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Movement Music: From Coke Rap To Community Development

“I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover
Getting’ work, hallelujah
One Nation, under God
Real n***s getting money from the f***** start”

- ‘B.M.F.’ by Rick Ross featuring Styles P.

When listening to the hot new Rick Ross album, Teflon Don, and in particular, the chorus to ‘B.M.F.’ something very important came to mind which I have attempted for years to make known – through writings at BlackElectorate.com, radio interviews and in my appearance in the QD III produced, Letter To The President DVD.

It is this: for at least two decades a group of scholars, police chiefs, and military analysts and historians have been meeting – in private and public settings – to study, discuss, and make plans regarding what they have seen as the next big military problem the United States faces: the relationship between Hip-Hop and street gangs and the potential for street gangs to evolve into paramilitary organizations capable of threatening national security.

Their thoughts have been published in professional U.S. military journals and affiliated ones, including Police Chief, the official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc. and Parameters the US Army War College quarterly.

Over the last ten years the relationship between police departments, the Armed forces, intelligence agencies and those who perform covert operations has become closer than ever in this regard. In some respects this relationship becomes visible in what are called joint task force groups.

The view these ‘task force’ groups hold of the relationship between Hip-Hop and street organizations (‘gangs’) is very similar to the view these groups hold of groups identified as terrorist organizations.

In the past I have compared this point of intersection between police chiefs, law enforcement and members of the national security community to the neoconservatives (“neocons”) who led us into the war in Iraq.

Many find this hard to believe or even a ‘conspiracy theory,’ but this reality – although not reported on the news – is easy to verify through researching the writings and documents of police and military organizations, congressional testimony, and materials released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Again, one of the main fears of those studying and planning in this area is that the gang member potentially represents a new kind of military threat, most similar to the terrorist and insurgent.

In an article, “Street Gangs – Future Paramilitary Groups?” by Robert J. Bunker, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, National Securities Studies Program, California State University, San Berardino, published in the June 1996 edition of the Police Chief we read:

”Military scholars recognize that a new form of soldier, with no allegiance to the nation-state, is developing in much of the non-Western world. Major Ralph Peters, U.S. Army, who is responsible for evaluating emerging threats for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, terms this threat, “The New Warrior Class.” It is being taken seriously enough by the U.S. Army to be included in its perceptions of early 21st-century Army operations.

This type of soldier, which has developed as an outcome of a breakdown in social organization in many failed nation-states, operates in subnational groups such as armed bands, private armies, crime networks and terrorist organizations. Debate in professional U.S. military and affiliated journals over the past two years has dealt with concerns that this new form of soldier may be developing within the United States.

Street gangs would be one logical source from which this new form of soldier could emerge in this country. These gangs have developed in failed inner cities, where poverty and crime run rampant and family social structures have been severely eroded.

Drawing parallels between a city such as Beirut and some U.S. inner-city cores, where many gang members grew up, is not overly difficult. The threat of death or physical harm is significant for a young male growing up in both surroundings, and both fail to provide educational opportunities that can allow for the transformation of this segment of the population into productive and responsible citizens. Today’s pre-teenage inner-city children – termed the ‘super-predators’ by Dr. John J. Dilulio, Jr. of Princeton University – bear a striking resemblance to the child soldiers found in numerous private armies throughout the non-Western world.”

Where does Hip-Hop fit into all of this?

Well, while we’re dancing, partying, and ‘beefing,’ this group of scholars, officers, analysts, historians, governmental departments and intelligence agencies are studying and planning ways to place under surveillance, manage and define the relationship between Hip-Hop and street organizations.

One example is the testimony of Sergeant Ron Stallworth, Gang Intelligence Coordinator of the Utah Department of Public Safety Division of Investigations before the U.S. House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime dated February 23, 1994 and June 17, 1997. In detailed fashion Mr. Stallworth dissects rap lyrics and explains how Hip-Hop spreads and popularizes ‘gang culture.’

But individuals like Sergeant Stallworth aren’t just analysts and observers. At times they actively suggest that Hip-Hop and its relationship to the ‘gang,’ makes it an enemy of the state.

