I wrote a letter to the government the other day
An attack on the attack on Hip Hop + Hip Hop-based education + Hip Hop conference news + breaking in the Olympics + interesting new releases + my upcoming appearances + more
In this edition of Words I Mannyfest, my (open) letter to NYC mayor Eric Adams, Hip Hop education conference news, breaking in the Olympics, notable releases and links, and the start of my 2022 speaking tour. First up…
🎓 GET YOUR MIND RIGHT [Hip Hop x Education]
The second annual Global Conference on Hip Hop Education took place from February 3 through 6, chock full of presentations, research papers, poster projects and discussions from and among educators, researchers and Hip Hop heads from across the world.
The brainchild of Dr. Tasha Iglesias, the conference — which was initially scheduled to take place in-person at sponsoring ASA College in New York City — was designed to be fully intellectually inclusive, not limiting presentation slots solely to academics or researchers. Dr. Iglesias, who teaches at several universities including helming a Hip Hop, TKTK, and Sport class at the University of California, is an outspoken proponent of allowing Hip Hop artists and other practitioner's from within the culture the same opportunity as those with fancy degrees and academic accolades to share their knowledge and worldviews.
I returned as the event’s host / MC / livestream facilitator / comic relief / impromptu interviewer, and am honored to have been invited to serve in a greater capacity as the conference moves to the West Coast in 2023 for its third iteration.
You’ll hear more about all of that here of course, but if this sort of knowledge seems intriguing to you, keep an eye on updates directly from the host organization, the Hip Hop Association for Education and Advancement.
We’ll be posting videos from all the sessions soon, so stay tuned.
🏛 POLITRICKIN’ [Hip Hop x Civics]
Being involved with organizations and events like the aforementioned has helped define my personal and professional mission when it comes to Hip Hop — that of outspoken advocate for the use of Hip Hop music and culture to help uplift humanity and uplift society.
Working in their own specific lanes, folks like Dr. Iglesias and many others share the same goal. But most of their time and energy are taken up doing the actual work.
Proving the concept.
Creating the receipts.
They don’t always have the time, energy, or resources to spread that proverbial gospel to the world.
So I have taken it upon myself to do this, to the best of my ability.
One of the ways I’ve done this in the past is by crafting editorials and “letters to the editor” of mainstream media outlets that blaspheme the culture we love. For the uninitiated, here are a couple of notable examples:
Even though I independently decided to do this sort of work, I like to think I understand the assignment.
I’ve been quiet in recent years, working on podcast projects and such, but have been shaking the rust off of my mechanical keyboard lately, in order to use whatever voice I have to protect, preserve and promote the ability of Hip Hop to do good in the world.
This newsletter is one intentional way to do so. So thank you for being here.
Another is to keep speaking truth to power, like I have before, in the spirt of the great advocacy journalists on whose shoulders I stand.
I have (quite) a few drafts of things-I-feel-I-gotta-say-about-Hip-Hop and its relationship with the world — like the essay in the inaugural edition of this newsletter — and those thoughts will come.
But recent events in the great city of New York got me riled up, and I felt I had to speak up.
For context: New York’s interpretation of drill music — a particular subset of rap with, in part, traces of the UK and Chicago in its DNA — has come under fire for its ultra-violent messaging, particularly as it relates to real-life tensions between the city’s gang-affiliated youth.
The spotlight has been heightened by recent violence committed by and toward drill artists throughout the country, prompting the kind of increased scrutiny once reserved for the “gangsta rap” subgenre, or artists like 2 Live Crew.
While violence in art — whether it be music or movies or literature — has always been a divisive issue between differing factions of society, free speech concerns have often been invoked, as limiting or censoring artistic content can be quite the slippery slope.
Still, there is something more insidious about this recent merging of beef and technology, as making music has become as much a part of young people’s lives as playing music once was, and young folk — ever the discoverers and capitalizers of unexpected use of otherwise intended tools — offline conflicts can easily extend their reach and forcefulness when accompanied by music and amplified via social media.
