Renaissance any new birth, re-birth or revival of art, thought, science, literature, or architecture. [(French for "rebirth"; Italian: Rinascimento, from ri- "again" and nascere "be born")]
Listening to the new albums from Ana Tijoux and Queen Yonasda made me think of Akinyele.
I know what youre thinking so let me explain.
About 11 years when I first came to Washington, D.C. I visited every neighborhood I could in order to learn the city and I visited city hotspots to get a feel for the culture of the people. One of the many things I did was visit locations I remembered from my trips to D.C. for the world-famous Howard University homecoming weekend (my favorite was 1993-94 when I rolled down there with my man Hakim Green of Channel Live, who made the Hip-Hop classic Mad Izm:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEeM3J3WHi0). I breezed through one nightspot in particular and had my usual non-alcoholic – ginger ale and cranberry – and enjoyed myself just building with others and head-nodding.
Then, it happened. The scene I will never forget.
The DJ put on Put It In Your Mouth by Akinyele (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mAJU_ZKhEM&feature=related), one of those dilemma tracks, I call them (hint to conscious artists: if your arrangements sounded as hot as Akinyeles youd move more units). The beat is so hot, with a set up intro and a unique voice contrasts that grab you, that you end up not realizing that you are about to be programmed with not just subliminal messages but in your face porno-rap, so hypnotic that you will have to fight yourself to get the beat and chorus out of your head the next day. Yes, some of the very best have ended up unconsciously humming Put It In Your Mouth, on a Sunday morning.
I had heard the song long before that night on the streets and bumping in cars in Philly, Jersey and New York where it was huge – so I knew what it was (the song is technically a classic in a certain category) but I had never heard it in a club before.
As soon, as the DJ put the song on, a gang of nothing but young women hit the dance floor. It was the most beautiful stampede you will ever see a moshpit with rhythm, with the ladies doing that dance you know, the one hand in the air, while they look down and move back and forth. You can see it a bit in Da Brats Give It 2 You video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSZyaEe7D9s&feature=related)
Put it in my moooooouuuth . She said put it in her mouth
They knew every one of Akinyeles lyrics.
I felt uncomfortable, more by the scene than the record.
Pretty much, everything has its place, and I know that men and women have a certain kind of graphic conversation when among themselves that can be humorous, and a man and woman in privacy can have the same in another kind of way. But the sight of college-age girls and up to 40-somethings mouthing everyone of these lyrics in public celebration was something to behold, bothering me in different ways. And it also impressed upon me just how far away we had moved from where Hip-Hop music was just 10 years prior, especially in terms of balance and the music made for and by women.
Dont get me wrong, we had the groups B!&%@s With Problems and the legendary H.W.A. (Hoe$ With Attitudes) in the 1980s but something had dramatically changed by the end of the 1990s.
There has always been a sorority of female rap categories. Weve had the eye-candy female rapper who is clearly not writing her lyrics and is just there for our review. Then theres the bit more refined and sexy female artist who is witty and suggestive but not usually over the top with it. Theres the conscious rapper who wants you to respect her for her mind more than her body, or at least as much. Her goal is to let you know she has dignity, reads a lot, and cares about people. Theres the assertive, confident, some times foul-mouthed aggressive female rapper who makes you think it is possible she might kick youre a@# or get you put in a box if you are not careful. Theres the elegant seductress artist, who keeps it on, while she lets you know shes willing to take it off, under the right circumstances. And then theres the strip club, sex kitten rapper who has brains for sure (stop thinking nasty thoughts) but downplays it (except to let you know shes street smart) and is there to shock the hell out of you and keep your thoughts on private parts, as much as possible.
I can appreciate what all of them bring to the table and understand it in terms of commercial value and market segments. Ill leave it up to you to think where Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, Eve, Lauryn Hill, Amil, Yo Yo, Kid Sister, Foxy Brown, Roxanne Shante, Gloria Velez, Lil Kim, MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Remy Ma, Trina and Lady Of Rage fit.
