Why Is Rap So Powerful.
An Article written by Davey D

These past couple of weeks have been eventful as the San Francisco Chronicle broke everyone off with a headline stating that rappers along with 52 people from the city of Vallejo.. [that's rap star E-40's hometown] had been arrested in connection with a string of bank robberies... The article implied Bay Area rap star Mac Dre had written a song in which he bragged how he and his 'notorious' friends known as the Romper Room Gang had robbed a credit union.. The details in the song supposedly led police to him and 52 of his homies whom they arrested.. People were walking around in disbelief. How could such a thing happen? Had hip hop come this far?

Well the real story came out a few days later when Mac Dre's mother and Club Nouveau's veteran producer Jay King held a press conference in El Cerrito California. Here they explained that Dre had put out a compilation album called The Rompilation. The Rompilation featured a lot of Mac Dre's boyhood buddies.. There was a song on the album entitled 'Uninvited'.. On that song two of the artists who's names slip me... talked about robbing a credit union... Simultaneously the Vallejo Police department had been investigating some of Dre's associates..It was this combination of song and past history that led to the several arrests. not the 52 as was implied in the nationally aired news reports... The press conference also bore out the fact that 52 people from Dre's neighborhood known as the Crest had been arrested over a two-three year period... not all at once as newspaper headlines suggested...Mac Dre himself was not arrested due to the fact that he was in jail for an unrelated parole violation..

The Vallejo Police department had put the word out that it was Mac Dre rapping on the song Uninvited when in reality it wasn't.. Dre was the executive producer of that album..The other thing that had to be clarified was the drama that had been surrounding Mac Dre since 1992... Back in those days there were a group of guys who went around robbing pizza shops. Most came from the North side of Vallejo better known as The Crest.. The Vallejo police were baffled and couldn't catch anyone.. Meantime this group of robbers graduated from robbing pizza shops to banks... Many of the brothas up in Vallejo found themselves being targetted by the police. They were being stopped and questioned. VPD had it in for one group of kids who were named The Romper Room Gang.. Many of these guys hung out with Dre.. primarily because they lived in the same hood.. To make a long story short.. Mac Dre put out a song called 'Punk Police' Unlike NWA's infamous 'Fuck Tha Police' this song could actually be played on radio and was on many of the college stations... In addition, Dre spoke directly to the whole Romper Room situation. He named the head detective on the case Sgt McCraw. He also taunted the police for their inability to solve the crime.. In one line he asks 'You can't catch nobody..so what are you gonna do 'frame somebody'? Afterwards Dre starts laughing..

Well Vallejo PD didn't take too kindly to this song.. According to Dre he was threatened and personally told he would pay dearly... A few weeks after the song was released, Dre was arrested in Fresno and charged not with bank robbery..but 'CONSPIRACY TO ROB A BANK'.. FBI agents had followed Dre and a friend for three hours and 300 miles from the Bay Area to Fresno.. This so called friend was wired and recorded a conversation with Dre talking about how he wanted to rob a bank.. The friend was the one who initiated the conversation. The way Dre explains it was..they were just talking in jest... The FBI noted that the pair had drove near a bank with intentions to rob it..but then sped off when they saw a television crew in the parking lot.. The conversation and the fact that the pair drove near a bank was one of the main grounds for the Conspiracy charge.. Dre wound up serving five years for a bank that was never robbed.. To this day Vallejo PD and the FBI will attest that he was not arrested or convicted for bank robbery.. To this day there's till controversy surrounding this event... Why would a friend who is wired initiate a conversation and go along for a drive to rob a bank? Did Mac Dre's song set it off with him the Vallejo PD..?

We know one thing ever since then special attention has been paid to his and other rapper's music. A conversation with Lt West of Vallejo PD had her breaking it down to explain that because Dre and some of his associates have had criminal pasts the VPD is interested in everything they do..including their music.. So in other words Vallejo PD was definitely checking for a brotha's lyrics...

During the press conference with Mac Dre's mom and Jay King.. They expressed two main concerns.. The first centered around the fact that ever since Dre had been released he had to account for all his money and spending as a condition of his parole. The Rompilation album which got everyone so upset was funded by Dre..They felt there were law enforcement officials who were trying to see if Dre's operation was being funded by illegal money... This would set the stage for RICO charges being brought against him..

