“Don’t Dumb Down, Just Speak The Language Of The People”

Don’t Dumb Down, Just Speak The Language Of The People“Allah gives to every creature the ability to communicate with its own to be able to share with other members of its species, what its aim is, what its desire is and the fulfillment of the natural inclination of the species.”The highest manifestation of communication is […]

Don’t Dumb Down, Just Speak The Language Of The People“Allah gives to every creature the ability to communicate with its own to be able to share with other members of its species, what its aim is, what its desire is and the fulfillment of the natural inclination of the species.”The highest manifestation of communication is language that He gives to the human to express its desires, its concerns, its needs, its disappointments, its frustrations. But all of it is manifested through language.…the level of energy, light, spiritual power that is contained in right words, communicated from the right motivation, energizes the brain of the recipient of such word. That energy is delivered to every part of the body, thereby, increasing the energy level of that person.- Minister Louis Farrakhan, as quoted in ‘Closing The Gap,’ Conducted and Compiled by Jabril MuhammadThe storm of e-mailed feedback I received to my Hip-Hoppreneur ™ column last week at AllHipHop.com, “The Genius Of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.: Caricature (And Character) Outsells Talent” opens the door to a subject I’ve wrestled with ‘explaining’ for sometime – why my writing a column on business models, marketing strategies, political consciousness, and spiritual and cultural phenomenon at a phenomenal Hip-Hop website is so well received, yet peculiar, even awkward, to some.Before I began this column some individuals I respect ‘warned’ or ‘advised’ me that unless I changed some of the language I use and subject matter I like to write on, what I wrote about would not be well-received at a rap website. I understood their concern but I never took what they suggested seriously because I’m a student of my audience and their/our culture and just as importantly, I’ve had relatively unique experiences in life both on the streets and at a very high level of the business side of art and the impact of persuasive communication.In addition I just love people and I have never had a problem building with them – on the block or in a board room.As a manager of talent I’ve gained an appreciation for the artist mentality, their lifestyle and personal life. Consulting two major broadcast companies (hint: not everybody you advise listens) – BET (on news program acquisition) and The Black Family Channel (on raising capital and business model strategy) – I understand the science involved in how the entertainment industry studies the mind of consumers and segments its markets. I know the motivation of their business tactics. As a political strategist (Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s successful 2004 campaign) I developed message and communications strategies for different voter blocs – across racial, gender, age, and religious lines. As a journalist – published in places like The Final Call, Wall Street Journal, and Newsday – I value public communication with the written word aimed at different audiences. As a radio personality as a featured guest on programs like The Star and Buc Wild Show, or segments on Bloomberg Financial News, and with my own Internet program, I’ve utilized and observed methods of argumentation and how to maintain the interest of busy people and keep them engaged on subjects they are not familiar with. As an economist whose advised governmental bodies in America and Africa on policies and planning I understand some things about what influences and motivates human beings to cooperate collectively or pursue their self-interests.Lastly as a Student Follower of the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, represented by Minister Louis Farrakhan, I’ve gained certain insights into natural law and universal order that inform my thinking and have been the foundation of my personal and professional development.I also was raised by a beautiful Mother, born in Panama, and raised in Jamaica, who instilled in me the value of reading and acquiring knowledge.With that background in mind I could not think of a better home than AllHipHop.com for a column that would hopefully offer some insight and stimulate the thinking of fans, artists, opinion leaders, and executives in the Hip-Hop culture and industry. Yes, in other words, each week I want to be right next to Illseed’s Rumors, the latest News and the hot music reviews. And may all readers looking for ‘eye candy’ each week stumble upon my words! I’m grateful to this website’s pioneers, Chuck Creekmur and Grouchy Greg for the experience, as well as the excellent publicist Nancy Byron who aided in facilitating it. Their combined work in so many ways represents what I hope to advance with the Hip-Hoppreneur ™ concept.My objective has been to be entertaining and provocative but not for the sake of promoting silly chatter. Therefore the column at times may receive sporadic publicly posted comments while still being widely read as I receive and answer an avalanche of heart-felt and challenging emails more privately. That dynamic in and of itself is revealing. My aim is not to shock or fake an argument with readers or start ‘beefs’ with artists, but to stimulate deeper thought into the meaning, value and future of the greatest artistic cultural phenomenon – and the industry that has grown out of it – of the last 30 years, and how to evolve it for the better.Part of that work involves encouraging artists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, executives and fans to find ways to mature the level of cultural and creative expression