Welcome to the 3rd edition of Seb’s Top 5 Hip Hop Picks where I pick my top 5 favorite Hip Hop related items for that month. This can include artists, videos, songs, events, books, shows or anything else that represents the best in Hip Hop culture. Keep in mind that my picks are strictly a matter of opinion. In no particular order, this list is just my way of celebrating what’s right with Hip Hop. Readers are free to agree or disagree. Don’t hesitate to share your feedback. Enjoy! Peace.

1. Rapsody – “Beauty and the Beast”

This gem is a must-have for any legitimate Hip Hop head. This is an amazing follow up to her last two releases, The Idea of Beautiful, and She Got Game.

Stream “Beauty and the Beast” here.

2. Diamond D – “The Diam Piece”

Legendary MC/producer Diamond D drops his long-awaited album “The Diam Piece”, featuring Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, Masta Ace, Grand Daddy IU (yes, you heard that right!) and a host of other guests who deliver the goods over sample-heavy boom bap.

Stream “The Diam Piece” here.

3. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – “Gunshowers” featuring Elzhi

Ghostface Killah has joined forces with Canadian band BADBADNOTGOOD and released the guitar-laced “Gunshowers” featuring Elzhi. The word is that Ghost and the band are working on a full-length project slated for early 2015. This joint is a hell of a way to build anticipation!

4. Jay Electronica – “Into the Light”

The trailer for “Into the Light, a forthcoming film featuring Jay Electronica, shows the many adventures of the world’s most mysterious MC as he travels the world, hanging out with monks and living amongst the people.  The cinematography looks amazing and I’m looking forward to checking out the full-length film.

5. Dynamic Equilibrium – “Dear Father”

This NY duo recently completed the video for “Dear Father”, a single off the album “Post Crack Era” released earlier this year. Sometimes,we just need to be reminded that you don’t have to be a household name to make quality Hip Hop!

You can also find this Top 5 at http://raprehab.com/sebs-top-5-hip-hop-picks/

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Consisting of Spirituals, Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll, R&B, Hip Hop, House, and so many other genres, Black music birthed most popular music today.  A matter of fact, Black music is so powerful that it has literally changed the world. Enslaved Africans sang Spirituals, not only as a source of strength, but as a way to pass on secret information about the Underground Railroad right under the slave master’s nose. The Blues gave people the means to channel their deepest sorrows. Rhythm & Blues drew from its predecessors to create Rock & Roll as well as the soulful sound of the 60’s and 70’s, epitomized by Motown, Stax, and other iconic labels. Legends like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin provided the soundtrack of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement.  Hip Hop culture and Rap music evolved from these rich traditions to become the voice of the voiceless and disenfranchised. In the 80’s and early 90’s, the likes of Public Enemy, Rakim, KRS-One, Queen Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, and X-Clan inspired teenagers around the world to wear African medallions, learn Black history, and become activists.  The powers-that-be couldn’t possibly risk losing their much-coveted social status to a growing movement of highly-motivated, educated, and empowered young Black Hip Hop fans who stood on the shoulders of those heroes that came before them.  Something had to be done.

The truth is, Black music’s erosion had begun years ago.

In 1972, a Harvard report titled “A Study of the Soul Music Environment” outlined how the music industry could market Black music to a broader, i.e. whiter audience.  As a result, executives with no personal stake or interest in the preservation of Black music’s rich history and social significance were brought in to make decisions about its direction. While the music didn’t transform overnight, the seeds of change had undoubtedly been planted, starting with popularizing the term R&B over Rhythm and Blues to tone down the music’s southern roots and risk alienating white listeners.

In the late 70’s, the term “Black Music” was slowly being replaced with “Urban Music”. Going further, Black Music Departments at various labels across the nation were renamed Urban Music Departments. The industry, focusing on profit over culture, reasoned that this name-change would make Black music easier to market to mainstream audiences. Many suspected that this was done to disassociate Urban music from its African-American roots in order to make white consumers feel more comfortable. Today, it’s almost politically incorrect to use the term Black music for fear of excluding multi-cultural audiences. Ironically, the term Latin Music is embraced wholeheartedly. Could the word “Black” just be too much for mainstream audiences to digest? And what does “Urban” music mean anyway – city music?