In a civil lawsuit filed by the estate of slain Texas police officer Bill Davidson against Time Warner Inc., Tupac Amaru Shakur, and Interscope Records Officer Stallworth gave an affidavit, in March of 1994 wherein he states, “I have listened to the recording and reviewed the lyrics of 2Pacalypse Now by Tupac Amaru Shakur. Based upon the themes, the language, the metaphors, and the profanity employed in that recording, it is my opinion that 2Pacalypse Now is clearly directed to members of the inner-city environment which produces a substantial number of gang members, and that Shakur himself is firmly entrenched within that same environment. This conclusion is further supported by the ‘shout-outs’ of recognition that Shakur addresses to fellow gangsters and gangster rappers in such songs as ‘I Don’t Give a F***’ and ‘Words of Wisdom’ on the recording. The lyrics of 2Pacalypse Now convey the message that the legal establishment in America exists to oppress black men, and that the solution to this problem is to eliminate the means employed by the establishment to keep the black men down, i.e., to eliminate the law enforcement establishment and law enforcement officers. These lyrics describe and promote the killing of law enforcement officers by members of the gangster subculture. I have reviewed the basic facts surrounding the shooting of Officer William Davidson by Ronald Howard on April 11, 1992. I have also reviewed the basic factual information regarding Ronald Howard, his background and circumstances, as reflected in the transcript of his criminal trial and hearing on punishment. Based upon these facts, it is my opinion that the album 2Pacalypse Now may have served as a causal factor in the shooting of Officer Davidson by Ronald Howard.”

What do individuals like Professor Bunker and Officer Stallworth think of Rick Ross’ ‘shout outs of recognition’ on “B.M.F.?”

****

“Get somebody from BMF to talk on this
Get this to a Blood, let a Crip walk on it”

- ‘D.O.A. [Death of Auto-Tune]’ by Jay-Z

In an article written years ago by Sergeant R.K. Miller we read a quote that he attributes to a leader of the White Power movement: “Music is one of the greatest propaganda tools around. You can influence more people with music than you can with a speech.”

Under the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), in an August 25, 1967 memo it is written that no political activist or individual with an ideology that was perceived as a threat to the establishment should have access to a ‘mass communication media.’

What is Hip-Hop, if not ‘mass communication media?’

One of the highest concerns of today’s national security apparatus is the role the rapper serves, in their view, as the spokesperson for the gang.

Why else has intelligence been gathered and compiled on rappers by agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and even the White House through the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)? The letterhead on many of the documents of the infamous, “rap binder” maintained by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and shared with others like the Miami and Miami Beach Police departments, including the portion pertaining to Jay-Z, is that of The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/hidta/).

If you look at the surveillance of rap artists from the perspective of COINTELPRO and the current thinking in gang intelligence and military think tanks the words of Miami police Sgt. Rafael Tapanes, in a March 9, 2004 Miami Herald article that ”A lot if not most rappers belong to some sort of gang,” is more significant than one might initially think.

The amount of resources the federal government and some outside of it are devoting to depict Hip-Hop artists and their relationship to crime and street organizations as a threat to the establishment national security is staggering.

“They claim we’re threats to society
And now they’re calling on the government to try to make somebody quiet me
For the bulls*** they done to me
Gangster NIP, Spice One, and Tupac never gave a gun to me
So gangster rap ain’t done s*** for that
I’ve even seen White folks from River Oaks go get the gat
So why you tryin to kick some dust up?
America’s always been known for blaming us n****** for their f*** ups
And we were always considered evil
Now they’re trying to bust our only code of communicating with our people”

- “Hand Of The Dead Body” by Scarface featuring Ice Cube and Devin The Dude

The best example I could give is the joint task force effort against Scarface, James Prince, and Rap-A-Lot Records last decade.

Had I not personally attended the Congressional hearings regarding them, I would not have believed the extent of the effort myself. One of the most striking things revealed in the hearings was the extent to which the federal government had placed federal informants in not just Rap-A-Lot Records but throughout Houston’s 5th Ward section.

To this day, I am the only member of the Hip-Hop community willing to openly share what I witnessed that day.

