Obama on Hip Hop and the Role of Art in Social Movements

I heard this quote sampled on WPFW, the local Pacifica station, last night during the Soul Controllers hip-hop show. It’s from a 2008 interview that then-Senator Obama gave on Black Entertainment Television.

“I love the art of hip-hop; I don’t always love the message of hip-hop. There are times where even . . . with the artists I love, you know, there’s a message that is not only sometimes degrading to women; not only uses the N-word a little too frequently; but — also something I’m really concerned about — it’s always talking about material things. Always talking about how I can get something. … The thing about hip hop today is that it’s smart. It’s insightful. The way that they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.

A lot of these kids are not going to be reading The New York Times. That’s not how they are getting their information. So the question then is what’s the content, what’s the message? I understand that folk want to be rooted in the community, they want to be ‘down.’ But what I always say is that hip hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should also be a reflection of what can be. A lot of time folks say ‘I want to keep it real’ and ‘I want to be down.’ Then we’re just attracting what is. Imagine something different. Imagine communities that are not torn up by violence. Imagine communities where we are respecting women. Imagine communities where knowledge, and reading, and academic excellence are valued. Imagine communities where fathers are doing right by their kids. That’s also something that has to be reflected. Art can’t just be a rear view mirror. It should have a headlight out there pointing to where we need to go.”–President “B-Rock” Obama

Watch the video here.

Hip-Hop News: Jasiri X on Afghanistan

Hip-Hop News: It’s what the kids are listening to.

This Week With Jasiri X is the groundbreaking Hip-Hop news series by Pittsburgh-based Nation of Islam minister Jasiri X.

Each episode of This Week With Jasiri X features him reporting the national news over the rap and hip-hop tracks. “Using lyrical skills, controversial subject matter, and phat beats, Jasiri X shows that real Hip-hop is not dead,” says his Web site.

Chuck D of Public Enemy once said that “Hip-hop was the CNN of the ghetto.” No artist embraces and embodies that concept better than Jasiri X.

jasiri-x-picHis newest video is on Afghanistan. It examines what lead up to Afghanistan’s intimate and volatile relationship with the U.S.

In the classic tradition of Romantic poetry, Jasiri X identifies Afghanistan as a woman and examines her relationship with the Men (and their armies) surrounding her. The strategic use of video from Dr. King and the resonant refrain “Bring the Troops Home” is powerful!

Jasiri X’s putting the prophetic politics back into hip-hop, returning it to its roots from Public Enemy, with its reference to John Dillinger who was named by the FBI during the Great Depression as “Public Enemy Number 1” (though many of the hungry poor public referred to Dillinger as a “Robin Hood”).

Jasiri X is a MC, activist and entrepreneur who made his way onto the national and international hip-hop scene with the controversial hit song “FREE THE JENA 6,” which played on more than 100 radio stations across the U.S. It was also named “Hip-hop Political Song of the Year” and won “Single of the Year” at the Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards in 2007.

Afghanistan (HerStory) was produced by Kai Roberts and directed by Paradise the Arkitech of X-Clan. Check out more videos at Real Talk Express and Justin Richardson’s page at The Gathering for Justice.