Then, Hip Hop culture and Rap music emerged. Bold, groundbreaking, and rebellious, its do-it-yourself ethos shut out the mainstream industry, relying instead on independent and underground channels to grow and blossom. Eventually, major labels weaseled their way in and surprisingly allowed rap to flourish virtually untainted, probably because their inexperience with this new phenomenon had created an opportune moment for rap’s development. However, by the late 80’s/early 90’s, Hip Hop culture’s influence over Black youth had managed to put more fear than ever into the hearts and minds of the so-called “ruling party”. The music industry was no longer going to allow messages of unapologetic Black pride and rebellion to filter through its airwaves and distribution channels. Executive shot callers would make sure of that.

Urban Music, i.e. rap music, was used to sell anything ranging from Chicken McNuggets to Barbie dolls. With advertisers trying to appeal to younger demographics, rap was increasingly associated with branding, marketing, and consumerism, and decreasingly synonymous with culturally-affirming, rebel music. If rap music that celebrates Malcolm X and the Black Panthers was perceived as a threat by the powers-that-be, using rap to sell Fruity Pebbles in commercials would surely weaken the music’s potency in the public eye. Hip Hop’s new generation of critical thinkers couldn’t be allowed to grow and risk challenging the ruling order of the day.

Record labels began aggressively promoting gangsta rap during the peak of Hip Hop’s Afrocentric and Pro-Black era. While acts like NWA, Compton’s Most Wanted, and DJ Quik had comfortably coexisted with culturally-conscious rap, a more celebratory form of gangsta music was about to hit the world by storm. African medallions and X hats were replaced by marijuana chains and logos. Songs about Black Unity and Nubian Queens were being obscured by titles like “Murder Was the Case” and “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. Although such topics had always been part of rap (see Too Short, 2 Live Crew, Schooly D, etc), the climate that had once provided a balance for both messages had now been tipped in favor of guns, weed, sex, and crime. In the 1992 hit “Let Me Ride”, Dre raps, “No medallions, dreadlocks, or Black fists”. It couldn’t have been said any plainer. But Dre, Snoop, and the entire Death Row family were pawns, backed by an industry that had a bigger agenda than just making a few rappers rich.

Gangsta Rap had successfully changed the direction of music, inspiring the East Coast and Down South to become more thugged-out, and even forcing R&B to adopt the rising gangsta trend. 80’s favorites like Anita Baker, Regina Bell, Surface, and Alexander O’Neil couldn’t compete. Although artists like Digable Planets, Toni Braxton, The Fugees, TLC, Gang Starr, and Babyface would go on to experience success in their own right, rap music’s empowering Pro-Black messages and R&B’s clear-cut romance and sophistication had been overshadowed by wannabe pimps, players, boss bitches, and thugs. As long as weed, sex, alcohol, and violence distracted the masses, the powers-that-be no longer felt threatened by the former movement of musically-empowered critical thinkers.  After all, who could possible feel threatened by a Young Thug?

During that time, former R&B artists such as Usher and Beyonce became pop stars, the term Hip Hop went on to include folks like Future and Chris Brown, and Iggy Azalea was crowned princess of rap. Traditional R&B is now considered alternative. Hip Hop music with a message is mostly underground.  Today’s generation couldn’t distinguish Blues and Jazz from Country and Classical.  And the term Black music is seen as offensive, if not flat-out racist.

Someone please tell me – where do we go from here?

This article also appears on RapRehab at http://raprehab.com/bet-awards-black-music-neutralized/

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While “The Choice is Yours” may be Black Sheep’s defining moment, Dres’ latest song is his most important to date. “Propagation”, a tribute to his young son, finds Dres delivering a heartfelt tribute to his son and all young brothers across the world who need guidance and encouragement.
I had a chance to connect with Dres via video chat to speak about his latest project and what fatherhood means to him.
Check out the interview followed by the song “Propagation” .

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When you have the opportunity to interview a Hip Hop pioneer like Grand Wizard Theodore, the inventor of scratching, you don’t want to pass up on it. So when you’re 3000 miles away and unable to fly to New York to make it happen, you do the next best thing and have another die-hard Hip Hop head conduct the interview on your behalf!  Thanks to Eric Rivas from Diamond Minds Films and cameraman the RedHooker for sitting down with the legend and allowing us to enter Grand Wizard Theodore’s world.

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Last month, the world watched as the city of Ferguson, Missouri transformed into a war zone. As a militarized police force came down on the town’s residents protesting the cold-blooded murder of Michael Brown, mainstream America caught a domestic glimpse of what millions living in war-torn countries experience everyday. For most, it was a wake-up call as both major and independent media outlets captured every angle of the unfolding drama. But who could have guessed that the people of the West Bank would also stand behind these American protesters by using social media to give them tips on how to overcome tear gas? Right then and there, a previously existing “under the radar” alliance became public, thanks to social media.