Please read my BlackElectorate piece, “Rap COINTELPRO Part IV: Congress Holds Hearings On DEA Rap-A-Lot Investigation” from 2000, at: http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=263

“B.M.F.” is more than a song in the minds of our worst enemies.

****

“My white lines go along way
Either up your nose, or through your vein
With nothing to gain except killing your brain”

-’White Lines’ by Grandmaster Flash

Last Friday, July 23, the popular music service Rhapsody, jointly owned by Real Networks and Viacom (even with an announced spinoff of Rhapsody in February of this year) in its Album Guide section, dated July 20, 2010, featured a prominent playlist categorization called, ‘Cocaine Rap.’ It was still the main headline feature on the morning of Tuesday, July 27th (“The As, Bs and Kilos of Coke Rap,” http://blog.rhapsody.com/2010/07/cokerap.html). It is a compilation of what it calls ten of the greatest albums revolving around the sale of drugs, gang culture, and violence from an inner city perspective. Under a picture with three Hip-Hop icons: Raekwon on the left, Rick Ross in the middle, and Young Jeezy on the right, an introduction from Mosi Reeves reads:

“Mafioso rap, crack rap, even gangsta rap: the coke rap subgenre has answered to many names in its infamously profitable history. It not only plays to our lowest common denominator — namely, our stereotyped notions of how urban black men live — but also our appetite for violent action movies and our empathy for the antiheroes that usually meet a bloody end in those flicks. In this world, the bad guy, not Tom Cruise, gets all the girls and the cash, and lives to tell the tale.

Anyone who pays close attention to hip-hop is familiar with coke rap. Artists like Raekwon and Scarface fuel intense yet favorable debates over their impressive rhyme styles and the moral quandaries their songs represent. Meanwhile, reformed drug dealers like 50 Cent, T.I. and Jay-Z dominate the charts. With the arrival of Teflon Don by Rick Ross, the Miami rapper that has earned increasing critical acclaim, it’s time to revisit 10 albums that exemplify how, to paraphrase the late dealer-turned-rap-kingpin Notorious B.I.G., ‘the rap game is just like the crack game.’”

Here are the ten albums featured by Rhapsody as best representing the ‘coke rap subgenre:’


Andre Nickatina: ‘Conversation With a Devil’

Cam’ron: ‘Purple Haze’


Clipse: ‘Hell Hath No Fury’


Ice Cube: ‘Death Certificate’


Jay-Z: ‘Reasonable Doubt’


Killer Mike: ‘I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II’


Raekwon: ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’


Rick Ross: ‘Port of Miami’


Scarface: ‘Greatest Hits’


T.I. : ‘Trap Muzik’

Honestly, the list made me feel uncomfortable. In a sense it was a wake-up call to me. Imagine, after all of these years, and with so many tracks made along those lines, ‘coke rap’ is actually a subgenre of rap music, that corporate America uses to classify and promote music downloads. To me, it shows what happens when the organic energy is stripped out of something by the commercial influence, and what happens when something that has its place in reality, is taken to an extreme or out of context.

From an artistic and social commentary point of view I actually do appreciate this kind of rap. I enjoy much of it and I think it does authentically represent a lifestyle. And you can’t front, tracks like ‘Dope Money’ by Styles P. and Jadakiss are simply hot as hell (smile).

But there is also something about the ‘coke rap subgenre’ that is not authentic. It is the commercialization of the worst part of our experience for the sake of profit and artistic expression and not the benefit of those who live that struggle and the community that produced the rap artist, and the subject matter which they rap about.

As my friend Obi Egbuna, US Correspondent for The Herald newspaper of Zimbabwe told me last week, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) would tell artists that music did not belong to them, it belonged to the people.

Sure, we all get a kind of psychic income from seeing one of our own do well while telling our story – a story that no one else wants to tell. But when a rap artist styles themselves as a gangster and yet does not even do the minimum good that real gangsters (or the one they claim to be inspired by) have done in terms of giving back to the hood and building institutions and power in the community, then in the words of Just Blaze, we need something realer.

****

“In this case, who’s the loser?
Ran through enough coke for Castro to build schools in Cuba.”

