Brothers In Conversation About Race (Part 7)

In his last installment Brian writes, “we must be extremely clear of the danger of entering into spaces where your skin color has (been) weaponized and framed you with a malicious intent” in response of my reference to Luke 17:11-19. I refer to the ten people with leprosy being forced out of mainstream society and out to the borderlands as a parallel to the treatment of people of African descent in this country. I may have erroneously indicated that people of African descent have an option to stay in the borderland in relative safety. However, that was not my intent. The point I intended to make was/is that people of African descent are keenly aware that there are no safe spaces in this country for us. History has shown time and again that not even the church is a safe space for us. As a people, we have learned that even staying in the spaces where we have been pushed and limited to occupying does not ensure safety. We have also learned that staying in the borderland is not an option.

A Tribe Called Quest has just released their last studio recording and one of the tracks is titled “The Space Program.” This track speaks to the notion of making space for people of African descent in this country. Using the recurring hook, “ain’t no space program for niggas.” As much as I detest the word “nigga,” I felt its use here is appropriate and would pray that my inclusion of this word does not sidetrack the conversation. For in many ways debates about the use of the word “nigga” or other side debates take the focus off of the real problem that the Tribe is addressing. This track calls us to understand that space is not limited to physical, geographic space but rather refers to social, cultural, and historic space. People of African descent are often denied space in this country. The teaching of African American history has faced opposition and hostility even in school districts that are more than 80% African American. The use of the name “African American” itself ignites debate and hostile opposition. People of African descent are often invited out of the borderland to sing, dance, and/or play a sport with the understanding that no space will be made for you. African American culture is often co-opted, from rock and roll to hip hop, from soul food to spirituals. There is no space for people of African descent.

Yet, we survive. We continue to exist and that existence cannot be denied. It is the denial of our existence; the lack of space being made that continues to fuel the conflict. We are here and we are not going anywhere. The simple but complex answer to our racial problem in America is the creation of a space program for people of African descent.

Peep the Lyrics-Critical Analyzes of Hip Hop

Mr. Nigga from Black on Both Sides

You can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you wanna

Woody Allen, molested and married his step-daughter

Same press kickin dirt on Michael’s name

Show Woody and Soon-Yi at the playoff game,

holding hands Sit back and just bug, think about that

Would he get that type of dap if his name was Woody Black?

O.J. found innocent by a jury of his peers

And they been fuckin with that nigga for last five years

Is it fair, is it equal, is it just, is it right?

Do you do the same shit when the defendant face is white?

If white boys doin it, well, it’s success

When I start doin, well, it’s suspect

-Mos Def (Yasin Bey), Mr. Nigga

Something I learned from DJ Premier: A Quick Hip Hop Lesson

Around 1983-84, I remember hearing a sound that would forever be embedded in my brain. It was the sound of Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. For days this vinyl record would spend on the turntable until I learn the words from beginning to end. Then you would go to school and spit the lyrics as if you wrote them yourself, with your own personal swag.

It was years later that I would learn the art of sampling that would dominate the 90’s Hip Hop. It was DJ Premier (Premo) of Gangstarr that I would grow to love as the epitome of the sample. Not only did he sample for beats to produce, he also used lyrics from different artist to scratch into the song as a hook.

90’s Hip Hop was known for Dj’s providing a hook through showing homage to a fellow rapper by scratching one of their lyrics on a song. You could hear Gangstarr’s Mass Appeal with a hook from the Da Youngstaz’s Pass the Mic as they said, “Moneys growing like grass with the mass appeal.” 
The Youngstaz’s were never a really large mainstream group but got some play in Philly (their hometown) and from those of us that were true Hip Hop heads. They never sold a million albums but will forever be etched in Hip Hop because of that potent, powerful lyric.  Premo also does the same thing on a Notorious B.I.G.’s song, Unbelievable
where he uses a hook from R. Kelly’s Your Body’s Calling Me.  

With precise skill and timing, Premo manages to scratch some of the most obscure sentences into a song from other creditable sources-other hip hop artist or singers.  He displays his knowledge for the music as well as his intentional ear for the definitive. It is not usual to hear Premo mix a classic lyric into a song of new Emcee too create a masterpiece. (just too many to name) His hook brought a level of creditability to the song much the same as a footnote from a scholar in a certain field.  The hook acts as the proverbial agreement to the lyrics of the song. It is up to the artist to then add context, clarity and creativeness to the hook provide through the scratch.

Through 22 years of listening to authentic Hip Hop and analyzing the skill set that Djs such as Premo possessed, I learn to do the same thing with books. As with great Hip Hop songs, the finding of great passages from obscure books or subject matter expert, brought about a certain viability that otherwise might be lacking in the discussion, article or dialog.  It was through trying to figure out where Premo got that hook that would lead me to other great albums. Much like endnotes, footnotes or bibliographies the records were noted in the liner notes. So, I would read the liner notes then go buy that album as well. Now I do the same things with books. I buy the book that was quoted in the footnotes because that is what I took from Premo as he displayed his signature scratches.

The Journal For Hip Hop Studies: Call for Papers

The Journal for Hip Hop Studies (JHHS) is committed to publishing critically engaged, culturally relevant, and astute analyses of Hip Hop. Submissions should emphasize Hip Hop’s relationship to race, ethnicity, nationalism, class, gender, sexuality, justice and equality, politics, communication, religion, and popular culture. JHHS also explores the intersections of the sacred and profane for a better understanding of spirituality and religious discourses within the Hip Hop community.

JHHS has five broad aims, each of which adds a new and distinctive dimension to the academic analysis and study of Hip Hop:

  1. The religious discourse and rhetoric of Hip Hop and rap
  2. Culture, structure, and space within Hip Hop and rap
  3. Race, ethnicity, identity, class, and gender in a Hip Hop and rap context
  4. The sociology of religion in Hip Hop and rap
  5. Hip Hop’s influence and reach in other culture industries (fashion, sports, television, film); within the political sphere, and within educational spaces

Papers that engage with the above listed points are encouraged. Other questions we are considering, but are not limited to include:

  • How do we understand mediated presentations of Hip Hop?
  • What is the relationship among rap music, film, and the Internet?
  • What theoretical frames are best adapted for the study of proliferation of Hip Hop?
  • How do members of the Hip Hop generation understand God, religion, and spirituality?
  • How is Gnosticism interpreted within the Hip Hop community?

JHHS seeks work from a variety of academic fields which examines the manifestations and implications of Hip Hop culture both in the U.S. and globally.

Papers should be between 4000-6000 words. Papers should follow the Chicago style of writing (16th B) and include tables, charts, and graphs as either Word or Excel documents (no chart, graph, or table images).

Papers should be sent to Daniel White Hodge (Editor in Chief) dwhodge@northpark.edu or you can go to  Journal of Hip Hop Studies.