Page 1

T he Global Jour nal of Hip-Hop Culture

Pg. 6 / Letter From the Editor Jason Nichols

Pg. 10 / Hip-Hop’s Global Soundscape: Boom Bap Babylon or Babylon’s Boom Bap? Omar El-Khairy

Pg. 20 / Interview With Hip-Hop Ambassador Kokayi

WBL Staff

Pg. 22 / Review: Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion by Adam Haupt

Dr. Jared A. Ball

Pg. 26 / Interview With David Banner

WBL Staff

Pg. 30 / The Modern Massive Resistance: Hip-Hop Dress and the Policing of Race, Space and Place in Charlottesville, Virginia Nina Otchere-Oduro

Pg. 34 / Interview With Brandon Brice of the Hip Hop Republicans

WBL Staff

Pg. 38 / Interview With Kevin Powell

WBL Staff

Pg. 42 / The Ellis Report: The Rap on Obama Eitan Prince

Pg. 46 / Review: Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop -- and Why It Matters by Tricia Rose

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

Pg. 50 / Interview With Tricia Rose

Dr. Jared A. Ball

Pg. 54 / Bum Rush the Boards

Mazi Mutafa and Lester Wallace

Pg. 56 / Featured Poet: Kyle G. Dargan Pg. 62 / Art Under Pressure: American Graffiti: The Tradition of Illegal Public Name Writing in the United States Cory L. Stowers

Pg. 70 / The Street Art Plague: How Graffiti Is Framed by the Press

Tatyana Varshavsky

Pg. 78 / Featured Artist: Interview With Justin Bua

Dana Byrd

Above: “Bozo Texino” writings on the side of a railroad car. Both are dated and show

an eleven-year gap between the markings. For an illustrated look at the tradition of illegal public name writing, see Cory L. Stowers’ work on pg. 62. Photo courtesy of Bill Daniel

Editor-in-Chief Jason Nichols Managing Editor Graham Eng-Wilmot Editors Yahsmin Mayaan Binti BoBo Nick Schonberger Executive Director Mazi Mutafa Cipher Director Simone Jacobson Marketing Coordinator Ashton Wingate

Patrons List DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. The Hitachi Foundation The Global Fund for Children Lois & Richard England Family Foundation W.K. Kellogg Foundation Dr. James White Kaajal Shah Esther Coleman Mark Lawrence Marcus Skelton Patrick Washington

Journal Fellow Eitan Prince Curriculum Development Karlena Walker Art Director Cory L. Stowers Graphic Designer Katrina Paz-Stowers Staff Photographer Rosina Teri Memolo Staff Illustrators Julius Hutchins Aniekan Udofia Asad “Ultra� Walker Matas Yongvongpaibul 1525 Newton St. NW Washington, D.C. 20010 (202) 667-1192

Featured In


Words Beats & Life, Inc.


Mazi Mutafa


For a fully corrected version of the last issue, “Bootleg This Journal: Mixtapes, Film and Hip-Hop’s Underground Economy,” please visit our Web site. Apologies to all of our contributors.

About The Art In conjunction with the scholarly content of “It Ain’t My Fault: Blame It on HipHop,” the artistic work for this issue reflects the idea of hip-hop on trial. Two students of Words Beats & Life, Inc.’s DC Urban Arts Academy, Julius Hutchins and Matas Yongvongpaibul, created the cover art in collaboration with WBL’s Art Director Cory L. Stowers. Throughout the issue, additional illustrations by Asad “Ultra” Walker can be found on pages 30 and 34. Nigerian-American visual artist, Aniekan Udofia, provided the illustrated profiles of David Banner (page 26), Kevin Powell (page 38) and Tricia Rose (page 50), as well as the standalone piece accompanying Omar ElKhairy’s, “Hip-Hop’s Global Soundscape” on page 10, in which a pilot recklessly disperses packages of hip-hop as though they were aid relief. Udofia’s work was previously featured in the “Blueprint for a Movement” issue of Words. Beats. Life. His work has also appeared in XXL, Rime, Elemental and Frank 151. He has designed album covers for numerous hip-hop artists, including Critically Acclaimed’s, “Road Trip” and Flex Mathews’ “The Handsome Grandson,” as well as the book cover for Brandi Forte’s, Half Chicken Half Scholar.

Contributors to Words. Beats. Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture express their own opinions, which should not be interpreted as the official views of any organization with which they are affiliated. The views expressed in the journal do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Words Beats & Life, Inc. With exception of fair use, no part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means either wholly or in part without prior written permission of Words Beats & Life, Inc. If you intend to use this publication for educational purposes, please contact us. Manuscripts, artwork and photographs can be accepted only with the understanding that neither the organization nor its agency accept liability for loss or damage. For detailed information, terms and conditions, quotations and international inquiries, please e-mail or call (202) 667-1192.

