#BlackAugust Mixtape

 

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the murder of George Jackson while incarcerated at Soledad Prison in San Quentin, CA. Jackson whose incarceration began on a 1-to-life sentence after a supposed robber of a gas station for less than $70, was an organizers within the prisons. He read and advocated for Marxist theory as a critique for the social conditions facing the primarily Black and Brown populations. After meeting Huey P Newton, he became a member of the Black Panther Party and work towards unifying prisoners to push for better conditions.

Black August in many ways starts with George and his brother Jonathon, who was killed in August of 1970, when he attempted to free the Soledad Brothers/3 from a court hearing. It began as prisoners marked a time of remembrance for the Jackson brother and four other men who died while incarcerated…During the month of August prisoners in California wore Black armbands to identify one another and began reading revolutionary texts. Black August is a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance. Since its beginnings,these ideas and ways of being could not be contained by the physical walls of a prison…the practices of reclaiming history and resisting colonial/white supremacist narratives have expanded, and with the help of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement‘s Black August Hip Hop Project these concepts and teachings have spread globally.  Today, Black August is a time for us to remember our brothers, sisters, children, and families who are unjustly confined behind walls. It is also a time to focus on the long history of resistance, such as the Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner’s rebellion which began on August 21, 1831,  as well as the birthday’s of Dr. Mutulu Shakur,Marcus Garvey, & Fred Hampton.

This mixtape hopes to reclaim knowledge from current and former political prisoners, positioning their voices next to artists whose cultural productions add to the discourse surrounding the prison industrial complex, respectability politics, decentering whiteness,  signifying counter hegemonic histories by evoking the names of leaders such as Tubman, Audre (Lorde), Ella (Baker), & et al…, revolution, neoliberal imperialsim, policing and militarized occupation/brutality, and over all concepts of freedom and resistance …..this as with most of my projects, seeks to position Black women, femmes, queer, and gender non-conforming folks with primacy, amplifying that which resonates with me. I wanted to touch on the use of Tef Poe’s (2010) track Everybody Strapped, the lyrical complexity of his verses touch on Obama’s role within upholding US violence domestically and abroad against Black and Brown bodies, political prisoners like Mumia and Reggie Clemons…however he also references “ratchet ass bitch’s get abortions for Black children”, people are real and complex…. following Tef’s body of work both as an emcee and community organizer, he like all great revolutionaries is someone who is continually growing and developing in their mind and perspectives….. the juxtaposition of Mumia speaking bout youth incarceration and illusions of freedom against the J Dilla instrumental of “are you listening” ask us to pause and be reflective, taking in the full wait and reality of Mumia’s words…..In the middle of this mix you will hear an audio sample from Attica prison, this is a way to signify an uprising which has great impact on the immediate future…..prisoners have called for a nation-wide labor strike on September 9th, 2016 (the 45 year anniversary of Attica)…to throw off the conditions of slavery and bondage under which they are being housed. As persons and communities committed to the abolition of these forms of dehumanization and slavery, we must work from the outside to support our brothers and sisters, because as Assata reminds us, “we must love and support each other”…….

 

 

Southern swag

Confession, I’ve been listening to Soul Food (Goodie Mob) for weeks, ATLiens, Luda, TI, TLC and all of Cash Money have been in the rotation as well. They have been my motivation and focus when making time and space to write on the importance of Hip Hop in countering hegemony and decentering colonial conditions…..but….i haven’t found the words to write about the specific importance of Southern Hip Hop in my life.

