a huge mistrust of the establishment and law enforcement as it was ingrained in our culture. We were told rules to abide by like if you ever get pulled over make sure you keep your hands up where they can see, don’t reach for the glove compartment. But now keeping your hands in the air doesn’t even work. I constantly feared and still do, for any of my male relatives or friends to ever interact with the police. If you didn’t grow up feeling like that consider yourself lucky, it’s a privilege that most people I know do not have.

I recently went to see a Keith Haring exhibit called “The Political Line.” It showed how he addressed many social and political issues like racism, gay rights, media and consumerism in his work. He used his art to make a statement and take a stand. In the gallery write up it said Keith Haring “saw the role of an artist as that of an antagonist, with a responsibility to speak out against inequity and injustice.” I agree with that statement. I have always considered true emcees to be artists.

So, now I am wondering when Hip Hop will go back to its roots and use the power of their million-dollar corporate sponsorships, the 360 deals and the millions of followers on social media to speak out against injustice? That’s the Hip Hop I know and miss.  And we need it more than ever now.

Navani Knows the Puerto Rican Democracy Act

The debate over the status of Puerto Rico has been going on for the last  112 years to no avail. The latetest attempt at reconciling the political status of the island came in the form of a bill passed by the house on April 29th called the  Puerto Rico Democracy Act.

The Act, AKA “HR 2499” in short states the following:

HR 2499, as approved by the House, stipulates that Puerto Ricans will hold a plebiscite in for voters to choose whether to: a) “…continue to have its present form of political status” (in relation to the U.S.) or b) “…have a different political status.”  If voters choose the second option, a second plebiscite is required to choose among four status choices: 1) Independence; 2) Sovereignty in Association with the United States; 3) Statehood or 4) Commonwealth, or status quo.

The National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), the largest Puerto Rican civil and human rights organization in the United States has found some issues with the bill.  They claim:

 The bill is contradictory, since Puerto Ricans voting to change their status in the first stage, will still have to revisit the status quo option in a second vote, which completely undermines the purpose of the first stage vote. 

They also complain that “ballots for the plebiscite will only be in English, despite constituting a potential a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects language minorities such as Puerto Ricans to receive ballots in their own language. ”

I have to say I kind of agree with NCPRR about their concerns with this. It sounds like poli-tricks. Just another stalling of an issue that needs a resolution. What’s also is confusing is the timing of this bill. The day after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, nearly every media outlet dubbed it the “Statehood Bill.”  Conservative commentators have spoken of the “impending” statehood of Puerto Rico, stirring anti-Hispanic rhetoric amidst the current immigration debates, and causing fear that the US will add two Puerto Rican senators and six members of the House through this legislation.

I agree that the senate should not vote this into law and instead find a better resolution of the status of Puerto Rico which would allow for the unification of the eight million Puerto Ricans who dividedly inhabit the United States. In doing this,  they should propose legislation respecting the critical civil and human rights objectives at issue. Not just find another way to keep confusing the issue or stalling.  All it does is keep us as a people divided on it, which seems to be their overarching goal. I don’t know about you but I’d like a new issue to fight over as a Puerto Rican in the United States.

Navani Knows Wedding Bliss, Sorta

I was finally beginning to regret my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I was super honored and flattered to be asked to be a bridesmaid for my cousin Christian. It showed me that our relationship (although not by blood) was special enough for him to include me in his big day, and I vowed not to let anything during the process take that away from me. Plus, I had my dearest cousin (the grooms’s sister) along with me for the ride. But I must admit, I almost met my match.

Besides being treated like an outcast since the engagement party (the sorority sisters of the bride had no interest in making conversation with me and the groom’s sister), there was the bachelorette party. A weekend getaway in Atlantic City seemed harmless enough. Until my cousin and I got there and discovered we were left out of the dinner reservations. Instead, were left walking around aimlessly without anyone’s phone number because the maid-of-honor never thought of exchanging that info. Oh, and then there was the heart-to-hearts between the bride-to-be and us.

“Oh you know Adria, I never though you liked me cause you know, you are so Ghetto, and I am like, not” She told us as nonchalantly, as if she just told us her favorite color was blue.

Us being the only people not in her sorority. Us being the family of the groom. You might as well have called us Andre and Big Boi at that point cause we were def outcasts.