Letter From the Editor “It Ain’t My Fault: Blame It On Hip-Hop” was born out of dozens of discussions, both private and public, on the direction of the music and culture. Since hip-hop’s inception, criticisms have been leveled against rappers for the use of sexist images in videos, violence depicted in the music and gratuitous use of the N-word (nigger, nigga, niggah, nigguh--take your pick). And who can forget the women’s basketball team at Rutgers, who valiantly played their way into the NCAA finals only to be berated as “nappy-headed hos” by Don Imus? Of course, Imus blamed rap music for his incendiary comments. Many AfricanAmerican leaders have disparaged hip-hop artists for the pervasive use of the word “nigga.” As time passed, it seemed as though hip-hop was taking heat from all sides--both from its known opponents and its would-be allies. One of my colleagues, Bomani Armah, was a subject of these critiques, which generally came from an older generation who find little value in rap music and conflate the entire genre with the music that they hear on commercial radio. After Armah’s appearance on CNN to defend an animated video depiction of his song “Read a Book,” WBL Executive Director Mazi Mutafa and I agreed that the issue of hip-hop’s status as a “stand-in” for society’s ills was a worthy topic for scholarly inquiry. The issue begins with the work of Omar ElKhairy, a young British man of Palestinian descent who is a charismatic doctoral student with an admirable knowledge of both American and international hip-hop. El-Khairy first came to our attention when he visited WBL to interview our staff about the U.S. Department of State’s hip-hop ambassadors. His insightful, creative commentary and ideas, which raised eyebrows during the meeting, are fully present in “Hip-Hop’s Global Soundscape: Boom Bap Babylon or Babylon’s Boom Bap?” which details America’s hegemony over the global music and culture industry, and its implications for U.S. foreign policy, the War on Terror and international hip-hop artists. I personally believe the Black Panther-style rhetoric about violent, class-based revolution is dated. In 2009 and beyond, hacking has

emerged as a new and more effective form of violence. There is more potential to cripple institutions that exploit the lumpenproletariat by interrupting their means of communication and financial transactions. The thesis of Adam Haupt’s new book, Stealing Empire, does not go this far per se but does position P2P file sharing, hacking and sampling as subversive activities. In his critique of Haupt’s text, Jared Ball, a former editor-in-chief of WBL, praises Haupt’s centering of the Empire concept but remains skeptical about file sharing and sampling as resistive methods to usurp power from the elite. However, Ball is clear that Haupt’s work is an essential read for scholars in hip-hop and media studies and has the potential to launch dialogue that can eventually topple Empire. David Banner is an artist who has attained success within a music industry that promotes individualism and commodity capitalism. While at times he revels in his success within this business, he is passionate about helping communities, most prominently his native Mississippi. WBL conducted an interview with Banner in which he addressed his desire to serve underprivileged communities, while at the same time denying that artists are beholden to them. In “The Modern Massive Resistance: HipHop Dress and the Policing of Race, Space and Place in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Nina Otchere-Oduro draws connections between state efforts to quell integration following Brown v. Board of Education and the racialized prohibition of hip-hop clothing at bars and clubs in Virginia. Her work outlines the irony of the situation, that is, “White Tee” by Dem Franchize Boyz might be playing inside a venue while men actually wearing the standard article of hip-hop clothing are stuck outside-barred from entering. Though the journal staff does have an ideology and worldview, it is not in line with any particular political party. We often spend downtime arguing political issues--just imagine if pundits on The McLaughlin Group said “Nahmean?” at the end of their more profound statements. The past year was politically charged, with

race, gender and youth taking center stage like never before. As a result, it made perfect sense to juxtapose our interview with Brandon Brice of the Hip-Hop Republicans, with our interview with Kevin Powell, a longtime hip-hop writer and, most recently, a Democratic candidate for congress in Brooklyn, NY. Though they had many differences, both were willing to stray from their party rhetoric on issues they care about. In this issue I bequeath authorship of “The Ellis Report” to the capable hands of Eitan Prince, our journal fellow from South Africa. He delivers a stellar piece that analyzes some of the hip-hop songs written in homage to Barack Obama, all of which reflect a tempered optimism for the future. Prince argues that hip-hop will hold Obama accountable for his policies and how they affect marginalized communities. Personally I am not convinced, since hip-hop has not held him responsible for his shameful dance moves on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer contributes a thoughtful review of preeminent hip-hop scholar Tricia Rose’s new book The Hip Hop Wars, which then serves as the perfect introduction to Jared Ball’s interview with Rose. This particular interview explores Rose’s belief in giving young hip-hop listeners the tools to critique the music and culture, as well as her take on the current state of hip-hop scholarship. The featured poet for this issue is the awardwinning Kyle G. Dargan, who describes hip-hop as his “English teacher” and his “sibling.” His poems have urban themes and are reflective of his Newark, NJ upbringing. What excites me about Dargan’s poetry is that WBL is the perfect medium for them. We often receive submissions from excellent spoken word poets, whose work does not always translate well into print. Dargan’s brilliance, on the other hand, leaps off the page. Cory L. Stowers, the art director at Words Beats & Life, Inc., recounts the history of “illegal public name writing” from the Civil War period to the present in “American Graffiti: The Tradition of Illegal Public Name Writing in the United States.” His work traces the connections

