"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Saturday, July 30, 2005,4:02 PM
signs of the end of the ice age!!!
It is not every day that a Hip-Hop artist comes along who has both Jay-Z and Nas publicly singing his praise. It is even more rare, if ever, that such an artist has spent nearly 7 years in jail, starting at the age of 15. While Jay-Z and Nas were getting ready to blow, he was getting ready to be incarcerated.

But as hard as it may seem for the average image-conscious rap fan of today to accept, 27-year old Saigon shouldn't be judged, even as an artist, by the endorsement he has received by two of the greatest rappers who ever lived, nor by the time he spent behind bars. There is so much more to this human being, who the majority of people are about to meet courtesy of Atlantic Records, when his debut album, "The Greatest Story Never Told" drops this fall.

Backed by some of the hottest production in the business; a major record label that is hungry to establish its presence in its competition with Def Jam; a few years of street buzz and credibility thanks to his presence on the New York City mixtape circuit; and one of the most unique and controversial records to drop this decade - the anti-gang banging, "Color Purple" - Saigon is poised for big things this year, commercially and otherwise.

When BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad named Saigon as one of the four most important rappers on the horizon, he did not do so lightly. He did what he did not only because of what he heard in Saigon's music, but what he saw of his mind and heart, from a distance; and because of his awareness of the time and the critical circumstances that Hip-Hop and Black and Brown youth find themselves in. Important times require important people, and there are clear and not so clear indications that Saigon is one such individual.

His production is of a high quality, with tracks provided by Just Blaze (Saigon is actually signed to the platinum producer's record label) and Alchemist; his lyrical flow and voice is distinct; his content is even more so, with street, political and conscious rhymes put forth with seemingly little effort. But it is what motivates him that is drawing the most attention for this artist on the street, underground and on the Internet. Who else concludes their biography, disseminated by their major record label with the following statement: "I'm gonna do my best to sell records, that's the business I'm in but at the end of the day, I'm gonna maintain my integrity. I have to tell the truth, especially in black and brown communities. It's my duty to open up a few minds."

So despite the bounty of his artistic gifts and attributes - production, lyrical delivery and content - which Hip-Hop fans are about to enjoy at a mass level, if he has his way, it would be primarily his mind, heart, and work among his people, for which Saigon would like to be remembered.

In order to get a better view of the Brother that some say, better than any other today, embodies street credibility, consciousness, and talent; Black Electorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad recently spoke with Saigon for over two hours for a wide-ranging conversation about the rap artist's worldview; his life experiences and vision; and the music industry.

Today we publish Part I of that interview.


Cedric Muhammad: Peace, Saigon how are you?

Saigon: How you doing?

Cedric Muhammad: Good. It’s good to talk to you Brother. First I wanted to say thank you for granting us the honor of interviewing you. I think very highly of you. I see a lot in you and I want to bring some of that out, hopefully with some of these questions.

Saigon: Thank. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Cedric Muhammad: It’s definitely coming from the heart. You are one of the most important, if not the most important artist on the horizon. Now, where are you right now creatively speaking, is the album done?

Saigon: The album is not done. We are in the midst of finishing it. It is about 60% done. More than half way done but, Lord Willing, I will be done by the end of the summer, and I will get it out there to the people. And hopefully they are ready for it because you know I am coming with the truth on this one. I don’t care about radio spins. There is a bigger plight. Know what I mean?

Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now, for the record, what is the name of the album going to be – "The Greatest Story Never Told" or "Letter To Black America"?

Saigon: "The Greatest Story Never Told" is the album title.

Cedric Muhammad: Ok, because I had seen some other information on that.

Saigon: Yeah. That was because they switched it at one point because I had a little conflict with another artist but I settled it and went back to the original title.

Cedric Muhammad: Good. In some of the articles that I have read, I saw some very interesting background information on your name, “Saigon.” And I know a lot of people do not know that history so just for the benefit of our viewers and those who are getting familiar with you, how did that name come about and what is its significance as it relates to Vietnam and Black people?

Saigon: They have always done us dirty in this country but they really pulled some tricks from under their sleeves for that war. These people were using the media and things of that nature to promote (Black people) going over there fighting against the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese people, as a way to prove that you were worthy to be a real American. They ran one Navy ad that said, ‘We Will Take You As Far As You Can Go.’ This was the ad they were giving to the people to get them to join the Army and Navy. And when they went over there to fight it was the natives of Vietnam, in Saigon, who were telling Blacks, ‘this ain’t your war.’ They used to drop pamphlets for the Black soldiers - when they would go to Saigon to f--- with the prostitutes and get drugs – telling them ‘this is not your war.’ I actually have a copy of one of those pamphlets that they were dropping. It is on my DVD. You get to actually see it for yourself. A lot of people are not hip to these kind of things, that the Vietnamese were doing toward Black soldiers. They were telling us, ‘you guys don’t even have civil rights. Y’all are in America fighting for civil rights and you are over here fighting for a country that won’t even let you drink out of a decent f-----g water fountain.’ So it was deep. That city, Saigon, its name had a ring to me. It is a war torn city and there is a lot of history in that city so I figured I would take it as a moniker and the same way that the Vietnamese tried to put Black people on to what was really going on - is what I try to do with my music.

Cedric Muhammad: A friend of mine, often talks to me about prison, time that he served, and that of others, and he frequently makes a point that whenever a person says that they came home from jail or prison, he gently corrects them (to make a point) and tells them ‘well you just went to school.’ So I wanted to ask you since that is such a big part of your background – how did prison shape you and influence the way that you think today?

Saigon: Well, not to dispute what your man said, but, I think it is only ‘school’ if you go there and make it ‘school’. Because honestly speaking most guys don’t go there and make it ‘school.’ That is why recidivism is so high. Most guys go there and lift weights and play basketball, honestly speaking. They get diesel and gain weight, so that they can come home and mess with more women. So you have to take the initiative and teach yourself and don’t use that time in vain. Because what they do, is just like in the streets, the sports thing (is big) in there. They have basketball season where the inmates can join a team and it gets to the point where they put statistics up on the wall so everybody can see how many points everybody is averaging a game. So you have basketball season which lasts two months, then you got baseball season, then you have football. Before you know it a whole year has gone by and you are so entertained by sports that you are not even realizing that you are doing time anymore. So you don’t take time to build your strongest muscle, which is your mind. It is very seldom that people will go there and do that. A lot of people do but most of them don’t.

Most people go there and become Muslims and Five Percenters because it is like a ‘gang’ and they feel they need protection. They are thinking, ‘yeah let me come in here and get down with somebody so if I get into a problem, I’m protected.’ What they don’t realize is that when you join the Five Percenters, become a Muslim, or a member of something, not only do you have protection but if you see another Muslim, for example, get into something, that is your problem now too. You take on the problems of everybody who claims to be part of this certain thing. And when a lot of people are getting down (with these groups) for the wrong reasons - you wind up finding yourself in a beef because a Muslim dude is messing with a chump, or a Five Percenter is on the low really messing with the fags, and now you find yourself right in the middle of that situation.

Not that many people take the initiative to go to jail and learn. Fortunately, I got around some of the right people. Somebody saw something in me. I went to jail on some angry stuff, was wilding out, jumping people, and chasing weed in the yard and all of that. And this one cat named, ‘B.J.’ sat me down and he was like, ‘Man, I see a lot more potential in you.’ And then, these other dudes saw me and were like, ‘Don’t be like me, don’t keep coming to jail your whole life until you are forty and fifty years old. Let this be the last time you come here.’ And you know it stuck with me. First, I was like ‘I don’t want to hear that, I heard that before.’ But this dude (B.J.), he was a powerful dude - this is what made me listen to him. He wasn’t just a dude that was all about peace, he would be a dude who held the whole jail down, nobody disrespected this dude. I was more prone to listen to him because I know that he could have easily gotten somebody stabbed just with his words – by putting a hit out on somebody – because that is the power that he held in the jail. So once I started listening to him, he started giving me books. He had me at 18 years old teaching a Black History class. At 18. And I went to jail with like an 8th grade reading level. I took the initiative to read, learn and study, but not too many people do that.

Cedric Muhammad: There is one article that I have here and I want to read back to you a quote. You are quoted as saying, "My life is the story of Malcolm X. He was Malcolm Little – he was a drug dealer, he was a robber, he was a hood. He went to prison and he became Malcolm X. He came home a whole new man. He came to people and told them this is what’s up, this is what’s really going on, he really wanted to change the world. Saigon’s going to change the world and that’s what makes me different."

