We’d so love to end this article at “yes”, but in the spirit of journalism & making sure Donald Trump is never normalized, we’ll continue on.
According to a Business Insider article written by Kevin Loria there’s many reasons to truly believe that our president is a con. Con artists are motivated both by a desire to be the center of attention and the power that comes with that ability to manipulate others, psychologist Maria Konnikova, author of “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time,” explained to me earlier this year.
“[They’re] addicted to that sense of power, that rush of being able to pull one over on people and get away with it,” Konnikova explained.
Along the way, they’ll deceive people in order to get that attention and power.
As for deception, Pulitzer-prize winning fact-checking organization Politifact awarded Trump’s statements the 2015 “Lie of the Year” award. Of 298 Trump statements assessed at time of publication, Politifact rated only 4% as “true” and 11% as “mostly true;” 19% of Trump statements earned a “mostly false,” 35% a “false,” and 17% a “pants on fire.” (Of 272 Clinton statements assessed, 24% earned a “true,” 27% a “mostly true,” 15% a “mostly false,” 10% a “false,” and 3% a “pants on fire.”)
But being a con artist isn’t just about deception — it’s about intent. After all, many politicians deceive people. They’re not all practitioners of the confidence game; many truly believe what they are saying or believe it’s worth it to stretch the truth to accomplish their political goals.
being a con artist isn’t just about deception — it’s about intent
“If Trump were a con artist, he would be interested in politics only as a means to some other end,” Konnikova writes in The New Yorker. “He wouldn’t believe in his political opinions; instead, he would see those opinions as convenient tools for gaining what he actually desires.”
Power and being at the center of attention would fit as a con artist’s goal. “Trump, as a con artist, would give up on politics the moment it stopped serving his purposes, moving on to the next thing that gave him the same level of attention and adulation,” Konnikova wrote.
In a brilliant NewYork Times piece by Charles M. Blow called, “Disciples of a false Prophet” Charles writes: The con Donald Trump committed on his voters is slowly coming undone. He is not honest. He is not a brilliant deal maker. He is not even competent.
His entire life, Trump has sold shimmer and called it silver. It was and is all an illusion, a brand built on selling banality with braggadocio. He shaped vapors into dreams and delivered them to those hungry for a taste of the showy, hollow form of the high life he came to represent. He was successful at exploiting those with an ostentatious appetite for the air of success. Trump’s life story is a pyramid scheme of ambitions.
His entire life, Trump has sold shimmer and called it silver
He took that history to a people struggling through a drought of opportunity and he exploited their weaknesses: a shrinking sense of economic security and growing nativist tendencies.
But Trump doesn’t speak so much from facts as from feelings. For him, the truth is malleable and a lie is valuable. He creates his own reality rather than living in the reality of others. Deception is just a tool; betrayal is just an inconvenience.
We’ll keep you posted if his con ever becomes honest work for the American people. (Don’t hold your breath)
From the Suburbs To The City
“The urban thrive on the city’s side.” That’s what commercial real estate developers are saying in the city of Milwaukee.
From the suburbs to the city, it is very well known that millennials are known as the social generation. Extroverts, interactive and engaging, millennials are the generation of being socially and economically involved.
Millennials like having the world at their fingertips. With the resurrection of cities as the nucleus of economic energy and vitality, millennials are choosing urban over suburban
When it comes to living and residential lifestyles we prefer to live in dense, diverse and urban areas. With everything at our fingertips, we are more open to the opportunity of engaging in morning conversations with the neighbors, or catching the bus and engaging with other socially dynamic individuals as we travel to and from.
77 million strong millennials continue to dominate in the U.S. Jobs and CEO’s are tending more to the needs of millennials, as we are the next generation to be running and managing large corporations and office buildings. In a previous Millennial Magic! article we learned that even the very food we consume is being altered to cater to our likings. Even the residential and commercial real estate industry leaders are noticing the likes and dislikes of our preferred living area.
The “American Dream” to millennials has gone from a white picket fence in the suburbs, pretty green grass, and a house on the hilltop to something much more creative, opportune and diverse. Living in the heart of the city is the “American Dream” of millennials today.
Right here in Milwaukee, two of the biggest construction projects are underway at the exact same time. While some may not know, others have realized that this project will contribute a very large rise in the economical status in Milwaukee.
Scheduled for completion this year, the 32-story office tower located in downtown Milwaukee, will serve as the new headquarters for Northwestern Mutual. Northwestern Mutual is looking forward to the success and growth while at the same time attracting and retaining top talent and new business to Milwaukee. Also scheduled for completion Fall of 2018, the BMO Harris Bradley center will serve as the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
With these large projects in place, the expectation to help boost the economy is at an all time high. Millennials will be exposed to 1,000 construction related jobs throughout 2017, and approximately 1,900 new jobs to the city.
77 million strong millennials continue to dominate in the U.S. Jobs and CEO’s are tending more to the needs of millennials
While the economy is always the priority of a location, millennials still seem to find way to impact the decisions of important personnel. When asked about the drive of this commercial deal, Stu Wangard, Chairman/CEO and founder of Wangard Properties, Inc., stated:
“We are seeing people continuing to move in from rural areas and smaller towns into the major urban centers,” Wangard said. “That has been accelerating the last couple of years. So more companies want to set up locations in the center of the city. They want to attract the talented people within the Millennial demographic.”
Millennials like having the world at their fingertips. With the resurrection of cities as the nucleus of economic energy and vitality, millennials are choosing urban over suburban. According to Neilsen News Center, 62% of millennials indicate that they prefer to live in mixed-use communities that would normally be found in urban centers.
Social interactive relationships, the opportunity to grow, convenience and a life in the city is the safe haven of millennials. The art, the creativity, the freedom to create and be around people just like that are most important to millennials today. From the suburbs to the city the migration begins, who knows what next big influence millennials will have in the near future.
There are many people who do the same work that I do, community building, organizing and activism. I’ve learned that credit, for them, is not important. For me, nothing is more important than getting the work accomplished, start to finish. I find importance in creating a cycle that will continue after those, like myself, are no longer a part of the project.
Approaching these issues and fragile situations often take caution, practice, as well as prayer. I never repeat something and expect the same outcome. Although it may be happening in the hood, each situation must be addressed and responded to differently.
There is nothing wrong with being acknowledged for your work. Acknowledgement is a tool used not only to make you work harder, but a boost for others to aim towards receiving the same props by accomplishing more.
Once, I went out and brought forty children to CYD who were all featured in the “Juneteenth” day parade. Mother Simpson and Mrs. Robinson were excited that day. I stayed at the house with Mother who was 103 years old. She asked me what was I doing there. I told her I accept the assignment of watching over her instead of being a part of the parade. She rose up and said “Boy, let me tell you this. Don’t ever let anyone take credit for your work. Get your credit because you will not get much else.” That following year I brought children instead of gathering the CYD children. I then became the parade coordinator. I will never forget Mother’s words.
Not to leave out street credibility, once you have street cred, you begin changing into different lanes for the better. You begin hoping that others will follow. You have to have something to show, like collateral. Prove that you are not ‘corny’ or what they call ‘square’. Credit is needed when you are a street innovator. It allows others to know and recognize your work and to encourage others to excel. Remember, if we are working in a society that will run a credit check on you, if your credibility doesn’t hold up you might as well pack up and go somewhere else.
I am going to keep working. I am going to keep giving props when they are due. I will not get caught up in this celebration thing, because there is definitely a lot more work to be done in these city streets and darkened homes. Until next time I credit this to those that convinced me I no longer had to run.
Torre M Johnson Sr. President of XMEN UNITED
In the workforce many people are either unsatisfied, distant, or simply uninterested in their work. Whether it be the location of their place of employment, their boss or overhead, or even just the job itself, it has been noted that millennials are the ones who job hop the most.
Millennials are most likely to look for and change jobs. According to a recent study from Gallup, a data driven news company based on U.S world polls, daily tracking and public opinion research, millennials are the generation of change and satisfaction. When it comes to employment we demand the need to have a purpose, development, and most of all we want our jobs to represent our lives.
It is often asked “Are millennials really different?” It is very apparent and obvious that, yes, we are very different. We live for purpose, we read and learn not just to know things, but for understanding. We are building a horizon that is in depth and only hosts those that are in tune. According to Gallup, millennials have a lack of attachment to institutions and traditions. This lack of connection results in the frequent search for something new.
Are millennials really different?” It is very apparent and obvious that, yes, we are very different
Millennials are more open to the world, and the ideas of it. We move in ways that produce meaningful endeavors. So, when it comes to occupation, it is not only the check that drives us. It is the mission and purpose of the organization in which we engage and interact with. Although money is the motive, it is not the only thing that drives us when we are searching for the right job.
As I mentioned before, millennials tend to learn in a different way. You will find that many individuals learn only to use it towards their objective, and only for that purpose. Millennials, on the other hand, learn and read for understanding. When companies hire us, to be instructed by a boss is simply not enough. We want to learn and grow. We want coaches. Having a relationship with a trusted adviser, or a mentor if you will, gives us hope, confidence and inspiration.
