There’s a been a lot of conversation about the recent revelations of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists being via infiltrated through an agency called USAID with the goal of shaping opinions and sparking unrest to create a climate that would lead to the overthrow of the Cuban government. You can peep one of the many stories about that HERE—http://huff.to/1qMR5T7
In speaking about this case, I noted that far too many have fallen into the trap of seeing themselves and this music/culture as being unique in it being besieged, put under surveillance and being deemed a potential threat to those in power. Too many people saw the police collecting dossiers on Hip Hop as some sort of badge implying it was a reflection of power. Such assertions have been made without the context of history…
First its extremely important to note that this Government has always used culture and popular expression and mediums to undercut, destroy, marginalize, control, redirect a people and yes even help overthrow governments. What was revealed about Cuba is by no means unique. It may be unique for folks hearing about this for the first time..What we are talking about here is something that’s global..Cultural expression is serious biz..
I can say this in 2006, I went to Beirut and attended and participated in global conference on music and censorship. There I met folks who had spent many years in jail from all over the world because of their music and art which challenged those in power. You can read some of what was spoken about at that conference HERE
In order to understand this what folks need to clearly understand is that culture expression here in the US is often limited in how it’s defined. Many simply call it art. And art in the minds of many is luxury that is brought and sold and put on display to admire and debate. Our history and understanding of how we express ourselves has been erased or distorted. So instead seeing many types of cultural expressions (rapping, singing, dance, poetry, playing of music) as important and even primary ways of communication, we fail to see to see that the government sees what we do in that light..
With respect to Hip Hop as professor Jared Ball has long pointed out, its ‘mass communication’..Those in power have never ceded ground or allowed us to have too much independent control of mass comm outlets.
Second point, Hip Hop being infiltrated and aspects of it being compromised is one the latest cultural expressions in a long line to be compromised. In order to best understand this.. I encourage folks to go on-line and look up this video that came out in the 1970s with a former FBI agent named Darthard Perry talking about how the government studied culture, in particular Black culture as a way to control the people.. You can and should peep that HERE—http://bit.ly/1BKXWjM
For those who find this be a bit of a stretch.. I encourage you to peep the speech Dr Martin Luther King gave August 11 1967 to the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers about the role of culture, in this case music and Black radio deejays.. He plainly states there is no Civil Rights Movement without these deejays and the powerful influence of Soul Music, which like Hip Hop had its own challenges of being deemed unsavory, less than sophisticated and even violent.. (Folks living here in the Oakland, ask your parents or grandparents about James Brown being banned and concerts being shut down because he brought out the ‘wrong crowd’).. Check out King’s speech and the one given by Minister Farrakhan to a similar body of Black music industry folks 13 years later… http://bit.ly/1yNyLXO
Third point, Hip Hop being as popular as it is was undoubtedly going to be seen as something that needed to be derailed, distorted and used a s a tool of oppression vs allowing it to be used as a tool of liberation. Wherever large crowds are gathered, we have got to expect those in power to be sizing it up and trying to figure out how to economically exploit it and politically derail it..
From icons like Bob Marley being followed and undermined by the CIA to the banning of the drums during slavery at Congo Square to Fela Kuti who specifically said his music was a weapon being attacked, to the Black Arts Movement being marginalized where the late Amiri Baraka and others called upon Black folks to use their poems and music as weapons and be in alignment with the Black Power Movements of the time, to French rappers coming under fire and accused of sparking the 2005 riots in Paris with their music to the way the US uses its radio arm Voice of America to undermine governments, we should be clear in knowing that obtaining and maintaining public space will and has always been a challenge. We should be crystal clear that if you can ‘move the crowd’ folks are gonna have their eyes on you…
What’s most interesting about this scenario is that in many so-called progressive enclaves, culture is still seen and treated as an after thought or sidebar to the movement. Perhaps that’s deliberate because those in power in on that side of the political spectrum like their counterparts on the right want to keep many in the back of the bus and not have a seat at the table.
The solution to all this is to 1-fully understand the power of our culture. Martin Luther King talks about that in his speech. In understanding its power, one has to then move in a direction where you are not dependent on entities and individuals who fear or don’t respect our culture for affirmation, funding etc..
2-Recognize many aspects of our culture are indeed powerful forms of communication. If Hip Hop has this much influence that governments use it to move folks from point A to point B, then what role are we playing when we consciously produce it or consume it?
3-Check out an incredible book called Party Music by Prof Rickey Vincent who digs real deep into this topic. He talks about the impact the Black Panthers had on Soul Music and how cultural expression was challenged and seen as a threat by those in power and ultimately used to destroy facets of the Black Power Movement..
4-Read Jared Ball’ s Book..”I Mix What I Like!: A Mixtape Manifesto” where he meticulously details how Hip Hop Music has been colonized. It’s important for folks to understand the many forces at work to harness our expression.
5-Read Jeff Chang‘s book Who We Be the Colorization of America where he talks about the wars, political attacks and commercialization around Art and Culture and the derailment of movements around the concept of Multiculturalism.
6-Look out for an upcoming book due out in February 2015 from Timothy Taylor aka Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers that addresses many of these key issues.
Bottom line, we may take what we do culturally speaking for granted. We may think our songs and dances are no big deal.. But others are not. They study it, see it as a threat and know its potential to liberate and empower if left unchecked. #staywoke.