Wednesday night their actions dominated the 11 o'clock evening news as more then 170 Hip Hop headz got arrested for protesting in the streets of San Francisco about the passing of Prop 21. It was a beautiful thing to see as more then 500 headz showed up at the Hilton Hotel, sat in the lobby and started chanting customized Hip Hop phrases decrying the attacks on youth. They absolutely refused to move and demanded to be arrested. The Hilton was chosen because the owner of the parent company pumped a substantial amount of money into the 'Yes on Prop 21' campaign.For those who don't know, Prop 21 is an initiative spearheaded by former Cali Governor Pete Wilson that unleashes a set of new laws that will send young people away adult prisons. You may want to take a look at past FNV issues to get a full breakdown.
It was interesting to note that after a year of protests, school walk outs, free concerts and scores of rallies, the mainstream media finally showed this widespread youth/ Hip Hop activism in its true light. The folks who came out were highly organized, young, articulate and most of all committed. After the arrests were made, the remaining headz were joined by scores of other folks took to the streets and marched down to the local police department [Mission station] where the arrestees were taken. All this went down Wednesday night in spite of a rain storm.
Now for those who don't know, The No On Prop 21 campaign along with Bill Bradley and Senator John McCain was soundly defeated in Cali. The 'yes' voters gave it 60% of their vote. One would think after a year of marches, rallies, free concerts and unprecedented amounts of grassroots organizing that such a defeat would dampen people's spirits. One might be tempted to say to themselves, 'Why bother?, My vote doesn't count anyway!'. However, upon closer inspection, there's a lot for folks to be proud of.
First, all the campaigning did make a difference. A quick look at the election break down shows that here in the Bay Area's nine counties which makes up more then 10 million people, the No on Prop 21 votes out numbered the Yes votes. There was a record number of voter turning out. A lot of young and first time voters braved the rain storms and showed up at the polls. For many folks this was their first time being active and involved in any sort of movement. Where No on Prop 21 was defeated was in Southern Cali which includes Los Angeles and San Diego. These areas might as well be part of another state. The culture is different, the attitudes are different and in many places its conservative. In addition, the activism isn't as strong down in LaLa land as it is up in the Bay Area.
In my lifetime I have had the privilege of being around three significant eras within Hip Hop. I recall the excitement that surrounded Hip Hop culture in the late 70s. We are talking about the years leading up to the release of Sugar Hill Gang's landmark record Rappers Delight and the few years afterwards. Hip Hop was still young and trying to find its way. It was an exciting time and no words can really express the type of vibe that was in the air. There seemed to be endless possibilities. All in all that time period helped shape my life.
The next time period was the late 80s and early 90s.. This is dubbed the Golden Era of rap. It was the age of Public Enemy, X-Clan and all the Afrocentric/politics within Hip Hop. That entire movement was juxtaposed by the emergence of what we now call Gangsta rap. NWA was and the entire West Coast Hip Hop scene was starting to emerge. Those years marked a major turning point in Hip Hop as the politics within the music gave a lot of people hope. At the same time the gangsta songs of NWA clearly captured the sentiment and emotions felt by many within the inner city. It was an exciting time..and as was the case in the pre Sugar Hill era, words can not capture all the emotion. The possibilities seemed endless.
As I bore witness to all the Hip Hop activism that went down this past year, all those emotions from years back came forth. It was like seeing the rebirth of Hip Hop all over again. This past year headz were trying to redefine themselves and lay down a long lasting foundation as to what this thing we call Hip Hop is truly all about. Oftentimes, we hear people say Hip Hop is not just music-It's a way of life. Well, this past year in the Bay Area, folks have clearly moved beyond the music. Solid Hip Hop organizations determined to make changes and kick up dust in an impacting way have been established. Never before would I have thought to see the breaking of bread with elected officials and Hip Hoppers. Never would I have thought to see established Hip Hop artists being asked to endorse candidates.
Never would I have thought to see Hip Hop artists coming out in mass to support a political cause. From Mos Def and Talib Kweli to MC Hammer to Michael Franti to Mystik Journeymen to Dwayne Wiggins to The Hieroglyphics to Sway & Tech to Boots to Money B to The Delinquents to Dead Prez and dozens of other local artists, graffiti writers , break dancers etc, who all came through, stepped to the plate and truly represented. They looked beyond their musical careers and took responsibility for trying to change the conditions around them.
Never before would I have thought campaign rallies would include folks freestyling and adapting popular Hip Hop phrases for rallying chants. Can you imagine what it like to listen to a Congressman talk and have it followed by folks ripping freestyles about the topic at hand? I wouldn't have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes. Such sights were beautiful. After years of hearing older folks complain about young people being apathetic and uncaring, it was good to see kids with sagging pants, hats turned backwards, unlaced sneakers and Timberlands being led away in handcuffs, not because of violence and rioting, but because they actually stood up for a cause they believe in. It was great to go to rallies that numbered in the thousands and not see folks disrespect the cause by passing out tapes and trying to hawk their material. It was great to see folks come through and be down for a cause.