Last but not least, we value our jobs. We value the benefits and opportunities that may come with it, but most of all millennials value life. Our place of employment, the people we encounter on a daily basis and the impact that the job has, all contribute to the fundamentals of our life. A job is not just clocking in or dealing with customers, or answering to the CEO or boss. A job has now become a factor of our lives.
Millennials want to be physically and emotionally tied to their job. In addition to that, we want to live a purposeful and meaningful life. Millennials struggle to find good jobs that engage them. According to Gallup, millennials have the highest rate of unemployment and those that are employed and engaged only include 29%. That is less than half of the millennial population.
This new generation is what I like to call the “It” generation. We are expected to make memorable and monumental change in the world. Businessmen and executives all over the U.S are battling with ways to keep us around in the workforce. We are a generation that demands change, and will settle for nothing less.
Our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are constantly being studied by those who are affected by it for example, food companies, fashion industries, and of course employers. If you spend an average 8 hours a day, 5 times a week, 52 weeks in a year dedicating your time and energy to an employer, wouldn’t you want it to contribute to your well-being in the long run?
Millennial Magic !
God doesn’t need humans to defend Him.
Christianity is an ancient religion, over 2000 years old. In the new world of science and intellect, either Christianity can stand up to intense investigation or it should be rightfully dissed as a relic of the past and a hoax. Everywhere you go on the internet, debates kick-off about whether Christ is real or not or whether Christianity is a copy of other religions or traditions. Philosophers, atheist and skeptics battle to be the ones to scratch your itching ear, I understand because I’ve been there.
Dr. Simon Greenleaf (Harvard University) said, “According to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of Jesus Christ and his resurrection than for just about any other event in history.” Here’s some facts that may help you make an educated decision.
Despite all the internet chatter, Christianity actually does have mountains of evidence to support it.
Here’s 11 facts that support it.
1.) In ancient times, the existence of Jesus was never denied by even those who opposed Christianity.
Christopher Tuckett states that the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion by Pontius Pilate seem to be part of the bedrock of historical tradition, based on the availability of non-Christian evidence. Graham Stanton states that “today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed”.
A number of ancient non-Christian documents, such as Jewish and Greco-Roman sources, have been used in historical analyses of the existence of Jesus. These include the works of 1st century Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman has stated that “few have doubted the genuineness” of Josephus’ reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1. Bart D. Ehrman states that the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans is attested to by a wide range of sources, including Josephus and Tacitus. In fact, almost all modern scholars consider the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion to be the two most historically certain facts about him. (Interestingly enough, no one ever seems to have denied the historicity of Jesus until around the 18th or 19th centuries.) (For more info click here)
2.) Jesus made claims about himself
In the Holy Bible, Jesus makes many claims. His claims about himself are so extraordinary that the only rational conclusion is that he is either who he claims he is (and therefore certainly not a mere man or a myth) or he was a madman or a blatant liar. (either way he can’t be both God in the flesh and a liar!)
3.) At least eight of the apostles were killed for their faith
Even at the moment of their death, not one apostle recanted their story, including the public claims of Jesus. Who do you know would purposely die for a lie? I don’t know any. Hundreds, to thousands of Christians died brutal deaths for their conviction. Again, who purposely dies for a lie?
4.) There are solid proofs of these martyr deaths.
Hard evidence has surfaced from Josephus regarding apostle James’ murder, and the unanimous testimony of the early church fathers regarding Paul and Peter’s murders. This not only proves these mens existence and death but also their faith and willingness to die for Jesus. Again, who purposely dies for a lie?
5.) Jesus did miraculous deeds.
An important point is that so many of his deeds were done in the public (“as you yourselves know” Acts 2:22). The fact that Jesus worked miracles was even attested to, at least indirectly, by Josephus and authors of the Talmud. The miraculous acts are completely consistent with the claims that Jesus made and with Old Testament predictions about the coming Messiah. This is very important especially knowing that the Jews generally denied His divinity and would have delighted in proving that he never did miracles.
6.) Jesus is the Messiah
Jesus is the prophesied Messiah because, even as he claimed in (Luke 24:44) he fulfilled the expectations of the Jewish Messiah as recorded in the historical prophecies and in the many historical foreshadows in the Old Testament. One can mention many specific historical prophecies, including Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 12:10. Psalms 110, Daniel 7, Isaiah 52, 53 and others are messianic, even by Jewish standards. Their fulfillment is a matter of historical record. Plus, the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls leaves no doubt that these Messianic expectations come from hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
7.) Jesus was bodily resurrected
This seems to put the nail in the coffin of both the man and the myth conclusion. The facts remain to be explained. Why was the tomb empty and why did hundreds of eye witnesses see Jesus? The other proposed explanations (stolen body, swoon, etc.) simply do not work. The supernatural explanation is not mathematically proved, but it is easily the most reasonable explanation of the facts, in agreement with the miraculous deeds of Jesus and with the prophecies about the Messiah.
8.) Jesus Christ has transformed more lives than perhaps all other notable humans combined.
His presence in the lives of believers is throughout the ages noting less than astounding! People claiming to be transformed and some of the biggest leaders ever have claimed the same. (Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Abolitionist, almost all U.S. Presidents) and these transformations demand a reasonable explanation. The emergence of the Jesus movement demands a respect of the reality of the biblical Jesus.
9.) The Bible has transformed more lives than perhaps all other notable books combined.
The bible is basically the most printed and purchased book of all time. It has been sifted, studied, commentated upon and dissected more than any book in history. (Nah…for real!) Volumes of books have been written about it and if they were stacked on top of one another they would reach to the sky. (This has actually been measured by some very bored people)
Here’s an excerpt from acclaimed writer, author Jim McGuiggan:
Even if the non-believer can’t accept the Bible as “the inspired word of God” it makes no sense to dismiss it as shallow and of little account. On anyone’s estimate it is a profoundly influential volume that has shaped nations down the centuries and enriched their understanding and pursuit of social justice and personal transformation. I confess it irks me greatly to hear talk-show hosts silence those who quote scripture and then ask for Freudian opinion for some other guest. One doesn’t have to believe in the verbal inspiration of scripture before he or she can recognise that the Bible is the most profound book in Western literature. (Thomas H. Huxley, the agnostic, was a perfect illustration of this truth.) And to dismiss scripture as though it hasn’t changed the world for the better but give (almost amusing) credence to the latest psychological theorising is little short of ludicrous. (The most trenchant criticisms of the whole psychology enterprise these days come from professionals within the field. They’re helping no one, they say, and least of all the practitioners.) So we should let the Bible be heard because, at the very least, it has earned that right as surely as Freud or Maslow or Fromm. (That last sentence strikes me as amusing on the one hand and stupid on the other. Imagine putting these men in the same league with the Hebrew-Christian scriptures, even for comparison sake?)
10.) The New Testament descriptions of Jesus, various rulers and places are very matter of fact.
Luke (one of the authors of the gospels) is a historian of the highest order. He records more than ninety places and dozens of rulers. In every case we can verify from outside sources, he gets the name of the person and even the title right, when these are very difficult to get right in the confusing world of Roman rulers in the Near East. At least nine non-Christian authors in the first and early second century, such as Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius and others mention Jesus. In point of fact, there are about an equal number of historical references to the emperor Tiberius and no one questions the general accuracy of these references to the emperor who ruled during the ministry of Jesus.
This last one is important for me. I hear so many reports that Christianity has been stolen from ancient Egypt. I did some research and these claims started falling apart the more I studied.
11.) Claims that Jesus, his birth, mission & life was copied from ancient Egyptian stories have been proven false.
After detailed study, you find that a large majority of the claimed parallels are plain old ordinary lies. The small proportion which can actually be found in ancient sources comes from after the Christian age, and was almost certainly borrowed from Christianity and not vice versa.
Attis – died and been resurrected on the third day – it is simply not true. I challenge anyone to find an ancient source which says this. There is none.
Horus – Believers in him never believed that he died and was resurrected on the third day – Anyone claiming his believers did is simply not telling the truth!
Mithra – Some Mithraites believed that he had 12 followers, but the idea of 12 disciples of Mithra came AFTER the gospels were written. The religion of Mithraism was begun after Christianity. The Dec. 25 birth dates was clearly applied to Mithra and others AFTER it was already assigned to Jesus.
Krishna – The oldest sources we have on Krishna come from hundreds of years after Jesus. By the fourth century, Jesus was the dominant religious figure in the Mediterranean and the Near East. Believers in other religions borrowed from Christianity. NOT vice versa.
Dionysus – The oldest sources we have on Dionysus also come from hundreds of years after Jesus.
Mithra, Krishna, Dionysus, Horus, etc. These are not real people. We do not know where they lived, we do not know when they died. We know absolutely nothing about them as historical figures because they are NOT historical figures.
Jesus was a real person. We know where he was born, where he lived, where and how he died, the names of his father, mother, brothers and more than 25 of his closest followers. We know the apostles names and many are mentioned in non-Christian sources. Most of them were killed for believing in Christ.
