“I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you”
People from across the country traveled for hours to attend the December rally in Chicago to demand the freedom of their beloved comrade in struggle. For hours, speaker after speaker pounded on the podium demanding that their brother be released so that he could, once again, be free to speak truth to power as the crowd chanted wildly. They weren’t chanting “Free Mumia” or “Free Mutulu.” Nah, they were chanting “Free Kanye!”
Despite the title of Kanye West’s 2004 cd “College Dropout” and the follow up “Late Registration,” both were hailed, by many , as the return of politically conscious lyrics to the mainstream. With songs like “All Falls Down” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” if Kanye wasn’t the second coming of Chuck D, in a rap world dominated by the Ying Yang Twins, he was close enough. Expectations were lifted even higher when he made the infamous post Hurricane Katrina observation that “George Bush don’t like black people.” But then something strange happened on the Road to Revolution, Kanye’s lyrics were suddenly depoliticized and dumb downed. Nowadays, Kanye is more known for corny catch phrases and snatchin’ mics from lil country girls at award shows than political wit.
Of course, Kanye isn’t the only one. After all, Common’s latest song isn’t exactly droppin’ science, either. But Kanye is killing the game,right now, as he is leading the pack in Grammy nominations, making him the biggest waste of talent at the moment.
While some may argue that West and the others just had creative changes of direction, others say that they are victims of the same political repression that has plagued radical thinkers for centuries. History books are full of examples of people who were imprisoned, exiled or assassinated for their ideas.
Historically, oppressive, ideological societies have hated free thinkers. Even Galileo was locked down in 17th century Italy for teaching Heliocentrism (the sun is the center of the Universe). So, free thinkers have always been a threat to the status quo because of their potential to free the minds others.
In America, the persecution was no different.
According to Dr. Charsee McIntyre, in “Criminalizing the Race,” the colonization movement to deport free blacks to Africa was started because free blacks “served as models of Freedom to enslaved blacks and inspired resurrections. “
It must be noted that the threat of radical idealists within the music industry has also been a thorn in the side of the establishment.
In his book “The Covert War Against Rock” Alex Constantine alleges that the deaths of singers such as Peter Tosh, John Lennon and Bob Marley were really well orchestrated, politically motivated assassinations to silence them.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the social order has been Hip Hop. John Potash, in his book, “The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders” gives a rundown of artists who experienced government repression not because of club jams but because of their political activities. The book raises the issue that Tupac Shakur’s gangsta turn after being sentenced to life on Death Row Records after his release from prison may not have been a coincidence. Perhaps it was just a plot to render one of the most potentially, powerful voices to ever pick up a mic, politically impotent and socially irrelevant.
We must understand that even while in the slammer, freedom fighters such as Dr. Martin Luther King (Letter From the Birmingham Jail) and George Jackson (Soledad Brothers) still managed to get their words to the masses. Also, Mumia Abu-Jamal has still been able to smuggle information to the people by reporting “Live From Death Row.” The difference is, unlike many Hip Hop artists, they would not allow their minds to become incarcerated.
Although, some may consider comparing Hip Hop artists like Kanye West to political prisoners like Mumia and Mutulu Shakur ,blasphemous, when we consider that political incarceration is about locking down themind more so than the body the connection is clear. While many acts of political repression have been carried out with guns and chains, in Hip Hop, it has been done by a signature on a contract. There is little difference between someone sentenced to a 10 year prison bid and someone being confined to a 10 year recording deal that restricts their freedom of speech in terms of their relevance to oppressed communities.
This idea is not without precedence. Lupe Fiasco has been outspoken about the industry’s attempt to “dumb em down.” Also, it was once rumored that former G Unit soldier, Young Buck had to remove a song about police brutality from his cd because of pressure from a mysterious “lyric committee.”
Unfortunately, it is not just the artists that are in mental prisons but fans as well. As every time a rapper enters into a mental prison, he carries a legion of followers with him.
So, the question is how do we free Hip Hop artists and consequently, free the minds of their fans.
According to Peter Doggett, in his work, “There’s a Riot Going On,” back in the 60’s, activists formed the Dylan Liberation Front (later the Rock Liberation Front) to “liberate” artists, like Bob Dylan, who they felt had turned their backs on the struggle and “sold out to the man.”
Maybe, in 2011, we need a Kanye Hip Hop Liberation Front to do the same.
After all, if Jadakiss and his crew could stage a successful “Free the Lox” campaign back in the day to get released from Bad Boy , why can’t we politicize it and start a “Free Kanye Campaign” to free him from Roc-a-fella.
Something has to be done to free incarcerated minds and it has to be done now.
As Bob Marley once sang “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.