As if channeling African American writer Zora Neale Hurston, I trekked across rare, foreign soil on which probably ninety-nine percent of Americans would never, ever travel. And with the commitment of that treasured author-anthropologist, I braved it.
But only for a week and some change. Small change at that. Like a half dollar’s worth.
Each steamy, Caribbean night — well past the bewitching hour — the sound of conga drumming in wild abandon echoed from the smokey hills. Haunting me, beating the soul of me with more intensity than I’ve ever experienced in a house music club. And I, mind you, dance next to the six-foot speakers in these dark, thunderous dens. (Which is why I now feel damn near deaf.)
But it wasn’t the volume of the hillside drumming; it was their deep purpose that had me on edge. The drums were driving traditional religious ceremonies… Every night… Until the crack of dawn.
I rarely slept. Luckily, the hotel bar was always open! I stayed at the Oloffson, a “gingerbread” mansion surrounded by lush gardens. But I was hardly the only wide-eyed guest swizzling a little plastic stick in a glass on the porch at 4 a.m. Not with the drumming keeping us so awake and social.
The location was Haiti. The city: Port-au-Prince. My reason for going there? I was conducting a little informal “research” for a suspense novel I was writing back then (and have recently blown the dust off). It’s a story set in “The Industry.” Something they used to call a competitive set of corporations vying for our new car and soft drink dollars: an industry. But now, the term seems to belong to Hip-hop.
Hip-hop, indeed, is at the crux of the aforemention novel. Hip-hop also is the topic on which this opinion piece rests… I ask you, “How can black music that so brilliantly echoes the intense, African sentiment of the drums I heard in Haiti seem so overwhelmingly dismissive of its true power and potential uses?”
Now don’t get me wrong: I own enough of this music to trade toward a small Frigidaire. In the beats I hear profound evidence of deeply embedded, DNA-bequeathed intelligence. It’s as if aural tribal marks are cut into the essence of many tracks. I’m almost like “Mozart who?” For real! And there are so many of these highly evolved producers, I am convinced that something of an Underground Renaissance is unfolding before our eyes.
But when will we ever harness that artistry, that lyrical power of persuasion, to inspire meaningful change? I mean, if hip-hop can make some white folks want to “act black,” surely there’s some deep-ass science going down. I mean, ain’t nobody use to wanna be like us! Only hip-hop gets that unprecedented, head-scratching, bragging right. World-wide, too. (Well, maybe the Rastas get a little credit, too. Given the number of blonde dreadlocks that have been bonded over ganga, as if smoking Jamaican Super Glue.)
But what could hip-hop really accomplish? I believe it could serve as a catalyst to spur world change in profound ways. I believe there’s potentially enough energy there to be instrumental in helping unseat evil governments.
But alas: we’re only racking up street cred points for doing away with each other. (Where’s a Black Panther when you need one? Fiddy?)
And this is what my dusty, old manuscript is about. Sort of… “What if ‘Fiddy’…?”
Now, I don’t mean him personally. But someone who’ll someday be as influential as he. Or as indefatigable as our very own “Elvis”: the ever-green and growing Tupac Shakur. (Why, just last spring, my boyfriend swore Pac popped up on the West side of Chicago! Then I thought I saw him, too: he sprouted on the parking lot of MacArthur’s, the soul food restaurant!)
Anyway, the premise is probably best understood by relating this tidbit… There’s a theory about the impetus behind Adolf Hitler’s power, that he sort of… snapped early on. He allegedly believed he’d been blinded in a gas attack. The doctors treating Hitler found absolutely nothing wrong with his eyesight, and determined this “blindness” was all in his mind. So the doctors “cured” him through @hypn@sis@, telling him, “Yup, you’re blind, all right! But because God has chosen you as a special person, you can regain your eyesight through sheer will power.”
And so he did; Hitler “fixed” his vision. And in so miraculously healing himself, he ultimately also convinced himself that he could “heal” just about all the ills of the world. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I suppose it would take some type of mass hypnosis — or vodou, which may be about the same — to get this rap thing on higher ground. One might even argue that mass hypnosis is exactly what happens In Da Club, On Da Radio, and On Da Videos all the time.
So in the spirit of the great novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, I say, “Somebody tell my Hip-hop horse that it’s time to turn around, carry us in another direction.” Because every good “horse” under the influence of a steamy boom-bap does exactly as told. Get just the right one spittin’ about change on a mic, and the entire Rhythm Nation may follow.
Wonder if we hooked up on a dark hillside one night and rubbed together two quarters, could we make make 50 Cent?
Perhaps the @revolution@ will be televised, after all. If not on MTV, perhaps on November 9th, when “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” hits movie screens nationwide.
Reprint courtesy of Viqi French Fever – The Hot Nu Music Blog