This is an excerpt from the book 'Who Shot Ya Three Decades of HipHop
Photography' by Ernie Panicolli and Kevin Powell It gives us alot to
think about plus the book makes a wonderful Holiday gift...

Enjoy the reading..
-Davey D-

by Kevin Powell

This thing, this energy, ghetto angels christened "hiphop" in the days
of way back is the dominant cultural expression in America, and on the
planet, today.  You think not, then ask yourself why business
interests as diverse as McDonald's, Ralph Lauren, Sprite, Nike, and
the National Basketball Association have all, during the course of the
past decade and a half, bear-hugged the language, the fashion, the
attitude of hiphop to authenticate and sell their products.  Or why,
if you are a parent, your child, be you a resident of the Fifth Ward
in Houston or an inhabitant of Beverly Hills, routinely strikes a
hiphop pose and dons mad baggy clothes when leaving home for school on
the daily, or when cruising a mall on the weekends.  The rapper Ice-T
said it best near the beginning of the 1990s: "Hiphop is simply the
latest form of a 'home invasion' into the hearts and minds of young
people, including a lot of White youth."  Ice-T should be crowned a
prophet for that proclamation.  Sure, hiphop still rocks the
boulevards but it is so much a part of American culture-hell, it is
American culture, with all the positives and negatives attached to
that reality-that even the bourgeois reach for it and stake claims to
it nowadays.

Therefore we can comfortably say that hiphop is bigger than ever.  (If
bigger is better is another essay altogether.) Just as we have
witnessed the globalization of the economy, hiphop is global, making
heads nod from Cleveland to Tokyo to Paris to Havana to Capetown,
South Africa.  Who knew that this thing, this energy, started on the
streets, in the parks, of New York City, circa the late 1960s through
the decadence of the 1970s, by working-class African Americans, West
Indians, and Latinos, would surpass jazz, rock 'n' roll, and R&B in
popularity and come to be the gritty, in-your-face soundtrack of a
generation, of an era?  From where did hiphop emerge?  Think
institutionalized White racism as the midwife for poor neighborhoods,
poor school systems, poor health care, poor community resources, and
poor life prospects.  Think the United States government's slow but
sure abandonment of its "war on poverty" programs (sending more money,
instead, to that war in Vietnam) as the Civil Rights Movement came to
a screeching halt.  Think the material and spiritual failures of that
Civil Rights Movement: the disappearing acts of leaders of color, the
fragmentation of communities of color due to integration, lost
industrial jobs and new migration patterns, and colored middle-class
folk jetting from the 'hood for good.  Think the New York City fiscal
crisis of the early to mid-1970s, and the effects of that money crunch
on impoverished residents of color in the Bronx, Harlem, and other
parts of the metropolitan New York City area.  Think of slashed art,
music, dance, and other recreational programs in inner-city areas due
to that fiscal crisis-homies had to make due with what they had, for
real.  Add these factors together, multiply by, um, field hollers,
work songs, the blues, Cab Calloway, zoot suiters, bebop,
jitterbuggers, low-riders, doo-wop harmonizers, jump-rope rhymers,
lyrical assassins like the Last Poets and Muhammad Ali, Nuyorican
salsa and soul, Jamaican dub poetry, Afro-Southern sonic calls and
responses in the form of James Brown, the wall carvings and murals of
Africans, Latinos, Native Americans, and the drum, the conga, the pots
and pans, being beat beat beaten here there everywhere and it all
equals hiphop.  Part of a continuum: magical, spiritual, a miracle
sprung from the heavy bags and hand-me-down rags of those deferred
dreams Langston Hughes had sung about years before.

Maybe it is no coincidence, then, that 1967 is not only the year that
Langston Hughes, the great documentarian of ghetto life, died, but
also the year that Clive Campbell, aka Kool Herc, came from Jamaica to
New York City, to become widely regarded as a trailblazing DJ and one
of the founding fathers of hiphop.  Maybe it is no coincidence that
the last political act Martin Luther King Jr. attempted-his famed
"Poor People's Campaign," which essentially ended when he was murdered
on April 4, 1968-was aimed at the same subgroup-and their children-who
would ultimately drive hiphop culture.  Maybe it is no coincidence
that when Marvin Gaye asked the question on his landmark 1971 album
What's Going On "Who really cares?"  and, later, pleads "Save the
children" he was talking about, well, these forgotten children, the
"throwaways" of post-Civil Rights America, who would merely need
courage, imagination, one mic, two turntables, spraypaint and magic
markers, and cardboard or the linoleum from their momma's kitchen
floors, to not only make a new art, but a cultural revolution fueled
by four core elements, in no particular order: the DJ, the MC, the
dance component, and the graffiti writing.