That pretty much sums it up. But maybe you could add some details to the relationship between Malcolm X and your life, and the meaning of his life.

Saigon: Yeah, because that is like a perfect example of what we were talking about earlier. Malcolm was,'Dirty Red.’ He was running around pimping, messing with ho’s, frying his hair doing everything like the White man wants us to do, to look like f------g buffoons. Pimping each other, killing each other, gambling, doing everything for a dollar – making us think that money is everything. And they are still doing that right now, with the artists. I think a lot of these artists have done more harm than good – way more harm than good. I look at them like working for the White man almost, for a high price. For a price, you can make them destroy mad young kids’ lives with their music, not to stray off the subject. I feel like that is what a lot of them are doing.

I feel like my life kind of went in the same way as Malcolm’s because I used to be in the streets shooting people, wilding out, bugging, and hurting my people every day. I had no sense of direction. I didn’t even know why I was here. So I just woke up everyday like, ‘how am I going to get high?’; ‘how am I going to get some weed and some 40s and go hang out with my boys on the block?’ That was my life, every day. There wasn’t no setting goals and trying to achieve certain things. It took me to go to prison and have that steel boot of oppression placed on my Adam’s apple before I realized that something wasn’t right with my life. And I see the same people going through all the same situations. We all come from the same neighborhoods. There are no White kids from the suburbs in these prisons. They are not there. They don’t do no crime at all? Come on. There is 220 million White people in this country and only 30 million Blacks. Why do we make up more of the prison population? That don’t make sense. I mean, it is like everything negative in this country, we lead the category in everything detrimental and negative. This is not an accident, this is by design. And it is time for us to step up and say ‘how much of this are we going to take?’ A lot of Black people are complacent because they feel like, ‘OK, we are not being hosed down in the street anymore, with German shepherds being sicked on us’. But we built this country, we deserve more man. And until you step up, a closed mouth don’t get fed. Nobody is going to come offer you anything. We made this country. Our blood and our sweat built this country. There is no reason we should be living in the conditions we live in.

We live in the projects, 50,000 Chinese restaurants on every block. Liquor stores. And we are killing each other every week. Education in the schools is messed up in the inner cities. Somebody has got to step up. Everybody is scared to be a leader because everybody is scared to die. But God ain’t put us here to stay, man. Our lives and time on this earth is temporary anyway. So while you are here you have got to stand for something and try to make it better. I was explaining to somebody the other day, the situation with the Attica riots. And I was like, even though they don’t talk about these dudes, these dudes probably made just as big of a step for us as Black people, as a Martin Luther King and a Malcolm X because the conditions the prisons were in, before those dudes started that riot were terrible, man. These dudes had to eat cold soup out of a can. They couldn’t even heat up their soup. They couldn’t even write their homes and ask for money. It was called soliciting. You weren’t even allowed to ask for help. They were driven so far to a point where they had to be like, ‘you know what, we are not going to take it anymore.’ And they knew that by what they did they were going to die, more than likely. But they made it better for the people who had to go through the conditions after them. If that Attica riot had never happened, when I went to jail, it probably would have been the same conditions. It took somebody to step up and make a sacrifice, to sacrifice their lives. We are so scared now. And we are so complacent. Everybody is thinking about a Benz and shiny chains, and this is what life is to them. Going to the clubs. I am like, man, if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. And I am a man. I have a backbone. Nobody is going to keep pushing me around and keep hurting me without me fighting back, some.

Cedric Muhammad: Another parallel with your and Brother Malcolm’s experience was the mentor relationship that you just mentioned. Malcolm had a mentor in prison as well. You mentioned, B.J. – is that short for Born Justice?

Saigon: Yes, it is.

Cedric Muhammad: Saigon, speak on this. Because there is a big buzz on the street, and I can tell you this personally from my dealing with many members of The Nation Of Gods and Earths, over the title of your album, and the respect that you have for the Father, Clarence 13 X; please just tell me a little bit more about your interaction with the Lessons and how Born Justice exposed you to the Knowledge of Self?

Saigon: Well, you know, it was actually another Brother who exposed me to it. His name was Supreme. But Born - B.J. – actually broke it down for me and let me know what it meant and what it represented. He gave me the history on the Father; he gave me the 120 degrees and all of that. But he let me know, unlike the other Gods were doing – he was like, ‘Look, what Clarence gave us - what the Father gave us - was the 48 Keys.’ And (the purpose of) this was for us to apply it to everyday life. It is not just 120 degrees. You got dudes that have been in the Nation (of Gods and Earths) for ten years and the first thing they ask you is ‘What’s today’s mathematics?’ or ‘How do you see today’s mathematics?’ I’m like, Ok, what is that? They are just in it for the fancy terminology and the Lessons. And I am like ‘why are we still on this?’ Let’s talk about how we fill out resumes when we get out of prison and how we start business and incorporate? The Nation in prison became like a gang. And all of these dudes who were Five Percenters have now become Bloods. That goes to show me something. I think prison kind of hurt what the Nation was about. Because when they were on the street they were using it (The Lessons) to teach and to show Brothers a better way of life, and how we are going to come up out of the situation that we are in. So, (Born Justice) gave me the Lessons but he also stressed, ‘don’t be a lip professor, and don’t get caught up in only talking fancy and parroting.’ He said, ‘A parrot can quote these Lessons but if you don’t understand what you are quoting and what you are saying, then it is to no avail and pretty much useless.’

Cedric Muhammad: Exactly, Saigon. I bear witness to that. Now, there is something that I sense about you but let me preface it with something in the Bible. There is a verse in Hebrews, Chapter 9 verses 16 and 17. And I am going to read it to you from the Amplified translation which is a little clearer than the King James version.

Saigon:Ok. Alright.

Cedric Muhammad: It says:

"For where there is a [last] will and testament involved, the death of the one who made it must be established, For a will and testament is valid and takes effect only at death, since it has no force or legal power as long as the one who made it is alive."

Saigon: Yeah.

Cedric Muhammad: And those verses, I have used, in reference to ‘Pac and Biggie’s life, and others have used it. The point is – there are certain people that you can just see by the pattern and experiences of their lives that their life was designed to be an instructive example for the rest of us.

Saigon: Exactly, man.

Cedric Muhammad: And I felt that way, man, when I walked out of that movie, Resurrection with ‘Pac. It was obvious to me Saigon that his life was one of those special lives. Well, I feel the same way in what I’m getting to know about you. And I just wanted to know from the heart, have you ever felt that there is definitely something special going on with you and the experiences that you have had and the way you have been guided?

Saigon: Every day, man. Every day, I wake up. That’s why I can’t make those ‘shake your ass’ songs. As much as I know that’s what works? ‘Girl give me that punny, get up there, shake your ass…’ As much as I know that is what will probably make me platinum, rich and famous – I can’t do it. My conscience won’t let me do it. So I know I have some kind of substance to me, man. I am not scared to lose my life for what I believe in. I just don’t want to die in vain because the media will come and destroy me. If I was to get popular and start to touch a lot of people, and they were to execute me like they do to all of our leaders; they would take the criminal history and every little thing they could find and try to exploit that and make people look at me like, ‘look at him he was a criminal or this or that.’ They try to downplay you. The media can really assassinate your character without really killing you. They will do that. They tried to do that to Tupac. They tried to make it look like Tupac was a mindless thug – a dude who just walked around causing trouble. Like even when he shot the police they don’t ever mention the fact that he was trying to help a Brother that these two drunk cops were harassing. They don’t tell us that part. They just show him at the MGM (hotel in Las Vegas) kicking the dude and getting into a fight. Every time you see (a focus) on his last days that is what they show to make it look like, ‘oh look, a gang member killed him, he just had this fight with a gang member.’ But they know the power he had and possessed. And that is how they confuse us about him. If you ask people why they like Tupac, the majority of them don’t know. I’ve seen dudes who really shout out, ‘Tupac this…’ and ‘Tupac that…’ and you ask them, ‘why do you like ‘Pac?’ and they respond, ‘Uh, he was dope – he had a dope song. I liked Juice and this other movie…’ And they don’t even realize what this dude was about. They don’t really see what his plight was. The media don’t let you pick that up.

Like this dude, Brian Nichols, for example. I don’t really agree with what he did, but did you see how quick the media downplayed that? But they will show Michael Jackson every five minutes in the news? This dude snatched a gun, shot the judge, shot everybody, ran out and killed an FBI agent. This should have gotten way more media coverage that Michael Jackson allegedly touching a little White boy. But they don’t want that (the image of Brian Nichols) to spark a revolutionary mind. That was a revolutionary move. No matter how you look at it, what this dude did was some really going against the system. That is like a slave killing a master, real talk. Know what I mean?

Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now you said something that I have never seen a rapper say (overtly) before Saigon, the way you did. I used to manage Wu-Tang Clan and one of the things that I had hoped for, was more artists thinking like this. I think RZA felt like this although he and I never talked about it directly. You said something to the effect that you are using rap to become a Black leader. I think that is thorough and shows the level of discipline and priority you have. And I just want to know a little more of how you think that would go – how rap would set you up as a Black leader?

Saigon: Ok, it’s like, rappers are the voice of the Ghetto right now. If Jay-Z says, ‘ hey put on a button down shirt’, the next day in the hood you are going to see a million button down shirts. If 50 Cent says, ‘hey put on a bullet proof vest…’ I’ve seen dudes put on vests that weren’t even bullet proof (laughter). Just for the look. And that is how important these people have become, as far as a voice. Because we really don’t have a voice so they become our voice. If I am in that position to talk to millions of people, I ‘m not going to lead these dudes to damnation, which most of these artists are doing. I’m ‘a let ya’ll know what’s going on. I’m a hip you all to some of the tricks that’s being played on you. I’m a let you know that we have to get the guns out of our community. We have to stand up and be like, ‘hey, why are there drugs here?’ There is a war on terror and a mother f-----g A-rab can’t get into this country without them knowing exactly why you are coming here, who you are here to see, where you are coming from, but the war on drugs – you are telling me there is tons of cocaine that just slips under your nose? Get out of here. That don’t make no sense. And it is up to us to step up. Like I said - a closed mouth don’t get fed. And if you are just going to sit around and just act like you don’t see these things, you are a coward, you don’t have any backbone or you are ignorant to the fact of what is going on. And there are a lot of doors that are closing in people’s minds and I feel like if I have an opportunity to open some of those doors, I ‘m going to do it.

That is why I make songs like ‘Shok TV’, ‘Kiss The Babies’ and ‘Color Purple’. One girl came to me the other day and she was like, "I love your song ‘Color Purple’, it is so deep but if you think that is going to change something you are crazy." I said, ‘Look, if I saved one life with that song; and if one kid hears that song and gets out of a gang, I did my job.’ It can be one kid. I made a difference. I made a change, man. I know I can’t change the world by myself, but you know what I can do? I can be that first brick in the foundation. I just don’t want to be downplayed and die in vain, man. I just don’t want people to think I was here talking some ol’ fake revolutionary crap, and not being about it. Because like I said, the media will assassinate you and make you look like an imbecile.

I know they are watching me and seeing what I am saying. They keep their spies on us – the CIA and everything. They watch everything they do. They love 50 Cent. 50 Cent works for them. These dudes work for them because they poison the hood. It is just like when Freeway Ricky was given all of the drugs to flood South Central L.A., it is the same thing except it ain’t heroin, its music, terrible music. It is the same thing. And who really makes the profit off of this music? Not the artist. The artist makes chicken scratch compared to what these executives make. They don’t have to worry about their lives being in danger. They don’t have to worry about some kid who hears a 50 Cent record who gets hyped, drunk and goes out and shoots up a party. They don’t have to worry about that because that is not in their neighborhood. It doesn’t matter to them. They live in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, the Hamptons. That is not around there. It is just like in the hood. Let somebody go stand on a corner and sell drugs. He can get an eight or nine month run on that corner before they knock him. Some dudes get two year runs on the corner, before they take them to jail. I have had the luxury of living in the ghetto and in the suburbs. Go to the suburbs and stand on the corner. You won’t have a two-day run. Police will be there, ‘what are you doing on this corner sir?’ The next day somebody is going to call the police and say, ‘there is a guy standing on the corner – he has been on the corner for two hours.’ You will be off that corner very, very fast. And in the hood they are not going to tell you to get off of the corner. Their attitude is, ‘Hey you guys love this – here go stand on the corner, poison your people for a few more months; we are going to come and get you though, we are going to make some money off of you, and then ruin your life, give you a criminal history and then you are a statistic, we gotta’ keep our system moving. We got to keep these jails booming.’

Jail is a big business. That’s the free labor. You don’t think they want that free labor? Jails are owned by private corporations in New York state. That is free labor. And these same dudes are the ones who are on these parole panels. Now when a person goes up for parole – this dude could have been in jail for ten years. You look at his crime and then you look at his record in jail. He might not have that bad of a record. If you are in a hostile environment you are going to get into a few little things. But they are going to say, ‘Hmmm, your crime was so heinous, we don’t think you are remorseful.’ Now you think a person is not going to be biased when it comes time to let go of their free labor? Do you really think they are going to let their free labor go? Hell no. So, they are going to say, ‘here, hit him with 24 more months.’ These parole boards are out of control! Nobody talks about it, but these parole boards in New York State - 40 people will go before a parole board and 3 people will get let go. It is to the point now, that when dudes go to the board they automatically know that they are going to get hit. The numbers are like 40 to 2; or 38 people go in front of the board and only 5 people make it. 52 people go before the board and 4 people make it. Y’all aren’t letting nobody go.

People don’t realize how much free labor goes on in there. School desks for the schools are made in jail. Street signs. License plates. When you go on the highway and you see a sign that says a town is 30 miles ahead, that was made in prison. Now, if they get (un-incarcerated) people on the street to pay for these things they are going to be coming out of their pocket. But when, you can just give a prisoner 35 cents an hour (in compensation), you are coming off! Know what I’m saying? Slavery. Slavery. All day long.

Cedric Muhammad: Now when you mention Black leaders and I know you have alluded to a few things, just so I know what there may be for you in the way of a model or what you respect, in terms of certain principles - who are some of the leaders that you respect from your reading, study, observation and interaction?

Saigon: Toussaint L’ Ouverture, I respect him a lot. He was like one of the first people to revolt against slavery – a Haitian guy. There is Malcolm X of course who used to go in Harlem streets with a megaphone and preach to the people in the hood, letting them know what was going on and how we needed to change. Martin Luther King, even though I don’t agree with his strategy I agree with his courage to go against the grain like that. I mean, (he was working) at a time when you are going against a powerful enemy, man. This is the most powerful enemy in the world – the White Man, the super power. The White man that killed all of the Indians. The White man that did the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The White man that shows you he is a brutal killer. You know what I mean? He will kill you with biological warfare. He will kill you with a gun. He will kill you with anything to get ahead. So you are going against that when you take a stand or say that something is not right or that we are not being treated fairly. I respect Nat Turner. I respect anybody who takes a stand and revolts against what is wrong - anybody who takes a stand and goes against oppression. I respect Stic.man and M1 of Dead Prez. I feel like they are Black leaders. I feel like if you go back and listen to their albums, they sacrificed a lot. They knew what they had to do on Loud (Records) to really pop off, but you know what, I remember when they played their album for Fat Joe the first time, and Fat Joe was like, ‘This ain’t y’all album, y’all are kidding me.’ They were like, ‘This is our album man, Let’s Get Free out this mother f----r’ (laughter). Like let’s free our mind state and let’s start thinking, as Black people. As smart as we are, we can dribble a basketball through our legs, twist around in the air and dunk that shit – we can do a lot more shit than that. We are not even using a bit of our potential.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, I think you stepped up, with the record, ‘Color Purple’

Saigon: Yeah.

Cedric Muhammad: There wasn’t nobody who stepped in the gap that was of your age. But for somebody to be your age and step up and confront that and still have some compassion and love for those who are still in the street organizations, that took a lot. So you will always have my respect for that alone.

Saigon: Thank You man, I appreciate that.

Cedric Muhammad: No, I’m serious and I want to back you up on that. So, how did that song come about? And what has been your take on the controversy over it and maybe some of the reaction you have gotten from Bloods and Crips?

Saigon: It came about when I started to see how fast it was spreading from the streets of L.A. – just the Bloods and Crips, only them, because gangs have been around for a minute. I did it to combat the artists, media and powers that be who were spreading it -that made this gang epidemic, which is what I love to call it. It spread from one coast to another. It ain’t like it just hit L.A., then ended up in New York. It actually spread across the country, and ended in New York, and this is the end before you hit the Atlantic Ocean, you know what I’m saying? So I’m like, ‘how did it spread?’ That was my question – ‘how did this happen?’ Then I realized – it spread through movies, it spread through music, it spread through the media. We didn’t know what Bloods and Crips was over here until we seen that movie, ‘Colors.’ We didn’t know what that was. Then we started learning about gangs- a Blood and a Crip. The kids really didn’t get up on it until they started watching these movies. And then you have got it in the music now to where they associate a dance with being a Crip – the Crip walk. So now I am like, they are really using this shit to promote it and make it look cool. And that is what made it so easy for so many people to get down with it and be a part of it. It felt like something that was acceptable. And then the next thing you know, if you know what gangs do – they kill, shoot and fight over territory. So I’m like if they are going to use the media to spread it, I’m going to try and use the same media to stop it. You got to fight fire with fire. I had to let these kids know that this shit ain’t cool, it ain’t the way. I done had Bloods and Crips, the dude Bone, Fab 5 Freddy (all acknowledge Saigon for "The Color Purple").

