Trials of a Hip Hop Educator: Message to the Hip Hop Visionaries in the Year of the 9
By Tony Muhammad
As we enter into the New Year, 2009, we should be mindful of the power of its last digit, the number 9. The number 9 is considered to be divine by various cultures throughout the world as it represents a state of completion. The beginning of any era is represented by the number 0. As we move further and further into an era we experience deeper degrees of understanding for its wisdom to the point of mastery, which is represented by the number 9. As a mother would give birth after producing the child in the womb after 9 months, a new wisdom is brought into existence for us to experience and master transitioning into the following decade; beginning once again with the number 0 and steadily progressing once again to the number 9.
Lumumba “Professor X” Carson of the legendary Hip Hop group X-Clan made special reference to the number 9 in his provocative speeches as intro skits to various songs. At the time of these recordings (1989 to the early 90s) being knowledgeable was considered to be the fad and was represented in style; from growing locks and rocking African medallions to wearing t-shirts with strong historical and political messages to the identity-oriented books we carried around and frequently quoted from (i.e. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Message to the Blackman in America, The Isis Papers, Breaking The Chains of Psychological Slavery). Some of Hip Hop’s greatest philosophers, teachers and leaders at the time had high hopes for the culture as we held strongly to the belief that we were transitioning into a new era of intelligence. However, as we moved further into the 90s the expression of the music instead became increasingly corporately manipulated into what supposedly sold the most according to demographic charts. Hence, the culture entered into a predominant gangsta and grimy street crime orientation. As we moved into 2000 up to the present, Hip Hop became even more corporatized; making a transition into an unintelligent consumerist “bling” era; or better put, “ice age,” in which the focus no longer is the culture itself but how well the music could be used to sell products for liquor companies and other multi-national corporations. During this era, even the idea of going to jail has been marketed through the rhymes. There is no coincidence that prisons have indeed become big business as well.
For the many that have been able to see through this Matrix and have taken on active roles as Morpheus or Trinity or even Neo on a local, national or even a world-wide level representing the Hip Hop community, this decade has delivered to us both great disappointments and great accomplishments. In fact, many at times it has been while working against the factors that cause some of our greatest of disappointments that we have discovered some of our greatest blessings. In the past decade, what has indeed been a blessing has been the development of various conferences throughout the country calling on Hip Hop activists to address some of our gravest ailments. It has been through these conferences that we have become more fully aware that we are not alone in this work and have been given the opportunity to network with hard working people from various parts who seek to improve the quality of life of their communities in a similar fashion. While there have been many success stories stemming from the networking, too many among us remain stagnant as we seek to continue to live within the confines of our own minds, focusing more on the way things should be and paying very little attention to the way things actually are. A good doctor must first be able diagnose the cause of a problem in order to prescribe a solution.
Let us be mindful that for every minute that we waste writing blogs in which we backbite and argue back and forth with armchair elites about meaningless things, another youth is violently and senselessly killed. New statistics show that there was a 40 percent increase of the murder of young Black males between the ages 14 to 17 from 2000 to 2007. For every minute that we waste while ragingly (and simply) complaining about how we are not getting enough notice for our work, another young woman is raped. One in six women (and one in three men) are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. For every minute that we waste writing and posting articles about particular politicians and community leaders “not being Hip Hop enough” another child dies as a result of malnutrition. In the United States 41 percent of African American children and 40 percent of Latino children suffer from chronic hunger. Also, according to the United Nations Development program, an African American baby in this nation’s capital has less of a chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in the severe poverty stricken urban areas of the state of Kerala in India.
In this year of the 9, let us take time to analyze the signs of change in our midst and use them as an inspiration to change or improve our own quality of life which would in effect aid us in cultivating vision to better serve our communities. It is vision and the high spirited hope for change that will also help inspire a new expression in the music and for more collaboration among artists and activists throughout the nation and the world to take place.
Many of us first handedly experienced this high spirit in this past presidential election. I believe that is not simply by chance that the basic slogan of the candidate who won was in fact “CHANGE.” Whether or not true political and economic change will come about as a result of this election remains to be seen. However, one thing is for certain, Barack Obama serves as a sign for us. His presence and words by themselves have captured the imagination, which lets us know that many of our people are ready for new ideas that will help them take a giant step forward to make change in their own lives. It is up to the visionaries to meet the people where they are and steadily bring them into new understanding for self, family and community. Likewise with us in relationship to our birth right culture known as Hip Hop. Truly, a new standard needs to be set, especially with those of us that claim righteousness and claim that we are willing to die for the freedom, justice and equality of our people. And this new standard begins with self. In the year of the 9 it is no longer enough that we wear cultural clothing or tattoo an Adinkra or Kemetic (Egyptian) symbol to our arms to show off what we are supposedly about. Likewise, it is no longer enough to memorize and recite codes and lessons to show off what we know. In the year of the 9 it is about putting righteous principles into practice and taking time to learn from the mistakes of the past (from others and our own) so that we do not have to suffer spiritually, economically, politically and health wise for another decade. In the year of the 9 it is about strategizing better ways of working with others in the community that share our goals, especially those that we may find ourselves having some fundamental differences with in terms of world outlook.
Be as critical as you want of him, however, President-elect Barack Obama has indeed made some profound statements about the cultural state of Hip Hop and the direction that it needs to take. Again, I do not believe that this is merely a coincidence. In an interview by Allhiphop.com made available on YouTube, he made the following statements: “Hip Hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should also be a reflection of what can be.” He continued by saying that if we stay fixated in “what is real,” then we are merely “trapped in what is.” He added, “Imagine something different, imagine communities that aren’t torn up by violence; imagine communities in which we’re respecting our women; imagine communities where knowledge and reading and academic excellence are valued; imagine communities where fathers are doing right by their kids. That’s also something that needs to be reflected. Art just can’t be a rear view mirror; we should have a headlight out there, pointing where we need to go.”
In this year of the 9 may we take strong strides to become the change that we want to see and may we cultivate the vision that will set us in our rightful place, as the cornerstone of the New World Order.
Much Peace, Much Love and Much Prosperity!