between the activity of late-19th century hobos with gang culture--and ultimately the public graffiti writing on display today. Stowers’s work also serves as a sort-of historical backdrop for Tatyana Varshavsky’s piece, “The Street Art Plague: How Graffiti Is Framed by the Press,” a textual analysis that demonstrates how newspapers across the globe overwhelmingly portray graffiti as vandalism. Varshavsky argues that graffiti is a visual medium of expression that can be beneficial to the development of young artists and communities, a stance that to many hip-hop heads is evident and defensible-but for the mainstream news media is clearly problematic. The issue is rounded out with our featured artist Justin Bua, whose depictions of DJs and b-boys should be instantly recognizable. Dana Byrd’s interview with Bua shows how hip-hop has been a driving factor in his work but also cites the influence of 19th century art on his pieces. Bua and his work straddles two worlds that are seemingly distinct--high art and hip-hop--but he addresses just how fluid those boundaries can be. One can certainly blame hip-hop for a few things. Hip-hop has brought people of all races and cultures together in spaces where they would have otherwise been separate. Hiphop has swung elections both in the U.S. and abroad. Hip-hop has provided a platform for people of color who may have found themselves unemployed or incarcerated to succeed as entrepreneurs and moguls. Lastly, hip-hop has influenced and engaged a generation of scholars to look at race, space, class, gender, Empire and sexuality in new and exciting ways. Words. Beats. Life is a platform for such scholarship. We are hip-hop. Blame it on us.

Jason Nichols Editor-in-Chief

Notes for Contributors Vision Statement

Words. Beats. Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture is a peer-reviewed, hybrid periodical of art and hip-hop studies published by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Words Beats & Life, Inc. The Journal is committed to nurturing and showcasing the creative talents and expertise of the field in a layout that is uniquely hiphop inspired. We publish issues twice a year with the intention of serving as a platform where the work of scholars and artists can appear in dialogue with one another. Since 2002, Words. Beats. Life has devoted its pages to both emerging and established intellectuals and artists. As the premier resource for hip-hop theory and practice, we hope that the scholarship we publish will serve as a resource for the field of hip-hop studies and the work of hip-hop nonprofits, helping each to elevate to the next phase of their respective growth in America and around the globe.


Submissions to Words. Beats. Life will be forwarded to a member of the editorial board or other reviewer for comment. Manuscripts must not be previously published, nor should they be submitted for publication elsewhere while being reviewed by Words. Beats. Life. It is requested that the author confirm this fact in writing when transmitting the manuscript for publication consideration. Submissions are considered by specialist reviewers familiar with the specific topic of the work and the field of hip-hop studies. Preference will be given to pieces that are challenging, original, as well as clearly and persuasively written. Anonymity is accorded to both authors and reviewers.


Scholarly research papers Critical essays Scholarly reviews Editorials Prose Poetry Artwork Interviews

3,000 words (minimum) to 5,000 words (maximum) (includes endnotes and reference list) 1,500 words (maximum) 2,000 words (books, albums, films) 1,500 words (maximum) 3,500 words (maximum; memoirs, narratives, fiction, etc.) 6 poems, author bio and photo 7-10 pieces, artist bio and photo (PDF, JPEG, TIFF) 1,500 words (maximum)

* Authors wishing to submit manuscripts below or exceeding these guidelines must consult with the editor-inchief prior to submitting work.


Manuscripts for scholarly research papers should be typed and double spaced with at least one-inch margins. They should be prepared for anonymous reviewing, with any self-identifying references removed. If a cover sheet including identifying information is sent, this must be a separate document/file. For documentation, punctuation, capitalization and other style formatting, Words. Beats. Life follows the APA style guide. This style calls for a References section, with parenthetical in-text citations of author/year of publication/page. Authors must check, correct and bring manuscripts up to date before final submission. Authors should verify facts, names of people, places and dates, and double-check all direct quotations and entries in the References list.


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Illustrations, photographs and other graphics can be included with an indication of placement in the text. Authors are responsible for obtaining permissions for all copyrighted materials. Sources must be indicated. All illustrations, etc. should be accompanied by a caption and an acknowledgement to the copyright holder. Any illustrations submitted electronically should be at least 300 dpi (600 dpi is preferred) in .jpeg or .tiff format.