It’s this very alliance, or unspoken camaraderie, that Talib Kweli, M1 from Dead Prez, and producers Beatnick & K-Salaam are talking about in the new song and video “Checkpoints – Ghetto to Gaza”. The song draws parallels between America’s systemic oppression of people of color and all oppressed people around the globe, especially in Gaza. The chorus, “A check point, a check point, everywhere a check point”, references the various checkpoints erected across Palestinian land as well as countless American inner cities, highlighting the fact that the world’s disenfranchised are treated unjustly and under constant scrutiny, be it by law enforcement, military, or other nebulous forms of occupying forces.

For the MC’s, these issues hit home. A few weeks ago, Talib was a victim of Ferguson’s police attacks when he walked with the protesters. As for M1, the Dead Prez rapper visited Gaza during a previous tour and was able to bring wheelchairs, school supplies, and other materials residents urgently needed.

At a time when so many rap artists seem to have forgotten that Hip Hop music was originally meant to be the voice of the voiceless, it’s refreshing to see and hear the artform used for what it was initially intended – knowledge and unity.

Check out “Checkpoints – Ghetto to Gaza” by Beatnick & K-Salaam ft. Talib Kweli and M1.

You can also find this article at http://raprehab.com/hip-hop-ghetto-gaza/

Divine, Nas, Ben edit1
Racism comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s blatant and in-your-face, other times, it’s nuanced and cloaked in sarcasm, like ValleyWag’s latest article taking subtle shots at Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz’s friendship with underground rapper Divine. It isn’t the first time that the tech-gossip blog (yes, there’s such a thing, courtesy of Gawker Media) has mocked Horowitz’s passion for Hip Hop culture. Editor Sam Biddle has practically made it his personal mission to attack Ben every chance he gets. However, RapRehab’s recent article, “How an Underground Rapper Befriended a Billionaire Venture Capitalist”, featuring Divine who shares his incredible journey from running Brooklyn streets with criminals to dining with Ben in Silicon Valley, seems to have rekindled ValleyWag’s penchant for ridiculing the billionaire rap fan.

Blog co-editor Nitasha Tiku bases her entire piece, “Why Does Andreessen Horowitz Have an Official Rapper”, on but a mere fragment of Divine’s uplifting story. Whereas she could have written a stirring article about the unlikely but inspirational tale of how the formerly incarcerated young artist turned his life around, Ms. Tiku opted to focus on a minor chapter in the rapper’s amazing journey: a song Divine wrote for Andreessen Horowitz’s company podcast. Drenched in condescending undertones, Tiku extracts quotes from various online interviews and strategically manages to only include the rapper’s most colloquial expressions in a cheap and obvious attempt at trivializing the nature of Ben and Divine’s relationship. Painting the artist in a negative light, Tiku excludes the majority of Divine’s heartfelt words, in favor of exploiting typical rap stereotypes and playing to an elitist readership who already buys into the “rappers-are-idiots” mentality. Just check the comment section for confirmation.

Throughout the article, Tiku incorporates pictures of Ben and Divine, including one of the pair both sporting shirts that read “VC Life – Inspired by Ben Horowitz”, a slogan created by Divine. This also appears to be fodder for jokes as the author and commenters imply, directly and indirectly, that Divine is a kiss-ass and Ben has found a new pet in the rapper. The implications here reek of classism and a healthy dose of good old racism. But from the looks of it, Tiku’s veiled jabs parrot her editor’s obsessive hatred for Horowitz as well as her readers’ sycophantic sentiments. Birds of a feather really do flock together.

Is it just too uncomfortable for some to see a Black man on his rise to success? Does it go against the narrative that ValleyWag writers and readers subscribe to? The fact that Ben is being scoffed at for his love of Hip Hop and association with rappers says a lot about the general public’s notion that Black and White, rich and poor, hood and suburbs, just shouldn’t mix. This form of “harmless” mockery conceals the belief that the disenfranchised and disadvantaged should stay in their place, unable to dream, unable to hope, unable to taste success. It says that the idea of a Black man, a rapper, socializing with a wealthy White man is so bizarre and in contrast with popular perception that it is worthy of belittlement and a disparaging article on a blog whose very popularity is predicated on sensationalism, unsubstantiated reporting, and the notorious click-baiting tactics of its otherwise mediocre writers. Ms. Tiku can poke fun at Divine and Ben all she wants. At the end of the day, she’s just a blogger who gets underpaid to write about billionaires. Oh, the irony.