“No, I don’t mean ghetto in a bad way, just like you are so into hip hop and stuff, you know.” She continued.

Still totally confused and shocked me and my cousin stood speechless. Were we on a candid camera show? perhaps some new reality show that would air on Bravo or WE. That seemed like the only feasible explanation for this.

Then there was the “I am not sure if I am ready to get married” comments that ensued all weekend. They were followed up with the “you are sooo old comments.” Still, I kept pressing on in my bridesmaid duties, smiling and nodding pleasantly. Even when it was me and my cousin who got stuck setting up tables for the rehearsal dinner at 10 o’clock at night, getting splinters and walking in poo. I desperately held on to the honor I once had in saying “I do” to this whole arrangement.

The wedding day finally came, and with it more chaos. Besides spending an obscene amount on getting hair and nails done and rushing back to the hotel to get dressed with the girls, there was the joy of getting left in the salon while everyone else got done before us. Nothing beats getting dressed for a wedding in the wax room of a Dominican hair salon. It was quite the scene, walking down 94th street in Queens all dressed up in wedding attire. Even though the bridesmaids left us stranded (“umm there is too much traffic for the limo to come there, you should just meet us at the church”) we still tried to hold onto our dignity and our make-up as me, my cousin, make-up artist and the groom’s mother rode in her non-ac car to the ceremony.

I believe it was on the steps of the church, after the ceremony, when the Nazi Photographer yelled at us, that I asked myself why I agreed to this:

“No bubbles!!”

“Ok now bubbles”

“SEMI CIRCLE”

“LOWER FLOWERS!!!” He screamed at us as if we were in bridal boot camp.

I had had enough! I was ready to shove my bouquet down someone’s throat! Then we finally left the the VIP room with the leaking ceiling and lined up in the reception hall and heard Jay’s Encore come on. As we walked out in pairs to Jay Z and flower pumped along the way (and after a few shots of patron) it all started to make sense again. I watched my cousin and his bride run out to the dance floor to Enur’s Calabria and realized how happy they were. It was all about that moment – that one moment of being oblivious to anything else around them, just being so happy to have each other that mattered. And for me, believing that kind of love still existed only because I witnessed it first-hand, made the whole ordeal worthwhile again.

Navani Knows Tacky Journalism

So I woke up this morning to watch the news and get the weather forecast for the day and was greeted with this image:

Now, I am not sure if I am just more sensitive while wiping the cold out of my eye or what, but I was immediately outraged. As you see the cover is depicting Obama as a Flag burning Muslim, knocking knuckles with his seemingly militant Angela Davis styled wife. While the New Yorker is well known for its satire, I think this cover crosses the line.

Ironically enough, this is one topic both Obama and John McCain’s campaign parties can agree on – they too feel it is inappropriate.

Obama spokesperson Bill Burton commented: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”

The McCain campaign immediately e-mailed a similar statement from Tucker Bounds saying:We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.”

The press release for the New Yorker said this about the July 21st cover:

“On the cover of the July 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, in ‘The Politics of Fear,’ artist Barry Blitt satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.”

I completely understand that the New Yorker is a smart, witty publication known for its satire, but the problem arises when people don’t understand the intended message. That is what I fear will happen here when anyone outside of the Upper West Side, or New York City for that matter, picks up the issue. Many will not get it, especially since there is no caption outlining the fact that this is a joke based on collecting every distorted cliché rumor about Obama to make fun of them all. I sure didn’t. Maybe that’s because I am an Obama supporter, and simply don’t care to see these clichés in any form, which I think many other supporters will say too. And those who oppose him will just use this for non-humorous purposes and throw it way out of context.

In the end, a funny joke delivered poorly is just a bad joke. The same goes for cover art.

Navani Knows Police Harrassment

The Same old story, everyday the police are in out barrios, giving our community a hard time. Anyone who knows their rights and challenges their authority is immediately attacked. Here is just another case, at least this time no one was shot:

Press Release:

South Bronx Rally Calls For Release Of Two Arrested Hip Hop Artists
June 18, 2008

South Bronx residents rallied Wednesday night to demand the release of two members of a local hip hop group who were arrested after a confrontation with police.