Buddha was a real person. We know approximately when and where he lived and when he died. Of course, there are few if any parallels between Buddha and Jesus because he was a real person, and therefore harder to mythologize. These other Egyptian characters are easy to parallel simply because they didn’t exist, therefore there’s no one to argue the comparisons.
As Mr. Bill Cosby ages more and is at his midnight hour, I thought it necessary to address this idea of a mans legacy. A minute ago while overseas for my group (Arrested Development’s) tour, my heart sunk hearing that
at least one accusation about Mr. Cosby and the horrible act of drugging a woman was said to be true! And yet I’m also disturbed by the level of hatred that has been thrown his way!
Much of what I’m going to say, a friend Chanin Kelly-Rae said first and very well (I might add). I encourage you to go to her Facebook page to read everything she spoke of! I’ll repeat much of it, but there’s things I wanted to add as well, so I made my own post.
“Highly fallible whites are on our money, have national holidays and are mandatory reading in our school systems”
We live in a country where many of us (that were educated in public schools) sung songs, felt pride & bought year books – baring a school name of a confederate leader, slave owner or KKK supporter. There’s entire buildings, statues and streets we drive on, named after those that did the same!
On July 10, 2015 what felt like minutes after the American victory of getting the confederate flag down in Charleston, there were jurisdictions that desperately wanted the confederate flag hung up again!
In our country, 90% of everything named in some persons honor is named after an historical white person. And much of those persons have histories of discrimination, violence and other grave injustices. Yet they are on our money, they have national holidays, and they are mandatory reading in our school systems.
And here we are today with people insisting on the removal of Bill Cosby’s television legacy from Disney, the walk of fame and various other things? Bill Cosby’s legacy in entertainment, philanthropy and education should stand proud without being tainted at all by his personal shortcomings, because it was extremely entertaining, in many ways revolutionary and undeniably visionary!
And if we take his legacies away, we should do the same with all other flawed people too.
I see so many of us “crucifying” Mr. Cosby and laughing at his downfall saying “this is what he deserves for demeaning poor black people.” Wait a minute?
I don’t support this theory that he was demeaning at all.
Bill Cosby (our elder) tells our black youth to pull their pants up, go to school, stop playing gangsta rap for their toddlers and quit naming their kids names with no history nor meaning and a lot of folks are mad? What he said is GREAT advice in my book, and not radical at all! MANY of us have said similar things in conversations over the dinner table. And it’s nothing that ANY decent grand momma or grand daddy of that generation wouldn’t have said as well! Real talk and tough love was a valuable part of our family & community tradition, and it has little to do with what class a person is from either.
Bill Cosby admitted to giving ONE woman drugs. Hugh Heffner said he gave numerous “girlfriends” quaaludes because they were “thigh-openers”, yet the playboy mansion and Hugh’s legacy is as American as apple pie. His stature strong as oak! Celebrities of ALL TYPES & gender have gone to his mansion for decades! It was even featured on the family show “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
I don’t know the details & circumstances of Mr. Cosby’s offense, and neither do the rest of us in the general public. I do know it was definitely wrong! I’m in no way belittling that, nor the devastation of the women he allegedly abused. Appropriate punishments are well deserved, but this all around condemnation of any and everything he’s ever done, is NOT!
There are books, songs and movies that document how men have used drugs to “loosen up” women. Whether through various drugs, cocaine or alcohol, at some party tonight somewhere across America, a man is trying to “loosen up” some woman. These tactics of exploitation are not very unique and especially in the entertainment business.
If you are willing to assassinate Mr. Cosby’s character then there’s much more assassinations to get to after him! Let’s go after everyone who has had a dark side to their otherwise highly commendable accomplishments. Let’s take the slave holders off of our money, tear down Wall Street, take J. Edgar Hoover’s name off the FBI building, take the Kennedy name off the space center and I could go on and on!
And for blacks loving to see this mans downfall…. saying Cosby deserves this because he’s been “a do-gooder”. What message are you sending? If a person strives to do good things for most of their life but falters horribly in one area, how are they somehow WORSE than the person that has no interest in doing good at all? People are quick to call out hypocrisy, but is hypocrisy WORSE than all out evil? I thought hypocrisy was simply a PART of evil. To me, the MORE EVIL a person does, the worse it is. The same is true that the more good a person does, the better it is. Just because of Mr. Cosby’s sinful acts, did his money to black institutions suddenly NOT count for hundreds and thousands of students advancing in their lives? Did his shows NOT inspire millions to go to black colleges? All of the sudden, did Fat Albert, not have a good moral to every episode? Or did his shows not positively change the crushed perception of black families throughout the world? His attempts to buy top tier TV networks was inspiring to blacks/minorities to own things instead of simply be consumers. He was a visionary, plain and simple.
Those that are loving this mans “crucifixion”…. Why aren’t you as passionate about seeing the downfall of Snoop, 50 cent, R. kelly, Jay-Z etc. who have admitted (on record) to exploiting women, some of them admitting to pimping women, addicting girls & women to drugs & sexually abusing minors. Others admitting to slapping women, purposely convincing women to become prostitutes, etc. Others like Ice Cube, rapping about kicking “Bit**es” in the tummy! Snoop rapping, “Bit**es ain’t sh*t but h*es and tricks”,
Or Eminem saying, “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore, til the vocal chords don’t work in her throat no more”, or Chief Keef, “you’re gonna suck my d*** or I’ll kill you”.
The hypocrisy that I see in our community towards rappers is easily as bad as the hypocrisy they accuse Mr. Cosby of.
Any-who, I am not happy to see Cosby go through this, nor am I happy to hear about the victimized woman or women. This whole hoopla is another raw reminder that real spirituality is about healing and unless you can see the sickness in yourself you won’t diagnose that in some area you also need healing just like Mr. Bill Cosby.
How one of America’s most vibrant art forms (and the social movement it was a part of) lost it’s soul virtually overnight.
This is a hip hop mystery, a tragedy of epic proportions, told through the eyes of a man who, at one time, stood right at the top of critical and commercial success. But you don’t have to know much about him, or even hip hop itself, to appreciate it. It’s also a Tale of Two Americas – one Black and one White. It’s U.S. History with a capital H, as American as the Civil War, and at least as relevant as anything they taught you in school. It’s a story that hasn’t received much press, which is surprising given just how big a story this is- but then again, that’s not surprising at all.
A Little Hip Hop History (for the uninitiated)
Travel back in time with me to the early 90’s, a time when “rap music” had broken through into white youth culture, which means it was finally making the music industry some big bucks. Other than Rick Rubin, I doubt many white music execs cared for or even understood the music and culture that was paying for their new sports cars and old coke habits- but for the moment, it didn’t really matter. Hip hop was a seller’s market; it seemed like you could throw almost anything out there and people would flock to it like hipsters to a vacant Williamsburg apartment (that’s a 21st Century New York City joke for y’all.) One need only look at the tween duo Kriss Kross, whose 1992 debut went quadruple-platinum (fueled by “Jump”, a catchy but soullessly corporate jingle that became the longest lasting #1 single in hip hop history at that point) as proof. And those guys were in middle school.
One outcome of this zillion dollar windfall was that the record industry was in a generous mood. These little pockets of creative freedom and experimentation don’t happen often in the mainstream, but they do happen , and whomever is lucky enough to be hanging around at the time becomes the beneficiary of good fortune, chiseled into the history books for reasons beyond their control. In this case, the lucky bastards were acts like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest on the smooth end, Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions on the hard. All four groups feature incredibly talented artists who worked diligently to achieve success they rightfully deserved- but if they had emerged, say, today, it’s safe to say they wouldn’t occupy such precious, warm places in our cultural heart, simply because there would be no marketing muscle bringing them to America’s attention. In the days before the internet, the road to fame was pretty damn narrow.
sorely lacking from today’s commercial hip hop is fundamental tenets of hip hop: peace, love, unity, and having fun
But the four acts in question had something else sorely lacking from today’s commercial hip hop hotshots- a genuine connection to the fundamental tenets of hip hop culture: peace, love, unity, and having fun. That’s not just some hippy dippy s***; it’s a catch phrase that very accurately describes the very best elements of Black Culture. While any individual artist has the freedom to do whatever s/he wants, hip hop groups (like their jazz forefathers) readily acknowledged the musical legacy on whose shoulders they rode on. Hip hop wasn’t merely a sound- it was a way of life that involved, literally, taking what your predecessors made, chopping it up, and building something new with the pieces- a musical baton that passed from one African American hand to the next, and sometimes back again. Hip hop was house parties, where people could gather together in a positive environment and showcase their musical performance skills or simply dance along, much like humans have been doing for thousands of years. Being an MC meant being a part of a huge family whom you owed props to; hip hop was both an environment of creative competition and a spiritual support team to keep you going when times were tough.