For many observers, fans, participants and critics of Hip Hop, this is nothing new. When news of the death of artists like TKTKTK-based King Von, or recent New Yorkers Tahjay Dobson (22, a.k.a. Tdott Woo), or Jayquan McKenley (18, a.k.a. Chii Wvttz), spread through their respective channels, commentary ranges from callousness (“meh. they got what they had coming”), to compassion (“gone too soon, just trying to make a living and get out the hood”), to a pivot to bigger issues (“the problem isn’t the youth or the music, it’s the conditions they are forced to endure”).
It’s a bit of an age-old, and to be honest, over-litigated debate, particularly when it comes to communities of color that have faced oppression, inequality and injustice since literally forever.
The conclusion, generally: Life influences art. Not the other way around.
Still, the brazen specificity and severity of the activity being touted through NYC drill is worrying even the most staunch supporters of artistic expression.
Somehow, despite none of this being secretive or unreported by gossipy Hip Hop vloggers or dripping-with-bigotry New York-based tabloid news media, former police officer, Brooklyn Borough president, and newly elected mayor Eric Adams had supposedly never heard of any of this, despite that very same police department pulling performers from a 2019 Rolling Loud concert in the neighboring borough due to a much-publicized “belief” that their appearance alone would lead to a “higher risk chance of violence.”
According to Adams, it took being shown some videos by his son for Hiznewhonor to come to the realization that some violent folks sometimes make violent boasts and threats to music — and that some of those things are having real-world consequences.
To give credit where it’s due, however, when Adams found out, he immediately summoned members of his administration to once and for all find a way to tackle the systemic racism, institutionalized oppression, lack of resources, educational inequity, dearth of mental health treatment, improper housing, inefficient healthcare, and generational poverty that clearly was at the root of the issues playing out in full view through the music he had just discovered.
Just kidding. He did none of that. He just kinda blamed the music.
(And then ran to Albany to try and reverse some criminal justice reforms to, you know, just lock more people up.)
Though in his statement, Adams did raise the issue of the “broken system” that “continually fails Black and Brown New Yorkers,” it was the direct (and, for the record, unsubstantiated) linkage of drill music directly to gun violence that became the clear message. His answer, it seems, was to ask social media companies to stop allowing the violent messaging to spread on their platforms.
On a recent episode of a very cool progressive politics podcast I also produce, the host stated that if you want to know how stupid some members of congress are, listen to a congressional hearing on anything tech-related.
This reminded me of that.
Notwithstanding the fact that this sort of thing would be logistically nightmarish, notwithstanding the horrifically slippery slope of entanglement this could cause, Adams came up with an arguably half-assed, knee-jerk “solution” to an incredibly complex problem literally within days of first becoming aware of the problem.
This is short-sighted, on several levels, despite some of his concerns being warranted. Still, for someone coming in to the matter with so little holistic understanding of the landscape he is charged with governing, in my opinion he is going to miss a lot of important nuance.
Not to mention, an obvious way to help fix the problem.
So, I wrote him a letter to help out. Wanna hear it? Here it go.
Dear Mayor Eric Adams:
Violence in any city, among any community, is a concern that elected officials must not shy away from, and it is no doubt encouraging to the residents of New York City that addressing crime and violence is among the top priorities of your administration.
Such crime and violence is even more troubling when it occurs within communities of color, which have been perennially under-resourced, under-prioritized and all-too-often, under-loved by their government.
Specifically, gun violence in these communities is of course a great concern, and it has been interesting to hear about the extent to which you are connecting “drill music” to that particular phenomenon.
As research and anecdotal evidence have long demonstrated, music tends to be more of a documentation of the troubles that continue to face these communities, rather than the catalyst for such troubles.