- “We Gonna Make It” by Jadakiss featuring Styles P.

Will coke rap forever only be about rhetoric and romanticizing about drug dealing and gangster lifestyle without actually applying the lessons of that history, for the benefit of the people?

I don’t speak this as someone who doesn’t understand how hard it is for an artist to push consciousness to the masses when the marketplace appears to prefer only sex and violence. I have been in high-level discussions with artists and seen the real life tug-of-war between artists who are willing to leave coke rap behind and those who want to but are afraid that they will not just be seen as ‘corny,’ but also that they will be abandoning a real segment of their loyal base. Artists really are like political leaders with constituents who trust them to represent their reality and perspective.

In that sense I actually think the greatest coke rap album ever is Immobilarity by Raekwon. Unfortunately, the rap fan base didn’t appreciate what Rae was saying and the transition he was attempting to represent. All we wanted from Rae, it seems is ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,’ over and over again. Some of us have reduced Raekwon in our minds to a ‘coke rap’ artist. We don’t want him to grow, it appears. But he’s much more than that – not only does he have the most unique flow possibly in rap history from an artistic perspective (see what I wrote in “Supply Births Demand: Ask Raekwon and E-40″ :http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/04/06/22160847.aspx) but he has tremendous leadership potential, on a community and global level.

The first person to enlighten me to this influence that Raekwon has, as a natural leader of men, was Method Man. I write about it humorously in Volume II of my book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/).

There were just some things I could not persuade others to do, unless I asked Raekwon to do them first. That’s leadership.

And if this power is applied right it counteracts the problem of the 85% that they believe ‘in the 10% on face value’ and are ‘easily led in the wrong direction, but hard to lead into the right direction.’

*****

Now, let’s circle back to ‘B.M.F.’ by Rick Ross.

The song – produced by Lex Luger – is an anthem. And the video: http://www.vevo.com/watch/rick-ross/bmf/USUV71001277 captures the energy of the cut very well. And what makes the song are two things – the chorus and the 16-note marching/banging sound at the beginning of the song that is sprinkled a couple more times on the track. The marching sound causes everyone to move in unison and gives the song a movement feel to it. My friends from Africa immediately recognize this about ‘B.M.F.’ And of course you gotta’ love it when a cat shouts out ‘broke n****s’ and ‘rich n***s’ in the same breath. Rick Ross is the first rapper to be both capitalist and socialist in the same verse. Although the preferred dress code is all Black with white ice, Rick Ross tries to make everyone feel welcome. A nice change from artists who take the elite materialistic point of view and disrespect and exclude the poor masses that buy their music.

But because of how I know the highest levels of government look at the relationship between Hip-Hop and street organizations and because my Hip-Hoppreneur ™ concept is based upon the merging of political, business and cultural power I take the shout outs on the song of Big Meech of the Black Mafia Family and Larry Hoover of the Gangster Disciples seriously. Because of my relationships with real live Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings who really don’t respect or appreciate flag-waving rappers who have no real connection to the lifestyle and the struggle, I take seriously the very real potential that this song has to do so much good. These members of street organizations who I work with aren’t interested in glorifying the negative and violent aspect of the culture and are working on things like cease-fires, peace treaties and building the communities they once destroyed.

Every real ‘gangster’ that we have known of significance never ruled by violence and illegal activity alone. They were master organizers, understood how to develop trust, and respected the need to teach and train the very young and poor. They did not do what they did by being flashy.

“Black drug dealer you have to wise up
And organize your business so that we can rise up
If you’re going to sell crack then don’t be a fool
Organize your money and open up a school
Drug dealer, understand historical fact
Every race got ahead from selling drugs except Black
We are under attack here’s another cold fact
In the 30s and 40s the drug dealer wasn’t Black
They were Jewish, Italian, Irish, Polish etc., etcetera
Now in the 90s their lives are a lot better
They will sell you a sweater
A pair of pants cold-hearted
But first selling drugs and killing people’s how they started.”