That song created so much attention for me. The label didn’t know what to do with it. I had that song before I got signed and I went to the label like, ‘yo, man we can really do something big with this, we could start a whole ‘stop gang bangin’ campaign with this; ya’ll want some press? We can get press with this if y’all want to go ballistic with it.’ And they were like, "ah,uh,uh, where’s your ‘shake your booty’ record?" I’m like come on. But nobody really wants to save lives. (Their mentality) is, ‘we get paid more off of destroying lives, so why should we try to start saving people, when we are getting paid telling mother f-----s to go drink and go have unprotected sex - like, shit, we are good, we are getting rich, that shit ain’t affecting us!’ You go to any White state, Montana, Utah, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Iowa, those states have an almost zero AIDS rate compared to where ever you have Black people – New York, Chicago, Miami, L.A., that’s where you find all of the AIDS at. Something ain’t right here. You telling me that’s a coincidence? We are the only ones fu----g? Nah. We are the only ones shooting heroin? Come on, this is by design. And if you don’t believe in biological warfare, go find a Native American and ask them what happened to their people and they will tell you, ‘we have been exterminated by smallpox, by typhoid fever – it was put in our blankets.' This is the same animal we are dealing with, god. Ain’t nothing changed but the date. People like to say, ‘Oh no, those were those days.’ Come on, nobody changes like that. Your mentality doesn’t change over night. (People) act like they woke up one day and was like, ‘we are sorry, we are cool, everything is back to normal, everything is cool, we live in peace and harmony, let freedom ring.’ Get the f—-k out of here. I ain’t buying that shit.

Cedric Muhammad: One of the things that I really appreciated about the ‘Color Purple’, was like I said, was its timing, and the fact that you rose up and had the courage to do that. Now, I love what you have been saying about ‘Tookie’ Williams (the original co-founder of the Crips) and in a lot of ways you are really following in his footsteps in being courageous enough to stop that, I just wanted to know – one, what was your view of him and two, did you know that two weeks ago in San Quentin, he and Minister Farrakhan met?

Saigon: Oh naw, I didn’t know that.

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah that was heavy, it was in The Final Call recently. But what is your view of Tookie?

Saigon: Man, I commend and take my hat off to that Brother because he is another one who changed his life around, for one. And not to say that (the process) is done, it is yet to be proven because he is still incarcerated, but look at what he does (from prison) – he writes children’s books and he does all that he can to let these kids know. And as powerful as he is, he could be using these kids on the street to sell drugs for him. He is like a god! And he is telling these dudes, ‘Look cut it out. This is not what this started out as.’ Even though it has become that, and he was part of the problem in the beginning of it, that wasn’t what the gangs were all about back then. It was all about togetherness and (some of it ) was trying to follow in the footsteps of the Black Panthers and groups of that nature. And trying to come up out (of a bad circumstance), and help one another instead of killing one another. So I commend him in trying to get his word out there and let people know that killing one another has to stop. It has to stop.

If Black-on-Black crime was not so efficient...do you know how much we destroy ourselves with this shit? It is like I have so many dead friends and all of them were killed by another Black person. Everybody I know in the hood who got shot was shot by another Black person. I know one kid who a cop killed. Everybody else I know that was murdered was murdered by a Black person. Now, I am only one person. Imagine everybody else who is in the same boat as me. You have got to go to the root of it because the root started in slavery when we were instilled with self-hatred. Killing a person who looks like you is almost like killing yourself because you were taught to hate yourself. You have been taught that you are ugly, that everything Black is negative. So to kill another Black person is nothing. It is like in the projects - if a Black mother f----r walks through the projects and nobody knows him, niggas is ready to beat him down, check him, ‘Who you here to see nigga? Whose girl you f-----g?’ And they are ready to attack them, they are not ready to embrace them, right away. If a White mother f----r walks through the projects everybody automatically assumes he must be an authority figure, so, ‘we are not gonna’ f-—k with him, he might be somebody’s P.O. (Probation Officer), he’s probably a cop.’ So nobody messes with him. Now that is backwards to me, man.

It is the same thing in jail. Not to differentiate between Spanish and Blacks; but I just want to show how messed we are from slavery – but when a Black person comes to a new jail, (Black) mo’ f----rs are looking at him to see what he got to see what they can take. But when a Puerto Rican comes, the Puerto Ricans are looking to see if he has got anything to see what he needs. “Do you need some shampoo? Do you need some cosmetics, you need soap – are you straight Brother?” But with us, its like, ‘Damn, what this nigga got that I can take from him?’ (laughter) And that makes me sad to see that.

Like, why are we the only people in the world that can’t look at each other?

The other day, I’m on the train and I ‘m looking at this little kid and he is scared to look me in my face. I can tell he keeps catching eye contact with me, and he then he will turn his head, because he automatically assumes that I’m going to be like, ‘What the f—k you lookin at?’ We are the only people that if you look at a person too long it’s a problem. I ain’t never seen two business White men on the train like, ‘What you lookin at? You got a problem with me, man?’ or two Chinese men arguing over a look. A mo’ f----r might like your shirt, or your haircut – God gave us eyes to look. If you look at a baby, babies stare at everything because they are internalizing everything they see. If you are a person about growing and developing, you are analytical, you look at shit. With us its like, ‘What the f—-k this nigga looking at, son?’ You know how many niggas I know who got into an altercation or shoot out because, a nigga was looking at them, son? ’Nigga was grilling me, son.’ And I’m like, grilling you? Did he say anything, did he touch you? And the answer is, ‘No, but niggers can’t be lookin at me like that!’ But let a cop come come stare at this same person. A cop can stare at you, tell you to lay down on the floor, kick you in the back and you’ve got no beef with that.

Cedric Muhammad: Exactly. Now, do you listen to Star and Buc Wild at all?

Saigon: Uh, naw.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, about two weeks ago, Star had a show topic called, "Will The Negro Do For Self?" And he called me up and invited me to participate in a dialogue with him, during commercial breaks and through e-mail, and so we were building with one another and going back and forth over a lot of different research material and factors that pertained to that question. He had a very thoughtful discussion that day on his show. But that question - setting aside the word ‘Negro’ for a moment, because I know people have different meanings and views associated with it – in light of what you have just put forth and how it relates to our unique condition coming up from slavery, when do you think, if at all, we will do for self?

Saigon: Man, I am hoping, it is like wishful thinking. Because the number one reality is that I honestly think - and this is why I love my name, ‘Saigon’, because its a war torn city. Sometimes I feel like I am at war with my conscience, because I feel like I am fighting a battle that I can’t win. It is like a battle that no matter what you do, you are just not going to win. And I know that I am going to fight until I die, a war that I know I can’t win because my Brothers are so f---ed up in the head. Like, I am willing to sit here and risk my life and nothing is ever going to change. Because, number one, I don’t think that they will actually let us come up to a point where they will actually let us compete with them. I think they will blow up the world before they let us get to that point. That is why, I am like, at times, ‘I’m about to just go and try and get this money’. But then I’m like ‘Nah.’ My conscience won’t let me. Because once you are conscious of something, it is like touching a hot stove when you know it will burn you. Before you know it is hot you put your hand on it. After you learn, you won’t put your hand on it. So it is like, do I see us coming up out of this and things getting better? I won’t see it. My children won’t see it. Their children probably won’t see it but hopefully, Lord Willing, it probably could happen, but realistically speaking, Ced, I doubt it man.

Number one, we have been indoctrinated by a people. As Black Americans, we weren’t only trained, we went through acculturation. We had everything stripped of us, our culture, who we were. It would take some serious reprogramming for us to get on the right path because we hate each other. Black people, I can honestly say, hate each other man. There is so little bit of love amongst our own people. Look how we treat our women. We don’t even take care of our kids, man. Us, as men we have dropped the ball so much. Our parents dropped the ball. But you have got to think of who they really are. Our parents went through the Civil Rights Movement, there parents went through sharecropping, and there parents were slaves. We are just learning what our parents taught us.

