Editor’s Note: This is Part 4 of AllHipHop.com’s month-long series, “Rap, Race and Riots: Hip-Hop 20 Years after the L.A. Rebellion.”
“How to Make a Slave by Willie Lynch/ is still applyin'” – “Redefintion”, Black Star
Two score years ago, evil marketing genius, Big Willie Lynchman stood on the bank of the Los Angeles River and delivered a speech to entertainment executives about how to control Hip-Hop. “You must divide the old school rappers against the new school, the East Coast against the West Coast, male rappers against female rappers,” he shouted. “If you do this, I guarantee that you will control Hip-Hop for another 20 years….”
Of course, the above scenario is jacked from the “Willie Lynch: How to Make a Slave” letter, but just like the infamous letter, if it ain’t historically true, it’s darn near close.
As Phillip A. Muhammad, author of “The Hip Hop Nation: Willie Lynch’s Newest Slave”, put it , “The doctrine and methods of Willie Lynch gave birth to a modern slave mentality that permits today’s rappers to be pimped, prostituted, punked, bullied, isolated and corrupted due to the divisive characteristics that are outlined within the Willie Lynch Letter.”
So much so, that in 2012, we are still asking ourselves, “Why can’t Black folks get along?”
Although the mainstream media like to focus on the violent aspect of the 1992 L.A. Rebellion, following the trial of the cops that beat Rodney King, the real threat to the social hegemony of this country was not the “burnin’ and lootin”‘ but the peace treaties and the spirit of Black unity that swept the nation. For the first time in more than 20 years. the African American community yelled out with a united voice, “We ain’t gonna take it no more!!!
All of a sudden, gangs that had been bitter enemies for years were partyin’ together at community picnics. But, before the coals could even cool on the grill, the unity ended. Twenty years later, we have to ask, what happened?
Like all things, the answers are rooted in history, as one of the greatest weapons against Black unity has been the divide and conquer strategy.
In Eugene Genovese’s work, “From Rebellion to Revolution”, he mentions that some Maroon societies even signed “peace treaties” with colonial regimes for freedom in exchange for pledges to return runaways and “repress slave rebellions” in the Caribbean. He also wrote that in the U.S. during the Nat Turner Revolt, some slaves even sided with their masters.
But, through it all, there were always those who fought for unity.
The greatest example of Black solidarity is, perhaps, the United Negro Improvement Association founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914, which is said to have had at its apex two million members. Although a remnant of the UNIA still exists, according to historians like Theodore G. Vincent (“Black Power and the Garvey Movement”), it was, virtually, destroyed by a combination of federal persecution, internal bickering, and the efforts of integrationist “mainstream” Black leaders who started a “Garvey Must Go” campaign.
Perhaps the closest thing to Garvey’s Movement in Hip-Hop was X-Clan and the Black Watch Movement during the late ’80s/early ’90s. Original X-Clan member Paradise Gray said that the key behind the success of that movement was that it was “inter-generational.” “Everywhere X-Clan traveled there were elders to greet us,” said Gray. During that brief period in Hip-Hop history, from 1988-1992, unity was the norm, not an exception, to the rule.
But after 1992, things began to change.
Although Dr. Dre and political awareness is oxymoronic, he captured White America’s fear on The Chronic’s largely forgotten track, “The Day the N*ggaz Took Over”, prompting the end of the Conscious Hip-Hop Era.
All of a sudden, the people that America considered useless street thugs became intelligent hoodlums. The book “Uprising” by Yusuf Shah and Sister Shah ‘Keyah featured gang members who spoke very clearly about the state of America following the L.A. Rebellion. According to one interviewee – General Robert Lee – the reason why the peace treaty failed was “a big conspiracy with the government and police starting much of the trouble.”
But “the state” was not the only reason.
Conscious Hip-Hop began to decline when artists began to focus on teaching middle class, White America about “growin’ up in the ‘hood,” instead of giving young, Black children a “Knowledge of Self.”
Perhaps too much emphasis was placed on convincing White folks that “rappers were people, too” – the lowest point being when feared “gangsta rappers” Ice T and Tupac Shakur sang the sappy duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on the “Saturday Night Live” special in 1996.
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Retrospectively, William Van DeBurg in “New Day in Babylon” argued that, after the Black Power Movement, America experienced a “welcomed hiatus from urban rioting” and “both the press and public lost interest in Black Power.”
In the same manner, the more the smoke cleared from the L.A. Uprising, the more “Black unity” became an out-of-date fad.
Also, although the topic of urban outrage and ‘hood tales appealed to a broad audience, in an industry dominated by green power, the idea of Black unity was dismissed as only appealing to a small, insignificant African American demographic. Hip-Hop murder and mayhem was a much bigger money maker.
The average American really does not give two cents about Black-on-Black relations. The only time that it is really mentioned is when, during a Trayvon Martin-like situation, racist right wingers need to point a figure and create straw man arguments to blame White racism on “Black on Black violence.”
“Uh, how are you guys gonna blame us, when you kill each other every day, Buddy ?”
We have to realize that the Black on Black violence is a direct result of the destruction of Black unity.
But that’s the problem. What’s the solution?
Dr. Alim Bey, author of “First World Order” and owner of the Cultural Freedom Bookstore in Fayetteville, North Carolina, suggested, “Awareness has to be the key; a re-establishment of culture.”
So, how are you going to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Rebellion? Are you gonna just kick back and watch CNN, Fox, and MSNBC talking heads wax poetic about Black issues about which they know nothing about? Or are you going to use the anniversary to, proactively, help solve the problems we are facing today?
On April 29, 2012, we are calling for a Black Unity/Peace Treaty and a formal resurrection of political Hip-Hop. On that day, we must use our social network outlets, Facebook, Twitter, etc, to promote the idea of “Peace in the ‘Hood”.
With all the ill stuff that has happened to Black people in just the past few months, it is very necessary for us to put behind differences and work towards a common goal.
Like West Coast Kam warned us two decades ago on “Peace Treaty”:
“It’s now or never/ more than ever/ Black people have to stick together.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is This Ain’t Hip Hop: a column for intelligent Hip=Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website, www.NoWarningShotsFired.com, and on Twitter (@truthminista).