Omar Akbar aka Labtekwon: Swinging Swords & Fighting Off the Gentrification of Hip Hop

LabtekwonOne thing about Hip Hop, if you limit yourself to what is presented via commercial outlets you will undoubtedly short-change yourself and miss out on a lot of stellar artists doing some great and innovative work. Please note the emphasis is on the word ‘art’. Its one of facet that Omar Akbar, aka Labtekwon, long time emcee, scholar and cultural analyst from Baltimore has always pointed out. The jewels of a cultural are not limited to one or two media outlets or individuals that may narrowly define or totally mis-define a culture and its people.

We sat down with Omar for an insightful interview focusing on both his long tenure in Hip Hop and how he has evolved himself and his craft over the years.  For those who don’t know he’s 40 albums deep and celebrating his 20th anniversary producing and recording music. Yes you read that right he’s 40 albums deep in the game and has for most part has kept it independent. He noted its important to keep growing and not be caught in a time matrix of the Golden Era which he claims far too many are stuck in.

So will Labtekwon show up on the Billboard charts or at the next BET Awards show? Probably not, but step into the City of Baltimore and they know his name well. He’s a fixture in the city and his music and overall vibe that reflects its long and rich music history and traditions.

During the first portion of our Hard Knock Radio interview, Labtekwon kicks down a lot of important info on the make up ‘Charm City’. He talks at length about the popular HBO TV series The Wire and dispels many of the myths surrounding the show. He details how the series was both a blessing and a curse in terms of how people perceive the city. He cautions there’s a lot about Baltimore that folks need to absolutely get straight or risk finding one seriously getting played.

We talk about Baltimore being one of the first deejay/ club cities in the country, predating Hip Hop.  Omar runs down the economic and cultural forces that were in play that led to Baltimore being a deejay oriented city that highlighted dance while neighboring DC became a place that highlighted bands and gave birth to Go-Go.

If a city could have a set of personalities attached to them, in our interview Omar compares and contrasts the mindset of many who reside in B-More and DC. Serious history lessons were given on this topic.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

We talked about the recent trilogy of albums Omar released including; NEXT: Baltimore Basquiat and the Future Shock (State of the Art-Part 1)which pays tribute to the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Omar details the importance of Basquiat and his contributions to art which are often overlooked. He talks about how Basquiat was a major influence on his life and work. He talks about the strong influence Basqiat had on Hip Hop.

We talked about the second album in the trilogy called;  Hardcore: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation-Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar. Omar describes it as an album that pays tribute, refines and is the Apex to what many call ‘Knowledge Rap’..Here Omar talks about how he was greatly influenced by KRS-One and the Last Poets and that each song could be an academic thesis. He deals with complex topics like the monetary system, the construction of race, population control and the origins of Christianity to name a few.

It was an exhaustive undertaking he noted that took more than 4 months to gather up the material. Next he had to lay out the information, put it in rhyme form and make sure what was said was on point. The songs may remind people of Ras Kass‘ epic piece ‘Nature of the Threat‘.

The album was accompanied by a book that lays out in details his primary sources so that folks listening  can check out what he was saying. The goal was not for people to simply regurgitate what he was saying, but to learn and then hopefully build upon what he laid out.

His latest album Evolutionary: The Omar Akbar Album/State of the Art rounds off the trilogy. Its more reflective and lays out some of the possible, new creative directions for Hip Hop to ascend.

LabtekwonIn part 2 of our interview with Omar Akbar aka Labtekwon, we cover a lot of ground. We specifically focus on the power of culture and how there are constant attempts to undermine, co-opt, rename and exploit it.

He speaks about the failure of elders to safeguard culture and how that can be corrected. Omar noted that its extremely important that we invest in our community and uplift our culture.He described what is currently going on cultural gentrification with Hip Hop being a tool to uphold capitalism. He details how that is happening and what responsibility those of who who claim Hip Hop need to embrace in order to stop it..