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The preferred mode of submission is by email attachment to: The preferred format for electronic submissions is Microsoft Word (.doc). Please include your full name, any affiliation, and the title of your paper in the body of the email. Contributions may also be submitted in hard-copy to the address below. In this case, three copies should be submitted; papers will not be returned. Authors should note that hard-copy submissions will typically spend longer in review. If a hard-copy submission is accepted for publication, the author will be required to prepare an electronic version using Words. Beats. Life format and style and submit it by e-mail. Receipt of manuscripts will be acknowledged promptly by e-mail. Authors will be notified of acceptance or rejection in a timely fashion. Please note that the review process can take up to six months.


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For questions about subscriptions and back issues, please contact WBL’s Cipher Director, Simone Jacobson, at or by phone: (202) 667-1192.


For all queries concerning possible submissions, interview ideas, etc., please e-mail For visual artists, graphic designers and illustrators interested in collaborating on future issues, please contact WBL’s Art Director, Cory Stowers, at or by phone: (202) 667-1192.


“Who the fuck knocked our buildings down? Who the man behind the World Trade massacres, step up now. Where the four planes at huh, is you insane bitch? Fly that shit over my hood and get blown to bits! No disrespect, that’s where I rest my head. I understand you gotta rest yours true, nigga my people’s dead. America, together we stand, divided we fall. Mr. Bush sit down, I’m in charge of the war!”

- Wu-Tang Clan, “Rules” (2001)

By Omar El-Khairy Illustration by Aniekan Udofia

Chris Rock noted in his now famous sketch that he “loves rap music, but is tired of defending it,” arguing that “it used to be easy to defend it intellectually and explain why Grandmaster Flash, RUN D.M.C. and Whodini was art,” but that it’s hard to defend “I’ve got hoes in different area codes” (2004). Such criticisms have now become a common refrain in discussions on the current state of hip-hop culture. However, it is exactly from where Rock ends his critique that a more nuanced reading of the current position of hip-hop needs to be articulated. He ends the sketch with: “Even the government hates rap” (2004). However, in a post-9/11 America, how have questions of race and national cultural production been reshaped? At the height of the Cold War, jazz was appropriated as an American tool to defeat Soviet Communism. Are we now

seeing the appropriation of hip-hop, or at least rap music, as the new American soundscape in the “War on Terror”? What follows is not only an exploration of these questions, but also an attempt at reorientating contemporary discussions about hip-hop culture within the changing American socio-political landscape. Through this interrogation into the sociopolitical transformation of hip-hop culture in our current state of post-9/11 securitocracy, this work reevaluates the transnational nature of the “Black Atlantic” and explores the ways in which African-American styles are now traveling across the globe. This alternative genealogy of American hip-hop culture begins by analyzing its current place within American 11

Interview With

Kokayi. Photo by Rosina Teri Memolo, courtesy of Rosina Photography


arl Walker a.k.a. “Kokayi” (Swahili for “to summon the people”) has toured the globe with his band Opus Akoben as part of the “Rhythm Road” program. During an e-mail exchange, Words. Beats. Life talked with Kokayi about his role as a hip-hop ambassador and his experiences performing abroad.


WBL: What do you see as your role as a hiphop ambassador? K: As an ambassador of hip-hop music, my role is to interact with other cultures and peoples via the music and cultural art form we know as hip-hop by correctly relaying the history of the culture and its tenets.

Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion by Adam Haupt Reviewed by Dr. Jared A. Ball

Stealing Empire, the new book from Adam Haupt, is of monumental importance. Oppressed communities need an organized response to the fluidity of global capital that establishes Noam Chomsky’s “virtual parliament” ­whereby an elite can determine international policy via its selective investment and reduce democracy or national sovereignty to idealist rubbish. Seemingly to the rescue comes Haupt, a senior lecturer in Film & Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In an attempt to stave off pessimism and inaction, he “examines the agency of marginalised subjects in the context of global capitalism and the information age” (Haupt, 2008, p. xv). This agency--that is, the power of the “marginalised” to challenge power--is found, says Haupt, in 22

6 ft.

5 ft.



Interview With

Illustration by Aniekan Udofia


avid Banner is undeniably one of hip-hop’s most interesting characters. His music ranges from socially conscientious tunes that would make fellow Mississippian Medgar Evers smile down from the heavens to explicit strip club anthems that would make Larry Flynt blush. But he is also known for his travels outside the realm of music, particularly his work trying to help communities that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Words. Beats. Life caught up with him shortly after he testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about hip-hop content and free speech. In our conversation, Banner touched on his organization, Heal the Hood; the social responsibility of rap artists; the failures of the civil rights generation; and of course, Al Sharpton’s hair.



Interview With

Illustration by Asad “Ultra” Walker


n 1991, Ice Cube proclaimed Blacks “too fuckin’ broke to be Republican.” In the midst of an era that came to be known as Reaganism--just after the height of the crack epidemic but before the Rodney King verdict that fueled the heated Los Angeles riots--his words rang with harsh truth. The Republicans of the Grand Old Party were out of touch with a community whose frustrations were most vividly represented on wax by the rap music of the day, particularly angry, incendiary artists like Public Enemy, X-Clan, Boogie Down Productions and Ice Cube.