Kiese Laymon in his talk, “Of Freshness and Stank, Grandmama and Outkast” conjures a longing for home, a deference and dignity for the work of our hands, he reminds us how as poor colored folx in the South, we know how to come correct to our spaces of commune (i.e. church, dances, cookouts), how our freshness is central to our reclaiming our humanity. His eloquence and rawness, touched my nerves, those frayed parts of me that I am always frantically attempting to weave back together, those deeply personal intersections are the ones i have the most difficulty writing about. I thought for a long time that all we had to do to leave the South, was to move our bodies through space….but the South is anywhere Black and Brown bodies find themselves, the spaces ytness seeks to bleach, its the expressions of laughter thats a lil too loud, the channeling of the past, and the holding of possibilities in our very flesh. In the colonized world, oriented towards hierarchies, the “north” is anywhere yt and rich, to quote Fanon, “You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich”. The consequences of this world and the resistance to its constructs are manifested in our southernness, the south is queer, it is poor and it is unapologetically Black and Brown. I’m slowly relearning and unlearning language, beginning to sit more comfortably in my own southernness. Growing up in rural spaces, the foothills of the appalachian mountains in KY, looking back I realize, that Hip Hop was one the spaces where I fell in love (mostly with myself). I recognize now, how deeply regional my exposure to Hip Hop during the mid-ninties and early 2000s was. The new documentary “The Art of Organized Noize” released on Netflix solidified my nostalgia for the Hip Hip I grew up on…that dank Hip Hop that smells like humidity, sweat and the spaces where bodies collide.

The first cd I ever purchased was TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool, this was also the first time I vocalized attraction towards women, the faintly masculine swagger of Lisa Left Eye Lopez and the undeniable slink of Chilli were everything for a 9 year old Scz (No shade on T-Boz, I always wanted to cop her style). Around the ages of 8-11 I was constantly transgressing the boundaries of heteronormativity, I had already kissed my first girl and I was too poor to have more than one Ken doll, so often my barbies were romantically involved. Last weekend while in San Diego, I time traveled, explaining to people how Ludacris and to a lesser degree Ginuwine, permanently impacted my grammar and were some of the first times I resisted the standardization of english in its written form, to this day I can’t spell Ludacris correct….(present knowledge and future vision mod def communicate that Luda is a problematic fave, but at the time, “what’s your fantasy” ran through a litany of potential desires, which while positioned in the context of heteronormative interactions, decentralized the idea of male pleasure/completion in these interactions. He spit a femme centered pleasure politic that deeply impacted my ideas of sexuality.) The centering on femme pleasure and the embracing of our alieness (ATLiens), were one of the first times I saw a visible queering of Hip Hop spaces….yes queerness and Hip Hop have been entangled since the beginning, but this was easily identifiable…. you could feel the familiarity of this swag.  Andre Benjamin/3000’s assertion “The South’s got something to say” recentered Hip Hop cultural productions to the South and out of spaces that were growing largely stagnant from coloniality’s desire to co-opt the form. Twenty years later, and this declaration has manifested the potency and magic of Southern Hip Hop…..this is where I plan to go in my future writings on Hip Hop, back to my past wit it, to the root, to the South…… peep Layman’s video below and make sure you check out the Art of Organized Noize…..

Hotline Bling, #Drakealwaysonbeat, & the need for joy

i want to start off by expressing a few things so we can get this outta the way, & i can get on to discussing the need for joy….and my unapologetic love for Aubrey (yeah you know, i call him Aubrey…i imagine we  close like that)… so a list of things i acknowledge: A) Hotline Bling is lyrically hella problematic…Aubrey sounds like a creepy ex at best and fuckboy at worst….(but its Aubrey, so thats kinda his MO…its not like he is a nice dude) B) A few friends have brought the colorism in the video* (i’m going to come back to this one), C) D.R.A.M. and music jacking…..(please read this Fader article for a more nuanced conversation….i will simply leave it at this….the idea of versioning, or many artists toasting over the same riddim, takes us back to dancehall and Afrodiasporic sounds outta the Caribbean, which is one of the strongest roots of current Hip Hop, and remix culture helped create so much of the joy i was able to experience after the release of the video). so let’s keep it moving……