- ‘Drug Dealer,’ by Boogie Down Productions

So, I’m glad to hear Rick Ross shout out these two figures and I hope it will create a discussion over how and why Black and Latino (both original people) ‘gangs’ have never been able to make the same transition from legal to illegal activity (or manage both) that Polish, Jewish, Italian, and Irish gangsters, for instance have. I hope this song will lead us to appreciate why the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said and wrote in Message To The Blackman (http://store.finalcall.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=BK-MTBM)that Black people should take a page out of the beautiful example of the Japanese and Chinese people and how they provided welfare and employment opportunities to their own. I hope this song will inspire a dialogue deep enough for us to appreciate why Minister Farrakhan is currently asking Black people to study both sides of the history of Jewish economic power – the exploitative element and the mastery of economic cooperation and networking. See his open letter to Black leadership and entertainment figures: http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Minister_Louis_Farrakhan_9/article_7152.shtml)

And I hope that whatever people think of Rick Ross and his image that we won’t lose sight of the fact that the greatest fear of those in power is that the gang will evolve its narrow and local militant character into a national movement and that the rapper will serve as the spokesperson of that movement. If he and other rappers are more interested in building power and communities than glorifying a flashy lifestyle, then a song like ‘B.M.F.’ and the ‘coke rap sub genre’ can be revolutionary and would have done more good than harm.

The key is to keep the discussion honest, rooted in history, relevant to the streets and the youth and about building more than destroying. And we can’t ever forget that a hidden hand is involved.

The thoughts of Samson from BET are an example of the tone and insight that can make these conversations productive.

Here is how Larry Hoover’s ‘evolution’ was seen by the powers that be. In an article written by Lieutenant Michael C. McCort, Phoenix Police Department, Arizona published in the June 1996 edition of Police Chief entitled, ‘The Evolution of Street Gangs: A Shift Toward Organized Crime’ we read:

“In 1994, Larry Hoover, the recognized founder of the BGDN and a convicted, imprisoned murderer, sought to change the gang’s image. From prison, he attempted to change the BGDN charter and rename the gang, “Better Growth and Development.” Confiscated excerpts from BGDN bylaws have proposed to advance the “GD Nation” through political, social and economic means. In these documents, members have been urged to use drug monies to purchase new businesses as a means to launder illegal profits.

Although Hoover was in prison for the execution-style murders of three individuals, there were attempts to portray him as a reformed community leader and social visionary. In 1993 the Chicago mayor, three city alderman (one of them an ex-police officer) and a state representative actively supported Hoover’s early release from prison. In 1994, two BGDN gang members ran for local office and came close to being elected. This activity is reminiscent of 1920s Chicago, when Al Capone sought an image of legitimacy by helping followers work their way into the political process through corruption of local politicians and judges.”

I hope that Rick Ross’ efforts to increase awareness of Larry Hoover will result in not only discussions of the above but a review of the history of such noted Chicago Black ‘gangsters’ Daniel McKee Jackson of the early 20th century.

What rapper is capable and willing to represent the righteous evolution that so many drug dealers, and those banging want to see? What Hip-Hop artist is going to have the courage to decide that while coke rap may be a subgenre that has artistic qualities and moves some units that what our people really need is not only an artist who tells stories and makes shout outs, but a leader who uses art, to build the community?

What would happen if the ten artists who Rhapsody lists as having made the greatest albums in ‘coke rap’ history: Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Killer Mike, Rick Ross, T.I., Raekwon, Andre Nickatina, Scarface, The Clipse, and Cam’ron settled any differences they had and came together in a private summit to plan community development (or at least an album that would use drug-dealing and gang lifestyle and culture to teach powerful lessons of economic development – lessons and principles of unity that other ethnic groups have mastered)?

Can the music generate ‘movement’ before the police, military, intelligence agencies and covert ops execute the urban warfare that they have planned for ‘the new warrior class’ that Robert J. Bunker describes and the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army fears?

Will this subgenre build up and protect the community or just ultimately serve as part of the justification for its invasion by task forces, the National Guard, and entire Army units?

Don’t get me wrong – I really do like Maybach music, but I love Movement music even more.

Only time will tell what the real legacy of ‘coke rap’ will be…

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He’s a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. Cedric’s the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com

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