I’m 27, when my generation, doesn’t know nothing and we got our kids growing up being raised by MTV, and these channels that make you feel like its cool for two women to be married and two men to be together, and that is not weird to them, and its cool for us to be killing one another in all of these violent movies, and video games – things are getting worse. We grew up with thirteen channels. I remember when cable first came out. These kids now have 400 hundred channels on TV. So they are way more out of tune with their culture than we were. We knew a little bit about being Black when we were growing up. We had the James Brown song, ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud.’ We had those (type of songs). We have seen people wear natural Afros. Yo, do you know how hard it is to find a girl without a perm nowadays?

Cedric Muhammad: Tell me about it. Tell me about it…

Saigon: Or without a weave? I am like what is all this weave shit? Come on, B. Like, where did all of this come from? Why do all of you all feel like you need long straight Black hair like the White woman?

Cedric Muhammad: Yo, you know what’s crazy, we just saw that one of the new websites linking to BlackElectorate.com is NaturalHairDigest.com. I couldn’t even believe it was out there. But you are right.

Saigon: That’s crazy to me. That shows you how we have an identity crisis. We don’t even know how to identify who we are. We don’t know who we are, man. And there are so few people who are like me and yourself who are aware of certain things and then when we try and come and teach these young kids, they don’t want to hear none of that. They want to hear, ‘DipSet, DipSet!, Bang on the left, Bang on the right.’ That’s why a lot of people say to me, ‘you contradict yourself in the music, one minute you are positive and the next minute it is negative.’ But, if I didn’t do that nobody would pay attention to me at all. And I seen Dead Prez make that mistake and I told them, ‘You have to come to the people as they are.’ Like the Father did. The Father taught the kids mathematics by shooting dice with them. He didn’t come as, ‘I’m smart and you’re dumb.’ But when you just preach, that’s what it makes it seem like. And nobody wants to be preached to like that. You have to come to the people as they are.

Cedric Muhammad: He spoke their language…

Saigon: Exactly, you have to speak their language. Jesus hung out with thieves, murderers, robbers and prostitutes. He didn’t come like, ‘I’m holy. I’m Jesus Christ, I’m a Prophet and you’re a beast, so we can’t deal.’ He came to the people like, ‘Yo, son, let me put you on to something, man.’ And that is why I make those kind of records, but even when I make those records I do it in such a subliminal way, if you listen there is still a message in it. There is still a message in it. That is the way I get people to pay attention to me. Because if you can’t get a person’s ear, then all your shit is in vain.

Cedric Muhammad: Now tell me as much as you would like about the Abandoned Nation Foundation. You have got the floor.

Saigon: Yeah, the Abandoned Nation Foundation is something I started while I was in prison. It was just an idea and then it began to flourish because I had a lot of friends who I left back there who have children, and they were sending me letters like, ‘Yo, if you could check my wife out...’ They knew what kind of guy I was. A lot of guys, you aren’t going to send no guy to go meet with your wife and you are in prison for ten years. And you are a big muscular handsome guy whose just getting out and you know how women take the guys who just got out, they want to sleep with them. But these guys trusted me enough to go to their house and check up on their situation. You know what I mean?

Cedric Muhammad: That’s heavy.

Saigon: Yeah. That alone let me know that these dudes believe in me, man.

Cedric Muhammad: They really see you as a Brother.

Saigon: As a Brother, exactly. And it started out, with me helping out because I was broke. I was like, ‘Here’s ten dollars. Here’s fifteen dollars’ And it was like four different kids I was doing this for. I was like, ‘Damn, man, if we could start some kind of foundation, we could do this instead of four kids, for forty kids. And then four hundred kids, and then four thousand kids.’ That right there would be a great help because it would keep the family structure intact. Because the child is like, ‘Man, I’m getting these things and I know they are not coming from my mother, they are coming from my Father.’ And the same could be true if your Mother is incarcerated – which we don’t talk about enough. But the woman prison population is growing as well. But if my mother is locked up and I am being raised by my grandmother and she is like, ‘Here is these sneakers from your mother.’ You don’t start to resent your mother so much. Because I know one of the most popular jokes growing up in the ghetto when somebody’s mother or father was incarcerated was, ‘that’s why your daddy is a jailbird.’ Subliminally you start to not like your father because you feel like you are being teased off of something that he did. That breaks up the family structure. They grow up not liking their father, not even realizing why he went to jail. Not even looking at the unjust laws. They don’t even look at that. So I am thinking, they don’t make enough money to send money home, so if we can start programs where we can get tangible goods – clothes, books – to give to these kids – it keeps the family structure intact. And that’s what we have to do. We have to live more like the Jews. Not as far as being greedy capitalists, but more in terms of being more structural so that we take care of one another. We spend almost $500 billion annually in this country and we don’t have shit. That don’t make sense. And you know why? We go buy the Nike sneakers, the Addidas, the Mercedes Benz car and we don’t own shit. With all of this money we spend we still don’t own nothing. We gotta look like the dumbest (people). You go to any Black neighborhood and find me a Black business, not a Jamaican restaurant – I mean an African-American business. We might have two soulfood restaurants in the whole Bed Stuy, but you got 40 million Chinese restaurants. And you got 30 Arab Kennedy Fried Chicken joints. Then you got all of these Spanish nail shops. This is a Black neighborhood – where all all of the Black businesses at?

Cedric Muhammad: It looks like the United Nations.

Saigon: Exactly.

Cedric Muhammad: Everybody’s got their flag up but us.

Saigon: But us. In our neighborhood. In our hood, taking our money. You go to a Jewish neighborhood, they are not going to no Chinese restaurants. What, are you kidding me? They are eating Maza Balls, B. All day. They are not going to spend any money at the Kennedy Fried Chicken. You might have one rebellious Jew who does that, you know what I mean (laughter)? And he feels like he is rebelling against what he is supposed to be doing. He’s like‘F-—k that I’m going to be down with the Blacks.’ And that one will go and step outside of their circle. But they understand the importance of economy. We actually create the economy. The only way we can go and hurt these mo---- f-----rs? We can’t go and pick up guns. The only way we can finally make them show their true colors and come to the table and reason with us and fix our communities (is through economics)...that’s my whole beef. Fix up the community man. That’s it. When I go to the ghetto and I see some of the living conditions, people shouldn’t live like that in America where there is all of this money here. Fix up people’s living conditions man. Start telling us the truth. Start letting us learn on our own. That is my big qualm. It ain’t like I want to kill the White Man. Nah, I’m not a racist, I’m not like that, but fair is fair. Be fair all the way around the board. Don’t tell us, everybody is free and everybody is equal, meanwhile you are making us live in these slums, and you got us living in some harsh f---ed up living conditions, while you live good. That don’t make sense. We aren’t the same or equal – equal how? This ain’t equal to me. And we have got to start economizing to start trying to save our money, start some Black businesses and recycle some of this money in our neighborhoods so we can start having our own.

posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 5 comments
Friday, July 29, 2005,4:49 PM
The mystery of ibogaine: can an African psychedelic cure addiction?
Wild claims have been made about ibogaine, an hallucinogenic substance derived from a shrub, Tabernanthe iboga, found in the Congo and Gabon. In West Africa, where it's reputed to permit ritual communication with dead ancestors, it has been called the strongest single force against the spread of Christianity and Islam. Most sweeping of all is the claim that one or two doses of ibogaine can break a person's addiction to heroin, morphine, cocaine, and amphetamine, as well as other addictive substances.

Howard Lotsof, president of the Staten Island-based NDA International, is responsible for this pronouncement as well as for bringing the substance to the attention of Western medicine. Lotsof, a former heroin addict, took ibogaine in 1962, looking for a new way to get high. After his 36-hour trip, he no longer craved heroin. Nor did he experience any withdrawal symptoms. He then shared the drug with six other addicts, five of whom lost their desire for heroin.

Lotsof secured patents on the use of ibogaine for treating drug and alcohol addiction. Although about 40 addicts have been treated in the Netherlands since 1990, ibogaine has not been approved for use in this country. Nevertheless, Lotsof managed to persuade several researchers to investigate its potential.

Among those is Stanley Glick, chairman of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Department at Albany Medical College, whom Lotsof met in 1988. "I thought he was a crackpot," Glick admits, "but decided it was worth a few rats to look into his claims." Glick found that after an ibogaine injection, rats with free access to morphine reduced their narcotic intake. In other studies, ibogaine alleviated withdrawal symptoms of rats hooked on morphine. Glick saw that pretreatment with ibogaine curbed the rise in dopamine concentrations seen in rats given the opiate.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to play a central role in addiction. Many abused substances trigger dopamine's release at various sites in the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, the so-called "reward center." It is here, scientists think, where dopamine elicits the euphoric feeling that drives people and animals to excess. Enhanced levels of dopamine were not seen, however, in the nucleus accumbens of lab rats given an ibogaine cocktail before their morphine fix. Mysteriously, ibogaine's effects seems to vary from rat to rat, sometimes lasting a few days, sometimes weeks. The duration of effects, too, was surprising. Ibogaine may change to a form that stays in the system longer, Glick speculated, although no metabolite has been discovered.

