By Tony Muhammad
Genesis chapter eleven verse ten
explains the genealogy of Shem
Shem was a Black man in Africa
If you repeat this fact they can’t laugh at ya – KRS-One – Boogie Down Productions – Why Is That? (1988)
1988 – Right in the beginning of my second year of Junior High School (8th grade), in my homeroom class, I was assigned to sit at a table with other students who were considered to be in the “in crowd.” Homeroom only lasted twenty minutes. It was the time of the school day that was routinely used by teachers to take attendance and for students to hear the morning announcements on the PA. But, for me it became the time of the day that I looked forward to the most.
In this homeroom situation, at first I was very quiet, listening to what this group of “in crowd” students had to say about the latest trends. What I appreciated most about them was that they never put me down because I wasn’t in their “in crowd” but they always encouraged me to participate in their discussions by getting “hip to the knowledge.” I listened, did research and slowly but surely began discussing. However, my attention became sparked when they started talking about what was seen and heard in the latest Rap Music videos. Besides Run DMC, a young “Latino” growing up in Miami, I wasn’t aware of any other Rap artists making music at that time. I was told about a new show called Yo MTV Raps! where they could be seen. That following Saturday at 10 am I was tuning in.
What grabbed my attention the most was that the music and the videos had messages that spoke to what I was going through personally. I soon learned that my cousin Willie who had recently moved from New York was into Hip Hop and was moved by the positive
messages found in much of the music as well. Willie mentioned to me how Big Daddy Kane’s version of Lean On Me (the title track from the 1989 movie Lean On Me) had such a huge impact on him that he made the decision to go back to high school (after quitting the year prior) and earn his diploma. The line in the song that stung the most for him was “Are you going to go college or are you going to be garbage.” Willie eventually went to college, got married, has children and is today working in the medical field. But during that time when we were boding through the music, he shared radio cassette recordings of live mixes done by DJs Chuck Chill Out and Kool DJ Red Alert on 98.7 KISS FM (New York City). I made my own copies of them and played them over and over again on the daily. As I bought music from the artists that impacted me the most (including Jungle Brothers, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan) I shared it with Willie and he in turn made his own cassette recordings which he constantly played. Sometimes we borrowed the same music several times because we kept wearing out the tape of the cassettes we recorded the music on. A few months later I started purchasing vinyl and was saving up for my first DJ equipment. By my junior year in high school I had my own equipment and was selling my own Hip Hop mix tapes to my fellow classmates.
Yet, it wasn’t so much the music that made me gain popularity among my peers. It was applying the wisdom that I heard expressed from the conscientious artists of that Golden Era. It was Public Enemy’s relentless demand for justice that inspired me to stand up for students who were labeled as “dummies” by teachers because they were placed in dropout prevention programs. It was KRS-One’s emphasis on history and X-Clan’s constant reference to Black historical leaders that motivated me to look deeper into my own Cuban roots and understand the Indigenous and African aspects of my own identity that had been suppressed due to white supremacy. I began to read books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and others related to The Black Panther Party, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner. They became my gateway to understanding Self and the Journey I was destined to embark. Understanding the seriousness of the things that I was learning, I challenged teachers in history classes that were teaching racist and inaccurate information every time there was an opportunity to do so. Because of this I became known to some of my peers as “The
Philosopher.” However, what I was destined to do became clearest to me during The 1992 Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles when Chuck D and KRS-One were being interviewed by MTV to get their insight over what was taking place. They said in responses to the rioting and the looting taking place that it was “not the way” and that instead we should be “organizing and mobilizing” our people in our pursuit of justice. The idea of MOVEMENT came to my mind and I made a firm decision that I wanted to be a part of it. The idea of doing my part to improve the condition of my people out of love for them had now found its place in my heart. I just needed to know how to do it.
In the years that followed I became active with various student groups, especially on college campuses, organizing programs and working on projects oriented towards exposing the TRUTH of what has been done, what continued to be done to us as a people and what to do to improve our condition. Eventually I made the decision to become a registered member of The Nation of Islam under the Leadership of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, continuing THE WORK through ministry, journalism, cultural activism, organizing and participating in local and national conferences.
Why am I sharing this story right now? Because we as a Cultural Community have entered into a dark period in the midst of “Mixed Feelings and Controversy” surrounding one of our most historically respected and iconic elders in Hip Hop Culture and as of consequence too many of us are of the belief that the music and the culture itself is dead and presently serves no purpose to be used to teach and inspire the next generations coming up after us. Too many of us are of the opinion that just because wrong doing has very likely taken place that the enemy has not been strategically working to increase division among us and is fostering an atmosphere that will lead to the shedding of blood in the midst of it all; conditions and circumstances that we will look back towards in the very near future and woefully regret. Too many of us who are knowledgeable and respected are getting caught up like lightweight creatures in webs of rumors circulating like wildfire on social media that are causing extraordinary confusion, public bickering, arguing and overall disrespect among our own. Too much gossip is being presented and passed off as “real news” on OUR news sources, which discredits our own legitimacy. Too much attention is given to those involved in media that have demonstrated over and over again that they don’t really care about our well being as a community or as a culture, but rather are more interested in breaking stories so that they can further their own careers. Too many of us seek to be seen on camera and on social media commenting (with a serious lack of knowledge) just because the topic is trending, NOT because we have any true solutions to the problem, but because we want to be “known” and at the same time dangerously and unknowingly adding fire to the flames. Too many of us, especially in academia practice intellectual cowardice to the degree that we refuse to discuss the root causes of problems because such discussions in and of themselves may in retrospect expose other illicit or contradictory behavior among our own academic circles that we have either ignored, condoned or participated in ourselves. Too many of us, including sincere ones, are busy pointing fingers at one another and immaturely accusing each other of being “agents” while the real agents work to distract us from continuing the REAL WORK which is taking the necessary time to make strong impressions on the minds of the youth so that they can become inspired to pick up the mantle of responsibility and continue the process of liberating the minds of the masses of our people. THAT’S RIGHT, we are repeating the same mistakes as our leaders that came before us!
When we enter into a dark place, often times we succumb to the belief that we ourselves have been buried. It causes us to engage in erratic behavior out of worry. However, worry only comes about as a result of an absence of an imagination on how to deal with new trials in life and us forgetting what our true purpose in life is. As we discover more and more TRUTH about circumstances, others and ourselves, we learn that we have ACTUALLY been Divinely planted like seeds so that we can eventually grow and produce THE NEWNESS that we have long been looking for! That NEWNESS is the GENESIS or the BEGINNING OF CONSCIOUSNESS in others, wiser and more refined than before. Just as I experienced my genesis during Hip Hop’s Golden Era, many of you reading this article can reflect back when you were first exposed to consciousness through music, through art, through poetry, through a book, through a neighbor, through a family member, through a friend or through a teacher. This is NOT a time to be stagnant. It is a time to analyze, reflect, plan, go to work and increase our work. HIP HOP, which means to be in with the times (Hip) and initiate motion in a accordance with the knowledge of the time (Hop), LIVES ON!
Allah (God) Willing, more to be shared next time!
Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies and Humanities in Miami-Dade County Schools for over 17 years. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2009). He currently serves as a student assistant minister to Student Minister Patrick Muhammad at Muhammad Mosque #29 in Miami, Florida.