Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Prophets of Rage, Rage On

Prophets-of-Rage.jpgOn the occasion of the one year anniversary of its formation, I filed a brief overview of Prophets of Rage, the supergroup, featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford, B-Real of Cypress Hill, and DJ Lord. The rap-metal band is on a mission to “Make America Rage Again.” Read the entire story at Tourworthy:

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Filed under: anti-war, Black Power,, Hip Hop, rock 'n' roll, , , , ,

Malcolm X: Malcolm, Malcolm–Semper Malcolm

On this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, shot mulitiple times at the podium of the Audubon Ballroom where he was about to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  Thousands flocked to Harlem over a three-day period to view his body before the burial.

Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 into a Baptist family; his father was a follower of Marcus Garvey and educated his son on all matters of black pride. While serving a prison sentence in the 1950s, he  learned about the Nation of Islam and began a correspondence with Elijah Muhammed; by the time of his release he’d joined the organization and changed his name to Malcolm X. An immediately charismatic leader at Temples one, 10, 12, and seven, his musician following included  Etta JamesJohnny Otis and saxophonist Archie Shepp. In 1964, he left the NOI and made his way to Mecca. As a Sunni Muslim, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz  came to believe that Islam was the way toward racial harmony.

Twenty years after his death, the legacy of Malcolm X had largely not been passed down to the next generation; certainly, his contribution to the black liberation cause had not been fully incorporated into history texts despite the perennial popularity  of the considered classic, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a collaboration with Alex Hayley. But leave it to music—in particular Public Enemy—to recognize and close the gap. The New York hip hop collective began to use Malcolm X’s teachings and speeches in concert with their videos and recordings (Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One and Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, also played a major role in the comeback; the efforts were not without controversy at the time).

Chuck D has said Public Enemy was partly founded on the idea of “connecting the dots” for those unfamiliar with the depth of black history; hard information is tightly packed into their raps that raise a fist in the name of consciousness. Of course this all happened back in the highwater era of Reagan and Bush, or what you might call the beginning of the middle of the end:  As the nation enjoyed its boom-time and Michael Jackson paid a visit to the White House,  the holiday for Dr. King was still left unrecognized by all 50 states, and the disconnect had only just begun. This year, smack dab in the middle of black history month, Nikki Minaj misappropriated the famous image of Malcolm X holding a gun, in defense of his family; Black media voiced its concern, the Shabazz family threatened legal action and Minaj rethought her plan. Hip hop is generally removed from its mission to educate and there is still no holiday in the name of Malcolm X. Instead, his civil and human rights works are officially recognized by films, speeches, books and songs. In addition to the Hayley book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable is the considered definitive biography. James Cone’s Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or A Nightmare is a comparison study of the pair’s liberation strategies.  This musical tribute from musician, poet and educator, Archie Shepp, taken from his 1965 album, Fire Music, was recorded as an elegy soon after the assassination.  A reading from Keep on Pushing follows.

Filed under: Archie Shepp, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, film, Hip Hop, Jazz, Malcolm X, Poetry, video, , , , , , , ,

Malcolm X Remembered

On this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, shot mulitiple times at the podium of the Audubon Ballroom where he was about to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  Thousands flocked to Harlem over a three-day period to view his body before the burial.

Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 into a Baptist family; his father was a follower of Marcus Garvey and educated his son on all matters of black pride. While serving a prison sentence in the 1950s, he  learned about the Nation of Islam and began a correspondence with Elijah Muhammed; by the time of his release he’d joined the organization and changed his name to Malcolm X. An immediately charismatic leader at Temples one, 10, 12, and seven, his musician following included  Etta James, Johnny Otis and saxophonist Archie Shepp. In 1964 ,he left the NOI and made his way to Mecca. As a Sunni Muslim, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz  came to believe that Islam was the way toward racial harmony.

Twenty years after his death, the legacy of Malcolm X had largely not been passed down to the next generation; certainly, his contribution to the black liberation cause had not been fully incorporated into history texts despite the perennial popularity  of the considered classic, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a collaboration with Alex Hayley. But leave it to music—in particular Public Enemy—to recognize and close the gap. The New York hip hop collective began to use Malcolm X’s teachings and speeches in concert with their videos and recordings (Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One and Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, also played a major role in the comeback; the efforts were not without controversy at the time).

Chuck D has said Public Enemy was partly founded on the idea of “connecting the dots” for those unfamiliar with the depth of black history; hard information is tightly packed into their raps that raise a fist in the name of consciousness. Of course this all happened back in the highwater era of Reagan and Bush, or what you might call the beginning of the middle of the end:  As the nation enjoyed its boom-time and Michael Jackson paid a visit to the White House,  the holiday for Dr. King was still left unrecognized by all 50 states. The disconnect had only just begun…

Some say Malcolm X should have a day of his own. But until that’s organized, there are films, speeches, books and songs, like this tribute from musician, poet and educator, Archie Shepp, taken from his 1965 album, Fire Music.  A reading from Keep on Pushing follows.

Filed under: Archie Shepp, Malcolm X, , , ,

Chuck D: A Hero to Skid Row

Rapper Chuck D brought the noise, the love and his ministry of music on Sunday to the folks who need it most:  The residents of LA’s Skid Row, the largest community of homeless people in the USA.

Chuck D organized Operation: Skid Row with LA CAN (Community Action Network) which provides homes for the homeless and with whom he collaborated on the new book, Freedom Now, concerning the human right to housing. He brought Public Enemy (Flavor Flav, Professor Griff)  along to the show which also featured the old school talent of Brother J of X-Clan, Kid Frost, Yo-Yo and Egyptian Lover of “Egypt, Egypt” fame, as well as Money B and Korrupt (read the full report from the LA Times).

“When America has a recession, black America has a depression. When America hits depression, then you have a group of people based on their visual characteristics who are in total desperation,” Chuck D told the Ventura County Reporter last week, though details about the concert were kept vague until the last minute,  to keep the focus on homelessness and to discourage gawkers and overzealous fans.

The Skid Row neighborhood is described as having the largest “stable” population of homeless people—approximately 4,000— in the US, though in practical terms, the area is anything but stable:  It is under-served, its residents for the most part are unheard, and it exists as a world largely invisible to the greater Angeleno and American population. Filmgoers caught a glimpse of the Hollywood version of Skid Row in the 2009 film, The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr,   based on the true story of LA Times reporter Steve Lopez and his relationship with a homeless musician, Nathanial Ayers.  At the beginning of 2011, Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Patt Morrison of KPCC broadcast a two-part series on the area in which she spoke to residents, some of them belonging to families spanning three generations there, as well to law enforcement and emergency and social service personnel who serve the neighborhood.  More recently, eyes have been on Skid Row in relation to where its concerns intersect with the Occupy LA movement.

I can think of no better way to honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his actual birthdate than by shining some light on the plight of our poorest—the bottom one percent—and making the effort to extend a hand to them. “Feed the people, their minds, body and souls, and hopefully attract attention to make this invisible situation visible,” says Chuck D, now celebrating 25 years since the release of Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show.  I have a feeling this is not the last we’ll be hearing from him or from hip hop on the matter of Skid Row.

More on Chuck D, Public Enemy and hip hop consciousness in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Concerts, Hip Hop, Keep On Pushing, , , , , , ,

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