Monday, June 30, 2008

Son of Nun's new album: 8/06

Baltimore based socialist MC Son of Nun will be dropping his much awaited followup to Blood and Fire in about a month. Art of Struggle will drop on August 6th.

For those who know SON, you know that there are few out there, in the mainstream or undergroud who can spit the revolutionary politics like he can. For those who don't, check out the blog he has released for Art of Struggle, which includes several tracks from the forthcoming album.

And stay tuned to Rebel Frequencies for the upcoming review and interview!

Friday, June 27, 2008

What I'm Listening to This Week

1. Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville
This fifteenth anniversary reissue reminds us of what it was like when strong women were a much bigger part of indie-rock. Also a reminder of how many gems get lost in the big-media conception of "90s alternative" music. Inlcudes 3 bonus tracks not heard on the original release. Check out my upcoming review of this album next week!

2. Immortal Technique - The 3rd World
Definitely one of the top five openly revolutionary hip-hop artists out there. We've all been waiting a long time for Revolutionary Vol.3, not to mention his first official album Middle Passage. This mixtape is a damn good way to satisfy the craving until then. "Golpe de Estado" and "Lick Shots" definitely stand out on a record that really doesn't have any bad tracks on it.

3. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Streetcore
A fitting swan song for an iconic musician who left us all too soon. The album represents Joe's experiments with world music, reggae and other genres reaching their full potential while being given a punk edge. From the opening energy of "Coma Girl" to the fitting send-off "Silver and Gold," there is no way to say good-bye to Joe, but this record comes as close as we could ever get.

4. Rebel Diaz - selected songs available through their website
When I discovered this group and decided write about them, I had no idea how off-the-hook their tracks were. Going to their website, though, I discovered Rebel Diaz to be some of the best revolutionary voices in hip-hop out there (and yes, I do think they're up there with Tech). The challenge any radical MCs have to grapple with is proudly stating their politics while still maintaining that "oh, snap" feeling. Rebel Diaz do that. Listen to them, get their CD, and defend them!

5. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
This was Trane's tribute to God. And as an atheist, this is one of the few records that makes me (almost) believe. Four tracks over half an hour, this is a meeting point between hard-bop, free jazz and all the other sub-genres of jazz that Coltrane literally helped invent. It's pure ascendant genius.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"I Ain't Gonna Work on Barack's Farm No More"

Rolling Stone has always been ga-ga for Obama. Their new issue features the historic candidate on the cover. Predictably, in the story, he is portrayed as young, personable, intelligent, and someone quietly aware of his trailblazing role in history without letting it go to his head.

It's unsurprising that the article mentions nothing of his sabre-rattling against Iran, his position on Palestine that is slightly to the right of Dubya, his plan to keep mercenaries and a base bigger than the Vatican in Iraq, or his Father's Day speech that, had it come from the mouth of Pat Buchanan, would have been rightfully decried as racist. His drift to the right in recent weeks is unmentioned here.

The article does however, go into what the Illinois senator can be found to listening on his iPod. One has to admit, the man has good taste in music: The Stones, Springsteen, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder. That image I have written about before, of him being the young, dynamic candidate for a new generation is definitely held up in this piece.

Then there's his thoughts on Bob Dylan, one of his favorite artists: "Actually, on of my favorites is 'Maggie's Farm'... It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric."

Just to clear something up, "Maggie's Farm" was one of Dylan's rebukes to the left, right around the time he started being ironic and ambiguous about Vietnam (and it's actually kind of snotty when you listen to it).

Kind of telling, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Struggle of Rebel Diaz

We live in a society that makes scapegoats of people: immigrants, women, people of color, gays and lesbians or anyone else who can be conveniently labeled "the other." We also live in a society where anyone who questions such labels, from activists to artists, is a target. If you happen to be a combination of these things--artists of color who also stand up for the rights of immigrants--well, let's just say the world isn't exactly your oyster.