being a cultural producer/worker who is deeply imbedded in Black and Brown struggles for liberation and justice, means that most of my days are filled with heartbreak. its the heartbreak of knowing that our children are not considered children only threats, of witnessing my people criminalized and pathologized for existing, of feeling like we are surviving, never thriving…of seeing the way my city is gentrifying communities and pushing us further to the margins. as a creator, i process violences on a very visceral and empathic level, so there are days that can easily turn into weeks, and weeks into months where i feel much more pain than joy. it begins to stifle my flow, and my production work grinds to a halt, i am still able to teach and facilitate creative spaces as an educator, but the work that feeds me, that allows me to communicate most effectively my vision of liberation, is often stolen from me by these constant conditions and feelings of crisis. i know at this point you are thinking…..so what does this have to do with Aubrey and joy?

within “the movement”, we often hear people espouse platitudes for the need for self care…..typically there is checklist of thing that people will run through, things like have you had food in the last few hours or when was the last time you had water? and these things are essential, right? the things we need for our bodies to continue, food, water, rest……but what about the things we need in order to feel inspire, invigorated, and motivated to continue living in a world that creates so much violence on our bodies and minds. A few months ago CarmenLeah Ascencio with Black Girl Dangerous, created the video below, and it resonated deeply with me…..the question becomes what are we doing in our practice to make ourselves feel happy and nurtured? Where is our joy?

here is my disclaimer to all you backpackers that are going to get caught up on the fact that i’m talking about Drake, instead of what you consider to be “real” Hip Hop……authenticity within Hip Hop is a complex space, and something to be discussed at a later time….. [i’m reminded of something Brother Ali once said in a talk, he broke down Hip Hop and more specifically rap as a meal, he said, most of what you want is deep nourishment, he continued this analogy by talking about how there are certain artist who are like dessert, they taste good, but too much of them can make us sick. I am unapologetic that Drake’s music is my dessert, its the kind of music you listen to when you are in your feelins, when you need to shake your ass with your friends, when you need to be on that braggadocious, i’m the trillest type shit….and let’s be all the way honest he is aided by some of the best production in the game right now, sonically his tracks are infectious….]

so a few days ago when Drake released his Hotline Bling video, i was excited….i needed a five minute break from all the pressure of my day (if you know me irl, you know that we been going through it lately)….and Drizzy did not disappoint, i barely made it 50 seconds into the video before i was smiling….the sheer ridiculousness of the visual aesthetics gave me inexplicable joy….like lol, but for really real….but the end of viewing it i was laughing with the #partnerincreation on the couch….. asking continuously…what was that dance move?  my feed on twitter was full of the best commentary on his moves. But let’s be real people love the video because he gives zero fucks, dances dorky as hell and looks like he’s having fun doing it. Unfortunately we have to ask ourselves why is it so rare to see this from of Black masculine expression? Wasn’t one of Hip Hop’s core principles “havin’ fun”? i went to sleep that night thinking, how great it was to have a ten minute reprieve from all the conditions that make life so hard…(thats right ten minutes cuz you already know i watched it back to back). little did i know that the internet was not letting go of Hotline Bling that quickly….:)

The next morning i woke up to find one of the things that invigorates me the most as a cultural producer….REMIXES….meme and remixes of the video were everywhere….followed by the hashtag #Drakealwaysonbeat, proving that his dancing transgresses genres and styles of music. i saw video of Aubrey dancing to the Cosby theme, Selena, the Rugrats theme, merengue, soca, bachata, afrobeat, other Hip Hop, as a jedi, battling with his Pokemon, he danced all the way through pop culture. over the course of Wednesday, i watched way too many videos….i laughed, i shared with my friends, and we enjoyed things simply for their silly factor, i felt like we all lightweight engaged in a competition of who could find the most ridiculous and simultaneously perfect video…..