Here’s Divine’s open letter to ValleyWag and Nitasha Tiku:

Ms. Tiku:

Peace Queen! Great morning.

This is Divine. I just recently came across an article you wrote where I was a co-subject.

I was trying to figure out the angle of the article and purpose you had in writing it…I felt the undertones of it were based in sarcasm and an attempt to undermine the positive essence of my story relative to Ben Horowitz beyond the mere trivial aspect of me being told by Ben that I was now the official a16z rapper once I co-wrote a song for the firm’s podcast.

My real life story of my criminal past and life struggles to eventually get the opportunity to be amongst a man of Ben’s stature is much more deeper than simply Andreessen Horowitz having an official rapper. To highlight that minimal and irrelevant point of a mere statement Ben made to me is ridiculous.

I’m not an employee of Andreessen Horowitz, nor am I a paid in-house rapper. I’m simply a friend of Ben’s and a friend of the firm, a real life flesh and blood human being who had an unfortunate life that put me on a negative path and who used spirituality and the love of Hip-Hop music as a means to persevere through a lengthy federal prison sentence while still a teenager, who only completed the 8th grade and got my GED to become self-taught, and so many other positive accomplishments I’ve made against the odds and won.

I’m a true and living inspiration and my relationship with Ben serves as a reminder that some of the greatest gifts of the human spirit are that of faith, hope, kindness, forgiveness and compassion. My life is no joking matter to be undermined and presented in media as mere sensational gossip with no deeper value beyond entertainment.

There are so many positive stories and social ills that can be addressed and brought out for dialog from my story. This isn’t about Ben having billions of dollars and what that can afford him like he “bought” himself a rapper.  This is about the dynamics of life on a higher level where the authentic love of Hip-Hop brought two totally different individuals together who would have never crossed paths otherwise, who were from two different walks of life and ends of the socio-economic spectrum.

And let’s not forget that Ben is self-made. He worked and leveraged his intelligence, education and opportunities to be where he is today.  Nothing was handed to him. He wasn’t born rich. He understands poverty and furthermore the plight of black people, their culture and history, etc. and it’s not because his wife is black either. He’s authentic in who he is. He doesn’t have to reach for acceptance.  He naturally embraces the black experience ’cause that’s what he naturally feels. To be criticized for being successful and true to oneself is insanity on the part of the critical. Why? Because it’s unfounded…but that’s just what haters do. The written and spoken word affect and direct the people who affect the world around ‘em.  It’s wise to be ever mindful of the ideas we manifest to give life in the written and/or spoken word and in deed.

No ill feelings, I just wanted to share some deeper insight on your article since I was a co-subject and my story was the foundation of it. I close how I opened.

Bless! Peace!

Welcome to the August edition of my “Top 5 Hip Hop Picks of the Month”. Every month, I’ll be picking my top 5 favorite Hip Hop related items. This could include artists, videos, songs, events, books, shows or anything else that represents the best in Hip Hop culture for that month. Keep in mind that my picks are strictly a matter of opinion. In no particular order, this list is just my way of celebrating what’s right with Hip Hop. Readers are free to agree or disagree. Don’t hesitate to share your feedback. Enjoy! Peace.

1. Priest – “Street Corners” (Produced by Phoniks)
Over a soulful, melancholic sample and 90’s era drums, Priest chronicles the story of a man who allows life to slip away from him. This song has been on repeat since I first hit play!

 

2. Rah Digga – “Storm Comin’ Remix” Featuring Chuck D and Jon Connor
It’s been a minute since Rah Digga blessed us with her voice. On the Storm Comin’ remix, she’s joined by Chuck D and Jon Connors to round out this trio of hard-hitting MC’s, rockin’ a signature Marco Polo track.

3. Rahzel Jr. aka Razah Rahz – “The Culture”
The son of beatbox legend Rahzel releases a passionate ode to Hip Hop culture over an epic !llmind track. Also, check him out break down the lyrics in a video titled “The Culture Decoded”.

 

4. Afrika Bambaataa’s Vinyl Collection
Fuse TV digs in the crate with the great Afrika Bambaataa, one of the architects of Hip Hop culture.

5. Hip Hop Protests the Murder of Michael Brown
Moved by the murder of Michael Brown, various rappers including Talib Kweli, J. Cole and Prince EA, visit Ferguson to stand side by side with the people and support protesters. Killer Mike expresses his pain and frustration through a heartfelt Op-Ed in Billboard.com and an appearance on CNN.