HHR: You know that it’s funny that you mention that. I actually did not come from a Republican background. My father is actually a minister, so he didn’t ever really talk about politics. But my mom is not a Republican and I didn’t become a Republican until I was … I think I was twenty. It was in my junior year at Howard and I had got an opportunity to work with the Speaker of the House, who at that time was Dennis Hastert out of Illinois. And being right in the action, and actually seeing for the first time, you know, what the party was really about really opened my eyes.

Pan across the decades, however, and a new politically invested populace is making its mark. Nowhere is this clearer than in President Obama’s election campaign, which attracted young, minority voters to the polls. But in the spirit of these times, there also are organizations exploring a marriage of hip-hop with more conservative principles as an answer to the problems facing the nation and, specifically, Black communities.

WBL: So what, in your words, is the party really about?

The editorial staff of Words. Beats. Life spoke with contributor Brandon Brice to talk about U.S. history, the changing face of the Republican Party and to break down what it means to be a “Hip Hop Republican.”

HHR: Well, I would say for one, it really focuses on self-sustainability and I think that’s critical. Two, it really focuses on limiting government. As we can see right now, you know government is not really trusted. We look at issues like the bailout. When we give government too much control, it ends up slapping Americans back in the face. Government should only be held responsible for things that civilians cannot do. And I think, you know, in a sense, I don’t feel the government deserves that much power over the American people.

WBL: When did you become aware that you wanted to become a Republican? Are your parents Republican? Do you come from a Republican background?

WBL: You all refer to yourselves as “HipHop Republicans.” What exactly about you or your message makes you hip-hop? 35


Interview With

Illustration by Aniekan Udofia


evin Powell first found fame in 1992 when he was featured on the first season of MTV’s The Real World. But he found his voice in print, working as a senior writer at Vibe magazine from 1992 to 1996. Since then, he has taken strong strides to prove himself as a committed activist and community-minded leader. Currently a Brooklyn resident, Powell devotes his work to bringing financial and social services to the community and restoring positive images to the minds of Black people everywhere. Powell is also the author/editor of nine books, including 2008’s The Black Male Handbook, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications including Essence, Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The Washington Post. A vocal critic of the old-guard Black leadership, Powell ran for Congress in 2008 in New York’s 10th District, competing against longtime incumbent Edolphus “Ed” Towns. He has vowed to run again in 2010. Words. Beats. Life caught up with Powell to discuss his Congressional bid, the state of Black communities and Black leadership, as well as how the relationship between the civil rights and hiphop generations has impacted efforts to address the needs of the Black communities in Brooklyn and beyond.



By Eitan Prince Illustration courtesy of

“Honestly, I love the art of hip-hop; I don’t always love the message of hip-hop.” These were the words of Barack Obama in a television interview in January 2008, when it was not yet clear if he would win the Democratic candidacy for president (Johnson 2008). Back then, Obama was cautious about embracing hip-hop whole-heartedly, offering thoughtful critiques of the negative stereotyping of women and the materialism that have come to dominate its music. Despite his hedging, hip-hop had his back throughout the presidential campaign--a campaign that came to be defined by its strong associations with hip-hop culture--even though its message on Obama was sometimes mixed. In analyzing Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, observers have pointed to his campaign’s success in attracting new voters, energizing new constituencies and tapping funds using new media and methods not employed in previous campaigns for the presidency. Galvanizing support from the ground up, Obama was able to establish a strong base of funding and, more importantly, voting-eligible warm bodies from which to launch his ultimately successful campaign. But perhaps most notable in this presidential race was the seemingly unprecedented support that Obama enjoyed within the creative arts community. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the realm of music, where so much content was generated that one blogger counted a total of 800 Obama songs that had been posted on YouTube.1 Also in the blogosphere, several lines of type have been spent listing and debating the best election songs, with particular emphasis on the proliferation of pro-Obama hip-hop songs, some of which have proven to be events of their own.2 Despite the cyber noise generated by artists, both professional and amateur, performing for Obama, few commentators have bothered to address how these songs figured in the Obama campaign or what, if any, impact they might have had on its success.