Labtekwon spoke at length about Hip Hop in the Academy and how we are seeing the unfolding of an Academic Industrial Complex which is doing a disservice to the culture because many are not doing the work to employ specific types of rigorous methodology that would ensure Hip Hop has the solid grounding in the academy that it deserves.  Lab noted that needs to be challenged and he’s one to do it. He describes himself as a swordsman who has mastered his skills and is ready to do battle kn the academy and on the stage to protect the soul of Hip Hop

Refa 1 & Mark Anthony Neal Speak on Trayvon, Black Male Image & Hip Hop

Refa1 and Mark Anthony Neal

Refa 1 and Mark Anthony Neal

HKR ..The other day we sat down with two long time activist/ educators and Hip Hop practitioners, Refa 1 and Mark Anthony Neal to talk about media images of Black people and how it impacted the George Zimmerman trial and folks in general being profiled. We also talked about Hip Hop and how its being used and misused and the steps we must take to push back on corporate dominance.

Refa 1 who is a pioneering aerosol artist who spoke at length about the importance of us controlling our own images and narratives. He noted that Hip Hop started out being something that we controlled and we allowed it to be turned over to corporate entities who literally turned its meaning and message upside down. he talked about the work he’s been doing with Black writers from all over the world to reclaim image and to set new standards for others to follow. He also spoke about the importance staying connected to the hood and doing work in the hood so that folks who are easily influenced can see quality work right in front of them..

Mark Anthony Neal is a professor at Duke University in North Carolina and the author of several  books including his most recent one ‘Looking For Leroy Illegible Black Masculinities‘  He talked about the ways Black men and Black boys in particular are recognized and not recognized by society at large. In short we are often prejudged and boxed in to fit a certain type of narrative and stereotype.

Neal kicked off our interview by citing an example of how we react when we see a Black boy with  basketball vs a Black boy with a violin.  He explained that for many watching the Zimmerman trial, seeing a black boy as thug has become the norm leaving many with very little leeway to see us any other way. Black boy and Black men are seen as people who have to be contained , policed and controlled.  He went into further detail as to how that plays out in other situations above and beyond the trial.

Both Refa and Mark talked about ways in which we must reclaim our humanity and how its been systematically stripped from us.. We talked about the ways in which Hip Hop and culture can help us heal and repair our image..

below is the full interview with both men.. Take listen they drop a lot of knowledge.

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HKR-Refa 1 & Mark Anthony Neal on Trayvon, Race and Hip Hop

A Conversation w/ Pharaohe Monch

Even in the thick of the bountiful early ’90s scene, the Queens-bred duo known as Organized Konfusion stood out. On their self-titled debut and their revered follow-up, 1994’s Stress: The Extinction AgendaPharoahe Monch and his partner, Prince Poetry, defined the lyrical vanguard with ear-bending enjambment, melodic cadences, stutter-stepping flows, and furious, multisyllabic rhyme flurries. Perhaps more than any of their contemporaries’, OK’s records conveyed an exhilarating sense of possibility: like the avatars of free jazz, they had the chops and the courage to take a song anywhere, at any time.

Conceptually, the group was just as adventurous, rhyming from the perspectives of stray bullets and “hypnotical” gases. The way they cloaked battle rhymes and social commentary in clouds of energetic abstraction marked them as heirs to legendary Bronx super-weirdos the Ultramagnetic MC’s—as well as forefathers to scores of unlistenable rappers who never mastered the proper ratio of organization to confusion.

Critical acclaim and $4.25 will buy you an iced mocha latte, so after a third album, 1997’s The EquinoxMonch decided to go it alone. The year 1999 saw the much-anticipated release of Internal Affairs on the tastemaking Rawkus Records. Like the disc with which it shared advertising space, Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides,Internal Affairs showcased the versatility of a newly solo artist with ambitions and influences that both transcended and embodied hip-hop. Monch crooned, sparred with a who’s-who of guest MCs, and spewed high-concept rhymefests in the OK vein.

But it was “Simon Says,” Monch’s attempt to simplify his flow for maximum commercial impact, that gave the MC’s MC a bona fide crossover hit. Over an ominous sample jacked from a Godzilla movie, it commanded dancers to “get the fuck up,” and they obeyed in droves. Club DJs loved the song; radio embraced it.Charlie’s Angels and Boiler Room picked it up for their sound tracks. Then the Tokyo-smashing monster (or his human representatives) sued for the uncleared sample, and Rawkus was forced to pull the album from stores.