In fact, free speech advocates instinctively balk at any suggestion that a government agency or corporation (such as a social media company) should be allowed to dictate what is or is not “problematic,” especially in areas in which such entities lack knowledge or cultural competence.
However, the purposeful, real-life activities that are being expressed in great detail within the artistic output of some individuals are indeed quite troubling, and perhaps do call for unorthodox action, such as your recently reported intention to ask social media companies to intervene and stem the flow of such content.
Again, however, holistic knowledge of the playing field is vitally important when dealing with complicated matters such as these, and any action must be well-thought out, and should include – no disrespect intended – perspectives from folks who didn’t just discover drill music a few days ago.
In earlier times, one might taunt a foe via word-of-mouth. These days, technology – and the creations born from it – can indeed be powerful conduits for the same type of boastful, demeaning, threatening messaging. Yet, while the methods of communication may have changed, the core issues of poverty, disenfranchisement, educational disparity, racism, i.e., the conditions from which such violent behavior tends to originate, unfortunately, have not.
So while it is indeed reasonable to examine the troubling artistic output of some small groups of New Yorkers, it is no less important to gain full clarity as to the conditions they are facing, the tragic circumstances such conditions can lead to, and how and why those circumstances are being relayed so aggressively through music.
And while social media can play a part in tamping down the proliferation of these harmful expressions, on the surface this seems more like treating the symptoms, but not the cause.
Simultaneously, it is important to not equate that small but troubling subset of artistic output with a) all of New York’s youth of color, or b) all of Hip Hop music and culture. Both groups are filled with countless examples of brilliance, love, unity, compassion, creativity and value to society, and, many would argue, possess unique characteristics that can actually help solve the problem.
In that spirit comes the main point of this letter. While the instinct might be to speak with social media companies, the artists themselves, other entertainers, employees of entertainment companies, or random folks involved in capitalistic enterprises related to Hip Hop, it is equally, and potentially much more important to consult with the multitude of individuals and organizations which represent the use of Hip Hop music and culture in ways that are actually helping uplift humanity.
After all, if seeing some videos of violent rap songs would immediately influence you to seek to squelch those rappers and their music, perhaps viewing some of the discussions from the recent Global Conference on Hip Hop Education, which was sponsored in part by NYC’s own ASA College and featured dozens of educators and practitioners specifically touting that kind of groundbreaking work, would equally inspire you to connect with some of the conference’s chairpersons or participants.
Perhaps watching videos detailing acclaimed programs utilizing Hip Hop to improve student attendance, engagement and academic performance, or help assuage mental health issues, or introduce young people to fields such as computer programming, architecture, financial literacy, civics and more, would emphasize the need for your administration to not only zero in on the “negative,” but focus just as hard on all of the “positive” benefits to society that Hip Hop music and culture have to offer.
Doing the former is fine, but neglecting the latter only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes about Hip Hop, and, by extension, the people and communities traditionally associated with it.
After all, the ability of educators, mental health practitioners, mentors, teaching artists, and advocates to introduce programs that channel the unique power of Hip Hop for good becomes tragically degraded if we only concentrate on, or publicize, the bad.
If it is to be believed that music can be so harmful to the fabric of New York City, contribute so much to the unnecessary and heartbreaking loss of young life in the streets, that it has the power to influence other young people to commit unspeakable violence, then it must also be agreed upon that we can harness that same power for good.
Especially when these ideas and intersections are not theoretical. They are not new. They exist. They work. They can help stop the violence.
They can save lives.
It would be no surprise if you, members of your administration, or citizens of New York were as unaware of this as you were to the existence and depth of drill music. If this is the case, let this letter implore you to spend the same energy reacting to what you have learned about THAT aspect of Hip Hop music and culture, on learning more about THIS aspect of Hip Hop music and culture.