without losing the current core audience and by appealing to new emerging market segments. As I wrote recently in “The New Synth Pop: Ke$ha, Young Money and Justin Bieber Got This!” I believe Hip-Hop is experiencing a demographic death. When I say that the culture is reaching zero population growth what I mean is that for each old fan and member it seeks to appeal to, it is losing the chance to produce two new ones. The culture is starting to look more like Europe (a gang of old people needing a safety net) than Northern Africa (a bunch of out of control teenagers about to set ‘ish off).That’s why I especially enjoy when I receive comments from the youngest members of this generation. I couldn’t stop laughing when one 7th grader wrote in response to that Justin Bieber column, “I liked what you wrote especially the part about the 13year old adviser.”Or, regarding last week’s column from a 23-year old who shared, “It’s always a pleasure reading your articles and hopefully we can build more from this email. I feel you are a genius because you speak about matters that actually make sense and break it down very well.”Praise worth more than money.And I also appreciated this response from another viewer regarding my piece on Floyd Mayweather Jr., which gets to the heart of some points I want to make about ‘dumbing down,’ “I just wanted to say it’s one of the most enlightening things I’ve read in a very long time. I know Allhiphop might not be the best venue for it (ppl understanding / or taking the time to) but it really hit home for me.”This brought a lot to mind – several rap verses but one in particular – one of Jay-Z’s rhymes on the Black Album:“I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars.They criticize me for it yet they all yell, holla’If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be – lyrically – Talib KweliTruthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense -but I did 5 MilI ain’t been rhyming like Common SenseWhen your sense got that much in common, and you been hustling since,your inception, f— perception, go with what makes centsSince I know what I’m up against, we as rappers must decide, what’s most impor-tantAnd I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win”- Jay-Z, ‘Moment of Clarity’For years, by focusing on the first line (‘I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars…’ ) people have used these words to criticize Jay-Z. But when you consider the whole verse I think it becomes clear that Jay-Z has perhaps found the most witty way to frame the challenge that the entire culture and industry has yet to rise to (post-Public Enemy) – are consciousness and commercial success incompatible? Why does a sustained display of intellect, truth-telling and mass appeal appear irreconcilable? Why is their a tendency for a popular artist who just made a politically radical point to feel the immediate pressure to flash you a swallowed-up thong in their next video; or describe a scene out of the Ghetto Booty DVD series?To put the responsibility primarily on corporations who distribute music and the most commercially successful artists alone, I think is a cop-out, and actually an admission of weakness on the part of the conscious crowd (whose stopping them from building a real alternative?). I believe that the challenge is on all sides – not only should commercially successful artists feel pressure to find ways to evolve their creativity in conscious directions but the independent and already conscious artists need to be challenged to become more effective at mass marketing their creative work (and stop telling people to hate money, when they themselves are making it at a level well beyond their average fan). The same goes for Hip-Hop journalists and intellectuals (I wrote a very controversial but well-received piece called “Hip-Hop’s Journalism Crisis” at BlackElectorate.com years ago: http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=373.)I think the two sides can meet somewhere in the middle by accepting that fans of rap music – as readers, listeners, and viewers – are more intelligent than they are given credit for, and start to present themselves in Hip-Hop forums with a level of intelligence, shrewd business sense, dignity, and professionalism that they display when they appear on mainstream, financial and progressive news programs or interview shows. To me there is nothing more insulting than an artist who acts so raw, ignorant, and ‘dumb’ in a rap forum suddenly putting treble in a non-threatening voice and acting so peaceful and dignified in non Hip-Hop platforms. The same goes for rappers who promote ignorance to a core audience and then suddenly transform into well-read intellectuals in a political panel discussion. Of course one’s style, etiquette and manners should change to fit the environment but what it boils down to, in my eyes, is that most artists (whether considered ‘conscious,’ ‘commercial’ or not) are not clear that there is always a language you can find to reach people in a positive way (that they would gladly pay you for) that does not require you to become ignorant. Sure, you may not be able to speak all that you know, but hiding some of your intellectual power is not the same as ‘dumbing down.’ Sometimes you can educate people more through imagery and symbolic behavior than by vocabulary.Is what I’m writing really that intellectually difficult to grasp or hard to understand? No, every artist (or the label that promotes them) is already doing this through their carefully-selected name, album and song titles, clothing and photo shoots. Every sports team in the world (high school, college, and professional) does it through their mascots, team colors and uniforms. Every business, corporation or government agency does it through their official logo.Rather then technically describe the process (which I do a little more in Volume II of my book when writing on the relationship between Brands, Reputations, and Images), I decided to use, in my columns, illustrative examples folks can grasp more easily.Floyd Mayweather Jr. and sports entertainment (professional wrestling) are giving the Hip-Hop culture and industry a better public education and business course on how to utilize human psychology and construct caricatures and characters to express intellectual points, entertain, and make money, then we could ever receive in the school system or through a graduate level Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program.One reader of my column realized this and put it very well when they wrote of last week’s column:“Cedric, I think you hit on something with this one. As a perpetual comic book/super hero fan, the caricature/mask can accomplish what the alter ego can’t. Most heroes are born from suffering and create a persona that can accomplish what the core personality can’t on its own. The second interesting thing is that the public is generally drawn to extremes and if one can capitalize on this group psychology they can become a marketing genius by creating an extreme cultural/artistic symbol/persona. Growing up on professional wrestling, (it crushed me when my father informed me and his mother that it was fake) I did not realize that Abdullah the Butcher was Idi Amin nor that the Iron Sheik represented America’s conflict with the Islamic world. Perhaps this needs to be taught in business school.” I’m sorry to disappoint many, but my calling is to state that while we are caught up in the jewelry, sick flow, gossip and maybe real/maybe not so real love life of our favorite rapper, they just pulled a Jedi Mind trick on us, laughing all the way to the bank – while trying to eat well, raise their children right, showing respect to their closest companion, and speaking proper English in business meetings with their entertainment lawyer.I’m trying to show you the Wizard Of Oz – the real man and woman behind the curtain, so to speak – in corporate and street form.In the Instructions written to Laborers of the Nation of Islam by Master Fard Muhammad received by Registered Members, the following statement appears, “No man can be Successful in Teaching a People that cannot speak, Clearly, the People’s Language.” Master Fard Muhammad once wrote a letter to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wherein He (Master Fard Muhammad) describe human beings as being strange in that they were like schools of fish. He expressed that if the Honorable Elijah Muhammad did not learn their language(s), that he (the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) would not be as successful in teaching them as He (Master Fard Muhammad) desired him (the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) to be. There are many profound lessons in this for any of us who are trying to communicate with people in a persuasive and effective manner, that go well beyond learning to speak English, Spanish, Arabic, Swahili, French, or Chinese well, for example.The language of a people signifies so much more than just learning a foreign tongue.To speak a ‘language’ well, in part, one must certainly know the meaning of words, and still deeper one must know the most valuable lessons and truths people naturally and universally crave to learn (and those that are most necessary at the proper time); and finally one must have concern for the particular culture and thought habits of the group most likely to receive what they are communicating.One person who put it well is Brother Jabril Muhammad – a Follower and Student of both the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Louis Farrakhan. He is author of the ‘Farrakhan The Traveler’ column published weekly in The Final Call newspaper. I heard him once state that what made for the most effective communication of the most essential information were three factors 1) Love for the Truth itself 2) Love for the Source of the Truth and 3) the Love for the people to whom the Truth is directed. And of course, all three factors must manifest in the right season and in time in order to produce the greatest impact.In my personal opinion, what is lacking from too many commercially successful artists on one hand, and politically conscious artists on the other, is this kind of three-dimensional love. When that lack of love is combined with a form of fear – of losing fame, fortune, position or status – the weak excuses and rationalization begins, and we are made to believe that someone can’t have mass appeal while distributing wisdom.When I see someone like 50 Cent appear on a rap morning show and begin to break down the 48 Laws of Power – and even take it a step further by co-authoring a book of his own, The 50th Law – I am overjoyed and I know that he is giving a clue as to how this can be done. When I learn of the impact that ‘The Art Of Emcee-ing,’ by Stic.Man from Dead Prez is having I am equally proud.When I see Star, of Star and Buc Wild – perhaps the best personality in Hip-Hop at using different languages, raw and elevated vocabulary, humor, philosophy and psychology in the pursuit of his self-enlightened business interests – bringing his talents to multiple platforms (now presenting his program at: http://www.shovio.com/en/professionals/star/) and reality TV, on his way to the Big Screen, I know the genius, sophistication and intelligence of those who maneuver through the Culture and industry has no limits.“Now, I could give the kids a positive message like Farrakhan,Or I could give them pistols and targets, to squeeze ‘em on.I’m trying to make a decision, damn, leave me alone.”