Jasiri X: Raising the Flag & Using Music as a Weapon to Fight Oppression

Jasiri  x micWe sat down and spoke with long time activist/ artist Jasiri X about his latest moves and why he continues to raise up the flag of activism  and use music as a potent weapon.

In recent months Jasiri X has been doing a lot of work with Harry Belafonte. He talks at length about the profound influence this iconic human rights leader has had on his activism as well as his music. He went into depth about some of the work that Belafonte has been doing to combat mass incarceration as it pertains to juveniles. He also notes all the behind the scenes closed-door meetings Belafonte has been having since last year with prominent artists and entertainers, encouraging them to raise awareness and take appropriate action.

Jasiri noted there have been significant changes amongst the many who Belafonte has been meeting with which is great. In terms of how it’s impacted him, he noted that after traveling with Belafonte to the rural south and Appalachia his understanding of poverty and how its impacted folks was greatly expanded. His commitment to working with youth was strengthened. His music was sharpened..

2001 Hip Hop summit FarrakhanDuring our interview Jasiri X talked about the influence of his other mentor Minister Farrakhan. We talked about the the powerful speech Farrakhan gave in 2001 at the Hip Hop Summit in New York and the tour he made around the country speaking directly with popular rappers. From NY to LA to Atlanta, the Minister laid out key issues he felt artists should be addressing. He described them as world leaders whose music had great impact and encouraged them to step up and fully embrace their responsibilities.  It was at one of these gatherings that Jasiri X first heard the Minister and it changed his life. It opened Jasiri’s eyes to activism and inspired him to join the NOI. It was there he honed his skills and came to understand the power cultural expression has on the community and the world at large.

During our interview Jasiri gave some insight as to how both men are similar in their desire for change but different in their approach in terms of how they engage the Hip Hop community. Jasir noted he has benefited greatly from both.

Paradise Gray  the Arkitech

Paradise Gray the Arkitech

Although we didn’t talk too much about him, it should be noted that Jasiri has a 3rd mentor who has helped him greatly over the years and has been with him at many of the gatherings with Harry Belafonte and is his partner in the 1 Hood organization they helped co-found. That individual is Paradise Gray who is founding member of the iconic group X-Clan and Blackwatch and a long time fixture within Hip Hop.

During our interview Jasiri X updated us on some key cases of police terrorism that he brought to light in his songs, including the vicious beating that took place in his native Pittsburgh, 3 years ago, of honor student Jordan Miles. He talked about some of the new strategies people are using to deal with this scourge of violence at the hands of police. He talked about how and why music and cultural expressions are important tools in our quest to fight back. Jasiri also talked about how two of his songs were banned from concerts and caused alot of controversy because they made police and others in power feel uncomfortable.

Jasiri X also spoke on the work he, Paradise Gray and educator Amil Cook are doing with their 1 Hood Media Academy. In recent months they’ve been doing an interview/mentor series where popular artists land activists like Pharaoh Monch, Jean Grae, Rhymefest, Rosa Clemente, Bakari Kitwanna and KRS-One to name a few have all stopped by and worked directly with the youth. In our interview we hear from the kids as they weigh in on their opinion around the recent NBA controversy with Donald Sterling..



What’s a Jigga to Do? To Barney or not Barney?

Harry BelafonteAt the height of his career actor, singer Harry Belafonte had a variety show which was exploding in the ratings.. He was bringing on all sorts of guests and making things pop..There was one problem, TV stations in the South disliked the fact that he had racially mixed cast.. The networks stepped to Harry and told him he could continue the show, but he needed to tone things down and make some adjustments and they would give him the World.. Belafonte turned down the offer and quit the show the next week..

This would not be the first time Belafonte would walk away from something so tempting and potentially lucrative from the world of Art and Entertainment..He did this on several occasions.

Fast forward to 2013.. We have a high-end department store named Barneys New York with a reputation for humiliating its African-American customers even as African-American celebrities who are crossed over pop icons, make the store a desirable place.

jay-z-folded-225The latest incident where a 19-year-old young man was arrested after buying a belt has led to calls of boycott and punishment for the store. Caught in the middle is rap star Jay Z who has lucrative deal with Barneys New York which includes a clothing and jewelry line..Up to now Jigga has remained silent as calls for him to end his relationship with the store grow louder with each passing day..

Now the rubber in many ways is meeting the road and question becomes What’s a Jigga to do? Keep the money and make his presence felt and influence from the inside? Or does he pull the plug and make a public statement that racial discrimination will not be tolerated by entities he’s involved in no matter what the cost? Is this about Jigga? The community or is this case of we got bigger fish to fry?

Back in the days, James Brown did a song called ‘America is My Home‘ where he gave props to the US and said it was the best country on earth.. Problem was it came in the aftermath of the riots in Watts, Malcolm had been killed and the Black Power Movement was emerging.. Folks stepped to Brown and dissed the song, SNCC leader H Rap Brown had a meeting with J Brown about the song and pushed him to do something grand..

