BIGGER THAN HIP HOP
dead prez lead discussion in Detroit
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
On Friday, August 30, a panel discussion featuring the influential revolutionary rap group, dead prez, took place at the Alkebu-Ian Village, discussing the future of hip hop as a tool for community building in Detroit. The event was a part of The Rebirth Experience, featuring a concert and community activities, organized by The Urban Network.
The guest speakers were asked how hip hop can affect a rebirth in the city and how to develop an artist economy to providing youth with positive and productive messages for their growth. The word “rebirth” was used again and again to describe the revival of the people’s spirits and energies necessary to restore the city to greatness.
“We have to think in long terms; a lot of times we think for today,” said Mutulu Olugbala, best known as dead prez’s M-1, originally from Brooklyn. “I think there’s music for today as well, but I think we have to have the long view because we are building culture that will be here for our children 50 years from now.”
The most common complaint about commercial hip hop music — on the radio and in popular music videos — is that it promotes negative behaviors, such as drug selling and using, physical violence and the degrading of women. In spite of rap’s mainstream image, dead prez argues that the culture of hip hop represents much more.
Using hip hop for good, stic.man of dead prez created an album called “The Workout”, featuring songs that motivate listeners to exercise and eat healthily.
“2Pac said, ‘a dead people need a lifestyle’,” said stic.man. “When we think of marketing, we have to think of how does this song or art or picture or whatever we’re doing to connect with a lifestyle; how can somebody live it? For me, my ‘thug life’ is being healthy. I say health is the new gangsta.”
Panel host, At Peace, prefaced the discussion with a meditation to center the focus of the room, after which local panelists, including hip hop artists Mama Sol and BRYCE, poet and activist Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty and Elder T’Gamba Heru from the University of Kmt Press had a chance to speak.
“I’m not a revolutionary, I’m a rebel,” said Mama Sol from Flint. “I can’t try to change a community of people, I can only change myself and then people can reflect from that light. From an artist’s perspective, I think we have to take responsibility for who we are at all times, for how we live at all times, we can’t flip flop between lifestyles.”
“It’s bigger than hip hop,” said Honeycomb, a mother of a 17-year-old son. “Hip hop is a tool that needs to be used to raise our families and we have to do it in a responsible way …”
In order for hip hop culture to create the changes the city needs, Detroiters need to define these principles specifically for themselves.
“Detroit, we recognize that we are a world culture creator,” said BRYCE, a recording artist and educator. “So the world always has their eyes and ears on us. I’m speaking to my Detroit community in a real personal way, because we have a lot of power to affect regional and national conversations.”
Elder T’Gamba Heru explained the importance of intergenerational discussions about music and hip hop culture is also a vital step for a rebirth. “What can I listen to with my grandkids?” asked T’Gamba Heru, “what is it when we’re together I can listen to with them and I don’t feel like it’s something that needs to be turned off or make them turn the channel, or for them to give an explanation of what’s being said.”
The messages in music can influence the business direction an artist takes, so to be part of a positive economy amidst a rebirth, artists must be sure to put that spirit in their songs.
“We have to truly take ownership of the music,” said M-1, “and in that way I think we have to love — in order to give hip hop a rebirth — we have to love it and we have to do it only because you love it. And if you do it for any other reason, you shouldn’t do it.”
The world will watch Detroit’s rebirth and experience the music that comes from it, as they have for generations. The city’s opportunity is to build connections to these distant locations to share their experiences and send out their love.
“Globally, we need to make music that thinks about people that are not where we are,” said M-1. “We need to think about using our language to go beyond the language barrier. We need to talk about in our music the things that are going on locally so that we can share and also gain from educationally with what people are going through where they are.”