- 50 Cent on “Smile (I’m Leavin’)”The best approach to marrying commercial success with consciousness I ever heard laid out to artists was the 2001 Hip-Hop Summit Action Network speech made by Minister Farrakhan in New York City (the next year he made another powerful address at a West Coast Hip-Hop Summit: http://store.finalcall.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=HLF020214DVD) where he defended the value of rappers’ lyrics – however harsh they may be – for upholding a mirror to the world, reminding it of the horrible conditions that still exist. Ye he also encouraged artists to appreciate the fact that “the human brain is also a womb.”He skillfully used the 34th chapter of the book of Ezekiel to encourage them to consider themselves as shepherds and the consequences that they will face if they do not feed their flocks after they themselves have been fed by the flocks.He asked, “Will you accept your responsibility as a leader of the youth?” He said, “You have to digest a newspaper. Current events are what rap artists have to rap on. So here are some current events I want you to rap on…” The Minister then turned the ballroom into a classroom and for the next 15 minutes verbally traveled the globe telling rappers what subjects he thinks they should focus on and weave into the creative works. He began by advising them of the fulfillment of the vision of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana through the Organization of African Unity/African Union’s efforts to establish the “United States of Africa”. He then spoke of how rap artists should speak on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians asking the audience, “What do you have to say about that? Are you ready to be a peacemaker?” He then added, “Look at Black and Brown and how we are being pitted together (through the census and politics) and in prisons, we are against each other, being made to believe that we are enemies when we are natural allies. Can you rap about that?” He then asked them, “What about DCFS snatching Black and Brown children sending them off away from their families… and where they end up going off to prison later?” The Minister asked the artists what they had to say about the drug trade being facilitated by a government that has satellites so powerful that they can see a grapefruit on the ground but can’t see whole convoys of drugs being brought into America and into the innercities.He then asked them, “What do you have to say about the abuse of women?” The Minister then told them that they should be aware of the fact that, “where there are no decent women, there are no decent men and women are the mothers of civilization”. He challenged them to influence society so that young boys and men will end up ‘admiring women instead of defiling them.’He also told the artists that they were obligated to do this and had in fact been fed and supported by their fans and followers. He told them that they have cars, private jets, jewelry and they have been able to move out of the projects where they grew up because the “little people gave it to you. You are their leaders…what are you going to do to show your appreciation?”He then told them of the greatness of their power to transform human life. He spoke of his own experience with the most downtrodden of human beings, and the power of the word on human beings. He told the audience that his teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, taught that light ravels from the sun to the earth at the rate of 186,000 miles per second and that it takes 500 seconds or 8 minutes and 20 seconds to strike the earth. He said blood travels from the heel of the human being to the head and back to the heel in 500 seconds. He said that the word of God is like light and when it enters into the heart of the human being, it causes a transformation. He said that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught him that within 500 seconds of delivering inspiration through words, just under ten minutes, the human being will begin to perk up.The Minister stressed to the rappers that they have the power to transform human beings with their mouths. He told them that they are in the “word business” and that they have a loyalty and allegiance from their fans that is staggering.Minister Farrakhan also encouraged the artists to prepare for the day when they will not be making records. He encouraged them to save and invest their money and to not partake in excessive conspicuous consumption.How many of the leading artists who were present really listened to him? And how many who follow or respect Minister Farrakhan and have heard his counsel to artists, activists and moguls – for community development and changing the music industry – have really taken concrete steps to build a new reality for the Hip-Hop Culture and music economy?Now, in 2010, look at the state of the rap industry – experiencing demographic death, label closings and layoffs, radio stations going bankrupt, magazines folding, and a culture increasingly irrelevant to the most serious problems of human beings, unable to satisfy their longing for certain forms of knowledge that they would be willing to pay for, if placed in the right language – verbally or in symbolic and sign form.“I do this for my culture,To let ‘em know what a n—– look like when a n—– in a RoadsterShow ‘em how to move in a room full of vulturesIndustry’s shady, it need to be taken over.”- Jay-Z; ‘Izzo’ (H.O.V.A.)No, far from ‘dumbing down,’ what rap (in North America especially) truly needs are more individuals who love the culture and match that love with a commitment to finding ways to develop artists and business models that will allow that culture to appeal to a new generation and all people living in a world that is increasingly troubled.We all just need to speak the right language.Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. Cedric is author of the book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com