Can you imagine the Cure, for example, inserting a track on every single album they released where Robert Smith yelled out “yo Morrissey! Depeche Mode! How’s it hangin’, Echo?” And then hearing the following on a Smiths album, six months later: “Back atcha, Robbie!” ? Only punk rock, which is the closest thing white people have to rap music, approached that deep sense of community (I’m thinking specifically of the Huskers, Minutemen, et al.) But just try and find a hip hop album from that era that didn’t include the name drop; contrary to the ominous black thug stereotypes Hollywood consistently scared America with, hip hop was a positive force generated by a group of people who had every excuse to be feeling negative, but thought better of it.
My personal connection to hip hop is as an outsider. In high school, I was the one Mexican kid among two thousand suburban teenagers that, to my memory, contained zero Black kids. Our concept of rap music (we didn’t even know the term “hip hop” existed) was Run DMC busting into an Aerosmith song, The Beastie Boys screaming “Fight For Your Right!” and a very Fresh Prince verbalizing our adolescent hunches that parents just didn’t understand us . I loved the idea of rap music- I literally froze in utter amazement the first time I heard the scratching and sampling from M.A.R.S.’ “Pump Up the Volume” on the radio- but without the internet, elder siblings, or in-the-know friends, there was just no way for hip hop culture to permeate my suburban safety blanket.
It wasn’t until I became a DJ at my college radio station that I truly lost my hip hop cherry. Yes, I became a lifelong fan of all the greats like Public Enemy, but, outsider that I always seem to be, my path took me further afield. In March of 1992, two albums that would change my life permanently happened to drop at the same time. One, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury was an urban, industrial-noise assemblage of political commentary brought to you by a duo including now-cheery-and-herb-smoking-boho Michael Franti. He wasn’t cheery back then, I can guarantee that, tackling the corporate machine head on with a musical force that was equal parts Gil Scott Heron, Chuck D, and Jello Biafra- a full eight months before Rage Against the Machine’s debut would try a similar political attack with a full band.
The album landed them a spot on U2’s Zoo TV tour, but also a permanent spot in my budding progressive heart. Yet it was the other March ’92 album that has had a longer lasting impact, not just on me but on a whole generation of socially conscious people searching for a voice. There, among the radio station rubble of promotional cd’s yearning for some college airplay, was this funky blue and orange album by a group with the oddest of names: Arrested Development.
Against All Odds
If you’re a millennial, no doubt the name “Arrested Development” brings to mind the Bluth Family, Bob Loblaw, and never nudes. But between 1992–93, everyone knew this name belonged to the first hip-hop act ever to win Best New Artist at the Grammys, a group whose debut sold over four million copies, dominated the MTV airwaves, topped the prestigious Village VoicePazz and Jop Critic’s Poll, and earned a headlining spot at Lollapalooza- all by defying every single preconception you could possibly have about hip hop. In many ways, their success made no sense: their sound was rural, featuring live instruments while everyone else’s was urban and sample-heavy. Their MC was a short, dread-headed bohemian who preached spirituality and rapped about the homeless. While everyone else filled their stage with sexy Fly Girls showing off their goods, AD’s set featured large African women as backup singers and a 60-year-old man named Baba Oje. I mean, I loved everything about these folks, but I couldn’t figure out why, all of a sudden, everyone else seemed to as well.
For about 18 months, I didn’t really care. Between AD’s success, the continuing maturity and mainstream acceptance of acts like Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul… and the rise of new creative groups like The Digable Planets – or the metal-rap fusion of Rage Against the Machine- it seemed like the Revolution was being televised, right now, in front of our eyes. It wasn’t just music, either. Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Malcolm X, came out at the end of ’92 with a juicy 33 million dollar budget. Think about that- in the early 90’s, Hollywood was convinced it could make money on an extremely controversial historical figure who made the majority of white America very nervous. This is the same industry that sticks to sequels and reboots, superhero franchises and special effect blockbusters. And Malcolm X wasn’t the safe, non-threatening world of the Cosby Show, either- this was the story of an outright revolutionary icon of Black Power.
Looking at this time period with contemporary eyes, it’s sad to reflect on how good we had it back then- and by “we” I mean all of us. No one thought racism had disappeared, but it was clearly on its way out, or so we believed. Bill Clinton was playing saxophone on a black man named Arsenio’s talk show, and white America loved it. Michael Jordan was the hero of every kid out there, regardless of what color their skin happened to be. And so on, and so forth, and so forth.
When my beloved Arrested Development released their sophomore effort, Zingalamaduni in June of 1994, it was a landmark moment- the culmination of everything this movement had been working towards. Somehow, Speech & co. had managed to top their brilliant debut, handing us a work that was more focused lyrically, richer musically, and more cohesive sonically, from start to finish, the way great concept albums are supposed to be. Not that this was ever officially branded as such, but there was definitely a guiding theme to the songs, and that theme was Revolution. “Just a shell until you decide to rebel” went one such song, while “United Minds” urged us to “tell the oppressor we’ll take no less than total justice.” This was the album that everything else had been working towards- this was the capstone that brought the movement into focus, and invited people of all races to participate. People of all skin colors would come together in solidarity, understanding that this love-bound unity would topple all the forces that had been working against us for centuries.
At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. Instead, nothing happened. No one bought Zingalamaduni; no one talked about it, no one promoted it, no one cared. This wasn’t just another good album lost in the shuffle; it was (and is) one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, released by the hottest hip hop band in the nation, and yet it never made the slightest mark anywhere. Really? Not a peep?
And it wasn’t just AD; just two months later, Public Enemy’s Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age came out to an equally silent response. In October, The Digable Planets’ hit-debut follow-up, Blowout Comb (which is now acknowledged as a classic, seminal album) also shared the same experience. Like AD, these weren’t unknown artists, nor were they flash-in-the-pan Milli Vanilli one-hit-wonders. They were critically-acclaimed, creatively-vibrant acts whose previous albums (Apocalypse 91… and Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space), respectively) had certified platinum and gold sales- yet none of that goodwill translated into any kind of mainstream attention. By the end of the decade, every single hip hop group I’ve mentioned here was either gone or relegated to underground status, which, in pre-internet days pretty much meant the same thing. If it wasn’t on the radio, on rapidly-disappearing Music Television, or written about in the few music magazines you could find that covered hip hop, it just didn’t exist to most of America. Fans of that kind of hip-hop (like me) moved on, dazed and confused, wondering if it had all been a dream.
Back to the Future
Return with me now to the present. Let’s take a trip down to Georgia, where a certain Reverend Thomas lives, devoted husband and father of two, working as the minister of a church called The Seed- where he spends part of his time speaking passionately about social issues to young people from a spiritual perspective. He’s also quite busy running Victory Spot, his new art school that aims to help young artists reach their full potential in a positive and healthy environment. It’s all very similar to what Thomas was doing in the 90’s, when he was better known simply as Speech, the creative force behind (and the MC in front of) Arrested Development. Actually, he’s still known as Speech today, and Arrested Development is still very much alive and well, believe it or not. After Zingalamaduni, the band did, in fact, break up- but their popularity in Japan (as the Tom Waits song goes) kept them going long enough for a second life back in the States. They’ve been recording and performing for most of the 21st Century, and the amazing part is that they’re still really damn good. Musically and lyrically, it’s as if the downfall I just described never happened, and the creative wave they rode in on never crashed. They’ve released 7 albums since their comeback- all of them solid, some of them absolutely brilliant- and with two of those albums having dropped just recently, Speech is clearly not interested in slowing down. Which is why, in order to solve this hip hop murder mystery, I needed to track him down.
No group in hip hop felt the effects of the movement’s end more acutely than AD; no person experienced going from 100 to 0 more quickly than Speech, or saw the events unfold in such an intimate way. When I first heard his song “The Trends,” from AD’s near-perfect (that’s not hyperbole) 2010 effort, Strong, the floodgates of my memory blew open, and I was reminded of everything I had experienced myself but didn’t know how to process. Speech had crystallized that feeling into a coherent thought, and so, with his ground-zero view of the 90’s music scene, Speech remains our ideal- and urgently necessary- hip hop history professor.
***“During the early 90’s,” Speech is telling me during a recent conversation, “it was very in style to be diverse, to be method oriented and conscious. Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, and of course Arrested Development- we were selling millions of albums. The Cosby Show was a cross hit show talking about a black family in a way that had yet to be talked about in mainstream media, and movies like Do the Right Thing and Boys n the Hood were prominent. It was a true revolution of thought, one that tried to tackle the issues America has been wrestling with since the days of slavery- which, by the way, is only 150 years ago. Not a very long time.“There were a lot of wounds that needed to be healed, and we were addressing them. During that same time period, however, street culture started to become more sexy as a reaction to America’s war on drugs. Drug dealers were starting to get demonized- which, to some extent, rightfully so, but then to another extent, quite unfairly- and so the drug dealers defended themselves with ‘hey, we’re not demons, we’re just out there with no jobs. We have no opportunities, there’s no after school programs, nothing.’ They felt their viewpoint was being ignored, so there was a backlash against conscious music and a change- or trend- that was very much wanting to hear the perspective of what was once called the bad guy.”
