Can’t stop, won’t stop.
Thanks for letting me interview you, I know you’re busy.
It’s cool. I got to take advantage of this opportunity to represent myself.
You’re breaking up a little. Can you hear me okay?
Yeah. I’m on a cordless house phone and I stepped out of range for a moment, but I’m back. The reception will be clear as long as I stay close to the base.
What was that? I heard a beep?
I don’t know. Probably the Patriot Act. You know they’re listenin’.
Everytime I look around, somebody lyin’ on me
Mr. Cheney, Mr. Ridge, steady spyin’ on me
-Jay Electronica, “Dealing”
I’m joking, the beep was just me putting on some music.
Cool, but speaking of the Patriot Act, why don’t you rhyme about stuff like that anymore? Politics and social issues? Chuck D used to call you “the black CNN” but now you’re just the–
Hold up, hold up, hold up. Let me tell you something:
And listen good. My very existence, my whole being, is not just being aware of politics and social issues–ranging from the White House to the block–but engaged and active. Take my first name, for example?
Yeah, it’s from Africa. It’s Wolof and comes from “hipi,” which means “to open one’s eyes and see.” So, hipi is a term of enlightenment. My first name means “to see or to be enlightened,” ya dig.
Definitely, definitely, I can dig it.
That’s Wolof, too.
Un-huh, it comes from the Wolof word “dega,” which means “to understand.” This is all coming out of Africa. That’s why my pops, Afrika Bambaataa, called his crew the Zulu Nation.
Anyway, back to the point: when you combine hip, or enlightenment, with hop–hop coming from the Old English hoppian meaning to spring forward into action–the result is enlightened action. So when KRS-ONE says “I Am Hip-Hop” he’s also saying I Am an enlightened actor.
In America, this enlightened action has often meant resisting and rebelling against the status quo. And just so you know, I’m not the creator of this, I’m the keeper of this. My family has been doing this for centuries.
Opposing what needs to be opposed, supposing what needs to be supposed. My family has always used its gifts to uplift. My bad, I’m not trying to rhyme, just can’t help it.
Anyway, My great grandparents Blues and Field Songs opposed slavery; My cousin from Harlem, Renaissance, opposed Jim Crow and lynching; my Movement uncles and aunts, Black Arts, opposed urban oppression and taught me that black is beautiful; and I’ve tried to be a custodian of this tradition using my five elements.
I know Djing, Emceeing, Graffiti, and B-Boying, but what’s the fifth?
The fifth is the most important element. It’s knowledge. It actually informs all the other elements. The idea is without ‘knowledge, wisdom, and understanding,’ you can’t properly use the other elements.
I wonder how many of today’s rappers know that?
Each one, teach one.
Look, all that sounds real, real good, but I don’t hear that enlightened action, five elements stuff when I turn on the radio.
That’s why Ice Cube said “Turn off the radio!”
Turning on the radio, expectin to hear the real
Is like going to McDonalds expectin a healthy meal
-Stic.Man (Dead Prez)
Look, let me ask you something?
If a microphone falls in a ghetto and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
I don’t know, what’s that suppose to mean?
It means that I told you who I was, about my lineage and I haven’t changed. At my core, I’m the same cat who was born November 12, 1974 in the Boogie Down.
Like anything, I can be used for positive or negative. Religions are distorted all the time for negative purposes, however, there is nothing fundamentally negative or wrong with those religions. The problem isn’t the religion, but the distortion of the religion. That’s how it is with me. My name is attached to a lot of things that are not me.
The key these days is just knowing where to find me because I’m just as political as ever. I’m always speaking out and acting on issues.
Like The Wars, for example.
How can they go to war with terror
When it’s war that’s terrorizing?
Not only did my artists and groups respond, but a my organizers and community merged for the nationwide Make Hip Hop Not War concert which made stops in over 40 US cities. At these shows, my people were able to hear uncompromising emcees along with commentary, first-hand, from activists, soldiers, and organizers. At the tour in DC, Hip Hop Caucus’ Rev told the audience:
We held events, rallies and roundtables in each city and educated audiences on the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and motivated young people to take action and have their voices heard. Those voices promoted the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the restoration of Habeas Corpus. Those voices were heard.
He added that, “Hip hop heads are all too aware that war is never the answer, because they’re the ones sent off to fight, not the silver-spoons from the suburbs.”
And musically? What about in your music?
I’ve been involved in thousands of anti-war songs by emcees like Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, The Beast, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Styles P, Common, A-Alikes, Comrade, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Janelle Monae, Labtekwon, The Roots…
Yo, that’s my other line. I gotta get this. It’s Mama’ [Africa].
Okay, but can I ask one more quick question?
You say you’re alive now, but many think you’re on the verge of death. How’s your health?
I’m like the bird.
There was this blind woman in my neighborhood named Ms. Lulu. Ms. Lulu couldn’t see but she had vision. One day a group of kids came to her with a bird buried in their hand. They asked her, ‘is the bird dead or alive?’ She responded, ‘I don’t know if the bird is dead or alive. The only thing I know is that it’s in your hands.’
Just like those kids could either crush the bird or let it fly, I too am in your hands!