Bronx based rap group Rebel Diaz know this well. They are the kind of musicians who use the confrontation of rap as a springboard for their militant politics. The masthead on their website reads "if hip-hop organized the whole world would be in trouble."

Their single "Which Side Are You On?" rattles off a litany of figures and causes they side with from unions to deported immigration activist Elvira Arellano to the people's movement in Oaxaca, Mexico to the very idea of socialist revolution.

Rebel Diaz are by no means naive. Two of the group's three MCs are sons of Chilean activists who fled after the CIA-backed coup of Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Like all good revolutionaries, however, they realize that no real change comes without risk.

That risk became reality last week when it was reported that on June 18th, two of the group's MCs were arrested by the NYPD after intervening in a case of clear police harassment. According to hip-hop activist Davey D, Rodstarz and G1 witnessed police aggressively questioning an immigrant street vendor.

After noticing the police were becoming abusive they began to tape the incident on one of their cell phones. Upon asking for badge numbers, the cops turned on the two MCs, hitting them with billy clubs, handcuffing and arresting them.

This is a story familiar to anyone living in a community that is coming under the thumb of gentrification and racist police authoritarianism. Nobody in these communities needs to be told who the cops are really there to "serve and protect." But there is another layer to this heinous incident. As D points out:

"The backdrop to this story is that Rebel Diaz are not your ordinary rappers. They are well known activist [sic] who not only speak out against police terrorism, but have been key in helping out folks within this immigrant community... Many feel that the assault by these cowardly Bronx police officers in plain view of everyone was a way to send a strong message to folks in the community that the police run things and they best stay in line."

Rodstarz and G1 were released on their own recognizance. Yet the harrassment didn't stop there. Early in the morning of June 24th, G1's apartment was raided by the NYPD. They had no warrant; they did not give a reason for the raid. Needless to say, they didn't bother to knock. G1 describes the incident:

"They pointed their guns at us the whole time as they verbally barraged MM [his friend] and I with questions as to who we were and what we were doing there. As I lay on the ground with my hands up, I replied loudly and clearly that I lived there, and that everyone in the house was supposed to be there. They replied incredulously, repeatedly yelling their questions as to who we were, with threats as to what would happen to us if I was found to be lying."

The police left without arresting anyone or identifying themselves.

On September 3rd, G1 and Rodstarz will be headed to court to face misdemeanor charges of assault and obstruction of justice. Their high profile in the community as artists and activists may well be used against them during trial. It wouldn't be the first time for hip-hop, and certainly not for radical politics.

Yet the case of Rebel Diaz is hardly isolated. The clearing out of poor neighborhoods to make way for condos and strip malls is a crime that happens every day. And of course, the very people whose job it is to stop crime are the ones carrying it out. Rebel Diaz shouldn't be arrested for standing up to this injustice. They should be commended, supported and most of all, listened to.

*To learn what you can do to support Rebel Diaz, go to their website.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back to our regularly scheduled program...

Last night I returned from a weeklong trip to Chicago where I took in the city and the Socialism 2008 Conference. Some highlights:

-Eating at Gino's East Pizzeria. This place is pretty touristy but still unique in that they allow you to graffito the walls and anything else that stays still (I'm pretty sure the Situationists would have something to say about "detournement" with this one, but that doesn't make it any less fun, especially given that the graff we left read "No Blood For Oil" and "RIP Joe Strummer").

-Walking through downtown and running into a group of young heads break dancing right next to the Tribune building, including a finale of one of them leaping over two specators (my partner got a video of this which I will try to post on this blog). These kids had mad talent!

-Socialist Worker writer Nicole Colson's talk on protest music of the 60s at the Socialism conference, taking on the question exactly how we got some of the greatest rebel music of the 20th century, from Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke and Nina Simone to the MC5 and Earth Wind and Fire.

-The conference's performance by DC rapper Slimm Goins, including the incredible tracks "Planet of the Slums" and "Diary of a Dead Man."

Regular postings and articles will resume this week.