It would be nearly eight years before Monch released his next long-player, Desire,in June 2007—two or three eternities in the notoriously fast-moving world of hip-hop. Few artists could have marshaled a fan base after such lag-time, but hip-hoppers of a certain era are proving to be quite elephantine in the memory department (see: the resurrected career of MF Doom), and Desire found an audience.

It didn’t hurt that the album showcased Monch at the height of his powers: pushing boundaries with conspiracy theories, multipart narratives, and Tom Jones impressions; challenging listeners to digest his wordplay at the rate he served it up (“still get it poppin’ without Artist and Repertoire / ’cause Monch is a monarch, only minus the A & R”); structuring entire verses around the names of financial institutions and wireless devices. Desire manages to be simultaneously indignant and inspiring, defiant and joyful, hilarious and paranoid. Listening to it now, it is striking to realize how palpably the record feels like a document of the late Bush years.

Monch and I spoke several times by telephone shortly after his return to New York from a European tour. He was preparing for an Organized Konfusion reunion show, the first in ten years, and also laying verses for a new album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), scheduled for release in February. In each case, we talked until his cell phone ran out of juice.

—Adam Mansbach

Check out where this article original appears


THE BELIEVER: It seems to me that hip-hop today is like jazz was in the early ’70s. For the first time, the major innovators are not new artists, but fifteen- or twenty-year veterans—guys like you, MF Doom, Ghostface, Nas, Jay-Z. Even Lil Wayne has been in it for almost that long.

PHAROAHE MONCH: I think there’s a couple of reasons. Having the savvy to know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what music you want to say it over comes with time spent and wisdom gained in a music career. Back in the days, a prodigy usually was cultivated by the veterans around him—take Nas, who was surrounded by Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Premier, and L.E.S., all listening to the tone of his voice and the way he rhymes melodically and saying, “He’s gonna sound better over this.” If Nas had tried to produce his first album himself and hand out demos to people… whatever, I don’t need to elaborate. I remember talking to Nas after [his debut verse on Main Source’s] “Live at the Barbeque,” and he was unsure what he wanted to do. It took time for him to cultivate his mental state and decide, This is what type of artist I want to be.

continue reading this article over on our new site

Jeff Chang: The Influence Street Gangs Had on the Evolution of Hip Hop

Author Jeff Chang

Straight from the Davey D Archives, we pull out an interview we did with author Jeff Chang back in August of 2008 at the National Political Hip Hop Convention about his book ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop‘. Here we sit down and talk about his perspective on street gangs and how they influenced Hip Hop culture.

Chang talks to us about the culture of abandonment in the late 60s and early 70s when many whites fled the Bronx in what we call ‘white flight’. This left many of the areas impoverished with its decreased tax base. This in turn led to what Chang described as chaos which led to the explosions of gangs who attempted to create and enforce some sort of order.

The gangs grew in size and began to war against one another until it reached a critical point where folks reached a fork in the road. Should they make peace and transform the neighborhoods or continue down a path of destruction. In 1971 the gangs of the Bronx got together and forged a Peace Treaty. The cult movie Warriors was inspired by this Peace Treaty.

Chang noted the 71 peace Treaty paved the way for Hip Hop as it allowed folks from all over to go in various neighborhoods and artistically express themselves via dance, emceeing and deejaying. The birth of Park Jam came about.  You can peep our interview below…Chang is currently working on a book about race and multi-culturlism as a follow-up to his excellent book.

In our interview I made reference to the 40th anniversary of the Notorious Black Spades who was the largest gang in new York during those early days. The Spades eventually morphed into the Organization and later the Mighty Zulu Nation under the leadership of Afrika Bambaataa who at the time was a key warlord.

Karate Charlie of the Ghetto Brothers and Bam Bam of the Black Spades

We decided to include the videos to that gathering so you can get a richer understanding about the influence.. Included in these clips are members of the Ghetto Brothers who Chang writes extensively about in his book. We also see Black Spade leader Bam Bam. He was the one who gave Afrika Bambaataa permission to use the name.. In these clips you see Bam address younger gangsters in the most intense ways..