Many bloggers and Internet commentators have been concerned with whether these songs are good--certainly that’s what lists like “Top 10 Rap Songs for Obama” suggest.3 And while such discussions offer some novelty value, they fail to address the substance of these songs. In this Ellis Report, we examine a few key recordings--some prominent and popular, others less lauded--and assess how these records, especially in their lyrics and/or visual presentation, engaged with the Obama campaign. Beats, Rhymes and Polls Of course, the marriage of politics and music is not new in American political history. The two have gone together since George Washington’s supporters “broke out their flutes to celebrate his unanimous nomination,” notes Time Magazine’s Claire Suddath (2008) (although Franklin Roosevelt was the first to adopt a well-known, non-political pop song--“Happy Days Are Here Again”--as his unofficial theme song). But perhaps the matrimony of music and politics has resonated most in moments of resistance and imminent change. Commenting on the significance of music to the civil rights movement, author Craig Werner contends that the sixties-arguably the height of that movement--were a time of hope, and you could hear it in the music: “[In] the freedom songs that soared high above and sunk deep within the hearts of the marchers at Selma and Montgomery; in the gospel inflections of Sam Cooke’s teenage love songs; in Motown’s self-proclaimed sound track for ‘young America’; in blue-eyed soul and English remakes of the Chicago blues; in Aretha’s Franklin’s resounding call for respect; in Sly Stone’s celebration of the everyday people and 43

By Nina Otchere-Oduro Illustration by Asad “Ultra” Walker

“NO PLAIN WHITE TEES,” read the sign in the window at Jaberwoke, a restaurant and bar next to the University of Virginia campus. In March 2007, this restriction and a list of others sparked a debate about hip-hop culture and its relationship to race and space in the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. The incident occurred when the restaurant’s owners implemented a dress code that many say had racial undertones. According to the guidelines, customers were not 30

allowed to wear hats with brims, baggy clothes, sweat pants, sleeveless shirts (on males), plain white t-shirts, and camouflage (unless worn by a member of the armed forces) (Murphy, 2007). The owners, citing that individuals wearing such items of clothing were more likely to cause problems, backed the new restrictions with the rhetoric of improving safety and promoting better behavior in the establishment. But for many, this correlation of hip-hop fashion with negative acts

The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop - and Why It Matters by Tricia Rose Reviewed by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer


hen Nas penned hip-hop’s obituary many, particularly artists, protested, pointing to their own production as living proof of the exact opposite. Yet, if one takes a long and serious look at the state of hip-hop today, she or he is likely to come to the conclusion: If hip-hop is not dead, then it must be on life support. So begins Tricia Rose’s newest work, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop -- and Why It Matters. Rose’s prognosis is similarly grim, “HIP HOP IS NOT DEAD, but it is gravely ill” (p. ix). The Hip Hop Wars is part analysis and part manual. Rose does not take the position of an armchair academic evaluating 46


Interview With

Illustration by Aniekan Udofia


or the past dozen years commercially successful hip-hop has been saturated with caricatures of Black gangsters, thugs, pimps and hoes. The controversy surrounding hiphop is worth attending to because, as scholar and cultural critic Tricia Rose argues, hip-hop has become a primary means by which we talk about race in the U.S. With fervor, subtlety and fairness to both sides, The Hip Hop Wars explores the divisive, vitriolic debate about race and culture in America, concluding with a call for the revitalization of the progressive and creative heart of hip-hop. WBL contributor Dr. Jared A. Ball spoke with Rose about her work on his FreeMix Radio show January 5, 2009.


By Mazi Mutafa and Lester Wallace


rom its inception, hip-hop culture has always been about taking what you have and creating what you want from it, leading to connections between things that seemingly don’t belong together. We heard it when Bambaataa rocked parties playing punk, funk and rock records. We saw it when Herc rode proudly through the South Bronx with his oversized speakers blasting new sounds, as if to notify the heavens that he had arrived. Neither man was content with just rocking a party; rather, each wanted to rock an entire neighborhood. Innovation has taken many forms and been led by many crews and organizations throughout hip-hop’s history. From the Zulu Nation to the Hip-Hop Congress, organizations have played a pivotal role in promoting innovation. One of the best examples of such an innovation is Bum Rush the Boards, the world’s first hip-hop chess tournament, created and hosted by Words Beats & Life. The WBL staff and Board saw the logical connection between chess and hip-hop, considering that hip-hop, as a culture, is highly competitive. It is replete with opportunities to battle and compete in order to win over crowds, crews, and sponsors. From the development of the Bum Rush mixtape, featuring original tracks from local artists about the art of chess, to the innovative chess games being played in the Remix Room, the WBL staff has created an event that blends the best of both hip-hop and chess. Bum Rush the Boards lifts up change makers from throughout history by posting information at the event for the youth in attendance.


Every Bum Rush the Boards participant is encouraged to learn more about how these “strategic strugglers” helped impact and shape the world they live in today. These individuals represent no single racial, ethnic, national or religious group. They span the whole of human history and serve as sources of inspiration to a new generation of future leaders, thinkers and doers. WBL recognizes that these skills are not just useful in both chess and hip-hop, but in business and life, too. Planning for your future and developing the craft you love are as linked as we can imagine two things to be. By connecting hip-hop to chess in a way that resonates with the youth and adults who attend, Bum Rush the Boards exposes youth to a culture (hip-hop) and a set of strategies (chess) that requires them to think ahead, manage their talent and size up their adversaries. This Bum Rush the Boards article represents our effort to not only tell people about the work we are doing, but ideally inspire readers to never look at chess or hip-hop the same way again. This article was written by our resident chess coach, Lester “DJ 2-Tone Jones” Wallace. Lester has loved both hip-hop and chess since he was a child. As an adult, he is able to bring two of his greatest passions together under one umbrella: Bum Rush the Boards. It is our hope that this article, and those that follow it, will inspire other arts and culture-based organizations around the country (and, hopefully, the world) to develop chess programs, prompting youth to see the connections between strategy and the arts.