Accordingly, we have not been able to avoid dreaming of a hiphop
America since, nor the ubiquitous image of a b-boy standing in a b-boy
stance.  Ain't no secret that hiphop is a boys' club.  No denying,
either, that the ladies have been in the house from jump.  Pioneers
include graf legend Lady Pink, Sha Rock (from the seminal rap group
Funky Four Plus One More), the Mercedes Ladies, and entrepreneur
Sylvia Robinson, whose Sugar Hill Records label scored hiphop's first
commercial hit with the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" in 1979.
And, yup, gotta speak it as I see it: "Rapper's Delight" shamelessly
borrowed Chic's "Good Times" rhythms and straight jacked the Cold
Crush Brothers for lyrics.  So while a momentous disc, not mad
original.  And the rest, as they say, is a very short herstory, with
names like MC Lyte, Dee Barnes, Lauryn Hill, Fatima Robinson, Gangsta
Boo, DJ Kuttin Kandi, and Missy Elliott.  Exceptions to the rules,
these women have been blips on the testosterone screen.  It be like
that this go-round because, I submit, there is a direct link between
'60s souls on ice like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H.  Rap Brown,
Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver, and all that posturing by brothers
around the way-the afros, the dark shades, the black turtlenecks and
black leather jackets worn, even in the summer, for the right mix of
rage and cool-at hiphop's break of dawn.  In fact I think it kinda
deep that the 1960s marked the first time that rank-and-file Black
people, especially Black men, used the word to tell it like it is,
holding back nothing.  Replicate Nat Turner by thousands of suddenly
fearless coloreds and you begin to understand them was some angry,
signifying Negroes.

Kinda deep, again, that the Civil Rights era literally overlaps with
hiphop 's first boom-baps and public-surface scrawlings.  Might it be
possible that them brothers scared White America so bad that as the
movement was ending it was them same brothers who were
disproportionately left behind?  I'm not declaring brothers got it
worse than sisters-nope, not me; we got it bad equally, just
differently-but I am declaring that it is wild, when you really stop
to ponder this, that Blackbrownbeigebutterpecan men, principally the
younger ones, have always been viewed as dangerous by this country and
that a concentrated effort to hush these cats through police force and
a whole bunch of other things you can find in those FBI files did
leave a whole bunch of Black cats, and their Latino brethren,
invisible, unseen, gone, with the sounds of silence clanging in the
air.  So hiphop, to me, is about these males, with names like Lee
Quinones, Seen, Crazy Legs, Dondi, Afrika Bambaataa, Cowboy, and Pete
DJ Jones, shining light on their invisibility.  Think a merger of
Ellison's Invisible Man, Wright's Native Son, and Thomas's Down These
Mean Streets and you begin to get the complexities of the heads who
have populated the hiphop nation.

So, yeah, no question, hiphop owes a debt to the best and worst of
being so dude-centered.  On the upside it is about male-bonding,
autobiographical vulnerability, reportage you don't see on your local
news, and, if you are truly willing to listen, some of the best
speak-to-the-times poetry this side of Shakespeare, the Beats, and
Sonia Sanchez.  I cannot tell you how many White devotees have told me
they knew nothing about Blacks and Latinos until they began absorbing
hiphop culture.  Nor have I ignored the throngs of Asian hiphoppers
who assiduously study and manifest the culture better than the Black
and Latino folks who birthed it.  It is an organic cultural (self)
education for insiders and outsiders and self-empowerment in the face
of impossible odds.  At its worst hiphop serves up some of the most
destructive and myopic definitions of manhood this side of all the
caveman-like things Mick Jagger, Sid Vicious, and other drugged-up and
oversexed rockers said and did in their prime.  Indeed, like rock 'n'
roll, hiphop sometimes makes you think we men don't like women much at
all, except to objectify them as trophy pieces or, as contemporary
vernacular mandates, as "baby mommas," "chickenheads," or "bitches."
But just as it was unfair to demonize men of color in the '60s solely
as wild-eyed radicals when what they wanted, amidst their fury, was a
little freedom and a little power, today it is wrong to categorically
dismiss hiphop without taking into serious consideration the
socioeconomic conditions (and the many record labels that eagerly
exploit and benefit from the ignorance of many of these young artists)
that have led to the current state of affairs.  Or, to paraphrase the
late Tupac Shakur, we were given this world, we did not make it.
Which means hiphop did not breed ghettos, poverty, single mothers,
fatherlessness, rotten school systems, immorality, materialism,
self-hatred, racism, sexism, and the prison-industrial complex that is
capturing literally thousands of young Black and Latino males and
females each year.

What hiphop has spawned is a way of winning on our own terms, of us
making something out of nothing.  Hiphop is a mirror for the world to
look at itself, for America to take a good look at the children it has
neglected, to see the misery it has been avoiding or covering up.
And, no, it is not pretty nor pristine.  Hiphop is the ghetto blues,
urban folk art, a cry out for help.  The same cries that once emanated
from the mouths of a Bessie Smith, a Robert Johnson, a Billie Holiday,
a Big Momma Thornton, a Muddy Waters.  Hiphop is rooted, to a large
extent, in traditional African cultures and the Black American musical
journey.  Thus, no big surprise that the face of hiphop's songs has
mainly been Black, although others have grabbed the mic as well.
Hiphop is an unabashed embrace of the past, sampling any and
everything at its disposal, the world clearly its altar of worship.
Booker T.  Washington once urged his peeps to cast their buckets where
they were.  Hiphop, in its purest form, is about ghetto youth casting
their buckets into dirty sewer water and coming up with hope, new
identities, fly names, def jams, acrobatic dance moves, cutting-edge
art, and, if we are lucky enough, something other than lint in our
pockets, anger and confusion on our brows, and hunger in our bellies.