Of course, whats even more interesting is the female artist who crosses categories or who can appeal to more than three of them at once.
In Hip-Hops evolution, balance today has been lost and we have practically witnessed the near extinction of the conscious, elegant, refined, and even witty female rapper, in terms of mass marketing. And the political-activist woman rapper is virtually non-existent.
Out of all of the female artists I see put out by majors and independents and the countless female rappers I receive emails from as the self-described hottest new chick in the game almost all of them are in the strip-club-sex kitten category. Again, this doesnt mean they arent hot or talented. What Im saying, from a business standpoint, is that the category is so saturated I just dont think you can make money over there like you used to. Its simple supply and demand. The more rare or scarce something is the more potentially valuable it is.
Enter Chilean artist Ana Tijoux and the Black American/Native American artist- Queen Yonasda. Two artists in an incredible position to change the game as what I call the U.S. colonization of rap music ends (see more of my thinking on that at: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/what%E2%80%99s-next-for-hip-hop-the-end-of-its-american-colonization/).
Ana Tijoux, signed to Nacional Records (http://www.nacionalrecords.com/) is being described as One of South Americas Best-Regarded MCs by the Los Angeles Times with her debut U.S. album, 1977 (single video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2J2wO8eYz4) receiving incredible critical acclaim. Born to a French mother and a Chilean father in political exile shes able to cross cultures, and spit great music in Spanish while giving captivating interviews to English-speaking outlets. Shes witty has a great sense of humor and wonderul stage presence. Her recent performance at WNYCs Greene Space and interview (http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/episodes/2010/04/06) got my full attention.
Queen Yonasda (http://queenyonassda.com/) is in an enviable free-agent position putting out her own music, while working with the most commercially successful producers and talking to majors and independents. Her innovative album, God Love and Music (available through iTunes at: http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/queen-yonasda/id319783831) is virally spreading all over the world, forming one of the most diverse audiences Ive ever seen. She has a dancing background and rips shows wherever she goes. But better than anyone in recent memory she has the ability to organize movements around music. In just the five months of 2010 she has convened the recent Hip-Hop 4 Haiti effort (http://hiphop4haiti.ning.com/) and mobilized Arizona rappers against the states controversial immigration law (http://allhiphop.com/stories/features/archive/2010/05/06/22204547.aspx) in a hot remix of Public Enemys By The Time I Get To Arizona, earning Chuck D.s full support. Her new single, So Special (http://allhiphop.com/stories/multimedia__music/archive/2010/04/02/22159339.aspx) is produced by No ID who is most recently appreciated for giving Jay-Z the ill beat for D.O.A.
And did I fail to mention she was raised in the family of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and somehow finds time to write a widely-read spiritual and geopolitical column for The Final Call newspaper? In a recent column (http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1/article_6934.shtml) Yonasda shares poignant memories of the unique work of her mother a full blooded member of the Lakota Nation who in her person, bravely and in great suffering helped to unite the cause of pan-African, pan-Islamic, and pan-Indigenous movements.
Ana and Yonasdas stories are as real or realer than any artist out right now twisting their face up and lying about their past in order to get street credibility. You cant make up how they grew up and you cant fake how it comes out in their music.
What I see in both artists is something Ive written about which I call the Diasporic Personality (http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/%E2%80%9Cbarack-obama-diasporic-personality-cultural-entrepreneur-american-emperor%E2%80%9D-remarks-given-by-cedric-muhammad-at-the-george-mason-university-%E2%80%98fall-for-the-book%E2%80%99-fest/). I go into detail about it explaining how it has made President Barack Obama so unique: He Barrack Hussein Obama – is that rare individual skilled in navigating the waters and traveling through that space shared by an empire, a homeland, and a diaspora. He lives in and comes to power in the American empire (and its two dominant and separate societies: Black and White) while embracing his relationship to both an African and Islamic diaspora. Through emigration, dispersion, bloodline, creed or belief, the Disaporic personality and cultural entrepreneur have a connection to a homeland or broader civilization outside of the country in which they now live. By nature, he internationalizes the individuals, events, circumstances, and institutions that he engages, as he is claimed simultaneously by different communities: African, Muslim, Southeast Asian, Hawaiian, White American; Black American etc
Although few artists who claim him realize it, as they imitate his superficial qualities and ignore his profound spirit and intellect, the name of Tupac Shakur alone (like Muhammad Ali) made him a Diasporic personality. It is one of the reasons why he had an international appeal that no other rapper ever has.