Clyde’s Sacrifice

Make Sacrifices

In the 1950s, segregation had a stronghold throughout the South. However, many supporters of the Civil Rights Movement made advances to weaken the opposing force. One of the lesser-known heroes of that movement was Clyde Kennard, a Korean War veteran and farmer from Mississippi. On three Example 1 separate occasions, Kennard attempted to become the first African American enrolled at Mississippi Southern College. He was so determined to succeed that he turned down offers from the governor and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to pay for his tuition at any in-state institution where he could gain acceptance. Unfortunately, efforts by his opponents to end his quest of breaking the color barrier came to a climax in 1959 when he was falsely accused of reckless driving. In 1960, he was wrongfully arrested on an accomplice to theft charge for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison. After three years of incarceration, Kennard was released for medical reasons and died shortly Diagram 1 thereafter.

Look at Diagrams 1 & 2 and figure out which sacrifice move will lead to better positioning or an advantage. Diagram 1 Example 2

Black to move. Diagram 2

In the game of chess, sacrifices occur when players intentionally put one of their pieces in harm’s way to be captured in order to gain better positioning and/or advance another one of their pieces. In the case of Clyde Kennard, although he never gained acceptance into Mississippi Southern College, his tireless efforts and sacrifice laid the groundwork for an African-American student population that now numbers more than 2,000. There is now a student services building on campus named in his honor. Black to move.

White to move.

EXAMPLE: Example 1

Example 2

In Example 1, the bishop on E4 moves to capture the pawn on C5, putting the King in check. Although on the next move, white can capture black’s bishop with either its King or bishop on D6, you can see in Example 2 that black will be in a position to capture white’s other bishop on E8 using the rook on E1. As a result, white will be left with only a bishop versus black’s rook, making it nearly nearly impossible for white to win.

Park Bench Pointer:

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Sacrifice moves are often used to lure an opponent’s piece away from an area that it is attacking or protecting.


Kyle Dargan. Photo courtesy of Marlene Hawthrone Thomas 56


elf-described as “Token Black Metaphysical,” Kyle G. Dargan embodies the elements of hip-hop in his work, effortlessly weaving snapshots of the culture into his poetry in the spirit of a true literary graffiti artist. In a 2005 interview with the Fishouse, Dargan joked, “If you stick me in a room by myself with pen and paper, I’m more likely to vandalize something than I am to, you know, write a poem.” Indeed, the chaos and grime of the city is what provokes Dargan to put pen to paper. He insists that all of his best writing is done on public transportation. Dargan is an assistant professor of creative writing at American University where he coordinates the Bishop McCabe Lecture Series. He is also the founding editor of POST NO ILLS online magazine (, a Webbased and annual print publication that aims to provide a participatory venue for balanced arts criticism and commentary along with interdisciplinary exchange between artists and arts administrators. The New York Times Book Review described him as having “a marvelous ear” and his debut collection of poems, The Listening, was awarded the 2003 Cave Canem Prize by Quincy Troupe. His poems and works of non-fiction have appeared in publications such as Callaloo, Denver Quarterly, The Newark Star-Ledger, Ploughshares, The

Root and Shenandoah. He was most recently the managing editor of Callaloo. The University of Georgia Press released his second collection of poems, Bouquet of Hungers, in 2007. Dargan holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Indiana University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, where he was a Yusef Komunyakaa Fellow and poetry editor at Indiana Review. In an attempt to foster ongoing conversations between scholars and artists about hip-hop, Words. Beats. Life’s Simone Jacobson conducted a series of e-mail exchanges with Dargan, who just might prove to be one of the most important poetic voices of the hip-hop generation. The conversation gives insight into his connection to hip-hop, his sense of what being Black in America means, and his musings on the reality of riding on Washington D.C.’s U8 bus line. WBL: What is it about hip-hop that is so appealing to you? Is hip-hop your “muse”? KGD: No, hip-hop isn’t my muse. It was my English teacher for a long time, but not my muse. Being born in 1980, I see hip-hop more like my sibling--we grew up together, endured a lot of growth and nonsense together, fought over the same women. I think I’ve outgrown him at various times, but I still love him because he


“Liberty unrestrained is an invitation to anarchy.” - Justice Janice Rogers Brown California Supreme Court