Very quickly, I hope Amy Winehouse is going to be okay, and I'm going to miss George Carlin.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fewer posts this week...

I will be attending the Socialism 2008 conference in Chicago this week. Posts will go up as time allows, however I will be otherwise engaged for much of the week.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What I'm Listening to This Week

1. Clann Zu - Rua
This Irish/Australian outfit released two albums on G7 Welcoming Committee and received almost no recognition in the States. What a shame, considering how unique their sound and viewpoint were; they combined punk, folk, classical and electronica (some compared them to Godspeed! You Black Emperor). At once atmspheric and intense, chaotic and ethereal, with lyrics that get inside the head of the oppressed, alienated and resistant.

2. Ani DiFranco - Not a Pretty Girl
The first Ani album I ever bought, it was a great introduction to everything this woman's one-of-a-kind voice brought (and still brings) to music. Perhaps it goes without saying, but nobody exudes the kind of calm confidence and rebel spirit quite the way that Ani does on this album. Favorite tracks: "Cradle Will Rock," "32 Flavors," and the title track is possibly one of the best-written statements of women's strength in modern music.

3. Dizzee Rascal - English and Maths
Dizzee Rascal is worth listening to if for no other reason than he is introducing American audiences to the UK's take on rap. He has become one of the figureheads of Britain's grime scene, with the compressed, electronicized beats flowing over rhyme-schemes that are so consistent they are almost hypnotic.

4. Michael Franti and Spearhead - Everyone Deserves Music
It's kind of cliche: a lefty music geek into Michael Franti. How original, huh? But that doesn't take away from the fact that this is a great album and Franti's sound is itself very original and undeniably honest. Obama wishes he embodied "hope" the way that Franti does.

5. Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco - Fellow Workers
It's hard to sum up what the recent passing of Utah Phillips means for music and radical history in the US. Of course, not a peep from the media regarding this man's death, who encompassed entire generations of struggle in both his lifespan and the stories he took upon himself to pass on. This was the album that introduced me to him (mostly because it had Ani on it) and it's safe to say he is at his story-telling, radical folkie-singing best here. RIP Utah.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Release

Greenhaven Press has published At Issue: Should Music Lyrics Be Censored For Violence and Exploitation? This book is a collection of articles that offer dissenting views on music censorship.

My article from last April, "Is Russell Simmons Playing Politics With Hip-Hop?" is one of the featured works in this book.

To learn more about the book or purchase it, go to this website.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hello Iowa!

A big shout-out to a new comrade in music and struggle, DC Larson. DC is a music writer and left-wing activist from Waterloo, Iowa who has appeared in No Depression, RRC, Blue Suede News, is a CD reviewer for Rockabilly magazine and writes the column "Letter From America" for Crackerjack.

Just to get an idea of what wavelength this man is on, readers should check out his most recent article in CounterPunch, "Nazi Rockers, Fuck Off!"

His blog is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hunger, Hope and Hip-hop

Yesterday's edition of the Washington Express carried a story about Emmanuel Jal, a former Sudanese child soldier turned hip-hop artist. Jal has created some real waves this year from a film documenting his story, War Child.

It's hard to fathom what Jal has been through in his life; it's not news to anyone that Sudan still feels the echo of colonialism to this very day. So many in the media are all-too-content to use the ethnic conflict as proof that the country is nothing but a bunch of brown and beige savages who still need to be civilized by the West. That someone like Jal can come through all of this as an articulate poet shatters that view. He is passionate, politically active, and a talented rapper.

Funnily enough, what helped him overcome the emotional turmoil after escaping Sudan is an artform also much-maligned. "What made me brave is American hip-hop," he told the Express, "for me when I look at it [America] and look at my situation--I was a child soldier, we never had food, we raid villages and we take the food and we eat... so I said 'OK, let me testify.'" It's a situation that sounds pretty familiar to kids growing up in any inner-city in the US.