The most important thing that got accomplished this year was that after years of going to seminar after seminar and hearing folks complain that Hip Hop doesn't have no unity or no organization, here in the Bay Area there our several vibrant Hip Hop organizations that people can and have been plugging into. Groups like Third Eye Movement [415-951-4844 ext 23], C-Beyond [925-676-6556], Black Dot Collective [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ] , Soul [510-451-5466], Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition [mailto:email@example.com], United Players and Homies are just a few of the organizations that have been putting it down. These folks aren't people using Hip Hop and exploiting it, they are Hip Hop. They embody the spirit of what Hip Hop has been over the years, folks carving out a niche and defining their reality.
The same conditions that gave rise to Hip Hop culture in the late 70s exists right now. Today there is an all out attack on young people by the 'establishment'. Young people are being marginalized and conveniently being scapegoated for all of societies woes. Older people are scared of the youth and instead of rolling up their sleeves and attempting to break bread, folks are trying sweep young people out of mind or in this case, lock them away in prisons. History will show some eerie parallels from the late 70s to today . Back in the days New York City saw an all out assault and crackdowns on youth gangs. After school and youth programs were eliminated and blaming young people for societal problems was the order of the day. At the same time we as a society was entering into the age of decadence and materialism and moving away from consciousness. Today we find ourselves entering the dot.com age where there are untold riches being bantered about, but not a whole lot of this wealth is being reinvested into young people. In the late 70s youth were being sent to Juvenile Halls in record numbers while educational opportunities were being scaled back. Today in Cali over 25 prisons have been built in the last 15 years compared to one university/college.
The reaction you get from young people today is what you got twenty years ago- Hip Hop and all its expressions. It's a reaction to economic, social and political conditions that people find oppressive. Young people in the late 70s as they are today were trying to get some attention and respect for themselves. Hip Hop allowed them to do this. Young people using music, dance and other artistic/cultural expressions to define themselves, call attention to their concerns and bring about meaningful change is Hip Hop. The big difference is in the 70s there was no blue print. There was no precedent. Here in 2000 people have been careful not repeat past mistakes. People are trying not to get caught up and side tracked and have been able to build upon past efforts. Today, everyone clearly understands that a movement can not exist without grounded organizations. People also clearly understand that there is more to Hip Hop then rocking a mic, cutting up records and break dancin'. Its about 'putting it down' [bring forth a good effort] today to bring about better tomorrows. They also realize that as young people getting organized, they become a threat to folks who are in power. As a way to counter that, many of these organizations have been grounding themselves and rolling in synch with their respective communities.
In spite of the passing of Prop 21, none of the Bay Area's Hip Hop organizations have lost momentum. In fact, they are gaining support. As we speak folks are trying to figure out ways to get this bill overturned. Wednesday night's demonstration was a clear message signaling that young people aren't going down without a fight. Over the upcoming months expect to see and hear about some very creative tactics employed to bring about political change. The Guerilla concerts, popularized by Boots and his crew of emcees will no doubt continue to happen. The Black Dot Collective have already been creating political mixtapes and CDs. In between the spoken word and freestyles are folks from around the way giving up some serious political game about various situations effecting the hood. These aren't cheap ploys designed to get people to vote for a particular candidate. Nor are they tapes with some kid endlessly preaching on. These are mixtapes where the emcees instead of giving shout outs to industry cats are instead shouting out to political prisoners and shedding light and breaking down the double talk that often gets people lost and confused about political issues. Included in each tape is a copy of the Daily Struggle Newsletter that the Black Dot has been circulating. Folks are definitely getting enlightened. I'm gonna MP3 one of these mixtapes in a couple of days. Hit up Black Dot at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other tactic that is being used are the mini documentaries. I pointed out the mini doc that was done by headz over at New World Culture. Entitled 'The Urban Campfire', its featured on Chuck D's http://www.Rapstation.com website and is a new twist to getting information to the hood. It also allows one to give the real news story behind an event. Peep out the recent coverage of the No On Prop 21 rally in front of Oakland's City Hall. If all continues to go well, these mini docs will not only be on the web, but will also be pressed up and distributed on CDrom. There are a number of new mini docs set to come down the pipe. Peep out http://www.rapstation.com/rapstation_tv/urban_campfire/
Lastly you have many of the artists gearing up by flipping the new technology. For example, E-40 just brought himself a T-1 line so he can start doing his on radio shows and stream his own movies and messages directly from his crib. E-40 who is growing tired of radio politics has kept true to his entrepreneurial spirit and is now taking matters into his own hands. As he explained he has a stable full of artist and tons of material that needs to get out to the public. Other Bay Area artists are also looking into this as well Folks are gearing up to try and find ways to by pass traditional mediums. Direct unfiltered communications the order of the day. These are some exciting times..