History backs this up. When Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1992, despite his popularity among African Americans and Democrats, it was his “tough on crime” stance that won him the support of a conservative middle America- a position reflected in much of his administration’s domestic policy, such as the 1994 Crime Bill and the 1996 “Personal Responsibility Act”- two conservative-leaning bills that the Clintons championed as a way to curtail criminals and welfare-abusers, respectively. To a lot of white people, the obvious culprits in both of these categories were black people. No, not the black people that we all loved on the Cosby Show, perhaps, but those “other” black people- you know, the ones living in urban areas selling and using crack, or the single moms on welfare who kept cranking out kids non-stop. Though most white folks probably had never actually encountered such a person, the nightly news and Hollywood made sure they were prominent in our collective imagination (it’s not that different today, sadly.) Never mind the American economic system that had created this situation in the first place; hooded black teenagers were a threat that had to be dealt with. So while all this wonderful, socially-conscious, African-rooted art was thriving, so was the flip-side to the black experience.
When N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton came out in 1988, it was a genuinely masterful piece of self-expression, the kind Speech was just referring to: a realistic portrait of life from the other side of the tracks. As the 90’s progressed, however, Ice Cube, Dre, and Eazy-E’s respective careers slowly watered down that “gritty honesty” into a self-conscious gangsta schtick, one plastered all over MTV and hungrily consumed by suburban white kids who viewed it all with the same romantic prism their parents had held for the Italian Mafia. Says Speech:“The majority of white people would buy and love these gangsta hip hop tapes, listening to these gritty stories on record- and so of course, black artists would continue to supply it. Hip hop just became synonymous with being a drug dealer- what they used to call “keeping it real.” In order to be real, you literally had to do time. If you had been shot, you were a better candidate for coming out with a rap record. Instead of it being about skills with lyrics or beatmaking, or of having diverse thoughts, the game became: “Was he a drug dealer for real? Well, then he can learn how to rap! Let’s put him out there because he’s the real deal.“So there was a backlash against conscious music. Instead, you had artists like NAS talking about being a street hustler selling drugs, being straightforward about his life on the street, what he had to do to survive. You had the Wu-Tang, talking about their reality on the streets, and so the hustler became, to some extent, a hero. So when artists like Biggie Smalls and later Jay Z appeared, gangsta thugs became heroes again. I say again because back in the 70’s, the Blacksploitation era had the same type of feel. You had the Pimp, who was the guy who you wanted to admire, he had the women, the clothes, the cars- you admired him, and those movies did very well. So this was sort of a revisit of that same scene. Too Short was talking a lot about being a pimp, when 50 Cent came out, he was talking about being a pimp… so these types of themes really took over.”
Did they ever. From Quentin Tarantino to virtually every successful rapper from that era, the whole self-conscious retro-fest of black 70’s gangster culture was lovingly embraced by blacks and whites alike. This is even more ironic when you realize that the first Blacksploitation film, Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, suffered a very similar fate. Van Peebles, a strong-minded, idiosyncratic artist of the 60’s and 70’s, channeled all his anger into a controversial, independent film that expressed all the rage his people had been feeling against a system that continually shoved them to the bottom. Like Straight Outta Compton, it was a hit- such a huge hit, that Hollywood wasted no time co-opting this new genre and turning it into the money-making escapist fantasy genre we continue to glorify today. Out with the socio-political commentary, in with the bling, the funk, and the ho’s.
Maybe that’s all conscious music ever was- another flavor of the month. It certainly was from a music industry perspective- one of many flavors, as easily discarded as a disposable razor blade. All the college kids with Public Enemy t-shirts got themselves jobs, bought themselves houses, and traded idealism for realism. The only time the phrase “Fight the Power” comes to anyone’s mind these days is when a DJ nostalgically spins it at a club as part of a “who remembers this jam?” throwback set.
But that’s not the whole truth. The Million Man March did happen- and people did become more aware of their historical context. For all our country’s racial baggage, those of us in our 20’s at the time had no problem embracing all this delicious black culture, even as outsiders. Movies like Jungle Fever and Zebrahead tackled inter-racial relationships head on, and to us, such radical ideas just seemed obvious. What white guy wouldn’t want a beautiful black girlfriend? I know we were naive, but we were also genuine- as was the hope our generation carried with it. All that wonderful self-expression, empowerment, and enlightenment did have an impact- in my life, specifically, and in the lives of a lot of people as well. That impact has shaped our growth and the way we are now raising the next generation, whom we hope can finally- FINALLY- shed these stupid racial chains that continue to bog America down.
“It did affect people,” continues Speech. “During those times, statistics show that black college enrollment skyrocketed. The support of black on black businesses skyrocketed- which is important by the way; it’s not a separatist thing. It’s a way of helping economies within our own neighborhoods become more independent so that we’re not depending on illegal activities like drug dealing and prostitution and all these other things. People were literally changing their lives during that time period.
“And yet- corporations had no personal investment in conscious music. It was doing well financially, and movies like Malcolm X and Boyz N the Hood were doing well at the box office, but as far as corporations were concerned, if there was another type of music and film that would do just as well, then fine! We’ll take it! And when things like a Nas hit big, then the message to the corporations was: ‘here’s different material that’s doing just as well, and it’s promoting gross materialism, which is boosting the sales of all types of product out there. It’s a win-win situation, there’s no White Guilt, there’s no having to rally for change, no one has to get real introspective about things… it’s a road that’s much easier to travel, with less conflict. If both of them are going to make money, we’ll go with this one.’ That’s what I believe happened.
“Now, some people will say it was more sinister. Some will say, and I won’t necessarily disagree with them, that corporations, along with various extremely rich men, were deciding purposely to put out music that was going to destroy conscious music and the movement. Some will say these things were also meant to enhance the privatization of prisons, to keep those beds warm and make sure there was a pipeline from the street straight to the prison. I’m not going to say that it’s impossible for that to happen. I’m not really sure, to be honest. I will say that, without a question, the access was definitely given more to unconscious music than it was to conscious music.
“When we put out Zingalamaduni, we had just sold four million copies of Three Years, Five Months, and Two Days In the Life of… we had had an international, unprecedented success. We were named band of the year by Rolling Stone in 1993; we were undoubtedly a successful act. And yet for our second album, they were not willing to give us any budget comparable to a band that had just sold 4 million albums prior. There was a definite sort of stiff-arm put towards us that any other successful band, like a Nirvana, did not receive. They’d get a bigger budget so that the band could do even bigger and better things… we did not. The rug was completely pulled out from under us- promotion for our album turned into nothing after just a couple of months, and everything was abandoned, as far as we were concerned. And a similar thing happened to other conscious groups we knew. So yeah, I think the corporations definitely made a decision that they were going to go with this other style of hip hop, less confrontational, easier to swallow… and in their minds, at least, total entertainment.”
Those are some heavy claims, but again, the facts back Speech up. Whether or not there was a conscious decision by corporate America to kill the movement, there is no question our government and private industry have worked hand-in-hand to increase the prison population- converting many of our prisons into privately-run businesses, and using this increased prison population as literal slave labor for corporations all across the country. When you consider that one third of Americans are black, yet two thirds of our prisoners are black, the whole thing starts to look like a very deliberate attempt at bringing back the days of slavery through a nice and legal sheen. Check out Wanda James’ story; she’s an upper middle-class lawyer whose 17-year old brother was arrested for marijuana possession. No prior arrests, but because he was black and in Texas, he was allowed no lawyer and declared a felon by a judge- sentenced to four-and-a-half years picking cotton in prison as a result. Picking cotton. The irony couldn’t be more ridiculously insulting, yet last year alone, over seven hundred thousand people were arrested for the same thing, with black folks holding the dubious honor of being four times more likely than white folks to get arrested. The whole thing is outrageous enough to turn you into a bona fide conspiracy theorist.
Not convinced? Check out this historical chart of the U.S. Prison Population, and notice how much it started growing exponentially a) after Reagan became president and b) after Clinton passed his Tough on Crime Bill. Now look at how many people were in jail because of drug offenses in 1980 vs today. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of living bodies roaming around incarcerated, not for violent crimes but because of drugs. Finally, compare the odds: if you’re a black man, you have a 33% chance of being incarcerated, but if you’re white, that chance is under 6%. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow details the prison-corporate-America relationship well and is definitely worth a read, but even just a little research on your own will reveal how companies like Kitchell Inc. have made millions of bucks building prison after prison, or how several prison-supply companies are doing amazing business in this burgeoning industry. I shouldn’t have to mention that the point of a prison is to punish and reform humans who disrupt society, and not to act as a substitute slave factory unaffected by our labor laws.