"I lost my childhood, yes. My country is a war. People are dying now. What could I do with what I have?" Jal says. It's something fundamental to rap, going all the way back to "The Message."

A young man from Sudan uses a music style from the Bronx to overcome the torment of civil war. Is there any better evidence that hip-hop's own struggle is universal?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Coldplay's Limbo

Is anyone else finding it impossible to get that new Coldplay song from the iPod commercials dislodged from their brain?

I'll admit that for a self-identified music junky, this band is hard to praise publicly. Something about their sheer popularity and perennial everywhere-ness causes them to smack of music industry shilling and pop-star excess. To many in the self-appointed intelligentsia of "what is cool," Coldplay are the epitome of empty form posing as depth.

Nobody in their right minds can deny that Chris Martin can write a beautiful and very original and memorable song. Past all the media glitter poured on the group ever since the "Yellow" days, though, the actual substance of their songs comes up short. Martin is excellent at bringing the listener on a journey with him, but the majority of the time that ride is somewhat akin to Space Mountain; overall you enjoy yourself, but end up saying "I was expecting a lot more."

A few years back another music writer wrote that Radiohead could have possibly become the biggest rock band in the world before they decided to completely eschew their "alternative" roots, and then Coldplay came along. The new group were perhaps themselves poised to inherit the crown of "world's greatest rock band" except for one thing. They were too damned polite.

While Radiohead reached greatness by completely disassembling the rock music form and embracing the avant-garde and an often uncomfortable mood in their recordings, Coldplay have squandered their own potential trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Ask them who their biggest influences are, and you will surprisingly get a list that includes Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine and others from the post-punk experimentalist vanguard. The problem is that so much of that influence is held back by traditional pop music formulae.

It is certainly discernable if listened to hard enough. The semi-dissonance of "Yellow" owes a lot to the extreme dissonace of the Slits or Scritti Politti. But when all is said and done Martin's falsetto-laden voice and the trad-acoustic backing make it a song that "could have" rather than a song that "did."

Their new album Viva la Vida sees them in more or less the same place. The scratchy-scratchy guitars of Valentine can be heard throughout the album, but at the same time there is a sense that, as a recent review in NME put it, Martin is trying to become Bono.

One gets a sense that Coldplay are, in a sense, aware of this quandary. X&Y, the group's previous record, despite all the talk of being influenced by Kraftwerk, Bowie and Eno, ended up sounding like little more than an updated version of David Gray. This album, of course, was not too long ago denounced by the band. It provokes speculation about how much of the album's sound came as a result of record label pressure.

In short, Colplay have been stuck between two worlds: that of artists with all the instinctual know-how required to disassemble and re-assemble rock's most intricate elements, and that of mega pop-stars scared to push the envelope too far.

There's an outward manifestation of this confusion, too. Martin has, of course, been a critic of the war on Iraq, a spokesman for fair trade and lent his voice to the chorus against global warming. But he hasn't been to any of the many protests in Britain over the past few years (word is that he has straight up ignored calls from the Stop the War Coalition in the UK), said nothing of the latest protests against he G8, and when it comes to global warming he is content to simply play Live Earth. Radiohead, for the record, refused to play said concerts because they ironically left a carbon-footprint equivalent to what LA produces in a month! Martin's voice on these issues is inarguably welcome, but he seems bent on raising that voice in the "acceptable" way.

The limbo that Coldplay exist in is familiar to anyone who spends long enough in a Starbucks. We all know the archetype of the middle-class thirtysomething trying desperately hang on to a rebellious youth. They live in a condo or the suburbs, but their CD collection includes the Melvins and Mudhoney, which they may listen to at home where they can have their tattoos hanging out and they can actually drink a beer straight from the bottle. It's a contradiction that in a logical world people wouldn't have to deal with, but then again, we have a music industry that knows very well how to cater to that demographic

Friday, June 6, 2008

What I've been listening to this week

1. Anything by Bo Diddley
See my obituary to this extraordinary artist. I've been listening to any recording I can find by the man this week. It's truly amazing that even fifty years later Diddley's early work can have such verve and resonance. It's the true mark of a musical revolutionary. What a devastating loss!

2. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Dap-Dappin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
This band is determined to bring back old-school soul played with passion, right down to using analog recording equipment. When I first discovered them, I actually thought they were a lesser known band from the 70s, and was shocked to find out that they didn't even form until a few years ago! That they've found reasonable success is a sign that folks want a return to the days when soul had more, well, soul.

3. DJ Shadow - The Private Press
When the music history books are re-written in a few generations, Shadow is going to be recognized as one of the most innovative DJs and recording artists of all time. One wouldn't think that a single artist could find such intricacy in sampling. The whole album flows together like it's telling a story that can't possibly be communicated in words. High points: "Six Days" and the two "Motorway" tracks.

4. Cat Power - Myra Lee
Some have called this Cat's best album. The jury's still out for me personally, but I can see where they are coming from. Not quite folk, not quite blues, not quite rock, but very honest,raw and captivating.

5. Johnny Cash - The Legend, Vol. 1: Win, Place and Show--The Hits
I recently received this four disc set as a gift, and I've started working my way through it one disc at a time. It's quite striking not only how many hits the man had, but how many of them exemplify his Man in Black rebel stance. Hearing a song like "Oney" on the radio, where a laid off factory worker plans to beat the hell out of his former supervisor must have been a trip--even in the 60s.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Groundbreaking Beat of Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was known for many things; his rectangular home-made guitars, his dark sunglasses, the energetic performances he was able to conduct even when age and diabetes dictated he do so sitting down. Diddley was much more than a unique performer, though. The legendary guitarist, who died on June 2nd at age 79, changed the course of popular music. To say Bo Diddley influenced rock 'n' roll is an understatement. Bo Diddley invented rock 'n' roll.

He was born Ellas Bates in McComb, Mississippi in 1928. When he was seven, Diddley's family moved to Chicago, where according to him, "there was both more money and more civil rights." Like many other black musicians, he first became involved in music though the church, learning to play the violin before being inspired to take up guitar and join Chicago's booming blues scene, which had already produced such legends as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

However, Diddley was part of a musical landscape that was still very segregated. Black blues records were separated from "white music," and it wasn't uncommon for white artists to gain a wider audience after recording these songs. Even jukeboxes were segregated in Jim Crow America. Rock 'n' roll as a concept didn't really exist in the early fifties, though there were certainly artists seeking to mix "white" music like honky-tonk and country with blues and R&B. With Diddley's first single, those experiments would take a giant leap forward.

The single was, aptly, named "Bo Diddley," and included the B-side "I'm A Man." Both did things unheard of in blues or anywhere else for that matter. To this day, they still drip with visceral energy, swaggering cockiness, bravado and sexual tension. In "I'm a Man," Diddley punches a driving, shuffling blues riff out of his guitar and sings with a gutteral howl about love and lust. In the 1950s to have a black man pour such ingredients into his recordings was infinitely provocative. It was enough to make the censors balk and Mom and Dad bristle. According to writer Barbara Beebe, "long before civil rights marchers held signs saying 'I AM a Man,' Bo Diddley was singing about it in a way that was definitive and left no questions to be asked: 'I am a man/That's spelled M-A-N."

Yet it was the A-side track that contained the famed "Diddley beat." Not in blues, R&B, jazz or folk had this particular rhythm ever been heard. Some have speculated its roots lie in African rhythms, but all we know for sure is that Diddley's signature beat--"boom ch-boom ch-boom, boom boom"--is one of the most well-known in rock 'n' roll, and has been emulated in songs ranging from the Who's "Magic Bus" to Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride," from U2's "Desire" to George Michael's "Faith."

