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 Rubble Kings

It seems the gang culture of NYC and Hip-Hop culture are closely interwined, at least that’s what director Shan Nicholson (Downtown Calling) discovered one day while partaking in his usual pastime – record digging. He Kept seeing a high priced record on the walls of stores from the group Ghetto Brothers and was intrigued. He vowed to get ot the bottom of why this group had such an expensive record and who they even were.  His research would lead him to the making of the documentary Rubble Kings, which premiered last night at he New York International Latino Film Festival.

Rubble Kings chronicles the NYC gang culture from it’s inception in the 1950’s to it’s transition in the 70’s into hip-hop culture. It’s interesting to see the connection between the two. It is by far, the most in-depth look at this era in NYC history. What was interesting was how the climate of the nation played a huge part in the creation of gangs. First there were Civil Rights, and Malcolm X and Martin Luther king and people in the inner cities were mobilizing with a hint of hope. Then after all our heroes were killed, the feeling of hope died with them, leaving a group of underserved, angry people.

This anger erupted into swarms of gangs, crews on every few blocks all over the city. The most notorious being in the Bronx, also known as the birthplace of Hip-Hop. Rubble Kings, a term used to describe how gangs made the members feel like they had some type of power, kings of something even if it was their own demolished neighborhood, details the rise and falls of these gangs. After much bloodshed, gangs would start to realize that the only people their rebellious, careless actions were hurting were themselves.

Enter Ghetto Brothers, a group that began as a traditional street gang but evolved into a community focused movement. They formed a band and held jam sessions, encouraging youth to stop the violence and take ownership of their communities. But when one of it’s members was slain in an attempt to make peace between two rivaling gangs, that’s when everything changes. A peace treaty was formed with all groups and slowly the division softened. In the midst of this Hip-Hop would see it’s beginings in the park jams featuring Djs like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. These jams were instrumental in bringing together people from all the gangs and using that competitive attitude now for battling on the dancefloor and not in the streets.

Rubble Kings combines personal commentary of gang members and stellar archived footage for an insightful and intimate look at gang culture never told before. This film struck a chord with me for many reasons. For one, I am a huge fan of Hip-Hop. And two, because it shed light on a part of my personal  history that is never discussed- the role gangs played in my family. My uncles and my father were involved in gangs, Savage Nomads to be exact which are discussed in the film. I remember hearing how my grandmother sewed their patches on their jackets for them, not only accpeting it but encouraging it. Back then, it was the only way to survive and she worried about her boys.  If you wanted to survive, you aligned yourself with a gang, period. But I never knew more than that. This film helped fill in the gaps of  how and why this was the way of life for many Puerto Ricans in New York during that time. For that, I am grateful. 

I think this is a must see film for anyone who is not only a fan of Hip-Hop, but who wants to learn about an overlooked, influential era in NYC history –  and how it sparked a transition that would change the world.

For more info on future screenings follow Rubble Kings on Twitter.

Navani Knows How to be Infamous

I’ve loved two things all my life: books and music. Both always served an escape for me during my childhood and that still holds true today. While I attend many music events and many literary events, it is very rare when they ever coincide. Last night, for the first time they did at the book launch party for famed Queens rapper, Prodigy of Mobb Deep for his autobiographyMy Infamous Life.

I really did not know what to expect when I got to Powerhouse books. Normally, when I come to this venue for a book reading it is a small, low-key intimate setting. This was not the case tonight. Instead, it was the Prodigy show complete with cameramen and a reserved seating area. Hip-Hop journalist extraordinaire intervewed Prodigy  in front of everyone. Mobb Deep records played in the background while one lone mother read a children’s book to her daughter in corner. Bizzare I tell ya.

The night continued and Toure asked a bunch of questions we are already familiar with: his beef with Jay Z, his beef with Nas, how he hooked up with Havoc… all of  this I found unimmpressive especially as Prodigy answered PC for everything. What I did find interesting was what I learned about Prodigy as a man. That he had a fondness for his father despite his flaws (heroine use) and how angry he was growing up because of his fight with sickle cell. I also learned that Prodigy was a huge fan of 2 PAC and saw alot of likenesses in him. He also has access to one of Pac’s long lost notebooks which he treasures.

I’m standing in line to get my book signed and I am trying to think of something clever to say to P, something that would be like inside joke: only people that are true Mobb fans would get. I wanted to prove I was a fan of Mobb since they came out. Wanted to express how I argued against my colleagues on the radio show that Infamous was a classic album. I mean how could they deny an album that helped put New York on the map and whose language left an imprint on the Hip-Hop culture? And how could an album that Q-Tip produced for not be considered note worthy? I wanted to tell “P” how I scoffed when the man in the audience raised his hand to ask if they have ever worked with Q-Tip. Duh! I knew that, cause I’m a fan. What a waste of a question, I wanted to say and then he’d laugh. There we’d be, sharing a chuckle. But NO, instead I got to the front of the line and completely froze up and said nothing. Oh except when he was nice enough to say” Hey, how’s it going?”. I managed to grunt: “Hey,” back before having to move along for the next cusmtomer. Epic fail.

Oh well I guess in the end I don’t need to go around pledging my alliance to Mobb Deep. I’ll read the book in hopes of getting all the non-politically correct answers that weren’t given to Toure and simply because that’s what a true fan does.

Image via Google

Navani Knows the End of an Era: Farewell Fatbeats NY

There are certain places that come to represent not only a location but an era of time. For anyone that has a relationship with Hip-Hop, Fatbeats was one of those places. The indie record store/label became a household name for what was hot in hip-hop. It was the place to get dope, underground music. It was where artists congregated over music and tickets to the best shows were sold. It was a key corner in the hip-hop culture of the cities it occupied. and now they are shutting their doors (thanks internet for ruining the music industry). But not without a bang. All week leading up to D-Day Fatbeats will be hosting in store shows as part of their official sendoff. And the best part: they are free! check out the schedule on the Fatbeats website to see when your fave emcess/producers are stopping by.