The other concern which is the main reason for my going into such detail is this whole notion of a conspiracy charge... Although Mac Dre was on lockdown in a jail in Sacramento.. the fact that two artists on his label committed crimes and later rapped about them might be potential grounds for law enforcement to somehow bring about a conspiracy charge against Dre the executive producer.. Did he know about these robberies that the pair rapped about? Did he help them? Did he obstruct justice etc.. ?

In other words was Dre gonna somehow be held responsible for someone else's actions.. Jay King put it best.. when he stated that if the Vallejo police come after Mac Dre on any related charges then they better go after label executives like Barry Weiss of Jive records, Clyde Davis of Arista and Jimmy Lovine of Interscope.. He explained that all these guys had artists on their major labels who at one point in time served jail time for committing crimes...Mac Dre is a rapper and an executive producer..not the police. He should not have to concerned about verifying the authenticity of people's rap songs..

Finally the other thing that came out at that press conference was the fact that members within the Vallejo Police department had recorded a rap song about how they lock down Mac Dre.. VPD denies this allegation.. But far too many people from around that part of town are sticking with their words.. Again the concern that Mac Dre has echoed since '92 was that police were gonna pay him back for that song..

It's interesting to note that on several occasions lyrics threatening or deemed unflattering to law enforcement or government officials have led to artists paying a price. 2Pac.. in the video 'Trapped' , NWA in the song 'F- Tha Police', Public Enemy in the video 'By The Time I Get To Arizona', Paris's album cover for 'Sleeping With The Enemy' and the song 'Bush Killer' are the most glaring examples..Here in the Bay Area there was a group out of East Palo Alto that raised a ruckus when they talked about the Redwood City police..The most recent case centered around C-Bo another Bay Area artist. If you recall, a few weeks back I told you how one of his songs which talked about him shooting a cop was deemed as a violation of his parole..He was sent back to jail as result.. Only public pressure got those charges dropped..

There has on occasion been conversation that has advocated that such material be treated in the same manner we treat people making remarks about having a bomb when you get on an airplane.. Lyrics threatening the police might one day net some sort of charge if we're not careful. Far fetched you say? I think not..especially when we don't have a whole lot of artists who are out there lobbying Congress or local elected officials for issues concerning this business? Remember back in the 60s there were all sorts of people clocking the speeches given militant activist like H Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Toure] and Eldridge Cleaver. Such folks were usually regulated as a condition of their parole.. However, there were always FBI types checking to see if they could be charged with inciting a riot. If I do a song that advocates shooting the police and somebody does that..will I then be held responsible? I know one thing the police in their own way will make you pay...

Nowadays it's not unusual for police departments to use their influence to ban rap artists from certain venues..Here in the Bay Area that has happened. Take an artist like E-40..despite having a relatively clean record VPD on several occasions had let it be known that 'his following' could be a problem.. This information had been shared with other police departments who then placed conditions on him being allowed to perform at venues within their city... Back in the days.. police departments would forewarn other departments when NWA was coming to town.. In one incident when they performed F- The Police The Detroit PD rushed the stage and prevented them from finishing. I know when they came to the Bay Area they never performed it..

The main point I'm getting at is that rap has been a powerful tool that has slowly been finding it's potential power either deliberately misdirected or slowly whittled down.. What young brothas say has major influence.. It's powerful.. It's in synch with the concepts of the African Oral Tradition which by the way is what rap is a manifestation of...

West Africa is where most brothas and sistas within the USA can trace their ancestry. Here there was concept called Nommo.. This was the belief that there was magical powers in words. It was believed that words actualized life and gave man mastery over things.. Africans believed that no medicine or potion would be effective unless accompanied by words. The belief in Nommo was so powerful that all work had to be accompanied by speech.. Even warfare was proceeded by a verbal battle..Nommo had productive powers.. West Africans believed all living things rested upon the word. There's a book entitled 'Talkin and Testifying' by Geneva Smitherman which goes into great detail about this concept and the African Oral Tradition..