Rebel Diaz members Rodstarz and G-1, whose real names are Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas, were taken into custody in the Bronx Wednesday afternoon.

A press release from Rebel Diaz says the two saw the officers assault a fruit vendor, and when they took out a cell phone to record the incident, the officers approached them.

Authorities say the duo became unruly with the officers, who were helping sanitation and health officials investigate illegal fruit vendors in the Bronx.

But community members say that was not the case.

“They were questioning the police, why they were like taking the fruit from the fruit vendors. They just asked them questions, and they just got beat up,” said Wanda Salaman, executive director of local community activism group Mothers On The Move.

“They asked for the badge information from the police officer, and basically the police just started beating them up,” said Teresita Ayala of Rebel Diaz.

The Venegas brothers remained in custody Wednesday night, charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.

One of the officers involved sustained a minor hand injury in the incident.

Navani Knows injustice…

Dear Hip Hop,

It has been exactly one week since the verdict in the Sean Bell trial was announced and I have yet to hear from you. I waited patiently all this time, hoping and believing that one of you would do something to let the powers that be know we won’t tolerate this injustice anymore. But a whole week has gone by and I have heard nothing. Where are you? Where the hell are our so called “leaders”? Yeah, leaders = you. Even if you don’t want to embrace it, by default hip hop is our leader. You all are role models. Whether you like it or not, it comes with the territory, so just take responsibility for once. Take ownership, especially when you have the money, influence and power to make changes. Why haven’t you?

I am talking specifically to the “Kings of NY” – Jay Z , the self proclaimed “presidente,” 50 Cent, Vitamin Water tycoon, Diddy, Russell Simmons, where the hell are you now? You are supposed to be New York’s finest, the trendsetters and the tastemakers. You can use your influence to get kids to wear button down shirts and say Jewish phrases but not for something worthwhile, like protesting an injustice happening in your own backyard. I am not talking to Mos Def or Talib, or Joell Ortiz, or Papoose- these “underground”/ “conscious” emcees do their part. It is expected of them, and they speak to issues like these daily. However, their audience is also a very conscious audience, who doesn’t need much reminding. Besides, they don’t have the reach or the power that the mainstream rappers I am addressing here do. Where are the press conferences now?

Maybe you have too much money and are too detached from where you come from to care anymore. Maybe you are too scared to lose your money, because that’s all you have to define yourself. In that case, you are no better than any one of us, working 9-5 trying to get by. Or maybe you are just too busy vacationing off on some exotic island in your linen pants and open toe sandals to care about what is going on in your hometown. I just don’t get it, you kings of N.Y. can band together and dance around on the same stage at MSG when it’s time to promote your albums and record a new 50 Cent remix (I was there, I saw you), but you can’t band together and make some noise when it is time to stand up for justice? What kind of men are you? Instead you are just going to turn a deaf ear and carry on business as usual next week when Jay Z and Mary J bring their tour home to MSG? Why don’t you take a stand and show everyone that we are not tolerating injustices by shutting down your show? Oh no, you can’t do that huh, too much money is at stake. Maybe you don’t think our community is worth it – you know, the people that got you to that stage in the first place.

I am beyond disgusted with you right now N.Y. hip hop. More so, I am tired of defending you to everyone else when they attack you. Why do you have to wait for someone to call you out before you stand up and do something? Despite the attacks by Oprah, Imus and political naysayers, I stood by you. We grew up together and I always had your back. I was sure when the time came, you would have my back too. I guess I was wrong. Here we are, in a crisis in your hometown and you left me hanging. Where are you now? Off making some idiotic reality show for MTV? I guess if MTV doesn’t sponsor it, you won’t go out of your way. You sure had no problem flying to Africa when it got you good press, but you can’t do something in N.Y.? Instead you spend your free time attacking and mocking each other and uploading it to youtube and you wonder why no one takes you seriously. I don’t think I take you seriously either anymore.

I grew up looking up to you hip hop, believing you were the voice box of my generation, but now I see nothing could be further from the truth. Then again, what do I know? I am just a naïve entertainment journalist/ hip hop enthusiast that supported you all since day one. I just hope and pray four years from now I don’t have to dig up this letter and post it again, after another one of our own is unjustly murdered.

Sincerely Yours,

One Disillusioned Journalist