As a premier organization for the advocacy of such work, we are offering to meet with your administration to present ideas and discuss strategies to responsibly integrate Hip Hop music, culture, spirit and ethos into the City’s efforts to improve the lives and livelihoods of its citizenry, particularly, and most urgently, young people and communities of color, who have never received the kind of culturally responsive attention that Hip Hop-based interventions are uniquely equipped to offer.
Please reach out to us at your earliest convenience to discuss this further.
The Center for Hip Hop Advocacy
… We’ll see what happens.
📅 OUR VERSION OF EVENTS
Hip Hop happenings where brain cells are lit. Send upcoming event info to firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll be happy to share.
March 2, 2022
Breaking and the Olympics Speaker Series (Online)
This 2021-22 online speaker series brings together Hip Hop researchers and dance practitioners to exchange ideas, share research in its developmental stages, and broaden our collective knowledge ahead of the official debut of Breaking in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. The talks are free and open to anyone to attend, ask questions and develop the conversation.
MAY 6-7, 2022
6th Annual Can't Stop Hip Hop Conference
Hip Hop EX Lab, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Apply now to present/perform. www.cantstophiphop.org
May 20, 2022
Hip Hop Youth Research & Activism ConferenceRutgers, New Brunswick, NJ
We are inviting YOUTH submissions proposing workshops, artwork, and performances at the intersections of youth culture, arts, and activism.
🛑 STOP, LOOK & LISTEN [Random Hip Hop Things]
Recent and notable drops, links, books, and other stuff… Sponsored by Hip-Hop Can Save America! aka ‘the world’s smartest Hip Hop podcast’
🎶 Napoleon Da Legend x Amerigo Gazaway
One of my favorite artists x one of my favorite producers. “This is an album about survival...it’s about navigating and adapting to an ever-changing world while struggling to maintain one’s sanity and peace of mind. Napoleon is a true master of his craft as a poet/storyteller and I think that’s something that really shines through on this record." - Amerigo Gazaway
🎶 Broke MC x Billy Phono - "Satan's Little Miracle”
The album is a “collaborative effort with producer Billy Phono that delves into today's current events, making for impactful conversations and debates, including the first single, ‘Simulacrumbs’ featuring Homeboy Sandman, that tackles mask mandating.”
🎭 ‘Black No More’ to Land Off Broadway This Winter
The musical will feature the theatrical debut of the Roots’ Black Thought, who will be writing the music and lyrics and be in a lead role.
🎧 Hip-Hop Genius The Podcast: DMC (of Run DMC) & Martha Diaz
Live at SXSW.
📖 Hip-Hop Genius 2.0: Remixing High School Education
Through stories about the professional rapper who founded the first hip-hop high school and the aspiring artists currently enrolled there, Sam Seidel lays out a vision for how hip-hop's genius--the resourceful creativity and swagger that took it from a local phenomenon to a global force--can lead to a fundamental remix of the way we think of teaching, school design, and leadership. By Sam Seidel with Tony Simmons.
📖 Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm
Equal parts biography, musicology, and cultural history, Dilla Time chronicles the life and legacy of J Dilla, a musical genius who transformed the sound of popular music for the twenty-first century. By Dan Charnas.
👋 I WANNA BE WHERE YOU ARE
For anyone who made it this far, and is interested, here is where I’ll be soon! Contact me to talk about talking about how Hip Hop music and culture can help uplift humanity and improve society.
Feb. 26 - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference
Presenting: “Hip Hop Can Save America! Guidance for the Republic From a Culture of Innovation”
March 26 - Los Angeles, California
Podcast Movement: Evolutions
Presenting": “Hip Hop and Coffee: What Outside-the-Box Creative and Monetization Strategies REALLY Look Like”
April 4 - New Orleans, Louisiana
To Be Announced
May 20 - New Brunswick, NJ (Rutgers University)
Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference
May 23-26 - Round Rock, Texas
To Be Announced
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AND WE OUT…
Hip-Hop Can Save America! aka ‘the world’s smartest Hip-Hop podcast