That Diddley provided such inspiration to the next generation of rock 'n' rollers was fitting, given that so many who hit the streets to protest segregation and war during the 60s were profoundly struck by the sounds of Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and many others from that very first strain of rock 'n' roll. John Sinclair, who would later gain fame as a revolutionary activist and manager of radical rock group the MC5, describes the shock that such artists brought to the repressive atmosphere of the 50s: "I mean the music says it all, it's a precise metaphor for the whole situation and just to hear Richard Penniman scream 'Womp-bob-a-loo-momp-a-wompan-bam-boom!' into the face of Dwight D. Eisenhower... is enought to get the whole rest of the picture."

Diddley's raw confidence put a frown on more than a few faces. Several radio personalities referred to his songs as "jungle music." Others recognized the significance, such as Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who pegged Diddley as "a man with an original sound, who is going to rock and roll you right out of your seat." This was one of the first recorded instances of the term "rock 'n' roll."

The short-changing of Diddley's influence would continue for decades. In spite of the very prominent role that blacks played in influencing rock 'n' roll, until recently most histories tended to focus more heavily on white performers such as Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. "Elvis was not first," Diddley angrily told Rolling Stone in 2005, "I was the first son of a gun out here: me and Chuck Berry. And I'm very sick of the lie. You know, we are over that black-and-white crap, and that was all the reason Elvis got the appreciation that he did. I'm the dude that he copied, and I'm not even mentioned."

The inspiration Diddley provided is absolutely undeniable, though. The Harlem-based Amsterdam News, reviewing one of Presley's first performances in 1956, stated that he had "copied Bo Diddley's style to the letter." He was obviously not alone. According to George R. White, author of Bo Diddley -- Living Legend, "The powerful amplification and driving rhythms he pioneered evolved into hard rock during the Sixties and continue to influence the heavy-metal bands of today. His clipped, string-scratching technique laid the foundations for funk. Jimi Hendrix picked up on his ideas." Joe Strummer would invite Diddley to open for the Clash on their first tour of America, and later recorded Diddley's "Mona" during their rehearsal sessions. His later experiments with funk would be sampled by De La Soul in the 90s.

As Diddley aged, his influence became more and more recognized. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was invited to play at Presidential galas. While appreciative of such praise, Diddley was also blunt that it "didn't put any numbers in the bank account." Such bitterness no doubt came from the fact that even at the time of his death Diddley, like many others from his era, had still not received any royalties from his earliest hits. "I am owed. I've never got paid," he said. "A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun."

That Diddley was never paid what he was owed is a testament to the repressive world he helped change. Regardless of what greedy record execs thought he was owed, however, the echo of Bo Diddley's legacy can be heard any time we turn on the radio. His music opened up our ideas about music, race, and culture itself. It was nothing short of a musical revolution.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Take Back the Economy!

The good people at La Lutta New Media Collective and Noisepop Industries (with some funding from SEIU) have produced this short film entitled "No Free Lunch." With the mortgage crisis, the upsurge in prices of food and gas, people are no doubt feeling the crunch while corporate America is still laughing all the way to the bank. The video features comedian Lewis Black doing what he does best--ranting--on that very subject. It is the first in a series to build for a day of public action on July 17th (learn more about it at the site).

The video was directed by Antonino D'Ambrosio, who some may remember collaborated with me on past articles, and is also the author of the fantastic book Let Fury Have the Hour: The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer. The soundtrack is performed by Brooklyn agit-rockers Radio 4.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tellin' It How It Is: Hip-hop Stands Up For Sean Bell

"With the Sean Bell situation, New York is basically saying 'fuck niggas.'" Who in their right minds can honestly disagree with these words, bluntly stated by rapper/producer/activist David Banner? The April 25th aquittal of three New York City cops, who killed Bell after pumping fifty rounds into his car, sends a clear message to the African-American community: If the police can get away with gunning down one unarmed black man, they can get away with it again. Indeed, it happened several times over well before Bell. It's no wonder that the verdict has provoked outrage and frustration from religious leaders, local politicians and community activists.