Possibly, ibogaine produces long-term neural changes that are observable with a PET scan or other measurement. "It may be modifying neurons, changing the way a transmitter is stored, released, or taken back into cells," says Henry Sershon, a neuro-scientist at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research at Orangeburg, New York.

Patricia Broderick of CUNY Medical School has pioneered a technique called in-vivo electro-chemistry, relying on implanted miniature sensors that can measure the release of key chemicals in rodent brains. Broderick found that ibogaine blunts effects of cocaine by suppressing dopamine release. Another transmitter is involved; Ibogaine initiates the release of serotonin, which in the presence of cocaine appears to inhibit dopamine cells. This drug, she says, "may help us fathom interactions between the two neurotransmitter systems."

Armed with research papers, Lotsof convinced the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to start an ibogaine research effort in 1991. The agency will decide this year about human testing. Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Miami have applied to the FDA for permission to begin clinical trials. "Ibogaine's toxicity has never been tested," cautions Frank Vocci of NIDA. The drug's psychedelic properties, too, are a concern. Glick and a chemist are attempting to synthesize an analog that doesn't produce hallucinations. The big question, Glick says, is "whether you can separate side effects from potential therapeutic benefits."

It may take years to figure out ibogaine's basic chemistry. If and when the drug is approved, Vocci adds, we'll have just a vague understanding of how it works. Nor can addiction be wiped out with a single capsule. Other factors affect drug abuse. Even Lotsof admits his earliest claims went too far. The problem, he says, is "most people who use drugs don't want to stop."

COPYRIGHT 1993 Omni Publications International Ltd
posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 1 comments
,3:40 PM
Struggling to Keep the Band and Legend of Sun Ra Alive
PHILADELPHIA - In the Germantown neighborhood, an 81-year-old bandleader and alto saxophonist is struggling to maintain a crumbling town house and a legendary big band.

The bandleader, Marshall Allen, lives in a three-story row house on Morton Avenue that since 1968 has been the headquarters of the Sun Ra Arkestra, the avant-garde big band that the keyboardist and free-jazz pioneer Sun Ra formed a half-century ago. Sun Ra died in 1993 at 79, and now Mr. Allen leads the group.

One recent evening at the Sun Ra house, an elderly man with a guitar case was dozing on the porch. Mr. Allen opened the door and shooed him away.

"We still get cats coming by here like it's the old days," said Mr. Allen, who had been spackling the bathroom ceiling. "I can't run the place like that no more. It was different when Sun Ra was alive. He could take in all these nutty musicians and bring out the good in them, but I ain't that talented."

In those old days, the band lived communally in the house, where Sun Ra wrote songs and arrangements and rehearsed and recorded the band, often around the clock.

Now it is quieter and emptier, home only to Mr. Allen and three other band members. The Arkestra is still together; some members have been with it since the 1950's and 60's. After some lean times when it was in danger of folding, the band has rebounded in recent years. It played some 30 dates last year, including gigs in Europe, Brazil, a Buddhist temple in Tuva and the Manhattan nightclub Iridium.

Mr. Allen toured for two weeks with the bassist Henry Grimes this year, and is about to return to Tuva with a small group and to perform with the Arkestra in Austria and France in early July. But he complains that the concerts do not pay enough to keep the entire band together like an extended family, the way Sun Ra did. Mr. Allen often has trouble scraping together a full ensemble (anywhere from 13 to 19 pieces) even for weekly rehearsals and must call upon Arkestra alumni to fill spots.

"We have a nucleus that still rehearses and lives together here," he said, standing in the ground-floor rehearsal room where Sun Ra held marathon rehearsals. "We play several days a week. Not every day like when Sun Ra was alive, but whoever's here, we rehearse."

Sun Ra required the band members in the house to follow a disciplined regimen based on his musical and philosophical concepts, which Mr. Allen and the others still follow. Mr. Allen writes daily for the Arkestra, composing new music and rearranging Sun Ra's.

"I'm juggling too many things just keeping the place together," said Mr. Allen, who took over as band director after the 1995 death of the tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, another longtime member of the Arkestra.

The old house is a museum dedicated to Sun Ra, filled with his music, possessions and other memorabilia, and Mr. Allen often books engagements just to maintain it and pay the taxes and bills. In all, the Arkestra has released more than 100 self-produced records, Mr. Allen said, as well as several albums on established labels. But the meager royalties go to Sun Ra's family and former business partners, not the current band.

"We get no royalties," he said. "I got no money. I'm sitting on zero. If we had more bookings, the band would be stronger. Then we could rehearse steady and play numbers we ain't never played. You got to have money to run a band. Bills have to be paid. I can't even pay a musician's carfare to get down here."

The band still plays music that alternates between straight-ahead swing arrangements and squealing solos. The concerts still feature free-form dancers, light shows and musicians in outlandish costumes marching through the audience while chanting and singing. Band members often use megaphones to sing songs with the cosmic themes that were the trademark of Sun Ra, who claimed to be from Saturn and described his concepts with outer-space imagery.

He spoke of making music sublime enough to elevate humanity beyond Earth, to transcend reality. He spoke of a world in which people traveled in cars and rocket ships powered by music alone.

The Arkestra never was as popular as jazz's best-known big bands, but it did have a steady following and was highly regarded in jazz circles. It appeared on "Saturday Night Live" in 1978, played a Central Park concert with Sonic Youth in 1992, and was named best big band in Down Beat magazine's critics poll five times between 1985 and 1992.

In 1968, Sun Ra moved the band from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to a house in Philadelphia that Mr. Allen's family owned but gave to him for the band's headquarters. It still belongs to the Sun Ra estate.

Mr. Allen was interviewed in a third-floor room where several of Sun Ra's old electronic keyboards leaned sideways in a jumble in the corner. In another corner was a tall wardrobe cabinet containing hundreds of Sun Ra's original music scores, much of them never recorded.

"I got 40 years worth of his music here, him writing songs every day," said Mr. Allen, who was watching a sports show on television and was intermittently using an electronic keyboard to work on his own compositions, which are decidedly Sun Ra-influenced. "I was there when he wrote most of his stuff. I seen him write everything since 1958."

That was the year Mr. Allen joined the Arkestra. He grew up admiring the styles of swing-era saxophonists like Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Willie Smith and Earle Warren but eventually developed an avant-garde style, mastering overblowing techniques, false fingerings, note manipulations and extreme registers. He frequently solos on alternate instruments, including a gadget called an E.V.I., or electronic valve instrument.

The room was adorned with Egyptian and African art, psychedelic paintings and tributes to Sun Ra. His walking stick was mounted on the wall. The room was cluttered with kitchen items, instruments and tools for fixing them. The books on the shelves were mostly on mystical subjects, outer space and ancient Egypt. Outside in the hallway hung a sign containing an Arkestra credo, "Play what you don't know" - the reverse of a popular musical axiom.

There were dried roses from the funerals of both Sun Ra and John Gilmore.

"I'm just doing what I can to keep the music going," Mr. Allen said. "I'm not Sun Ra. It's still his band, but I'm carrying it on."

Then one of his housemates, the tenor saxophonist YahYa Abdul Majid, came into the room and said to Mr. Allen: "Let me borrow $5. I'll pay you tomorrow."

Mr. Allen laughed and reached into his pocket. "Oh man," he said, "you know it's the poorhouse up here."
posted by R J Noriega
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,3:10 PM
Shadow boxing activism in NYC

Norman Siegel recently appeared on Air America’s “Sharptalk.” Siegel is an attorney and associated with civil liberties. So far, political success has eluded him. His reminds me of the political candidacies of C. Vernon Mason and Colin Moore.

If this city had a different political culture and I had been able to get to my grits, I would have put my hat into the ring, this year, for city council president and public advocate. This seems to be the best position from which to put the police department in check and under civilian control. Somebody, who is non-commercial, has to do it.