I first heard about this enraging prison scam back in 1997, when Michael Moore spoke to a former inmate from a Ventura, CA prison who confessed he used to take airline reservations over the phone for TWA while in jail (you can watch the disturbingly hilarious interview yourself in The Big One if you’re curious.) And it’s not just TWA; tons of household-name companies like Microsoft, IBM, Target and even Macy’s are all cashing in on this great little opportunity, too. So once you start compiling the amount of people and companies profiting from an increased number of black men in prison, is it so hard to imagine that the first order of business was to get rid of this pesky Black Consciousness Movement (whose goal was to empower people and reduce crime)? Would you encourage something that is completely opposed to what you’re trying to achieve?
There’s another key player in conscious hip hop’s demise- an unwitting one from the land of technology and public policy.
The FCC was created in 1934 via the Communications Act, which established America’s broadcasting rules in an effort to regulate the emerging markets of telephone, radio, and television. For 60 years, America operated under these same rules, believe it or not- but by the mid 90’s, the rapidly-changing face of technology was forcing our government to come up with something more relevant. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was their answer; I won’t bog you down with the many things it accomplished (Wikipedia actually has a decent summary of the whole thing) but one thing it did real well was turn media ownership into a giant Monopoly board, which is ironic since the entire point of the act, as stated by our lawmakers, was to foster competition and increase diversity through deregulation. Here’s an important story that sets up the 1997 TC Act , and illustrates just how far our country has gone from serving the public interest to serving corporate interests, which ties in directly to our hip-hop story:
In the late 80’s, a company named Metro Broadcasting was one of several applicants hoping to secure an FCC license for a new TV station in Orlando, Florida. They lost the bid to Rainbow Broadcasting, on the grounds that one of the FCC’s goals is to promote broadcast diversity. Rainbow was 80% Hispanic-owned, while Metro had only one minority partner in its ranks, so the FCC handed the contract to Rainbow. Metro appealed on the grounds of reverse discrimination, and the case went back-and-forth in the lower courts until 1990, when it reached the Supreme Court- led at the time by the conservative William Rehnquist. After much deliberation, the court upheld the ruling 5–4, and you should check out Justice Brennan’s written opinion on the matter.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Although for the past two decades minorities have constituted at least one-fifth of the United States population, during this time relatively few members of minority groups have held broadcast licenses. In 1971, minorities owned only 10 of the approximately 7,500 radio stations in the country, and none of the more than 1,000 television stations; in 1978, minorities owned less than 1 percent of the Nation’s radio and television stations; and in 1986, they owned just 2.1 percent of the more than 11,000 radio and television stations in the United States. Moreover, these statistics fail to reflect the fact that, as late entrants who often have been able to obtain only the less valuable stations, many minority broadcasters serve geographically limited markets with relatively small audiences.
[W]e are compelled to observe that the views of racial minorities continue to be inadequately represented in the broadcast media. This situation is detrimental not only to the minority audience, but to all of the viewing and listening public. Adequate representation of minority viewpoints in programming serves not only the needs and interests of the minority community but also enriches and educates the non-minority audience. It enhances the diversified programming which is a key objective not only of the Communications Act of 1934 but also of the First Amendment.”
The dissenting opinion, as voiced by Justice Kennedy, saw this decision simply as unfair affirmative action:
“I cannot agree with the Court that the Constitution permits the Government to discriminate among its citizens on the basis of race in order to serve interests so trivial as “broadcast diversity.”
The whole “affirmative action” debate is one that will be argued for a long time yet, but to take a group of people who have been systematically discriminated against, not to mention beaten, persecuted, and hated for hundreds of years and call their cultural need to communicate ideas “trivial” is not just insulting and ignorant, it’s borderline racist. Or, like, completely, totally racist. Regardless, this case makes quite clear where both the FCC and the Supreme Court were philosophically at in 1990- yet seven neoliberal years later, our country was a very different place. NAFTA, the elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, and now this Telecommunications Act are all Clinton-era decisions that gave corporate giants the ability to own larger and larger shares of their respective markets, and the ensuing years saw multiple lawsuits by companies such as Fox pushing to reduce the FCC’s regulating power- which is exactly what happened.
Only three years after the act, reports were already exposing this disturbing trend in radio consolidation, and by 2002, Clear Channel had gone from a small, 40-station fish to a 1225-station Great White, controlling a huge chunk of the radio pie. All of this consolidation pretty much booted alternative media from the general public’s eyes and ears, whittling our arts & entertainment choices to a few, lowest-common-denominator options even the biggest media recluse couldn’t escape from (I’m talking to you, Britney, Backstreet Boys, & Ace of Base.) The world of hip hop was no different; what had merely been a trend before was now an unstoppable behemoth, as Dre, Biggie, Nas and Jay-Z made sure there could be only one (style of hip hop, that is.)
“When that happened, it pretty much sealed the deal,” Speech corroborates. “It’s what allowed an artist like Jay Z to have the numerous huge hits that he’s had, since, basically, all the record labels became three giant labels. Those three labels pretty much controlled the medium in every city. They had partnerships with the TV channels that would play music videos, they owned the radio stations that would play rap music, and they owned a lot of the newspapers as well. For the artists that they wanted to promote, it was a carte blanche ability to reach all listeners in all cities across the nation at one time. And a lot less people were making a lot more decisions for the rest of us.
“Before the switch, groups like the Pharycide to MC Hammer to Arrested Development to Young MC to PM Dawn to NWA could all coexist on tours together, on radio together, and no one complained. After the switch, it become what you still see today: one hip hop style of music, and a subject matter that’s very narrow, one-dimensional. You have a couple of exceptions like Kendrick Lamar, but for every one of him or J. Cole, you have about five thousand other groups doing the opposite. Most people can’t even name ten conscious artists that exist in the mainstream of rap today- they’ve all gone underground.
“Access is the key word. Conscious music was no longer given access. If you played the game, the rules became ‘look, just dumb it down. Stop talking about those same things. Get on the bandwagon and embrace this new “urban culture” that’s coming aboard. Embrace the pimp culture, the drug dealer culture, the street hardness, and we’ll continue to promote you. And if you don’t do that, you’re simply not part of the narrative we’ve created.’ And in that way, it became a form of censorship.”
Richard T. Craig’s African Americans and Mass Media uses the parallel case of BET’s rise and fall to illustrate a similar point. It’s a fascinating (but painful) story: Robert L. Johnson started Black Entertainment Television for the obvious reason that there wasn’t a single network owned by or operated for the African American community. BET blew up during the same hip-hop era we’ve been talking about: late 80’s through mid- 90’s. From the start, Johnson made his agenda clear: the only way for African-Americans to get the kind of programming they wanted was to own media outlets, and at that moment they owned none. BET was here to change that dynamic, and Johnson worked hard at making it happen. By the time the Telecommunications Act came along in 1996, BET was airing five diverse news-oriented shows daily or weekly, providing much-needed commentary and critique to the black community at large. But then, somewhere between 2000–2001, Johnson did a bizarre thing. Despite proving to the world that a black-owned cable network was not only financially possible but necessary, Johnson decided to sell his baby to Viacom – and with it, the network’s soul.
Things changed right away. Despite their success, three of these staple news shows were given the axe, along with popular BET Tonight host Tavis Smiley. By 2005, even their flagship show BET Nightly News was gone. None of this should be surprising to anyone who’s lived through the last 20 years of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s the irony that hurts the most. Robert Johnson had created BET to combat the exact thing it was now doing- letting white people make decisions for black people, and eliminate the diversity of ideas African-Americans were starving for in the public sphere. By handing the reigns to Viacom, Johnson not only sold his people out- he made it clear that diversity was definitely not in the best interest of Corporate America, whose advertisers had no desire to fund critical, investigative news shows that might encourage their viewers to question things. And that’s exactly where things stand today.
Facing the Mirror
Okay, so now we understand why the powers-that-be let the movement die. But the hardest pill to swallow, and the mirror we all need to face, is our own culpability in the matter. Because the truth is, no amount of corporate power can stop people when people really want something- whether it’s something gigantic like Ghandi’s passive resistance against British oppression, or something relatively small- like the unprecedented success of Tyler Perry’s 2006 smash, Madea’s Family Reunion. This one still blows me away- the film scored $30 million just in its opening weekend, number one at the box office, and yet not a single white person had a clue it even existed. “Who the hell is Tyler Perry?” we all asked ourselves, and yet here was a man speaking to an important- and clearly ignored- audience that white corporate America considered unimportant. It was a testament to the fact that even the thickest corporate walls have cracks in them if you know where to look, and though I don’t relate at all to Perry’s aesthetic sensibility, I was beyond thrilled to know this little indie film was kicking so much ass. If such a success could still take place purely through grass-roots word-of-mouth, why couldn’t We the People keep the 90’s Black Consciousness Movement alive?
“It’s because most of us black people- we’re still not conscious,” explains Speech. “To be conscious means you’re well aware of 1) the horrible rape that was done to us as human beings during slavery, which lasted over 200 years, and 2) after slavery, the continuation of that horror story, the lack of humanity we suffer through, and the rights that we’re still lacking. You have to be very aware of those things, and also of the continuing movement of freedom fighters- from Harriet Tubman, to Frederick Douglass, to W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X – you’re very aware of them, you know their teachings, you’ve studied under them, and you understand that there is a legitimate way to get out from under the oppression. People literally lived and died and sacrificed their lives in order for us to reach our point- and a conscious mind understands that.