To me, the diasporic personality is the future of the music business and Ana Tijoux and Queen Yonasda are blazing the path from the Feminine side of God.
To understand more I recently interviewed Ana Tijoux on several subjects. On why rap in Chile is different than here and why it reminds people of the so-called golden era of rap in the U.S. (1986-1992), I do know that we are very respectful of the history of the music, and I think that we find a certain force in that time period that just doesnt exist anymore. Chile is also a country of poets, we love lyrics and folkloric music is very much a part of our culture. These factors help to breed lots of MCsgood MCswho value the lyrics and content of their music above all else, very similar to this period in U.S. hip-hop . And well, perhaps it has something to do with commercialization . in Chile we dont rap to make money. I mean, yesfor some of us its our livelihood. But no one has any crazy aspirations about getting rich or anything, and I think there was a similar vibe happening in that period in the U.S. Then a lot changed, hip-hop (or whatever it is today) became popular Your style, method, your whole approach to making music changes when you think you can sell it, or you think that someone actually might buy it. And maybe thats what has changed in the U.S., where in Chile and those other places, we are still in a kind of underground world, Ana tells me.
To understand her artistry and why she is able to always weave it so naturally into consciousness with mass appeal, Yonasda told me how she came about her sense for marketing and mobilization honestly, I was born in Washington DC during the American Indian Movement protest called The Longest Walk. I was the only girl born during this movement. My mother was full blood Oglala Lakota and my father is full blood African American. At the time my mother was the Public Relations Director for Don King Enterprise so she was introduced to the Nation of Islam through Muhammad Ali. She met the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan. He told me a story that when he first saw me as a newborn, I had on moccasins that my grandmother made and he wept because he saw the unity of the Black and the Red. For 27 years I have experienced life and engulfed myself with a vast amount of knowledge and experience and I believe today I have found no wait, God has thrown me on this path. The Minister saw my destiny when I just came out of the womb. So my role as the National Director for the Indigenous Nations Alliance-Millions More Movement is to fulfill the mission of bridging the families of the Black, the Red, the Brown, the Yellow and even our Whites that are against the oppressors, and power junkies.
On who and what shaped her thinking as a person and her creative style as an artist, Ana Tijoux shared with me, Well I have been inspired by so many people. I remember when I was a kid my parents us to have a vinyl of Chico Buarque (a very famous Brazilian composer) and I can remember very clear a song that helped shape methe name of that song is Construccion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsdFvPQj9m4)and Im talking about him because for me is one of the most amazing lyricist, the way that he writes has been very important for me. Also musicians like Victor Jara, Violeta Parra or Ruben Blades. Then of course, I also listen to the classic rappers like KRS-ONE, Nas and others. But I try to take inspiration from as wide a spectrum as possible, and at times Im more influenced by things that arent hip-hop than things that are.
When I asked her to share how the people of Chile view the United States culturally and politically, Ana responded, Well I could say that we got two visions of USA.
First, its this vision of a country that is an empire that controls the world and the way that livewhether thats true or notit is a widely held feeling in Chile. The United States is also the country that made almost all the dictatorships in Latin America in the 70s, which gives us a deep-rooted fear and skepticism of anything that the US does while at the same time we know the history of the American peoples fight for human rights, so we have some contradictory feelings about the government and then its people.