James Brown

James Brown

Brown responded to the pressure and produced the anthem ‘Say it Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud’.. Almost overnight Brown lost radio airplay and concert dates, because his crossover audience perceived him as a racist for doing the song..

He definitely took some financial hits, but the community loved him for it.. What’s a Jigga to do? What would James do? What would Belafonte do? Will his charitable presence be enough to turn the tide?

History Meets Hip Hop: Bridging the Gap Between Harry B & Jay Z

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.04.46 AMRadio host and journalist Syreeta Gates  did a segment on Esther Armah‘s Wake Up Call in NYC  on WBAI  called History Meets Hip Hop. The other week she addressed the Harry belafonte and Jay Z flap with a serious indepth piece that gives a serious history lesson that sought to bridge the gap between the two men and many in their respective generations..

This is not so much to belabor the point, but to give folks some serious history  about two very popular iconic figures.. People should take a good listen to this and come away better informed.. Thank You Syreeta.


Oprah Defends Jay Z Says She Loves Magna Carter- Belafonte Gives Context to His Criticisms

OprahWell folks its official.. Oprah Winfrey has spoken and weighed in on the Jay Z/ Harry Belafonte flap.. The woman who once famously ‘hated’ and disparaged Hip Hop by not inviting rappers on her show and had artists like; Ice Cube, Ludacris and 50 Cent to name few, criticizing her,  says that she listened to Jay Z’s new album and absolutely loves it.

She went on to say that actor/ activist Harry Belafonte needs to better understand Jay Z. She noted that Jay Z does charity through his music and artistry..

I don’t know what else there is to say when Oprah lays it down like that.. Many are still bugging off the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that Oprah said she wasn’t befriending folks who use the N word, so it’s not quite sure how and why she is praising Jay Z unless, she got a clean copy of his albums.. In any case, me personally,  I’m gonna gracefully tell the Queen of Talk to have a seat and leave it at that.

Below are two videos folks should watch..The first is Oprah speaking on her movie the Butler and the Jay Z Belafonte flap.


Harry Belafonte Beat StreetOprah says that Harry Belafonte needs to better understand, many feel that folks need to better understand Harry. Unlike Oprah, Belafonte early on put his money and famous reputation behind Hip Hop by financing and producing the iconic movie Beat Street..

Belafonte at 83 has not missed a beat as he still routinely meets with artists to engage in projects. His latest efforts saw him working with everyone from Chuck D to David Banner to Yasiin Bey to Jasiri X to Talib Kweli and Bun B involves bring attention to juveniles who are locked up..

Below is a video where he clarifies his remarks and gives context to his initial criticism of Jay Z and Beyoncé including the fact that he didn’t just rush out to the press and bash them as many have suggested..His remarks were part of a bigger conversation..



Some Food for Thought on this Jay Z/ Harry Belafonte Thang

jayz glassesAbout this Jay Z / Harry Belafonte thing..One of the ways people look at this scenario is by noting that if the community supports a celebratory/ entertainer, that celebratory/ entertainer should ideally support the community… Hence when Jay Z remarked that his presence is charity feel like it’s a lopsided equation because in reality our collective presence in the form of concert tickets, albums sales and clothing purchases is what puts Jigga on the social and financial map.

The other thing we should not forget, that the Black community is still for the most part a trendsetter and validator of trends.. Meaning that sales of Roc-A-Wear or the sale of Jay-Z the artist would’ve gone no where in the world of cross over if Black folks didn’t co-sign Jay Z when nobody was checking for him..

This applies to a whole lot of businesses and so in looking at this from a wider lens we should ideally understand our true value from top to bottom in the marketplace. In short lots of institutions are eating off what we as Black people create, make popular, remix & rework etc..

So while its important that an artist like Jay-Z give back to the community, we should also note that the institutions that he was on Def Jam/ Universal ..Live Nation etc should also be supporting the community as well. Whatever Jay Z makes pales in comparison to the money some of these outlets made off a Jay and by default us..

Now of course we know that corporations are not about the business of helping folks they exploit get free of their grips..But one should push, demand, kick up dust anyway while always keeping in the forefront of our minds the worth we bring to the table..

The name of the game for corporations is to make it seem like they did us a favor..Long before Jigga uttered those words about his presence being charity, major corporations have not only made that same claim, but took it a step further by insisting you pay them for the honor, which many of us have gladly done..If you don’t believe me look at all the labels we flaunt .. Look at all the brands we highlight..From Cristal to Nike to Tom Ford whose name and brand was made into an anthem on Jay Z’s latest album..

Ideally we should return to the days where we stop name checking institutions and companies who bank off us for billions and never give back..I yearn for the days when we made our own labels and brands that we stuck on clothes and big upped in songs..

Also while we ask Jay-Z to do more, let that burden not be his alone, lets find ways for us all to do more.. Maybe its money, maybe its time that we give.. maybe its us opening doors and supporting those who do the hard work.. There is no one way and there should be no limit.. What we should be striving for is investing back into ourselves and the community with the goal of establishing long-term wealth and long-lasting institutions.