during Wednesday, i had an experience that affirmed for me that joy is a potent and strong antidote to the trauma whiteness inflicts on Black and Brown bodies in space. i got a facebook message from a WM, asking me to unlink my twitter from my fb because “while he likes being able to use my fb to see critical analysis and keep up with the intellectual things i’m doing, he doesn’t want his feed flooded with all this low culture i was sharing today…..” And by all accounts this WM and I should be on the same side, he is involved in food justice struggles, he and his brother are heavily involved in immigrant rights work ( I’m not gonna call him out by name cuz we live in a small city and that would be petty), he ended his email with one of the most couched ways in which whiteness continues to uphold oppression and antiBlack rhetoric…”in my opinion“, like all of the dominance and violence you just tried to perpetrate can be absolved with a single phrase…just a heads up b….if you finish a sentence that is blatantly soaked in white privilege with “in my opinion” it’s on par with beginning phases with “not to sound racist but…” this is exactly what is so threatening about joy, why joy in Black and Brown people is so destabilizing to white notions of our social conditions. This man expected that my labor, my use of social media was there solely for his consumption, and that i should only be discussing things like the suffering of my people, G-d forbid I share things that make me smile. His whiteness was offended by Black and Brownness taking up so much space in a way that wasn’t predicated on the pain of our bodies. He unconsciously alluded to something that i think comes up a lot with white folks who use progressive and social justice rhetoric, their allyship only extends as far as Black and Brownness being useful to them, its one of the lowkey ways whiteness operates…..but lemme be very clear to everyone, we are down for the ratchet and the revolutionary, i am not here for consumption or co-optation…..yes i will continue to speak out and make commentary on systemic and colonial oppressions, while building low within my community hoping to heal some of the trauma inflicted upon us, however i am refocusing on finding joy and sustaining happiness with my people…..

i’m going to leave you with three of my favorite Hotline Bling remixes

Aubrey to afrobeat

Okayafrica #AfroDrake pt. 3— DavidOVO @davidoofficial #Davido #Skelewu #hotlinebling @champagnepapi

A post shared by OkayAfrica (@okayafrica) on

The force

Anything for Selenas…..

*in addressing the claim that colorism exists in the video, i do not deny it. this video has a greater representation of light skinned women. however, i will say that Aubrey unapologetically loves Black women. one of the most frank, honest, and enjoyable conversations about Drizzy can be found here.….

SLUMFLOWER, The Rose that Grew from Concrete & Narratives of Resiliency

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Slumflower is a film based on a short story created by Street Etiquette and directed by August Romero. In their editorial Street Etiquette discusses how this film is a commentary on the misconceptions of the lived experience in a housing project as told through the lens of a ten-year old boy. Street Etiquette’s work and mission has focused on using style (aesthetics) and cultural production to communicate narratives without words. This short film is no different, it features a cast of roughly twenty men, one woman and a child. The film highlights the transgressive nature of physical aesthetics through fashion by juxtaposing the hegemonic narrative of housing projects and poverty against high fashion. The way we as poor, Black n Brown bodies in marginal spaces use our aesthetics to refute systematic dehumanization can be seen, as we view the acts of a freshly pressed suit or clean kicks as places of resistance and opportunities to reclaim our dignity.

The story centers on a young aspiring botanist named Jerimiah, blurring the lines between reality and imaginary. his interactions with his father, his father’s girlfriend and a housing project poet are often told and retold as memory, aside, and sublet narration. The poet in this film occupies a location similar to that of the chorus in greek theatre, moving scenes forwards and providing the rhetorical dexterity to communicate the complexities and nuances of social conditions that the ten-year old protagonist might lack. The poet speaks as the opening credits appear, his words start;

“stop and smell the roses, the ones sprawled out for men drawn in chalk outlines. when caution tape is the only light to be seen at night. what if we replaced bullets with seeds, and our mouths became M16s, where pullin’ triggers, trigger inspiration and growth. cultivating a garden in the mind, we will sprout and project from these cracks and every crevasse despite the odds, there is no need to cower for in the midst of gun showers, there will be slum flowers.”

and maybe because of this opening discourse, i could not watch Slumflower without being reminded of Tupac Amaru’s “Rose that Grew From Concrete”;

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air.  Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.” 

