Tuesday, March 28, 2006
SOME VIEWS ON HIP-HOP CULTURE
The following article is from the Contra Costa Times.
Rapper, readers share views on hip-hop culture
Four years ago, Oscar Jackson, aka Paris, the self-proclaimed Black Panther of rap, created Guerrilla Funk Recordings, an independent label for like-minded artists who share his resolve to promote the decades-old black tradition of street-corner rhyming as a positive force for social and political empowerment.
This month, Paris produced an album with political rap pioneers Public Enemy titled "Rebirth of a Nation," complete with lyrical diatribes against war profiteering, the erosion of civil rights and the Bush administration.
Paris' deliberately provocative lyrics often invite controversy and criticism. But this San Ramon husband, father and entrepreneur says he's sounding off in a battle for the soul of black culture, offering a much-needed alternative to major record labels marketing "gangsta" rappers who glorify sex and violence to sell soda and sneakers.
Staff writer Jessica Guynn's Monday A1 profile on Paris, drew strong interest in the Newsroom Roundtable at www.contracostatimes.com. Here are some excerpts from the Q&A session:
For the complete Q&A with Paris, go to the Online Today box at www.contracostatimes.com.
Q: Peace, Bro. Paris. Just saw Rap Dreams last night, movie about Bay Area rappers trying to get up. Everyone's talking about being independent these days, but lots of artists keep thinking all indies are going to be E-40. Wouldn't most upstarts do better to follow your model, or Hieroglyphics model -- lots of work, not a lot of glisten, but a whole lot more payoff?
-- Bruno Z., Oakland
A Peace to you too. There's a glut in the industry right now, and many people are in it for the wrong reasons. If you're into it to get rich, and aren't really focused on the art, then you'll be another casualty as an indie. Too many people now view music as disposable because it is so readily available and can be downloaded for free and file-shared. There is also a common misconception that it is easy to make.
Hip-hop is not the lotto. What you see on shows like MTV's "Cribs" is not the truth either, as most of the material items featured on them don't belong to the artists, but are leased for the show. Everything is smoke and mirrors.
That's why it is necessary, if you are focused and really want to make your mark in music, to know everything there is to know about entertainment contract law, publishing, the retail environment, the inner-workings of distribution arrangements -- everything. Most people treat this as though it's a hobby that they can make a lot of money at. Don't. Treat and respect it as a job and you'll see payoff over the long haul.
Q: I am a woman and I am very concerned about music videos displaying women as objects. You bring many social issues to light. What are your thoughts concerning violence against women in the music industry? Is the music industry concerned at all about this distorted portrayal of women? This touches the same nerve as stereotyping ethnic groups. It is unacceptable.
-- Anonymous, Concord
A Yep, that's a legit concern. The sad part is that there are very few female voices in hip-hop now, and although there isn't much talk of overt violence against women in hip-hop anymore, their objectification can be seen as such. And as far as your point that the issue "touches the same nerve as stereotyping ethnic groups," it IS the stereotyping of ethnic groups, as most rap videos portray women of color as hos and objects.
Men make the decisions, run the labels, decide what imagery gets shown, marketed & promoted to the public, and usually have a target audience of young girls, so it is alarming. Saying that it's on the parents to regulate their kids' input isn't enough either, and that argument is tired. There has to be balance. Of course, I don't want everything to be G-rated, but there has to be choice, and right now there is very little. That's why the Conscious Daughters are featured on Guerrilla Funk, with an album coming out later this summer. There has to be some balance to the pimping of our culture. The Academy Awards celebrated the notion this year that it's "Hard Out Here For a Pimp" but in music it's easy as hell. It's hard out here for a revolutionary.
Q Do you ever get over to the East Coast -- concerts, D.C. marches, just visiting? We'd love to get to see you. Regarding reparations, you're right on when you say so many folks would claim "racism." I find all the time when I speak out about racism, people seem to be on board -- but, bring up white privilege or reparations, most jump off the equality wagon -- and fast!
Do you think that education is the key here? It seems many have very little knowledge about what has gone on in this country since early 1600's, even before (Columbus). Would more education help, or are too many folks just content to remain ignorant about something so important, so emotionally charged, so threatening to their comfort zone? Peace, Paris ...
-- Jeannine M., Richmond, Va.
A Real education is damn near the cure for everything, but you have to realize that we live in a time where people believe what they CHOOSE to believe, even in the face of facts. Bush's success, and the success of the neo-con agenda is a perfect testament to that fact. Anything that threatens the comfort zone of average Americans gets a severe backlash, even if it is true. Our administration is full of killers, we're murdering for profit and expanding U.S. Imperialism, young people are dying, voices of dissent are being silenced, conditions in our communities suck, education is a non-priority, gas (and natural gas) prices are ridiculous and violence and police brutality are still very real issues that need to be addressed. But when we speak out against these conditions we are painted as being unpatriotic. That's what you get when you don't read and get all of your news (and opinions) from Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Armstrong Williams, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Jesse Lee Peterson and the like. It's sad, really.
Q I am an environmental consultant and we just finished a project in Hunters Point. Everyday around noon, people would come out and a block party would break out. Being a socially aware rap fan, I was listening to the rap they were listening to. Everything was about guns, drugs, and women. But it was not like a kid from the suburbs of Walnut Creek listening to it, it was the people who either live this lifestyle or it is their reality. With this said, do you think that this type of reality based rap hampers or helps in explaining what it can be like living in a lower income area where drugs and guns are an everyday reality?
-- Est., Pleasant Hill
A I've said it many times before ... in our communities, life imitates art. We didn't always have these types of images and messages in our entertainment, and, contrary to what some may believe, there was a time when a sense of community really was FELT in the community, and a lot of it had to do with out entertainment. People respond to the choices presented to them. When our communities have no say in the entertainment choices offered, we get exactly what you're witnessing. If major labels issued a decree tomorrow stating that they would no longer endorse negative material, 99 percent of the artists out there would switch their focus and adapt. It's a cause and effect relationship that directly impacts our lives because of America's obsession with (and emulation of) celebrity.
So we provide a balance. You can dig some of our most recent offerings, with free MP3s, here:
• Public Enemy: www.guerrillafunk.com/publicenemy/rebirthofanation/index.html
• Paris Presents: Hard Truth Soldiers: www.guerrillafunk.com/hardtruthsoldiers/index.html
• T-K.A.S.H.: www.guerrillafunk.com/tkash/turf_war_syndrome/index.html
All are in stores now. Peace, and thanks for writing.
Q: I grew up listening to your music back in 91-92 when I was in high school and fell in love with your production on the beats. My wife who grew up in Oakland and hates rap music for what it glorifies actually took the time to listen to your sonic jihad CD and loved it. She said finally a rapper who is finally talking about something we need to listen too instead of negative stereotypes. However she also mentioned that it's too bad that Paris will never sell millions because of the way the radio shapes the minds of today, where negativity is glorified. So my question, in your opinion, what will it take for artist like Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, yourself, and Public Enemy and my 2nd favorite rapper Kam, to influence the minds of millions and become the in thing to do positive instead of negative.
-- al g, richmond, ca
A Peace Al, and thanks for the support. Guerrilla Funk really is set up to be an alternative to the BS we get from people at companies who market caustic material to us. Guerrilla Funk releases can be found in every major chain, as well as mom and pop stores, with radio and TV advertising on every major network and station. We don't complain about the media, we're becoming it. We don't have to call out the sorry-ass corporate-endorsed material being presented to us by name, we just keep releasing life-affirming material on Guerrilla Funk and let the public decide. There are hella people out there that feel like we do, and each one teaches one. Please spread the word.