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

Is Hip Hop a Movement? In 2009 We Examined Our Political Relevance..

Tonight the good folks from Hip Hop Ed will be hosting their weekly online twitter discussion with the topic being ‘Can Hip Hop Advance a Movement?’  We are reposting this article from 2009 along with some videos we did at the time addressing this issue. Obvious 4 years later we have a lot more things to look at in weighing this question, but its good to go back and see how folks were thinking at what was deemed a monumental moment in time..

Racist People are suspicious of President Obama, with or without a hoodie

President Obama

With President Barack Obama in the White House and more than 2/3 of the voters between the ages of 18-40 (the Hip Hop generation) voting for him, many are celebrating and talking about the political power and social movement potential of Hip Hop. Is Hip Hop a Movement?

That’s the question we been asking from coast to coast. If it is a movement how is that manifested? Is there a political agenda or does it even need one? Some say the movement is centered around the music and dance aspects and that Hip Hop has managed to bring people of all races and all creeds around one proverbial campfire.

The concept pushed forth by pioneer Afrika Bambaataa of Peace, Love and Having Fun as opposed to engaging in gang violence is a movement. The commitment to embrace Hip Hop’s 5th element-Knowledge is a movement for some. The fact that Hip Hop is practiced all over the world is proof of a movement.Many have argued that had it not been for Hip Hop President Obama would not have been elected because Hip Hop significantly lessened the type of apprehension and prejudices held by people in older generations who simply could not and would not vote for a Black candidate.
Others are saying that because Obama had Hip Hop super stars like Jay-Z and Will I am playing key roles in exciting voters and getting them to the poles, is proof that Hip Hop is a Movement.

Others say such activities is not a movement but a clever marketing strategy. In fact getting a president into office is not a movement-Having day to day political capital and people in office being accountable to you on local levels is what makes a movement. It’s been pointed out that if Hip Hop played such a crucial role in getting President Obama into the White House where is the payback? Has been addressing issues held dear by the Hip Hop generation? Does he have someone who understands the Hip Hop community in his cabinet? What sort of money is being directed to Hip Hop organizations in the latest stimulus packages?

We assembled a number of people ranging from Chuck D of Public Enemy to former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente to Professor Jared Ball to Hip Hop icons Paradise Gray of X-Clan and a host of others to tackle this question. Is Hip Hop a Movement? Take a look at the videos and weigh in.

We also show how Hip Hop folks are out and about making things happen. Some of what we depict are folks like Shamako Noble of Hip Hop Congress helping lead a Poor People’s march to Oakland rapper D’Labrie stirring up a crowd at a Get out to Vote rally to Baltimore rapper Labtekwon freestyling on a street about consciousness raising. The clips and corresponding links are shown below. Enjoy

Is Hip Hop a Movement? pt1

We speak w/ former rapper Khari Mosley who is a member of One Hood out of Pittsburgh, Pa and an elected official who also heads up the League of Young Voters field operations & Dr Jared Ball who ran for Green Party Presidential nominee and does the FreeMix Mixtapes who offer up differing opinions on this topic on Hip Hop

Is Hip Hop a Movement? pt2

Paradise the Arkitech

Paradise the Arkitech

We continue our conversation about Hip Hop being a movement. Here we talk to two veterans of the Civil Rights Movements and the Black Power Movements. One is DJ Paradise of the legendary group X-Clan. Paradise was part of the Blackwatch Movement which fought for social justice. He was also a part of the Black Spades street gang at a time when Afrika Bambaataa was transforming it and moving it in a direction where members took on community responsibility.

We also talk with Fred Rush who is the deputy mayor of Erie, Pa. He is a civil rights vet who at age 15 went to the historic March on Washington where Dr Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. He contrasts the Hip Hop Movement with the Civil Rights Movement and explains what is needed in order to have a successful movement

Is Hip Hop a Movement? pt3

Our discussion continues w/ TJ Crawford who put together the National Hip Hop Political Convention in Chicago 2006. We also talk with Rev Lennox Yearwood who heads up the Washington DC based Hip Hop Caucus. We also hear from rapper Haitian Fresh-who is defining the Hip Hop Movement for him and his fans. Where do u stand on this?

Is Hip Hop a Movement? pt4

We continue our discussion by breaking bread w/ Baltimore rapper Omar Akbar aka Labtekwon. We also talk w/ Shamako Noble & D’Labrie of Hip Hop Congress and see them in action fighting for social justice.

Chuck D

Chuck D

Is Hip Hop a Movement? We Interview Chuck D of Public Enemy

We sat down w/ Public Enemy front man Chuck D and asked him to weigh in on the question of ‘Is Hip Hop a Movement? He tells us about the world wide impact of this culture and explains what we need to consider when answering this question.

Is Hip Hop a Movement? Hip Hop activist Rosa Clemente Speaks

Long time Hip Hop activists and former VP Green Party candidate Rosa Clemente sat with us and gave us her take on Hip Hop and it’s political relevance. She offers us up a cold dose of reality and asks some very hard questions