By Tatyana Varshavsky


or decades, many urban centers have struggled with crime and vandalism that has turned some neighborhoods into war-like zones of destruction and destitution. In the 1970s, graffiti art was born of such circumstances as many artists sought to reclaim those spaces by breathing in a new life of original beauty and vibrancy that inevitably spoke to youth and artists all over the world. Over time, art that once could only be found on subway cars and street corners started showing up in high-priced galleries, bringing a legitimate kind of fame for artists the art world chose to showcase. Some such as Banksy, who is internationally renowned, have made a new name for urban art, bringing an underground appreciation to what authorities often treat as worthless vandalism. By way of formal exhibitions, innovative multimedia projects forged by established media channels, and of course, illumination via popular culture, street and graffiti art have moved into the mainstream. Nevertheless, the successes of recent years have not completely erased the ever-present tension between what some consider to be art and others pure vandalism, in both the letter of the law and the decree of public opinion. 70

Urban Art: Framed Dissecting recent news articles on graffiti shows that today, just as ever, the mainstream perception of graffiti as vandalism and not art persists. Writers are still portrayed as criminals in the news media, and the positive portrayals of both the art form and the artists who bring it to life are few and far between. This in-depth textual analysis examines a host of framing mechanisms employed by mainstream news media when writing about graffiti. One of the frames that was found most often portrays the practice as vandalism that in turn invites more vandalism, i.e. graffiti-invites-vandalism. This “Broken Windows” theory posits that the public landscape represents society, and graffiti writers mar that landscape, as a result, tying graffiti to a wide array of urban ills. Ironically, these are the same ills from which the practice originated from around the time of hip-hop’s emergence in the South Bronx. Examining the ways in which graffiti is presented in the news worldwide leads to a clearer glimpse of how the so-called plague of street art is framed in both print and the social realms.

According to Karen Johnson-Cartee’s “News as Narrative,” the concept of framing consists of “structures of expectation” constructed within the news narrative (2005, p. 160). A news story constructs the social history of its subject by embedding information about who is assigned responsibility, who is held accountable for a socially-constructed public problem, and how much emphasis is placed and where. In presenting choice segments, viewpoints, and suggested scapegoats in a fashion that is both familiar and expected, the news paints quite a convincing, if incomplete, picture of the social issue at hand. This work examines how news framing has been constructed around graffiti to indiscriminately present the range of different types of graffiti, from tags to colorful artistic murals, as anti-social vandalism, and those who paint it as criminal. What is Graffiti? The standard definition of graffiti is rather harmless: “Words or drawings, especially humorous, rude or political, on walls, doors, etc. in public places,” (dictionary.cambridge. org). Graffiti can be said to be distinguished into three main types: political, such as that which graced Roman walls thousands of years ago; gang-related; and hip-hop ( What constitutes graffiti today emerged from the hip-hop cultural revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s, developing in some of the less prosperous parts of New York City. Along with breakdancing, djing and emceeing, graffiti became the visual component that “took shape as a streetwise alternative to gangs and gang graffiti, providing its practitioners a medium ... and quickly emerged as a stylized system of subcultural status and street-level communication, a sort of visual rap laid down on the surfaces of the city” (Ferrell, 2001, p. 180). Hip-hop graffiti writers, noted Jeff Ferrell, a criminologist and one-time graffiti writer himself, “remade New York City’s public spaces,” in a way that according to Martha Cooper, the foremost documentarian of the art movement’s earliest days, “transcended traditional gang territory” (1984, p. 23). Even though the graffiti she and Henry Chalfant helped make famous in their breakthrough Subway Art book was different than anything seen before, appearing as “something that was unique to New York City” in those early days, the aesthetic codes of this particular brand of graffiti galvanized marginalized young artists 71

By Dana Byrd


est known for his vivid figural paintings, Justin Bua is also an author, designer and college professor. Born in New York City and raised on the Upper West Side and Brooklyn, Bua immersed himself in hip-hop culture. He draws from visions of his own past to create glorious images of the urban experience. Eager to disseminate his work to a broad audience, Bua reproduces his work in the form of fine art posters and illustrations. His fans are loyal and often flock to Web forums to discuss his latest work. Bua’s The DJ, a visual manifesto of the four elements of hip-hop culture, is one of the best-selling posters of all time. Most critics of Bua’s paintings cite his involvement in hip-hop as the driving influence behind his work. This may be true, but Bua’s interest in form, the building blocks that comprise any painting, are an equally important element of his compositions. In this interview with Dana Byrd of Yale University, which took place before the 2008 election, Bua reveals himself as a master craftsman who is just as concerned with nineteenth-century visual culture as he is with 1970s and 1980s hip-hop culture. Justin Bua Opposite page: The DJ (2001)




This page: “Colossus of Roads,� a third generation railroad worker, writes his infamous moniker on a rail car in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Bill Daniel


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