“An unconscious mind, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It sees value only where the majority of society sees value. So similar to what black people were doing with minstrel shows back in the day , our unconscious mind will seek out whatever makes the most money, whatever brings back a value- whether it’s clothes, a house, a car- that’s legitimized by our media.
“Groups like Arrested Development never fell for that- nor did Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, X Clan… I think that’s the difference. In our song “People Everyday” I address the difference between The Nigger andThe African. The African is aware that he’s oppressed, but he’s doing everything that he or she can do to overcome, rise above it. Whereas the Nigger understands he’s oppressed, but for whatever reason chooses to wallow in that oppression. So there’s two different mindsets, and sometimes they clash, unable to see the world the same way. Those mindsets still exist at this very moment. When Arrested Development was doing really well as far as sales, we had a lot of hip hop artists that hated our guts and said we were the death of rap. Now those artists weren’t conscious- they didn’t understand what we were talking about, didn’t see the value in it. And that’s why so many of us have allowed our movement and our music to die- not only allowed it, but helped to perpetuate it.
“There were executives – black executives- that bought into glorifying the drug dealer side of hip hop, the strip club side of hip hop. They wanted to get the street hustlers out there and glorify them. The pimps: those that prey on women, those that will do anything for a dollar. It was black people that originally brought that whole world to the record labels, and the labels gave them access because it made tons of money- it was just entertainment in their eyes, and subconsciously, it fit a narrative that white people felt pretty comfortable with.”
Speech’s comments made me wonder how much recorded evidence exists that points to specific instances where execs told artists to ditch the positive and focus on these negative stereotypes. After several search attempts, the evidence started bubbling up. First, there’s this now-infamous anonymous letter (by an alleged industry executive) that discusses a secret meeting detailing how hip hop would be used to increase the prison population. Okay, that one’s possibly a hoax. But then there’s this Too Short interviewwhere he specifically calls out Jive Records’ president Barry Weiss for pressuring him into dropping his earlier political material and releasing the overly-raunchy You Nasty instead. Too Short wanted to balance the pimp stuff with his positive tunes, and Jive repeatedly denied him the chance- now that’s some genuine evidence. Similarly, when Interscope signed 17-year-old Chicago rapper Chief Keef, Rhymefest and other industry insiders blasted the move as a cynical attempt by president Jimmy Iovine at perpetuating the self-destructive images white people have of African-Americans. But the most eloquent and damning critique of the whole matter comes in the form of a speech given by Wise Intelligent, who brilliantly connects Black Culture’s creative output to the activism (or lack of) found in the Black Community. It’s powerful, on point, and worth every second of your time.
Back to Speech: “Throughout the history of America, back when racism was way more in your face than it is now, the media would consistently drive images of black people as brutes, as lower intellectual life forms. Especially men- they were brutes, they were strong, and if you were white you had to ‘watch your women when they’re around. They can’t think high thoughts, they’re not very deep, but they’re definitely strong and they’ve come to rape and ravage. They’re just dangerous.’ It was the same with the black woman: she’s a Jezebel, not to be trusted, she’s overly sexual, has a big butt. Sure, she’ll treat you right in bed, but you certainly don’t want to marry that type, you just want to sleep with her. Those images were scary, but once you could put them on a record and contain them in the form of entertainment, it was just like riding a roller coaster- you’re scared while you’re on it, but you know you’re going to be all right. And that’s what gangsta hip hop does- it allows you, as a listener, to be a little afraid of this dark reality, but then the record’s over and life is the same. You just had a good joyride.
“For label executives, this kind of hip hop was no different than an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. For black people, however, it wasn’t that at all- it was real. And these things would be perpetuated, and our realities and sadness would grow exponentially. How many of us are in prisons now? How many laws that the Clintons put into action in 1994 were justified because of this image of us, of these animals, these ‘Superpredators’? These things made those laws justified- not only for the Clintons, but to blacks as well. Many people voted for those laws.
“And that was the point of my song, ‘The Trends.’ It was my disappointment, really in the black community, because we allowed that trend to happen and we did not support the music that was supporting us. It was music that enriched us, offered us solutions, gave us a soundtrack for healing. And that’s exactly what we needed.”
So now what? These issues always seem so insurmountable, so beyond the reach of a single person. But the pendulum of history is pretty damn clear: when things swing far enough in one direction, they have to swing back. My personal take is this: we need to recognize our racist past and present- but we also need to know how to let it go if we’re ever going to have a future. For all our cultural differences, our economic differences, and the indisputable fact that we are existing in parallel Americas- one for white people and one for everyone else- the deeper truth of how similar we all are is still there. Right now, the system that was never meant for black people isn’t working for a lot of white people, either. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, we’re living in a time where we have lots of friends of various colors all over the place- and a very common, clear enemy. Regardless of your personal opinion of either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, the unprecedented success of both men’s presidential bids- performed in radically different ways- is proof positive that something different is in the air. Just four years ago, neither Trump’s fear-based rhetoric nor Sanders’ progressive, anti-corporate rhetoric would have connected with any significant number of white Americans… and yet, here we are. People are clamoring for change- not the fake kind every president since Reagan has pretended to offer, but something real, with tangible results.
What will it take to bring us all together? How do we convince the fear-driven Trump and Tea Party supporters that the people responsible for their shitty lives aren’t African-Americans, Muslims, or Mexicans? And on the flip side, how do we get black and white folks to work within a singular movement that truly reflects the ideal “and justice for all”? For all of his successes, Bernie has failed to galvanize African-Americans – especially the older ones who have fond memories of Bill Clinton.
“Right now it’s popular to talk about the prison exploitation signed by the Clintons in ’94, but black people remember a time of financial gain during the Clinton years. We felt it was a time of growth for us – people were buying houses, getting more opportunity- and so many black people that were around back then have a fondness for the Clintons. I support Bernie- I may or may not vote for him, but I do understand both sides of the coin. To be honest, we’ve never heard of Bernie Sanders– until this election, he’s never been there.
“Bernie says everything right. And yet, we saw with Obama the huge contest he had to go through to get anything past, and so black people are thinking- if it seems too good to be true, it is. We’ve had a lot of promises made to us, a lot of laws that were passed that were supposed to benefit us, and over the years they seemed to benefit every other group but us. So we have a weariness of the promises. I’m not saying it’s right- I’m not saying that at all- but that’s my opinion as to why everyone is not on the Bernie bandwagon with Spike Lee and Killer Mike.
“If people get to be true activists, then yes, I think we’ll all give something to Bernie. He does have extremely amazing authentic ideas and passion- it’s authentic. That’s truly the word for it. But whether he can get everyone to follow along, we’ll see. I’m a little torn between the two philosophies myself.”
No one can blame an African-American for being skeptical of a politician’s rhetoric- but, so, like, how do we get out of this mess? That was the last thing I asked Speech. Does he think it’s still possible to have a revolution without guns or bloodshed?
“Yes, I do. if we can have that same revolution that we had in the late 80’s and 90’s, if consciousness is in the minds of people, the music is supporting that, is encouraging it, as long as it’s not controlled by corporations but by more independent minded people, I do think we’ll have an opportunity to truly keep the momentum- because that’s the key word. It’s one thing to get people to want something different, it’s another to get them to stick to it, to really fight for the distance. That’s what I’ve been striving to do, but I must say it’s a very lonely road sometimes. I talk to a few different legends who are my heroes- one of them, my hero Chuck D – I know he feels what I feel in this regard. Others, too- Daddy-O of Stetsasonic and I talk all the time- great MC, a very smart man, and we talk a lot about the lack of people willing to go the length. That’s the real trick.”
I don’t know how many people are out there who are willing to go the distance on affecting true social change- but I do know one thing. The movement I witnessed firsthand in the 90’s was real, and it was shared by a lot of people- black and white- in a spirit of warmth and positivity that I know still exists. It flashed itself briefly the night Obama became president, just long enough to remind us it’s not dead- just hibernating. There is lots of great conscious hip hop out there, if you dig for it; from the Last Poets to Run the Jewels, there will always be a human need for good music that speaks to your mind and soul, pushing us to confront our shortcomings. It’s just waiting for us as a culture to wake up again. I still remember how far we made it two decades ago, how exciting it felt, and how great it is to be a part of genuine social growth. The barriers between Blacks and Whites are real, but even more real is the fundamental humanity that reminds us we’re all in the same boat; if we can stop living parallel existences and come together, our combined numbers will be unstoppable. So before I break out into a John Lennon chorus of “Imagine”, just remember: I’m not giving up, never ever ever, and I hope you won’t, either. Take it away, Mr. Wendal….
A huge thank you to Speech for his time and insight into this important matter. Now’s the perfect opportunity to catch up to Arrested Development’s incredible discography, including their two new albums, This Was Never Home and Changing the Narrative (which is available as a free download!)