So is Jay Z’s presence charity? I’m not sure.. But if he wants to look at things from that lens, then we can be sure of this: over the past 17 years, my presence has meant a few dollars in Jay-Z’s pocket.. The air play I gave him was a few more dollars. The joints I played at nightclubs padded him up a little more.. The articles he was mentioned in good and bad was still some more dollars.. The Roc-A-Wear gear we purchased over the years was money still and I paid for a couple of concerts.. Multiply that by several million folks who have done the same or similar things and you get the picture..

I’m clear I made an investment in the ‘business’ called Jay-Z.. I made the investment in the dope dealer trying to go good..I showed up time and time again..Was the songs I got and the clothing I wore a good return on the investment?? Maybe.. Maybe not.. My point being is this is not a one way street.. I wasn’t ‘blessed by Hov..if anything, I along with millions of fans and the community at large, blessed him.. I sincerely hope him and Harry Belafonte have a sit down..Jay Z can do so much better.

Some food for thought..

Below is a historic panel discussion on the Civil Rights Movement.. This is the level of discourse, political awareness and involvement that today’s artists should ideally have…


How Will Iraq Vets React to Our Mass Economic Disparities?

Glad to see all the troops coming home, now that the war in Iraq is officially over.. However in a world with No Jobs, Increased Foreclosures & lawmakers pushing to make even more cuts while telling those who’ve fallen on economic hard times to ‘blame themselves‘, do these returning men and women who did 4 & 5 tours of duty, become police officers, FBI and ICE agents who enforce the status quo and crush those who challenge it, or do they follow the steps of those who see the inequalities in our society and fight for change?

One needs to bear in mind, that a sizeable number of people who joined our military did so because of what we call the economic draft.. Poverty and the inability to find jobs was impacting many in our communities long before an Occupy Movement or the notion of a 1% vs 99% emerged. The military heavily recruited desperate folks from our neighborhoods promising folks a new lease on life and the opportunity to establish some sort of economic foothold. Commercials greeted us daily with the slogan, Be All That You Can Be.. Many never dreamt they would see the horrors of war and be required to return to the battlefield over and over again..

The psychological impact of all that combat alone should be of grave concern..All of us should be asking about what sort of measures are being put in place for returning vets to detox? How will returning vets deal with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress)?

We already have huge population of vets who are out on the streets homeless, unable to re-adjust to society.. How are we handling them?

We also have not acknowledged that the suicide rate of vets has damn near outpaced those killed in combat.. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a whooping 18 suicides per day among soldiers.

As I asked earlier, how will these returning soldiers react when they come home to see that we spent trillions to liberate Iraq while grandma, auntie and mother are living in communities where the poverty rate is at record highs and homes they once owned have been foreclosed on with no jobs in sight?

Will these returning vets see themselves as part of a struggling community and seek to align themselves with those pushing for change or will they spiral into the ruthlessness we seen demonstrated in places like Egypt where we have folks fighting for freedom and democracy while a standing army that we pay for with American tax dollars are pulling out all the stops to brutally suppress them?

Will we see more soldiers who are of the caliber demonstrated by the Iraq Veterans Against the War or will we see soldiers who are of the caliber demonstrated by those who embraced and carried out the horrific torture techniques we seen demonstrated at places like Abu Ghraib? Even more troubling will find returning vets desperate for work and eager for some sort of stability being recruited by rich and powerful corporate executes to serve as a literal private army of sorts?

A couple of years ago I penned an article predicting that as the economy spirals out of control the new middle class (meaning those with jobs) will be cops and soldiers hired & paid handsomely to be a buffer between those who are poor and those we now identify as the 1%.

If one thinks this is far-fetched, I urge folks to talk to victims of Katrina who experienced first hand what it was like when they encountered private armies like Blackwater patrolling the streets of New Orleans, rebuffing those seeking refuge from dry and resource filled hotels and other facilities.

History shows that once upon a time African-American soldiers returning from World Wars 1 & 2, realized that the situation at home was dire especially along racial lines. The freedoms they fought for overseas in Europe were not afforded to many of us here at home who suffered under harsh Jim Crow laws. Many became disenchanted and pressed the issue. They demanded equality.

One of those returning soldiers was Civil Rights icon Harry Belafonte who recently spoke at First Congregation Church in Berkeley who spoke about what it was like for those returning from war after they tasted freedom. He noted that as many started to ask alot of questions about equal rights, the oppression toward them and us was substantially increased..

Belafonte talked about how lynchings and racial terror increased all over the country as society made attempts to put returning Black soldiers back in their place. Many did not take to the suppression lightly and at various points there were armed resistence and struggle. This inequality and subsequent repression also gave rise to the Civil Rights Movements and Black Freedom struggles..of the 60s and 70s.

My question is how will our returning brethren behave in 2011 when they return to this massive economic inequality?

written by Davey D