Money, and not a prior history of legal activism, elects political candidates. Judges are like airport screeners. Anyone who is armed and dangerous, mentally, has no shot at ballot access. The political gods draft the ballot. Black voters are like diners. They simply pay for dishes on the menu

The guiding, political principle in New York is choosing the lesser of the evils. To be sure, evil is guaranteed a spot on the ballot. Politics is often referred to as a necessary evil. Siegel will enjoy ballot access. He simply has to convince the voters that he is the lesser of the evils for public advocate. His character references include Rev. Al Sharpton and Capt. Eric Adams.

Soon after I was suspended from the practice of law fifteen years ago, our revered ancestor, Roy Canton, in addition to Zaire Africa and Ron Lewis, sought Siegel out for legal advice. Siegel informed them that I was beyond a legal parachute. They were surprised. I had already told them that I was persona non grata.

My crime was laying a glove on Jim Crow. In New York City, you must master the art of shadow boxing. Like in basketball, touching can give rise to a personal foul. A Black lawyer is usually given only one personal foul. I was a persistent, felony offender.

An uncompromising activist must bear a heavy cross. I was prosecuted for Michael Stewart, sued and disciplined for the special prosecutor in Howard Beach; indefinitely suspended from the practice of law immediately after a murder conviction in the racial killing of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst; and permanently suspended for fingering Steven Pagones in the kidnapping and rape of Tawana Brawley.

The finest hour for shadow boxing was the Amadou Diallo protests at police headquarters. Sparring was out of the question. After the white police assassins were acquitted, Black leaders called for racial harmony. The assassins were never disciplined and Blacks are now financing their upkeep.

When the African Burial Ground issue was unfolding, I was perched in the stands. The umpires declared that real estate developers had won and the players quickly left the field. I petitioned Cong. Gus Savage, who chaired the appropriate subcommittee of the Public Works Committee. He hit the field and performed a political miracle.

Cong. Savage was able to snatch the African Burial Ground from the jaws of defeat. His punishment, as an assailant of Jim Crow, was being gerrymandered out of office in Illinois. All of the passive members of the Congressional Black Caucus were able to be re-elected in 1992.

Cong. Savage asked me to accompany him to Gracie Mansion to seal the deal. The City Fathers advised him that my kind was not welcomed. Thankfully, Cong. Savage would not take no for an answer. It is rare for a politician to be principled.
New York has a FIRE economy. Under Dutch law, enslaved Africans were able to purchase the African Burial Ground. They owned the City Hall area. English law of conquest and slavery had no deference for the ancestral burial grounds of a historically oppressed people, however. Under English law, our ancestors were subsequently treated worse than the Indians regarding land.

If there were a real candidate for public advocate, the campaigning would have already started with the drafting of the ballot and putting a ballot initiative on it. This is true democracy. It is only in plantation politics that Blacks must wait for whites to tell them what to vote for. Whites draft the ballot.

To put the police department in check, the initiative should start with expanding the City Council to at least one hundred council districts and decentralizing the police department. A city council district would control a local police department. This would put the police department under civilian control and undermine cultural biases.

These ideas are not novel and they are imbedded in New York City history. A “Day and Night Police” was established in 1845. Aldermen selected the policemen. Police districts and ward districts shared the same boundaries. An Alderman also shared some of the powers of a magistrate.

New York City and Georgia have similar populations. Georgia has a bicameral legislature consisting of 236 legislators. New York City, on the other hand, is governed by only fifty-one legislators. In 1901, for example, the city’s Board of Aldermen consisted of seventy-three men.

The membership of the City Council should be doubled, at the very least, to undercut white minority rule and to ensure that the various ethnic groups have a voice in controlling the police and in fashioning municipal policy. This will allow for greater political representation from Africa and throughout the Diaspora.
Currently, a police czar with despotic powers is authorized to control the police department. A police referendum can still be put on the ballot for 2005. We must get as busy as beavers to draft a referendum and collect signatures.

So far, the political agenda of Blacks has been limited to voter registration and voter turnout. This is like slave drivers emptying the slave quarters every morning before sunrise. The limited political capacities of our leaders limit our political agenda.
When Malcolm X said “the ballot or the bullet,” he was not simply referring to voter registration and voter turnout. He meant Blacks must author the ballot. The question in 2005 is whether Black voters will exercise all of the powers enumerated in the city charter or continue practicing plantation politics? Judgment Day is November 1.

Black leaders are in dire need of political skills. Mexican President Vicente Fox recently sucker punched two Black leaders. They knocked on the wrong door and demanded the wrong remedy. Sambo is receiving rave reviews in Japan.
On another front, the Supreme Court is on the verge of reinstating Jim Crow in toto. The Group of Eight nations is tightening the economic noose around Africa’s neck. In the meantime, Blacks are being urged to bury their heads in the sand until October.

Who derailed the movement for justice in New York and how can it be put back on track? This answer, in addition to the 2005 Howard Beach cover-up, a police referendum for New York City and the Tawana Brawley case will be discussed on July 20, 2005, at 7 p.m. at the Elks Plaza, 1068 Fulton Street in Brooklyn (bet. Classon and Franklin). Take the C train to Franklin. For further information call 718-834-9034.
posted by R J Noriega
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005,10:19 AM
know thy roots
The Negro Digs Up His Past

by Arthur 'Afroborinqueño' Schomburg

The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future. Though it is orthodox to think of America as the one country where it is unnecessary to have a past, what is a luxury for the nation as a whole becomes a prime social necessity for the Negro. For him, a group tradition must supply compensation for persecution, and pride of race the antidote for prejudice. History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generations must repair and offset. So among the rising democratic millions we find the Negro thinking more collectively, more retrospectively than the rest, and apt out of the very pressure of the present to become the most enthusiastic antiquarian of them all.

Vindicating evidences of individual achievement have as a matter of fact been gathered and treasured for over a century: Abbé Gregoire's liberal-minded book on Negro notables in 1808 was the pioneer effort; it has been followed at intervals by less-known and often less discriminating compendiums of exceptional men and women of African stock, But this sort of thing was on the whole pathetically over corrective, ridiculously over-laudatory; it was apologetics turned into biography. A true historical sense develops slowly and with difficulty under such circumstances. But today, even if for the ultimate purpose of group justification, history has become less a matter of argument and more a matter of record. There is the definite desire and determination to have a history, well documented, widely known at least within race circles, and administered as a stimulating and inspiring tradition for the coming generations.

Gradually as the study of the Negro's past has come out of the vagaries of rhetoric and propaganda and become systematic and scientific, three outstanding conclusions have been established:

First, that the Negro has been throughout the centuries of controversy an active collaborator, and often a pioneer, in the struggle for his own freedom and advancement. This is true to a degree which makes it the more surprising that it has not been recognized earlier.

Second, that by virtue of their being regarded as something "exceptional," even by friends and well-wishers, Negroes of attainment and genius have been unfairly disassociated from the group, and group credit lost accordingly.

Third, that the remote racial origins of the Negro, far from being what the race and the world have been given to understand, offer a record of creditable group achievement when scientifically viewed, and more important still, that they are of vital general interest because of their bearing upon the beginnings and early development of culture.

With such crucial truths to document and establish, an ounce of fact is worth a pound of controversy. So the Negro historian today digs under the spot where his predecessor stood and argued. Not long ago, the Public Library of Harlem housed a special exhibition of books, pamphlets, prints and old engravings, that simply said, to skeptic and believer alike, to scholar and school-child, to proud black and astonished white, "Here is the evidence." Assembled from the rapidly growing collections of the leading Negro book collectors and research societies, there were in these cases, materials not only for the first true writing of Negro history, but for the rewriting of many important paragraphs of our common American history. Slow though it be, historical truth is no exception to the proverb.

Here among the rarities of early Negro Americana was Jupiter Hammon's Address to the Negroes of the State of New York, edition of 1787, with the first American Negro poet's famous "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves." Here was Phillis Wheatley's Mss. poem of 1767 addressed to the students of Harvard, her spirited encomiums upon George Washington and the Revolutionary Cause, and John Marrant's St. John's Day eulogy to the 'Brothers of African Lodge No. 459' delivered at Boston in 1784. Here too were Lemuel Haynes' Vermont commentaries on the American Revolution and his learned sermons to his white congregation in Rutland, Vermont, and the sermons of the year 1808 by the Rev. Absalom Jones of St. Thomas Church, Philadelphia, and Peter Williams of St. Philip's, New York, pioneer Episcopal rectors who spoke out in daring and influential ways on the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Such things and many others are more than mere items of curiosity: they educate any receptive mind. Reinforcing these were still rarer items of Africana and foreign Negro interest, the volumes of Juan Latino, the best Latinist of Spain in the reign of Philip V, incumbent of the chair of Poetry at the University of Granada, and author of Poems printed Granatae 1573 and a book on the Escurial published 1576; the Latin and Dutch treatises of Jacobus Eliza Capitein, a native of West Coast Africa and graduate of the University of Leyden, Gustavus Vassa's celebrated autobiography that supplied so much of the evidence in 1796 for Granville Sharpe's attack on slavery in the British colonies, Julien Raymond's Paris expose of the disabilities of the free people of color in the then (1791) French colony of Hayti, and Baron de Vastey's Cry of the Fatherland, the famous polemic by the secretary of Christophe that precipitated the Haytian struggle for independence. The cumulative effect of such evidences of scholarship and moral prowess is too weighty to be missed as exceptional.