We also hear from Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel of Rocksteady Crew and Zulu Nation who is working on a documentary about the early gangs called The Apache Line.  In fact he was filming that day.  We also hear from original B-Boy and Zulu nation member Charlie Rock who talks about the White Gangs called Greasers who roamed the Bronx and were  mortal enemies to the large Black and Puerto Rican gangs. he explains how Hip Hop emerged from the chaos underscoring Chang’s earlier points..

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner


The Root: Oakland’s Marriage to Hip Hop & Politics

The Root has been doing a series on our beloved city of Oakland.. One of the topics they tackled dealt with the long marriage between Hip Hop and political activism. Now of course an entire book could be written on this.. LOL I damn near wrote one when writing this.. The original article I penned for this series was around 5000 words , which was way too long and just too much to read in one sitting, But hopefully folks get a small taste of what goes on out our way…

-Davey D-


Boots Riley of the Coup


One of the hallmarks of Oakland, Calif, is its activism and politics and its longtime alignment with hip-hop culture. When I say “aligned,” I’m not talking about a rapper doing a song where he spits a couple of cool verses with a socially relevant message. Don’t get me wrong; that’s important, too, but that’s just surface stuff. Political involvement requires much more. As a radio journalist, writer and activist who’s been living in Oakland for the past 22 years, I feel privileged to live in a city where hip-hop and political activism are so closely linked.

The attitude in Oakland is that everything is political. Even being apolitical is political. Folks understand that politics is a rough-and-tumble sport; a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. Here, the end goal is not just getting the chosen one elected into office. Holding folks accountable is paramount, and going beyond the limits of electoral politics is how many see the political landscape. Voting is a tool, but not the only tool to bring about change. Hip-hop is another tool, a potent way to communicate with the masses.

continue reading article HERE  at The Root

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Hip Hop History 101: Afrika Bambaataa Breaks Down the History of the Universal Zulu Nation

Afrika Bambaataa breaks down the history of the Universal Zulu Nation!


by – Davey D

First thing we wanna do is offer up our congratulations to Hip Hop’s
oldest and largest organization, the Universal Zulu Nation. They are
set to celebrate their 29th Anniversary this weekend [November 8-10]
where they will be paying tribute to soul music and funk music God
fathers, Sly Stone, James Brown, and George Clinton. They will also
pay tribute to Hip Hop’s seminal figures Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster
and Afrika Bambaataa.. For those who are unfamiliar with the
Zulu Nation, they began as an organization founded by Afrika Bambaataa
at Stevenson High School in the Bronx. Back than it was simply known
as ‘The Organization’.

Bam who once lived the gang lifestyle and was a Gang Lord was trying
to change his ways and saw the newly formed group as a way out. Bam
who was known for reading and staying up on the teachings of Elijah
Muhammad and other African American leaders, changed the name to Zulu
Nation after watching a movie of the same name that told the tale of
the well known South African tribe.. Bam was inspired by their
resistance to Dutch settlers. As Hip Hop became popular, the group
became known as the Mighty Zulu Nation and as later the Universal Zulu

The story behind the evolution of UZN is significant. Back in the
days Zulu’s struck fear in many who lived outside of their Bronx River
Housing Project strong hold. While they gave birth to Hip Hop’s first
B-Boys and B-Girls, the group for the most part was made up of former
gang members. Many of them from the Notorious Black Spades which once
reigned terror throughout the Bronx in the early to mid 70s. It used
to be a really big deal for cats to hang out at Bronx River and not
get stuck up. It was a sign of toughness and brought much prestige.

Many of the early crews tried to associate themselves with Zulu Nation
for protection from roving bands of stick up kids and other gangs
turned crew. It was in this backdrop that Bambaataa and other
conscious brothers spent a lot of time teaching and preaching and
working with Zulu members to bring about positive change. Bam often
talks about how he would do simple things like bestow titles like
‘King’ and ‘Queen’ upon Zulu members in an attempt to instill pride
and confidence. His feeling was that if you treated people like
royalty then they would turn around and act like royalty in their
actions. As Bam’s recording career blew up, he saw too it that many
of folks who were from the streets got an opportunity to go on tour
with him and the Soul Sonic Force. Sometimes they were employed as
roadies. Other times they worked as security. Again Bam’s main
objective was to see to it that local cats got a chance to see there
was a much bigger world outside the Bronx.

