In the aftermath of the firestorm Nicki Minaj caused soiling the image of Malcolm X El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) by using him as a marketing tool for her new song ‘Lookin’ Ass Nigga‘, we wanted to take some time out to remind people of the long history our Black Shining Prince has with Hip Hop.
Malcolm X had such a presence in Hip Hop because he was sampled so much and his image was put in so many videos, many would remark that he was an emcee. His words of wisdom and powerful voice was a part of Hip Hop’s soundtrack and it informed us.
Those who are old enough will recall the early days of Hip Hop, before records were made, pioneering deejays like Afrika Bambaataa would rock Malcolm speeches over break beats. Not only did it sound funky but it helped raise our consciousness. For many of us it was our first introduction to him. It inspired many to pick up his autobiography which was transformative.
In all fairness it should be noted that Bam was doing what many within jazz had already started doing in terms of inserting Malcolm’s voice within their work. Many did songs that paid tribute to him.. Hip Hop had joined the circle.
In the pioneering days of Hip Hop, Malcolm’s presence was felt because many of us one of the hot spots for early Hip Hop jams was the famed Audubon Ballroom. Situated right across the street from Presbyterian Hospital on 168th and Broadway (where I was born), one could not attend a Hip Hop jam in the late 70s early 80s at the Audubon and not think of its sordid history. This was where Malcolm was assassinated (Feb 21 1965) . One could not enter that Audubon, see the huge hospital less than 100 feet away across the street and not wonder why it took over 45 minutes for the police and medics to get him inside that building after he was shot to work on saving his life..
It should also be noted that Malcolm’s presence was felt when folks picked up compilations of reissued break beats ‘Super Disco Breaks‘ on Paul Winley records. Winley also pressed up copies of Malcolm’s speeches. Many of us snatched copies of Ballot or the Bullet along with early recordings where Malcolm would spit fire. On some of the reissued speeches, Winley rearranged them to sound like press conferences. He had an announcer ask questions and than would edit in excerpts from one of Malcolm’s speeches.
Break beats and Malcolm X was the formula back in the early days. It was all crystallized in 1983 when Tommy Boy records released the song ‘No sell Out’ from drummer Keith Leblanc where bits and pieces of Malcolm were interspersed throughout the song.
During the so-called Golden era you had everyone from to Paris to 3x Dope to Gang Starr to all rocked Malcolm samples in their songs.. KRS One mimicked the infamous Malcolm X pitcher, that Nicki Minaj soiled, where he was holding a gun looking out the window, ready to protect himself after his home had been firebombed. Many say KRS kicked things off when he featured Malcolm X in his My Philosophy video … I miss those days..
Malcolm was sampled so much that he wound up being on the cover of the Source Magazine in 1990. Many forgot about that. Say what you will, the powers that be (Cointel-Pro, J Edgar Hoover, FBI) worked overtime to remove Malcolm from our collective consciousness must’ve been fuming when that happened. At the height of the crack era, Malcolm had reached young minds from the grave and was helping reshaped them..
It wasn’t too long after that Source cover that we started to not see and hear Malcolm as much. Some said it was because labels and his estate were smashing on people for sampling him and wanted to collect money if his voice was added to any record. Others said he was over exposed especially after Spike Lee‘s movie came out in 92 and folks started rocking X hats thinking it stood for the number ’10’ vs Malcolm X…
Perhaps it was a new version of cointel-pro working in overdrive to stamp out his presence once and for all and make sure he never got that far into the mainstream undistorted and un-maligned. Perhaps it’s for that reason when future generations of emcees sampled Malcolm X and did justice to his image that the songs were uncelebrated and damn near marginalized. They range from David Banner‘s Malcolm X to local artists like D’Labrie‘s It Aint EZ w/ San Quinn and Keyanna Bean to folks like DJ/ Professor Jared Ball (I Mix What I Like) taking it to another level and by editing and penning books about Malcolm X to keep his legacy in tact.. (A Lie of Reivention Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X )
Maybe it was this effort to erase Malcolm that artists like Nicki Minaj felt comfortable maligning him.. She didn’t see him as a peer as was the case with past generations, but instead as dusty irrelevant relic of the past.
Nicki was pressured to remove this image and issue an apology thanks to other Hip Hop community leaders like Rosa Clemente who were outraged, still saw Malcolm as a peer and launched an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures opposing Nicki’s latest offering which many found offensive.
Here are a few other songs that were dope that came out at a time many were screaming for conscious music that evoked Malcolm and have gone unnoticed..
Killer Mike w/ Ice Cube ‘The Pressure’
Akrobatik ‘Remind My Soul’
Jasiri X ‘Universal Ruler‘
K-Hill For My People
Malcolm Meets Fort Minor Our Black Shining Prince (Davey D remix)
Many have got it twisted in thinking Malcom X somehow softened or lightened up in his final days.. This speech given in 1965 one month before he was killed is anything but soft.. He stays sharply focused and unwavering in his fight for freedom