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Disrespect Your Elders!

While so many others are thinking it or hold back out of “respect” for these out-of-their-fucking-minds black “leaders” David Banner comes out swinging. Banner refers to Sharpton as a “permed-out pimp” and makes the inarguable point that, there’s a lot more important shit to worry about than rap lyrics. His comparing them to crappy parents is very apt: “Fuck that about they’re our elders and we gotta respect them. I’m tired of this. They’re like the parents, but the parents are crucifying the kids.” In the same article, Talib Kweli is predictably pseudo-diplomatic. For being such a “revolutionary” he sure does play it safe. The South wins again.

The problem with Kweli’s argument is not his sentiment, for political discussion certainly needs more “respectful disagreement” but there are points when this rule should be eschewed. Just as divisive arguing and name-calling is a bad idea, taking the supposedly “mature” way out every time is equally simple-minded. Banner isn’t just venting; he weaves valid points throughout his name-calling, alluding to more relevant problems, and subtly invoking his own political street cred. It is brave and backed by action, which as many readers suggested after reading this, Kanye’s anti-homophobia remarks were not. The South wins again.

In contrast to the leaders he calls-out for being fake and money-motivated, Banner presents himself as upfront and honest even if it makes him come off as angry. Banner’s comments highlight a rather unfortunate trend of duplicity among certain black intellectuals and leaders of the left. Certainly, many politicians and intellectuals of both sides and all races are duplicitous, but what is particularly disturbing about Sharpton or Jackson and many others is that it downgrades their otherwise valid viewpoints. When the President struts across an aircraft carrier in costume, I feel his sickening want to perform victory and the way he confuses that for actual victory. While I might agree with certain points made my Sharpton or Jackson, I find their actions similar.

If the recent, opportunistic attacks on rap don’t convince you, think of Sharpton’s recent grandstanding during the Duke rape case or go real far back to Jesse Jackson’s infamous bloody collar. Too much is made of Jackson’s supposed smearing of Martin Luther King’s blood upon his collar and then going on television, but it is problematic. I say too much is made of it because it is consistently used as ammunition for the right as evidence of Jackson being a liar and opportunist and while it does prove both of those things, plenty of people are liars and opportunists but also do a lot of good. At the same time, it is Exhibit A of a certain kind of political performance that believes that the means justify the end. It’s a pretty sick twist on American Pragmatism and is not any different than our current President’s lies that led us into Iraq.

The President thought he was doing good or planned to do good by invading Iraq and created a reality because one did not exist. I do not think he was evil, I think his own, hyper-idealistic want to do right motivates him to lie. The same motivation probably affected Jesse Jackson when Martin Luther King was murdered. Whether Jackson used blood that spilled out of Dr. King’s head or used chicken blood, the fake aspects of the action came out of a genuine but monomaniacal want to do right.

In rap, the understandable but no less retarded wish for the golden-age of political rap has made many blind to the more pragmatic politics found in recent rap, particularly that of the South or in a way, non-coastal rap in general. David Banner’s comments or Kanye’s coming-out against homophobia represents a shift in how rappers choose to get political. When someone says “no one is political anymore”, I respond by suggesting that how and why people become political has changed. They implicate themselves in the political issue at hand and through that, move away from the “preaching to the converted” problems of most political art.

David Banner comes out against Sharpton the same way he would on a beef record. He throws down his own political record instead of floating around in the high-fallutin’ world of political ideals. Banner’s anger and Kanye’s gay jokes even as he decries homophobia allows these rappers to maintain their humanity when they engage in political discussions. This makes them appear a great deal more honest and more digestible to average people. Who would listen to Public Enemy but those that already agree? Can you expect regular people to respond with anything other than fear when a band comes off militant and has a logo featuring the symbolic “the man” between cross-hairs? Paradoxically, David Banner, the creator of a song like ‘Play’ has more political pull than more “serious” political rappers.

Michael Eric Dyson and KRS-One appear in contrast to Banner and Kanye’s political sincerity and that makes sense, because they are closely connected to the old-guard of political rap I mentioned before. Although a great deal more “with it” than Jackson or Sharpton, they are equally insincere when talking about hip-hop.

I’ve discussed Dyson’s disingenuous argument here but what really troubled me about Dyson’s book was his introductory “prelude” ‘Hip Hop and Its Critics’ read it here). In it, Dyson recounts the story of being checked by an airport security guard who, between pat-downs, praises Dyson’s book and requests an autograph of the book. See, the guy loves Tupac and Dyson’s book on ‘Pac so much, he carries it around!

The introductory is wonderful on an emotional and political level. Dyson cleverly points out the way the guy navigates between his security guard voice and a moves into vernacular when discussing Tupac. It subtly says a lot about hip-hop and black culture’s occupation between worlds and impressive ability to navigate those worlds but…I don’t think it ever fucking happened. As I said, that doesn’t lessen the power of the story nor does it negate its points, but it does make Dyson’s writing questionable. I know I’m a cynic but if you really like Tupac, why would you carry around a book about him? If I was a big William Blake fan, I wouldn’t carry around Northrup Frye!

The anecdote just leaves a sour taste in my mouth and even if it did happen, it stops being relevant as it becomes more of a story about Michael Eric Dyson’s influence on one security guard than “eloquent proof that not everyone in his generation is illiterate, destructive, and materialistic”. All the Security Guard says in the Prelude is praise for Dyson. The story feels the same as when our President recalls some, probably fictional mother of a dead soldier who thanked him or said something about how proud she is of her son’s duty.

Jay Smooth recently posted this video of KRS-One playing Prospect Park and giving the audience a speech on “creative visualization”, relating a story of how years ago, homeless, he told himself that “one day [he] was going to rock” Prospect Park. With respect to Jay (not as an elder but as an accomplished, good guy), I see why the sentiment is moving but I find it a bit suspect. Even if it did happen and KRS did think that, it didn’t play-out as he presents it in that video. The world and especially one’s own life is so much more complicated than this affecting but pithy anecdote.

Just as Sharpton and Jackson and even Dyson are working on the same level of bullshit as the president, does KRS’s speech give me the same icky feeling as a Tony Robbins seminar. Just because it’s a rap legend and not a creep with big teeth doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be suspect. What is so refreshing about Banner’s sentiment is he isn’t interested in who Al Sharpton is, only what he says. It’s funny that the only time one is told “respect your elders” is when those elders are talking out of their ass and need to be disrespected.

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2007 at 4:04 am

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