Change didn’t happen over night, but today the testament to all that
hard work is the fact that there are vibrant Zulu chapters in more
than 20 countries all over the world with estimated membership of over
10 thousand. They have come to embrace and preserve Hip Hop’s key
elements and have exemplified what is often considered Hip Hop’s 5th

To me the beauty of it all is seeing what was once considered a
‘ruthless gang’ evolve’ to a group that has strived and succeeded in
serving the community. There are all sorts of stories about Zulus
ridding their housing projects of drug dealers and many of the older
guys spending time mentoring younger people. There are stories about
Zulus escorting women to and from their apartments as well as looking
out and helping those in need. This of course is in addition to
various Zulu chapters that have involved themselves in local politics
including the fight to Free Mumia and get him a new trial. We also
can not overlook the fact that it was Zulu Nation members who put out
some of Hip Hop’s first records as well as among the first to
establish Hip Hop’s first radio shows. Who could forget Zulu Beats
with Afrika Islam on WHBI. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been more
of a public celebration and acknowledgment of this organization and
its accomplishments. In any case, props to them on their 29th
anniversary.. For more information and a run down of this week’s
schedule check out…

by Davey D
Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Netroots Panel: Tweeting the Revolution.. How Hip Hop Changed Twitter

This session explored the various manner in which hip hop generation journalists, writers, poets, performing artists, community organizers, filmmakers and television personalities have utilized Twitter’s 140 characters and educated, informed, infuriated and organized thousands of persons in an online medium, with real-world application, thereby bringing 360 degrees of knowledge full circle, son!

Panelist include:

Dr. Goddess,” (Kimberly C. Ellis, Ph.D) She’s a scholar of American & Africana Studies and Executive Director of the Historic Hill Institute. A Creative Community Organizer, a poet, playwright and performing artist….

Elon James White, Editor in Chief of , is a Brooklyn-based comedian, writer and is the host of the award-winning web series This Week in Blackness, a satirical look at race, politics and pop-culture in a so-called “post-racial” America.

Davey D is a nationally recognized journalist, adjunct professor, Hip Hop historian, syndicated talk show host, radio programmer, producer, deejay, media and community activist.

for more info peep….

Click HERE to watch Netroots Panel on Hip Hop and Tweeting...

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Afrika Bambaataa pays tribute to fellow Pioneer Mr Magic


afrikabambataashadescolor-2The Universal Zulu Nation gives HONOR and RESPECT to Brother Mr. Magic who was a Giant and Pioneer in the Growth of Hip Hop Radio. A brother who was not scare to challenge what was being played on mainstream radio. A brother who show Love not Hate when it came down to playing all forms of Hip Hop Music on the airwaves. A brother whom gave Hip Hop events so that the artist could have a venue to show their skills and craft for the people who love Hip Hop. A brother who help so many to start a career in Hip Hop as well as to help many artist get a record deal. Many of us in The Universal Zulu Nation knew of this brother before he was name Mr. Magic and watch him grow in the name of Hip Hop. He is due Respect and Honor and he will be truly missed. Mr. Magic May Allah be please with your soul and to your Family, Relatives and Friends many Blissings (not Blessings cause Blessings in Etymology means MArk with Blood) be unto you all.

To all our Brothers and Sisters in Hp Hop Community World Wide or Humans of Earth. The Angel of Death has been claiming many entertainers/artist in the last 3 years. We know we all have to past this life but something is going wrong with All Humans Beings on the planet,especially dealing with our health and what food we eat and the negativity that we all put out to the atmosphere all over Mother Earth.We must make a change for the better of ourselves and Mother Earth. This is no Joke to play with. Your bodies can be of Gods and Goddesses or it can be of the Devil = Hate and Chaos. Which side of The Matrix will you Chose.

Take care of yourselves and May The Supreme Force to whom is called by so many names Bliss and watch out for All of Us on Earth and Beyond.
Love,Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice
Brother Afrika Bambaataa
The Amen Ra of Universal Hip Hop Culture