Hip Hop Commentary

Franti, Marley,
Terrorism & Cointel-Pro
by Davey D

Folks may wanna spend a couple of minutes and acknowledge what would've been the 57th birthday of reggae superstar Bob Marley. Michael Franti of Spearhead stopped by our KPFA-Hard Knock Radio show the other day [Wed, Feb 6th 2002] to share some words of wisdom. Franti is one of the few people who was outside the Marley family to ever record a song on Tuff Gong records which was Marley's label. Several years ago he and Steven Marley did a song called Rebel Music which was off the hook. Franti, who is in the process of finishing up a new album, explained that early on he was inspired by Marley and the conscious lyrics he put in his songs.

He noted that in the late 70s commercial urban radio in the Bay Area made a dramatic shift in its programming. Almost overnight, Black urban radio stopped playing message music which was personified by artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone and numerous others. Disco and stagnant R&B became the order of the day which led to him rejecting what was being played as he sought music with substance. Marley was that person.

It was interesting hearing Franti speak on those conditions, because they sounded similar to the music/radio scene in New York City which eventually gave rise and turned young people onto what we now call Hip Hop. What was even more interesting was listening to Franti explain the enormous popularity that Marley has around the world. He explained that here in America people refer to Elvis as the King of Rock and Michael Jackson as the 'King of Pop', but outside this country Bob Marley is King. From South America to Africa and all throughout Europe Marley is respected admired and his music wholeheartedly embraced.

During the interview I raised the question as to why Marley had not caught on with the African American community especially when you consider the type of cultural messages he had in many of his songs. Outside of songs like 'Buffalo Soldier' and 'We're Jamming', a lot of cats aren't too familiar with his music. I recall growing up, that we rarely heard Marley played on urban radio in spite of the fact that he toured with Sly Stone and even held numerous meetings with Black radio programmers to try and get them on board. He was always met with stiff resistance by these urban music gatekeepers who claimed that Black folks would not like reggae music. The fact was once people heard him or seen him perform they were hooked. Franti noted that Marley desperately wanted to reach the African American audience and felt that commercial radio was a hindrance. Unfortunately radio was and continues to be the primary medium for African Americans. We are conditioned to the point that if it isn't played or mentioned on your favorite station then it doesn't exist. Marley spoke about the importance of radio in interviews and even had songs that made reference to these facts

I couldn't help thinking if Marley's lack of exposure was connected with the FBI's Cointel Program which was in effect in the late 60s and 70s. For those who don't know, the FBI launched a counter intelligence program under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover which was designed to neutralize and destroy Black organizations. One of the goals was to prevent the rise of Black leadership that could be deemed a threat to this country. Everyone from the Martin Luther King to the Black Panthers to gang members on the street fell victim to a government sponsored campaign that deliberately played organizations and Black leaders off one another. There were campaigns to designed to discredit individuals and their messages. Others found themselves set up and jailed. It was a horrific situation.

What is also known that the FBI used commercial media outlets to help in this campaign. There are journalists like former NY Times and NY Daily News reporter and columnist Earl Caldwell who have stepped forth and publicly spoken to the fact that they were approached by the FBI and asked to turn over information or spy on organizations like the Black Panthers. In fact Caldwell's situation took him all the way to the US Supreme Court. What was more insidious was the fact that numerous leaders and organizations were targeted and classified as potential threats to this country's national security. Is the ground work being laid for a similar campaign to take place today as we fight the war on terrorism?

With all this being said, I raised the question as to whether or not the removal of message music from the airwaves in the late 1970s was part of that campaign. Franti noted that he would not be surprised. Marley himself was deemed a threat and was constantly under the surveillance by US law enforcement. There was a campaign a foot to depict him as a dangerous radical communist type figure who should be shunned and avoided. Years later we have to wonder why a man who is so popular and often sung about love and unity was never a front and center figure in the lives of African Americans during some very turbulent times. Many never knew about some of the telling highlights of his life and how he was such a huge political and social force in Jamaica especially around his native Trenchtown. Was Marley's obscurity coincidence or deliberate? More importantly did history repeat itself during the early 90s when Afro-centric/Conscious rap from groups like Poor Righteous Teachers/Jungle Brothers, X-Clan, Public Enemy and scores of others seemed to but all disappear and give way to what we now call gangsta rap. Remember back in the days when everyone had a message in their songs?

During our interview it was pointed out that nowadays reggae is more established within the African American community then it was in the late 70s. Unfortunately many got turned onto the music as it seemed to move away from some of its message type origins. People tend to get into for the beat and not the words. It makes you wonder...

On a side, but somewhat related note... A couple of months back when the US Patriot Act was passed and deemed a necessary tool to fight the War on Terrorism, I did a radio interview with writer Cedric Muhammed of Blackelectorate.com who broke down some of far reaching provisions of that bill. I asked the question as to whether or not there was the possibility of the Justice Department classifying drug users and drug dealers as terrorists. It appeared that some of the provisions in the Patriot Act could make that possible.

Cedric noted that what I asked could indeed happen. The fact that the Taliban were opium exporters and that some of their drug profits may have funded the attacks made the terrorism=drug dealer connection a likely scenario. The Patriot Act was written in such a way that casual drug users and small time street dealers could find themselves caught up in wide noose in the search for terrorists. Well, if anyone watched this past weekends Superbowl, then there were aware of the advertising campaign that had folks saying you were supporting terrorism if you buy or sell drugs. Folks may really wanna sit back and think about the seriousness of that connection.

If you buy weed or do ecstasy at a club, or even play ball with the local d-boy in your hood are you aiding and supporting terrorism? Its a question that you would want to ask. And its may soon be a question you are forced to answer. Is the groundwork for the casual pot smoker or ecstasy pill popper to be rounded up and put on indefinite lockdown being laid out? Remember one of the provisions of this bill allows for you to be picked up and detained in jail for as long as they want without notice or you being allowed to call a lawyer. This is what is allowed in the Patriot Act.

It may be far fetched, but I think its just a matter of time before law enforcement starts accusing a group like Cypress Hill of being terrorist because they advocate weed smoking in some of their songs... The other thing we need to think about is the fact that there are many cats who got into the music game from drug money. Many of you know how the story goes. Cats on the block trying to change their lives took some of their earnings and put it into groups and record companies. It was an all too common occurrence and not limited to rap. Back in the days some referred to the process as graduating...

One of the more celebrated success stories of this 'graduating' process is Eazy E. It is widely known that he invested his early drug money to fund and support Ruthless Records and his then emerging group NWA. Nowadays can a case be made that Eazy, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, MC Ren and others are supporters of terrorism? The next time Snoop gets pulled over in his tour bus and accused of smoking weed can he be jailed as someone helping fund terrorists? Is a guy like MC Hammer who went back to his East Oakland neighborhood and gave legitimate jobs to former dope dealers, someone who helps terrorists? Are guys like Afrika Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation who have long worked with cats in their communities to make the transition from thug to productive citizen abettors of terrorists? What will those of us in the Hip Hop community say or do if approached by law enforcement who may question us about what and who we know in our immediate circles that smokes or sells weed? If you decline to answer or say 'you don't know,' are you willing to be accused of helping protect terrorists?

When I first raised that question about drug users being equated to terrorists I was accused by a few of being paranoid and out of my mind. I guess I was just seeing things when those commercials came on this past Superbowl Sunday. It's a different world post 9-11 cats have got to be awake, alert and involved.


Send comments, questions and concerns to mailto:kingdave@sirius.com
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