It's important to note this because then it begans to explain why rappers are often targets for lyrical content. In a historical context we can see that those of African descent were targets all the way back in slave days when were stripped of our language and forbidden to speak.. Black folks developed their own style of speech which consisted of codes and metaphors which allowed them to communicate without the slave masters knowing.. This type of communication was prominent at a place called Congo Square in New Orleans.. Black slaves gathered around to 'kick back' and vibe with one another on Sunday afternoons.. Soon slave masters became worried and fearful of the slaves getting together and shut things down. They disallowed anymore gatherings at Congo Square. The fear was the slaves were passing along info and the master couldn't catch it.. .You see the slaves were smart and they talked in metaphors.. They would be killed if the slave masters heard them speaking in unfamiliar tongue or dialect.. So they did what modern day rappers do.. They flexed and their lyrical skillz...Still the slave masters were concerned..

From that time on you will find within each generation a big concern about what Black folks are saying in songs, church, political speeches etc. You'll also find within each generation a manifestation of the African Oral Tradition..Back in the slave days there was the field hollars and Brer Rabbit Tales.. Here the slaves talked about the slave master by skillfully using metaphors while telling stories about a slick rabbit [the slave] and how he always outwitted the mean old fox [the slave master].

Later there was concern about Black preachers and what they were saying especially after Nat Turner went off and killed a bunch of folks.. [yes, Rebellious Nat Turner was a preacher]. Later down the road you had other verbal games ranging from mother jokes to signifying, toasting and testifying. There were word games like the Signifying Monkey, John The Conqueror, Stag O Lee.Here you had brothas doing what modern day rappers started out doing-boasting and bragging. Letting folks know how dope you was.. Being lyrically fluid and able to improvise words..In short the one who could toast the best was the man.. Move it up a few generations and you have rap.

You also had the blues, bebops and other musical forms..Believe it or not brothas was singing blues songs about taking out the police way back in the early 20s.. They did in their braggadocio toasts and they did it in song..There was concern then just like there's concern now.. Keep in mind when brothas start flexing the verbal skillz it always reflects what is going on politically, socially and economically. When folks was getting down and toasting about how bad they was and what they were gonna do you had major race riots going on in the back drop. Black towns like Tulsa Oklahoma, Rosewood in Florida and numerous other places were being burnt down by jealous white folks.. All this was reflected in the word games brothas engaged in.

The African Oral Tradition resurfaced within old time Black radio djs who used to rhyme before introducing songs. Famous djs like Daddy O, Jocko Henderson, and Jack The Rapper. One should also note that the talk over dub styles which reggae artists became known for came about because of the old time Black radio djs..Back in the 50s and early 60s.. the signal from Jocko Henderson's show called the Ace Of Rockets could be heard in Jamaica. Back then all the stations were on the AM band and such signals were known to bounce for thousands of miles.. The Jamaicans picked upon this rhyme style and customized it for their own needs.. How ironic that DJ Kool Herc would reintroduce that style back to the states. The earliest recorded talkover dubs paid tribute to Jocko and his Ace Of Rockets show.. I'm not sure if it was U-Roy or somebody else.. but whomever, actually used Jocko's rhymes..Kinda like how Sugar Hill Gang's Big Bad Hank used Grandmaster Caz and militant activist H.Rap Brown's dozens rhymes in the song Rapper's Delight.

The Black radio djs were at one point in time the most powerful and influential orators within the Black community.. Their gift for gab was unmatched.. So powerful were they that in 1967 Martin Luther King Jr addressed a body of them in Atlanta and spoke passionately about the influence they had.. He encouraged them to continue being guardians for the community.. In 1980 at the Jack The Rapper Convention, Minister Farrakhon of the Nation Of Islam spoke to a similar body of Black radio djs and expressed the same thoughts.. However, unlike King's speech where had much praise for their positive role, Farrakhon was critical of the fact that these Black radio djs had so much power to influence but had gone into a state where they stop getting the message across.. What had happened between the years 1967 and 1980 was that radio changed dramatically. Black radio djs found their power stripped as white owned radio stations demanded more music and less talk during the 70s..The emphasis switched from trying to please the people to trying to please Madison Avenue where all the big advertising agencies existed.. It was no longer who had the most listeners but who had the richest listeners.. Black radio stations within New York were among the first to start switching up...It was during this time that radio stations stopped being a entity that languaged itself for young people. Old Schoolers from back in the days will recall that during the 70s brothas started playing tapes and carried around huge boom boxes.. This whole radio thing is spoken about in the book.. 'The Death Of Rhythm And Blues' by Nelson George..