Tupac’s poetics challenge notions of growth, models of scarcity and resiliency. The film becomes in many was a visual versioning of Tupac’s expression. Both narratives provide glimpses into social conditions of Black masculinity that interrogate white supremacist contouring and aesthetics of urban poverty, bodies in space and concepts of striving and thriving.

Jerimiah is shocked to find a stargazer lilly growing in a vacant lot near his home. He worries about how best to cultivate its growth, eventually deciding to remove it from its conditions in order to provide it with a more secure space. Tupac’s assertion is that by thriving as Black n Brown people, we disrupt the very foundation of white supremacy, as its goal is to deprive communities and individuals of the resources needed to grow. These narratives complicate what it means to see the world not through the scope of white supremacy and colonial aesthetics, but through the resiliency that comes from the radical act of demanding more, of valuing self-worth, and positioning ourselves towards future thought. The film offers a complex and albeit in the end, an unsettling narrative while maintaining a level of hope. It asserts that “imaginations grow wild here”, providing a central subtext for the concept of resiliency throughout the story.

Slumflower, like Tupac’s Rose speak to audiences because of its authenticity and ability to communicate the lived experience. The themes of growth in the face of oppression, challenges to scarcity and concepts of poverty by reimagining abundance, and the vulnerability of Black men, resonate with viewers because of the parallels to everyday life. The social condition of Black n Brown bodies, especially those living in poverty, make narratives like this necessary, we need the ability to see ourselves, or part of our experiences reflected back in the media that is created and viewed.

This film through its narrative and aesthetics constructs a space where the view is allowed to engage both in the imaginative and harsh realities while maintaining the understanding that we gonna be alright.

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright….a prayer for Kendrick

at some point each day, i pray for Kendrick Lamar. i’ve been doing this for a while…… since reading Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s When the Lights Shut Off, after a deejay i have mad respect for sent it to me….i’ve been intentional about this prayer since good Kid, m.A.A.d city…became part of the canon of grad school listening, as ‘Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” wafted through open windows making a particularly painful ethics class bearable, Adi and i wrote resistance in the margins, passing notes between brown hands…Kendrick’s words disrupted the rhythm that sought to colonize minds….as brown students listened to white teachers talk about efficiency and patronize brown bodies to get results…..Kendrick’s words became the only response needed…. in my mind, he has become the archetype of Assata’s youngblood in mainstream consciousness, a throwback reminiscent of her nephew, Black masculine vulnerability in industry rap, engaging with his cultural productions over the years, the fervor of this prayer has increased…. it has increased since ever 28 hours has been reduced to every 8…..since ‘i’ become an space for self love and celebration….the intensity of my prayers grew as i listened to “To Pimp a Butterfly”….as he again, so willingly lay bear the fractured complexity of  processes of dehumanization, the honesty in talking about how white supremacy drives us toward mental illness as we attempt to hold on to our dignity and our humanity, as he explicitly calls out all the bullshit that leads to these social conditions. his critique is not always the critical analysis that “conscious” folk hope for. in fact a friend said it best on her facebook wall today (s/o to Queenita McRoberts), ” Kendrick may not have the deepest and/or critical analysis nor does he always get it right but when he does!” this was her response to Kendrick going in on Geraldo Rivera for his general fuckery and white supremacist (il)logic blaming current social condition on rap music (have a thousand seats Rivera….your rhetoric is wack, weak and tired…you ain’t got shit new to say). and this is one of the many reason i love Kendrick, he comes with an authenticity that is undeniable.

