6 March 2011

On Beef and Power


A few days ago, I assume as a reflection on recent events in UK music, a London based producer and activist DJ Mutiny, also known as Agent of Change, posed a question in Twitter. 

I couldn’t ignore the question since first, I am a big fan of Public Enemy, and second, I was just busy reading the book Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin' by Russell Myrie so the thoughts were fresh in my mind. He didn’t make a diss track as such against an individual or another Hip-Hop crew, however in one of the early songs that a little later gave the group its name Public Enemy Number 1, he did send a clear warning to other local rappers that had been doubting his abilities. But it isn’t really a diss as such; merely a mild ego-boost of a young man. Chuck has, as many then online went to point out, dedicated his career and life in general in dissing the corporations and governments when needed.

Having finished Myrie’s interesting book I started re-reading Chuck D’s Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality which he co-wrote with Yusuf Jah and came across this quotable.

I bragged about myself in my early records, because we’ve never been taught to talk positively about ourselves, and I thought that was good. My focus, however was not on boasting about myself or battling brothers on the microphone. I wanted to rap about battling institutions, and bringing the conditions of Black people worldwide to a respectable level. (1997: 59)

Elsewhere in the book, while writing in detail about the atrocious role Hollywood has played throughout its history in creating negative Black images – the topic covered in Burn Hollywood Burn track  – he perhaps adds to this idea by saying,

Break Hollywood down to an industry, break the industry down to a company, break the company down to individuals, and you’ll see people running like roaches. (1997: 51)

So the individuals he has gone after has not been the next man rapping, but the owners of corporations. That's the big picture.

On a slightly unrelated topic I have really enjoyed re-reading recently. Many books I had read before many of my experiences and now I realise what kind of stuff I missed on the first go, but also how I did recognise many important books before I even understood their importance. Another one of them is Patrick Neate’s Where You’re At: notes from the frontline of a Hip-Hop planet. For some reason I have been reading about Hip-Hop a bit. I don’t do it that very often, although of course Chuck D’s book is not primarily about the art form in question. I guess it’s got something to do with my new job in the cultural sector that has made me want to remind myself of cultural things close to me. Just to help me to determine where I stand - the knowledge of self.

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