These guys just don’t quit.
 Other modern American examples: Early 1970’s Hollywood movies after the studio system broke down; we’ve never again come close to that high-watermark of exciting, experimental film in the mainstream. Similarly, the underground / alternative comic book scene between the release ofWatchmen and the implosion of the industry a decade later gave us a crop of vibrant artists (i.e. Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware) that are still producing the most interesting work in print today.
 As cheesy and obviously commercial as Will Smith’s hit singles were on their double-album He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, that album is full of amazingly good music that any hip-hop fan will appreciate- especially record number two. Jazzy Jeff’s innovative scratching turned me on to the art of turntablism, and I’ve been a believer ever since.
 Everything about both this case and the Telecommunications Act is a matter of public record, but I’ll refer you to African Americans and Mass Media by Richard T. Craig in this case, since it’s such a great academic study on this whole issue.
 Once again, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow speaks about this- the fact that, once black folks realized white people loved minstrel shows, rather than fight them, they embraced and embellished the stereotypes much in the same way that Gangsta rappers embraced our thug-life stereotypes. Read her book for the details. If you think the metaphor exaggerates things a little, check out this video of Bobby Shmurda prancing around for a room full of apathetic Epic Records execs in hopes of snagging a record deal- and compare it with the minstrel shows of yesteryear. Same shit, different century.
You can contact Memo at: [email protected]
There are a growing number of young professionals choosing to move to Africa after acquiring skills in the U.S. or the U.K. One of these professionals is DJ Kobby, who moved to Africa after attaining two degrees in London.
Interestingly, the DJ is making good use of the skills he acquired in the U.K. When he isn’t working as a DJ, he’s a lecturer at the Accra-based Ashesi University where he teaches cultural studies.
Kobby is an example of many other young professionals who’ve chosen to do the same. Seeing this trend, Nancy Kacungira took time out to meet some of these professionals to ask them
What’s motivating them to move back home.
As for Kobby, he moved from London because, despite the fact that he had attained two degrees, it was challenge finding a descent job in London 10 years ago. It’s that experience that triggered him to start thinking outside the box in order to find alternative ways of earning a living and making use of his skills.
“I felt that London was kind of grim at the time, it wasn’t exactly a land of opportunity.” he said.
While at this crossroad – DJ Kobby thought of connecting with his family that was living in Ghana and about starting his own family in the U.K. His thoughts about starting a family raised more questions regarding his and his children’s identity.
“The main thing that pushed me away was just not feeling like I could really have children there, because their identity could be questioned.” he said. “The idea that someone could come up to them and say: ‘Are you British?’ That worried me.”
After much thought, DJ Kobby, whose real name is Kobina Graham, made his mind to move to Ghana, where his career prospects became brighter.
Although he misses friends, he says that he finds it warmer in Ghana, in terms of friends.
“I remember sometimes being on a bus and just not feeling any sense of community or welcome; I don’t miss that at all,” Graham says. “I love the fact that here, I’m not made to feel like a stranger.”
Graham’s case is similar to that of many young African immigrants. Many of them move back home, more so from Western Europe and North America, in what’s been referred to as “Reverse migration.”
Professor Mariama Awumbila, a migration scholar at the University of Accra has also confirmed the same. She says, “We’re beginning to see a trend of the younger Ghanaians coming back – mostly highly skilled professionals in their thirties and early forties.”
It was difficult for Ghana in the 1990s when between 10-20% of Ghana’s population settled abroad. The trend was so bad that it resulted in more Ghanaian doctors working abroad than those who worked in their homeland.
Now, Ghana has achieved a lot in reversing migration to Europe and America.
Jerry Parkes, another returnee, who was born, raised, and worked in London, says that although things were good in his career, he felt a burning urge to come back during his prime years to contribute to building his motherland.
“I never stop thinking about how much more impact could be had in Africa if more diasporans decide to move back and do what they’ve been trained to do, what they’re experienced at doing, within the continent,” he said.
There are numerous challenges that these young professionals face when they travel back home; from dilapidated roads to a poor healthcare system.
Still, these professionals find that they give more value by coming back home. It’s also a fact that a number of them also perform better financially back home than abroad.
We are now living in a time when Africa is starting to evoke images of vibrancy and growth instead of poverty, war and struggle. In this context, Ghana is fast becoming a mecca for black Americans who are looking for lucrative opportunities in a new environment. According to recent reports about 10,000 African-Americans visit Ghana yearly. Currently almost 3,000 American blacks reside in the capital, Accra, the major hub of Ghana.
Signs of a growing trend
While these numbers are not huge, they are significant. Almost six years ago there were only 1,000 African-American expatriates living in Ghana, so clearly the numbers are rising steadily.
What has attracted them? Various reasons one being racial tensions in the U.S., but also opportunities for a better life. The fact is this burgeoning nation has consistently enjoyed a peaceful political climate without many threats of internal or external strife since it gained its independence from the British back in 1957. The temperate weather also makes it an attractive choice. In November 2001, Ghana’s parliament passed (right to abode) legislation which allows any person of African descent in the Diaspora to live and work in Ghana indefinitely. Previously, African-Americans in Ghana had to continually renew visas and work permits, which proved to be both costly and bothersome. Those who have advocated the African-American cause celebrated a small victory. Ghana is the first and only African nation to adopt legislation providing Africa’s dispersed family a legal right to return.
But most importantly, there are elements that could resonate with anyone seeking a more laid back lifestyle. The pristine beaches, affordable living and a sense of spiritual calm that permeates the landscape makes Ghana an attractive alternative to the proverbial American “rat race.”
Ghana is living up to that hype, in addition to being a land of economic opportunity and bountiful resources.
Why relocate to Ghana?
Most Americans are starting to grasp the notion that they may have better luck financially in another country. As the American economy is often flighty with promised black opportunities elusive, some blacks are finding that places new and unfamiliar could challenge them in ways leading to upward mobility.
Monies saved and invested elsewhere can yield bigger dividends. The educational attainment of many African-Americans can be put to immediate use in countries that have not been able to offer their populations similar luxuries until recently.
Much has been written about American blacks moving to South Africa for these very reasons, but I would like to suggest Ghana be added to the list of locales for those considering planting new roots in the Motherland.
Technology, teaching and more opportunities
There are a plethora of companies in Ghana eager to recruit foreign applicants. If you are lucky enough to be well versed in all things digital, securing employment with a well-established technology firm is a strong possibility. Organizations such as Blogging Ghana have created platforms for interactivity within the social media realm that are reaching a global audience. Employees of such firms will have the opportunity to be proponents for change in an emerging field.
Or you can more easily start a family business. More than half of the African-Americans that reside in Accra are entrepreneurs. Local chiefs are often more than willing to grant prized land and other resources to budding entrepreneurs interested in real estate development, or other commercial ventures. This could also lead to a lucrative life in farming – or “agribusiness” – for those interested in a totally new, yet viable way of making a living.
Teaching is another highly desirable profession. English is the official language of Ghana; thus, entering academia as a teacher of the language could be one means of entrance into a coveted class. Plus, there are many supports extended to foreign pupils and the qualified staff who instruct them. You and your family could benefit from this aspect of the economy as native speakers.
Some newly minted migrants have encountered some issues adjusting. As progressive as Ghana is compared to their regional neighbors, there are still some difficulties that arise when it comes to everyday comfort. Coming from a Western culture creates certain expectations, and the thought of not having stable electricity, or constant running water can be a pain. Yes, this does happen at times and may be a deal-breaker for some.
In addition, government agencies can also be hard to work with (just like in the U.S.) and in some cases they can prolong the process of becoming a citizen which can limit your access to certain jobs. But, for many recent immigrants, settling in Accra isn’t nearly as intimidating as one would imagine.
Most importantly, acquaint yourself with the history of this very diverse country. Many Ghanaians are well traveled and knowledgeable about world affairs, so you have to be able to hold your own.
Weighing options for change
You have to look before you leap, so it’s advisable to visit first before you make such a drastic decision. You should ideally be armed with a well-drafted blueprint of what your vocation will be and have a few promising options lined up to assuage any doubts. Yes, it can take a considerable amount of time to achieve residency, but if you like Ghana and want to take a risk in your quest for a better life, you will likely succeed.
Ghana is the perfect choice if you are looking to experience living in Africa, because it has managed to take advantage of global opportunities, which has allowed the country to develop a comfortable level of stability. African-Americans will enjoy making a life in a place that will make them feel connected and celebrated in a way that they probably don’t fully enjoy in the U.S. as “minorities.”
Plus, you don’t have to be a millionaire in order to live quite decently. Moreover, there are resources available, like The African American Association of Ghana (AAGG), to help make your transition a smooth one.
Overall, you will be living among a people who are just as excited to get to know you as you are to know them. Ghanaians are very hospitable, which makes it easy to make friends and quickly build a network, which is ultimately the key to survival in any foreign country.
That’s what makes Ghana a welcoming and worthwhile choice for African-Americans who might be thinking of relocating to a new land of opportunity.