so why do i pray for Kendrick….hmmm…if you are wondering that, maybe you just don’t understand.  no amount of visibility, no amount of being good, no amount of status or celebrity will save you from the fate of being Black in AmeriKKKa. Kendrick’s most recent video for Alight, highlights the very personal social conditions of his existence against the violent reality of white supremacist Amerikka. i’ve watch the video multiple times, and in each viewing something different resonates. The aesthetics of shooting in black and white make one thing visibly clear, that white supremacy cannot exist without Anti-Blackness in the world, the video is a celebration of Blackness. i pray for him because the end of the video feels eerily similar to the way i used to feel after watching/listen to Tupac. i pray that his artistic creations do not become prophetic, i pray that his existence and self-love do not become too much of a threat, i pray that he is able to find the support he needs when anxiety and depression take hold. i pray that he remembers his own words in times like those, “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright”, i pray that he knows how much his music influences youth and helps them make sense of the world. but mostly i pray that he like the Black men i know and love on a much more personal level, find safe places to rest their heads each night, that peace comes to them, and that each morning they are able to walk with their heads held high in a world that tells them they shouldn’t exist.

A perspective on the Political Project of Blackness in America

This is everything….

Subaltern USA: Clarifying Our Concepts

Every subaltern political tradition begins first as the imposition of categories of oppression by the dominant groups. When African peoples–from different cultural traditions and cities—were taken from their homes and intentionally placed with peoples from different groups (ethnicities) the Black race begun. In  an article by socialist activist and educator Brian Jones he states that blackness is imposed on people and is not chosen. He is quite right. On the other hand what Jones doesn’t acknowledge so clearly is that historically blackness is not just a descriptive label for how people look, but a code indicating a long and enduring history of political, cultural, and economic processes of oppression and also resistance to oppression. The historic construction of blackness has been and continues to be firmly rooted in class/exploitation of human labor.

Once a dominant group successfully imposes on people a common social and material condition that is distinct from the…

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Sensing Space: Philadelphia

Philly sounds like,

hot oil breaking across cast iron,

tortillas frying, tea kettle steamin’ 

the word vagina, spoken unapologetically.

the laughter that comes 

when bodies sometimes 

collide in space,

the tenderness of 

smash-faced

bumped-head-smiles.

smiles at the recognition

of space and distance

as the eyes’ illusion,

but gravity is real. 

the velocity at which

you move to me,

and me moves to we.

Like Agent of Change,

Victor Toro/Mos Def mashups.

The 33 to Penns Landing,

folk hoppin’ out on Market.

Amerigo Gazaway,

James Brown/Biggie soul mates.

Indigenous Trap for dayz

Futurism and speaking love.

Tupac’s transgression of time and space.

Keep ya head up on constant loop.

Shit talkin and impressions of wack emcees

like learning that you snore.

Philly tastes like

Mate, cayenne, ginger realness

sweet potato, black bean tacos

on the first night

like citrus and tea tree,

jasmine and honey.

dollar tacos against my better judgment

like cheese plates,

that are guaranteed to make me sick.

spiced black tea

Pistachio, raisin, eggplant,

rose water soaked arroz

More tea tree

nervous anticipation

like your tongue wet with saliva

inviting me to taste your sweetness

brief encounters leavin’ you hungry for more

like berbere spices sucked from fingers

Cumin lingering in each sambussa bit.

Cinnamon, clove coconut water,

thirst quenching healing

Philly looks like 

broken sidewalk,

aerosol can love poetry.

Coffee shop selfies, 

proclaiming brown is beautiful.

bookhaven’s where sunlight catches corners 

and Eldridges’s soul is illuminated in the dusty stacks

shadows cast by prison walls,

community gardens and white tourist

creating normalcy outta violence.

Flyness far as the eye can see

Black and brown queerness,

Steppin out on a Friday night

Like old city wackness,

Colonial becomes an adjective

For abject violence,

“Colonial hair salon”

Serving oppression with you shape up

Like impromptu Jeff Chang,

writin’ “Who we Be”

the ghosts of Osage 1985,

city scars if you know where to look.

Philly feels like

soft skin and beautiful hands

Shivering tense muscles

Teeth chattering

Cozy blankets and kitten snuggles

Falling asleep touching

like makin’ love and a first date,

all in the same exhale.

familiar to the touch, 

this space my body has never been

keystrokes recording histories

fingertips transcribing narratives

knowledge coded in touch.

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