During the 70s as the influence of black radio djs diminished and Black activists began to be silenced and Black radio started playing watered down disco by white rock n roll artists, there was some huge voids to be filled... In Washington DC Go Go music was born. In Chicago House music was born In New York older people [18 and up] got into Black oriented disco which later became known as club music.. Younger folks got into this thing called hip hop..The early block parties which featured Kool Herc and later Afrika Bambaataa, Mario The Disco King and Eddie Cheeba and others started off with folks hearing a lot of soul music that was no longer being played on commercial radio. I'm talking James Brown, Sly Stone etc..

The African Oral Tradition continues to this day where you have rap lots of brothas with a mad skillz to influence.. I should add that while the business of music has bastardized rap and kind of screwed things around, you'll find that African Oral Tradition and important messages of upliftment and substance manifesting itself in poetry slams.. I find that a lot of the artist who are classified as 'Gangsta rappers are steadily checking out the power of spoken word. If you don't believe it check out all the activity on the Poetry Page within my website...

It's no mistake that after a Public Enemy and X-Clan and other artists who got folks to start thinking about positive, afrocentric concepts were slowly removed from the forefront. They were becoming too powerful. and being embraced by pop culture.. It was no accident that such powerful forces were relegated to the background and replaced by a culture that embraces Pimps, playas and gats. In 1988 during the New Music Seminar Chuck D spoke on this whole topic... These voices are powerful and they are born of a legacy which gave birth to a Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and before them a Marcus Garvey and a W.E.B Dubois etc.. The most gifted orators within our community have been encouraged to focus their energy on the mayhem and madness within the community.[gangsta rappers]. Others have channeled their energy into perfecting lyrical skillz.. [the keep it real fellas]. Both camps have come to frown upon the political rapper..who is now seen as being to preachy and in lots of cases contradictory in their actions..

What had happened with rap artists is that they had been encouraged to showcase their skillz and hence a lot of the either overlooked or didn't realize the potential they could reach.. At the same time folks from outside of the community were moving into positions of presentation. ie radio djs and magazine writers and video programmers.. Many of these individuals got caught up in the music business game and started playing God with a music and culture that they didn't create but merely reported on... Many lost perspective and started to believe that because they were in a powerful position of presentation that they themselves were creators.. Hence they began to mislead people by misdefining things.. For example, some kid would once upon a time was into surf music got fascinated by the intensity of rap.. He could literally feel the music and was drawn into.. Initially he got excited about a Public Enemy.. He went out and brought himself an African medallion even though he wasn't from there and he began yelling 'fight the power'. Just as he was getting deep into it.. Along came another energetic force called NWA who were yelling fight the power in their own way..

They represented that misguided anger i had spoken about earlier.. But the nommo concept was in effect.. They were influencing a whole coast and changing the landscape. Remember prior to NWA, west coast rap was mainly uptempo, electronic bass like music.. The music presenters soon became more fascinated with the ghetto life pictures described by NWA and not the militant, futuristic pictures of PE.. So this type of music and culture began to get attention.. This inspired more people to get into the NWA mindset.. especially those who were from the hood. It was a lot easier to report on current conditions as opposed to dream and talk about the future.

Looking at things from a historical perspective, those of us within hip hop should be both alarmed and aware when we see the types of activities surrounding artists like Mac Dre. I'm not trying to position them as modern day civil rights leaders or anything like that... But we should be wary and know that there are people out there who are extremely concerned about what is being said on the mic. My ideal hope is for all of us to become better educated. It's important that today's rappers learn their history and that folks who know sit the down and explain things to them... Once this happens hip hop will move forward and reach it's true potential...Let me know what you think? kingdave@sirius.com.

Davey D

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