Banner is certainly not alone as a rapper, either. The frustration, sadness and outrage provoked by the verdict has radiated through the entire hip-hop community, reaching even the upper echelons of the industry. Russell Simmons has spoke about the need for the police to be more accountable. His heir-apparent Jay-Z has set up a charity for Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell. As always, though, the most meaningful solidarity hip-hop has to offer is that of the artists themselves.

This solidarity has, notably, not just been limited to the sector of "conscious hip-hop," that artificial category created by the music industry in order to cheapen the genre; a diverse array of artists have verbally trounced the verdict, ranging from Ice Cube to Immortal Technique to Chamillionaire. By now, it's become something of a cliche to repeat Chuck D's line about rap being "CNN for black people," but the staggering hypocrisy and gutter racism of the case has once again pushed artists into that role.

In the month since the verdict, there have been enough recordings dedicated to Bell to fill a compilation album. Posted on YouTube, Brooklyn MC Papoose (who also penned a song directly following the original shooting in November 2006) calls for a new civil rights movement in "We Shall Overcome." Though lyrically awkward at times, the track almost serves as a blow-by-blow of the entire trial, highlighting the arrogance of Judge Arthur Cooperman, the flimsy defence of the officers, and the complete dismissal of all witness testimony. As the song progresses, Pap lays into the past racist brutalities of the NYPD, bringing up the shooting of Amadou Diallo and the police torture of Abner Louima, and broadens the story even further to immigrants' rights and the shipping of poor black kids to fight in Iraq: "How can they find find freedom in south Iraq? Please! / They can't even find freedom in south-side Queens."

Papoose is only the tip of the iceberg. The web has been swarmed by tracks dedicated to Bell, sometimes released withing mere hours of the verdict. Major-label artists like The Game and Joell Ortiz have released songs on the web. Unsigned artists have been able to chime in too. Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X (whose song about the Jena Six was named by hip-hop journalist Davey D as the best political rap of 2007), posted not one but two tracks about Bell on his MySpace page the very next day. A simple Google search for "Sean Bell" and "hip-hop" will yield literally thousands of results.

Artists who haven't necessarily had the chance to hit the studio in recent weeks have nonetheless done what they can to protest the verdict. The Roots, performing on the David Letterman Show three days afterwards, wore all black in mourning for Bell as well as pins with Bell's face on it. And then, of course, there is dead prez, whose first show after the verdict in Amhearst, Massachusetts was performed in the memory of Bell. Stic.man, speaking from the event on "Breakdown FM," radio show of hip-hop activist Davey D, summed up the all-encompassing question "what now?": "That verdict's been cast down on us since slavery. We've been denied justice way before April 26th, 2008... But it's not a time to be demoralized... it's a time to organize."

It's been two and a half years since Kanye West appeared on an NBC-televised Katrina benefit to tell the world the obvious: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Last year, after the news that a group of black teenagers were being unjustly thrown in jail in Jena, Louisiana, many in hip-hop also protested the town's style of Jim Crow justice. Now, with the killers of Sean Bell getting off the hook, artists and MCs are once again raising their voices. The sentiments coming from artists like dead prez--that more organizing, more activism, is needed--are for obvious reasons finding resonance not only in the studios, but in the streets and communities. Hip-hop, born out of the deliberate neglect of black America, is finding itself pushed into the political arena more and more. Its message is simple: Enough is enough. Maybe this is the reason politicians find are so threatened by the mere presence of hip-hop.

Monday, June 2, 2008

RIP Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley died today at the age of 79. For blues, rock 'n' roll, and pop music in general, the loss is monumental. Diddley's music was more than influential--it was essential architecture for music as we know it today. His unique guitar sound and provocative lyrics were inspiration for countless artists who we recognize today as crucial in the evolution of rock music. Though Diddley never quite got the same recognition as the people he inspired, the truth, that rock 'n' roll would not exist today if not for him, is undeniable. To say he will be missed is an understatement. A formal obituary will be posted here at Rebel Frequencies on Thursday.