So politically we are skeptical at best and hopeful that there has been a system-wide change in how they deal with the rest of the world. And while Americans may think that stuff is way in the past and could never happen again, you must remember that my generation was born during the dictatorship, my parents lived in exile, I was born in another countryit is very real to us and not really that distant
Culturally, well we have a great respect for so much that has come from the US, I dont have time to really talk about it all here but the music of the peoplethe jazz, blues, soul, hip-hopwe really identify with that, the fight that is involved in that kind of music. Perhaps you think Latin Americans are all Salsa freaks or into folk music, but Chile and the rest of the countries really thrive on many different genres, Chile has a huge hip-hop and funk scene it just isnt that known in the rest of the world. In the US it is easy for them to sell a picture of a Chileno with a charango and Andean clothing, that is the view that people want to see of Chile but come visit us and you will see its not all like that.
Similarly concerned about fighting stereotypes and helping the youth Yonasda told me, When you turn on the T.V. all we see is the portrayal of Native Americans living in tipis, riding horses, wearing traditional clothing. This is set that way because if we know the truth of what we look like today, we will be saddened and disgusted. It is the 3rd world here in the United States. On my mothers reservation Pine Ridge, South Dakota 90% of the people there are unemployed. No, Casinos are not helping the people the youth. No, the government are not distributing the money to the people. Healthcare is poor. It is really sad Out of sight- out of mind. But today the youth are being recruited from the Russian and Italian Mafia to set up drug shops, etc. And they are killing the kids off for less than a couple of grand. Meth is really at its all time high on the reservation. I heard about this boy I know that for him to get high he drinks Lysol cleaner. They set it up for the youth to feel there is no hope, they are stuck in the middle of no where no one cares about them. The elders are striving to teach the youth the language our ways but the kids are warriors but with a lot of insecurities. So I am very passionate to want to have a conference with mentors, entertainers, political leaders and medicine people to give hope to the youth. Because if we do not do this now, the Native Americans will truly be physically extinct and we wouldnt even know it because the government planned it that way to be out of sight, out of mind. But as long as Im living that thinking will not happen – the world needs to see what the settlers did to the First Americans.
Unfortunately, it is not everyday that you find this kind of insight, compassion, refinement and intellect among Hip-Hop artists; or in other words – balance and realness. But a world of change is ending an era of monoculture. The strip-club sex kitten category is in over supply and while they will always have market share, the real money and influence this decade will be found with the special female diasporic personality who can speak to relevant issues and more world than one, and entrepreneurs who back them and find creative ways to serve a marketplace that can appreciate every dimension, quality and attribute of a woman.
I certainly do. I remember being at an industry event I was involved in, during the late 90s. In between some management work I was doing behind the scenes, I was just sitting down with my people when someone on my team called Lil Kim over to where we were. My first thought was, Man, she really is cute. Then he said something to her. I dont know what it was but he was clearly coming on to her and said something real slick. Kim recoiled, she was so disgusted and offended by him and sucked her teeth, shooting him a death stare and walked away. We laughed it was so fierce. She looked like any woman that gets annoyed when men try to talk to them out of the blue and they are not interested. Then I started to think – did he say something to her in keeping with what she had been putting out in the atmosphere in her music and video image, which we are all familiar with? Nevertheless, she made it clear that she commanded and demanded respect, when in person. I just smiled, thinking, good for her.
The view of the woman in art and society is one of extremes and stereotypes which place women in boxes that the consumer is not allowed to think out of. I wrote about this from a more political and religious angle in a very popular piece called The Thong Vs. The Veil at BlackElectorate.com (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=491) and which was later published in the book, The W Effect: Bushs War On Women edited by Laura Flanders. Rap music has been both a liberating and oppressing force where the image of women is concerned and one of the worst consequences of that is the idea that consciousness does not equate to elegance, beauty, and refinement, and that beauty only means the latest fashion and the physical form of a woman.
In Ana Tijoux and Queen Yonasda, I think we may have found the perfect reconciliation and balance.
Heres to the success of them both and the renaissance and revolution their continued rise could bring.
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management as well as a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economists and the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/). Hes author of the book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/) and can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com