“How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look ?” – “Redemption Song”, Bob Marley
On February 21, 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom in NYC, Malcolm X was gunned down just before he was about to put America on blast for dissin’ Black people. On that same date almost 50 years later, aspiring rapper, Murda U was shot in that same spot for dissin’ another rapper on a YouTube video. Although, there were several witnesses, because of the “no snitchin’ ” code of the streets, the shooter remains at large…
One of the best known icons in African American history is Malcolm X. Although he started off hustlin’ in the streets as “Detroit Red”, while in prison, he accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam and devoted the rest of his life to the liberation of Black people.
What is most important about Malcolm X was not the man, himself, but his eternal symbol as the epitome of uncompromising, Black manhood. Part of his popularity was being the antithesis of the nonviolence of Dr. Martin Luther King, giving America the old school Hip-Hop duo Black Sheep’s option, “You can get with this/ Or you can get with that.”
Of course, Malcolm was not the first advocate of Black Power. During the 1830s, according to Vincent Harding in There Is a River, Martin Delany was already advocating Black Nationalism. Nor was Malcolm the only one during his time rejecting the idea of nonviolence. In his book, Negroes With Guns, Robert F. Williams said that as early as 1957, he was strappin’ Black people in Monroe, North Carolina, to protect themselves from the Ku Klux Klan. However, Malcolm X still holds a special spot in the Black psyche.
The spirit of Malcolm X has long been present in Hip-Hop. In 1983, Keith LeBlanc sampled his speeches on “No Sell Out” and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force shouted him out on “Renegades of Funk.” However, it was during the late ’80s when Hip-Hop became infused with the ideology of Malcolm X courtesy of groups like Public Enemy, so much so that by the early ’90s, the X caps had replaced Kangols as the official Hip-Hop head gear.
So the question in 2012 becomes, why is Hip-Hop producing so many Meek Mills and so few Malcolm Xs ?
Back in the 1970s, the forefathers of rap, “The Last Poets,” released “N*ggers Are Scared of Revolution”, a song that proclaimed that some Black folks will do everything under the sun except engage in rebellion against the system. So, in 2012, are rappers scared of revolution, too?
In his 1963, “Message to the Grassroots,” Malcolm said that “revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way…”
For many rappers that may sound like a hot lyric but in reality, that ain’t happenin’. Although many of them claim to love the ‘hood, they ain’t givin’ up their Maybachs for none of ya’ll. Despite all the tough talk and street swagga, few are really willing to commit what Huey P Newton would have called career “revolutionary suicide.”
And on some level, who could blame them?
In the mythos of Hip-Hop culture, if you go out in a blaze of glory like ‘Pac and Biggie you wind up in some Ghetto Heaven and the homies in the ‘hood will be forever pourin’ out liquor and sportin’ T-shirts in your memory. But if you go out fighting the power like Lil Bobby Hutton or Fred Hampton, you will be forgotten a week after the funeral.
After all, although members of the Nation of Islam were convicted for the murder of Malcolm, almost 50 years later we are still no closer to solving the mystery of who really gave the order for the hit than we are solving who killed Pac, Biggie, or Lil’ Pookie from down the block. However, we are left with some clues that have been rarely discussed.
In his book, To Kill a Black Man, Louis Lomax points out how, before his death, “Malcolm X was becoming a major threat to American foreign policy.” He alleged that “the American government, particular the CIA was deeply involved in Malcolm’s death.”
Researcher Steve Cokley has long suggested that we reread the often overlooked page 418 of Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, where Haley revealed that an unnamed “close friend” arranged a meeting with the president of a still unnamed “large private foundation” and the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights section, Burke Marshall, shortly before Malcolm’s death. According to Haley, he was grilled over Malcolm’s “finances” and how his recent trip to Africa had been funded.
Of course, there are some underground Hip-Hop artists today who are spittin’ truth to power like Immortal Technique, New Orleans’ Dee-1, and North C’arolina’s Homebase, but they are few and far between.
Some have suggested that the responsibility of Hip-Hop artists is to make music, not lead movements. Perhaps they are right.
Maybe the revolution won’t come from the rappers but from the writers. What good is a “revolution” if there is no one to explain to the masses who they are revolting against and why they need a “revolution” in the first place. This is especially critical when, since the end of the Civil War, the masses have been continually duped into believing that “we have overcome” and “there is nothing left to fight for."
After all it was the “militant minded” journalists who were the original Black freedom fighters in this country. Remember early revolutionists such as Martin Delany and David Walker were writers. It has even been rumored that Nat Turner might have been influenced by “David Walker’s Appeal.” Walker posed such a threat to white supremacy that, according to Dr. James Turner, around 1830 there was a $10,000 bounty placed on his head by a group of wealthy white planters.
Whether it be a rapper or a writer, the world needs another Malcolm.
Someone who is not afraid to grab the mic or the pen and tell the world, that we demand Freedom, Justice and Equality, and we intend to bring it into existence…
“By any means necessary.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip-Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website at www.NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).
Bonus: Redman talks about the inner workings of the industry on The Combat Jack Show.