Given the mass appeal and multiple layers of hiphop, you can
understand why the images of Ernie Paniccioli are so incredibly vital.
I call Paniccioli the dean of hiphop photographers because I don't
know of any other person who is as uniquely qualified-and
positioned-to dramatize the culture as Paniccioli is.  Nor do I know
of any other photographer who has single-handedly built a visual
vocabulary for hiphop as Ernie Paniccioli has.  Recall James Van Der
Zee's majestic portraits of Harlem in the 1920s and you begin to sense
the breadth of Paniccioli's life-calling.  We cannot think of that
Harlem without thinking of Van Der Zee, and we cannot think of the
first three decades of hiphop history without referencing an Ernie
Paniccioli print.  His art and his personal saga are that intertwined
with hiphop's evolution.

For here is a man spit from the pig guts of New York City in 1947,
predating hiphop by twenty years; a man who was not supposed to have
had much of a life because of the price of the ticket given to him; a
man who learned the art of war, during his formative years, on the
concrete floors, in the libraries and museums, during his
socialization amongst hustlers and musicians, gang members and street
dancers, and as a sailor in the United States Navy.  That Paniccioli
is Native American, yea, suggests he understood, the moment he could
decipher the world, what it meant to be marginalized and an outsider
in his own country.

It is this outsider status that has propelled Paniccioli's craft-first
his sketches and collages while in the navy during the 1960s, then his
photography beginning in the early 1970s.  We know that some of
America's greatest artists-Zora Neale Hurston, Thornton Dial Sr.,
Prince Paul, to name three of thousands-have been folks beyond the
margins for much, if not all, of their natural lives.  That
marginalization is a wide canvas on which they interpret their
realities and conceive new possibilities.  An artist cannot do this if
he/she ain't got what painter Radcliffe Bailey labels "grit."  And an
artist cannot do this if he/she has not been touched, cosmically, by
ancestral hands, to feel, to see, to be, freely.  Amiri Baraka said it
best: All important art is self-taught and the most significant artist
is the one who feels he/she has nothing to lose and everything to gain
from a relationship with the soul, with the community, with the
universe.  By self-taught I only mean that Paniccioli is an eternal
student of politics, the visual arts, literature, religion and
spirituality, science and mathematics, the JFK assassination, music,
love, peace, and war.  Academia could not have molded an Ernie
Paniccioli just as no university molded Gordon Parks.  There are
artists who do it because they are told to do so by an instructor; and
there are artists, like Parks and Paniccioli, who do it, and have done
it, because their work is blood, bone, breath, to them.  Or: more
often than not school trains us to be something for someone else.
Self-education demands we train ourselves for ourselves and for the
people.  Hiphop is a self-taught art because the MCs, the DJs, the
graffiti writers, and the dancers nurtured themselves, and each other.

So as Paniccioli was learning how to use a camera, he found himself
recording the biggest cultural phenomenon since rock 'n' roll.
Paniccioli knew it intuitively because he had seen Little Richard,
Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, live.  It was the same power, the same
passion, the same rebels without a pause.  And like the pioneering
hiphoppers, Paniccioli's work was not sanitized.  When you look at his
photographs you see warmth, camaraderie, texture, detailed
composition, an insider's raw, painstaking truth.  Just as Edward
Curtis's iconic offerings of Native Americans presented them as regal,
proud, defiant, so too does Paniccioli's work portray hiphop society
as human, dignified, remarkable, as survivors, winners, and losers,
all of it brewed as uncut funk.  It does not matter if a shot is at
the dance club or in an alley, at a video shoot or in a studio,
Paniccioli's pictures are murals, snapshots of history, reflections on
urban American fashion trends, and love-soaked tributes to this thing,
this energy, called hiphop.  No matter how much bigger hiphop gets, or
if it one day returns to the margins, like the blues and jazz before
it, we will always have the photography of Ernie Paniccioli as a
reminder of what it was we created and what it was like for us hiphop
heads to dream our own worlds.

Ernie Paniccioli can be reached at rapphotos@hotmail.com
Kevin Powell can be reached at kevinpowe@aol.com

WHO SHOT YA?  Three Decades of Hiphop Photography (Photographs by
Ernie Paniccioli, Edited by Kevin Powell)...the FIRST major pictorial
history of hiphop culture IN STORES NOW or ORDER at www.amazon.com


The FNV Newsletter c 2002
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