But weightier surely than evidence of individual talent and scholarship could ever be, is the evidence of important collaboration and significant pioneer initiative in social service and reform, in the efforts toward race emancipation, colonization and race betterment. From neglected and rust-spotted pages comes testimony to the black men and women who stood shoulder to shoulder in courage and zeal, and often on a parity of intelligence and public talent, with their notable white benefactors. There was the already cited work of Vassa that aided so materially the efforts of Granville Sharpe, the record of Paul Cuffee, the Negro colonization pioneer, associated so importantly with the establishment of Sierra Leone as a British colony for the occupancy of free people of color in West Africa; the dramatic and history-making expose of John Baptist Phillips, African graduate of Edinburgh, who compelled through Lord Bathhurst in 1824 the enforcement of the articles of capitulation guaranteeing freedom to the blacks of Trinidad. There is the record of the pioneer colonization project of Rev. Daniel Coker in conducting a voyage of ninety expatriates to West Africa in 1820, of the missionary efforts of Samuel Crowther in Sierra Leone, first Anglican bishop of his diocese, and that of the work of John Russwurm, a leader in the work and foundation of the American Colonization Society.

When we consider the facts, certain chapters of American history will have to be reopened. Just as black men were influential factors in the campaign against the slave trade, so they were among the earliest instigators of the abolition movement. Indeed there was a dangerous calm between the agitation for the suppression of the slave trade and the beginning of the campaign for emancipation. During that interval colored men were very influential in arousing the attention of public men who in turn aroused the conscience of the country. Continuously between 1808 and 1845, men like Prince Saunders, Peter Williams, Absalom Jones, Nathaniel Paul, and Bishops Varick and Richard Allen, the founders of the two wings of African Methodism, spoke out with force and initiative, and men like Denmark Vesey (1822), David Walker (1828) and Nat Turner (1831) advocated and organized schemes for direct action. This culminated in the generally ignored but important conventions of Free People of Color in New York, Philadelphia and other centers, whose platforms and efforts are to the Negro of as great significance as the nationally cherished memories of Faneuil and Independence Halls. Then with Abolition comes the better documented and more recognized collaboration of Samuel R. Ward, William Wells Brown, Henry Highland Garnett, Martin Delaney, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass with their great colleagues, Tappan, Phillips, Sumner, Mott, Stowe and Garrison.

But even this latter group who came within the limelight of national and international notice, and thus into open comparison with the best minds of their generation, the public too often regards as a group of inspired illiterates, eloquent echoes of their Abolitionist sponsors. For a true estimate of their ability and scholarship, however, one must go with the antiquarian to the files of the Anglo-African Magazine, where page bv page comparisons may be made. Their writings show Douglass, McCune Smith, Wells Brown, Delaney, Wilmot Blyden and Alexander Crummell to have been as scholarly and versatile as any of the noted publicists with whom they were associated. All of them labored internationally in the cause of their fellows; to Scotland, England, France, Germany and Africa, they carried their brilliant offensive of debate and propaganda, and with this came instance upon instance of signal foreign recognition, from academic, scientific, public and official sources. Delaney's Principia of Ethnology won public reception from learned societies, Penington's discourses an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg, Wells Brown's three years mission the entree of the salons of London and Paris, and Douglass' tours receptions second only to Henry Ward Beecher's.

After this great era of public interest and discussion, it was Alexander Crummell, who, with the reaction already setting in, first organized Negro brains defensively through the founding of the American Negro Academy in 1874 at Washington. A New York boy whose zeal for education had suffered a rude shock when refused admission to the Episcopal Seminary by Bishop Onderdonk, he had been befriended by John Jay and sent to Cambridge University, England, for his education and ordination. On his return, he was beset with the idea of promoting race scholarship, and the Academy was the final result. It has continued ever since to be one of the bulwarks of our intellectual life, though unfortunately its members have had to spend too much of their energy and effort answering detractors and disproving popular fallacies. Only gradually have the men of this group been able to work toward pure scholarship. Taking a slightly different start, The Negro Society for Historical Research was later organized in New York, and has succeeded in stimulating the collection from all parts of the world of books and documents dealing with the Negro. It has also brought together for the first time cooperatively in a single society African, West Indian and Afro-American scholars. Direct offshoots of this same effort are the extensive private collections of Henry P. Slaughter of Washington, the Rev. Charles D. Martin of Harlem, of Arthur Schomburg of Brooklyn, and of the late John E. Bruce, who was the enthusiastic and far-seeing pioneer of this movement. Finally and more recently. the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History has extended these efforts into a scientific research project of great achievement and promise. Under the direction of Dr. Carter G. Woodson it has continuously maintained for nine years the publication of the learned quarterly, The Journal of Negro History, and with the assistance and recognition of two large educational foundations has maintained research and published valuable monographs in Negro history. Almost keeping pace with the work of scholarship has been the effort to popularize the results, and to place before Negro youth in the schools the true story of race vicissitude, struggle and accomplishment. So that quite largely now the ambition of Negro youth can be nourished on its own milk.

Such work is a far cry from the puerile controversy and petty braggadocio with which the effort for race history first started. But a general as well as a racial lesson has been learned. We seem lately to have come at last to realize what the truly scientific attitude requires, and to see that the race issue has been a plague on both our historical houses, and that history cannot be properly written with either bias or counter-bias. The blatant Caucasian racialist with his theories and assumptions of race superiority and dominance has in turn bred his Ethiopian counterpart-the rash and rabid amateur who has glibly tried to prove half of the world's geniuses to have been Negroes and to trace the pedigree of nineteenth century Americans from the Queen of Sheba. But fortunately today there is on both sides of a really common cause less of the sand of controversy and more of the dust of digging.

Of course, a racial motive remains-legitimately compatible with scientific method and aim. The work our race students now regard as important, they undertake very naturally to overcome in part certain handicaps of disparagement and omission too well-known to particularize. But they do so not merely that we may not wrongfully be deprived of the spiritual nourishment of our cultural past, but also that the full story of human collaboration and interdependence may be told and realized. Especially is this likely to be the effect of the latest and most fascinating of all of the attempts to open up the closed Negro past, namely the important study of African cultural origins and sources. The bigotry of civilization which is the taproot of intellectual prejudice begins far back and must be corrected at its source. Fundamentally it has come about from that depreciation of Africa which has sprung up from ignorance of her true role and position in human history and the early development of culture. The Negro has been a man without a history because he has been considered a man without a worthy culture. But a new notion of the cultural attainment and potentialities of the African stocks has recently come about, partly through the corrective influence of the more scientific study of African institutions and early cultural history. partly through growing appreciation of the skill and beauty and in many cases the historical priority of the African native crafts, and finally through the signal recognition which first in France and Germany, but now very generally the astonishing art of the African sculptures has received. Into these fascinating new vistas, with limited horizons lifting in all directions, the mind of the Negro has leapt forward faster than the slow clearings of scholarship will yet safely permit. But there is no doubt that here is a field full of the most intriguing and inspiring possibilities. Already the Negro sees himself against a reclaimed background, in a perspective that will give pride and self-respect ample scope, and make history yield for him the same values that the treasured past of any people affords.

the above written liiterature was the affirming ground work scholarly paper which lead up to most of afrocentric ideals that John Henrik Clarke perfected. So for that very reason alone, the words written here to me personally is up there with the 13th Amendment
posted by R J Noriega
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005,4:01 PM
The death of RNB part 3
Rhythm and Bullshit?: The Slow Decline of R&B, Part Three: Media Conglomeration, Label Consolidation, and Payola

by Mark Anthony Neal

On February 8, 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. At the same time Jay Z was preparing for the late-spring release of his debut, Reasonable Doubt, unaware that he and many other hip-hop acts were about to benefit from the atmosphere of deregulation and capital accumulation that the new law typified. Reasonable Doubt was released by Roc-A-Fella Records, an independent label founded by Carter, Karreim Biggs and Damon Dash. By 1998 Roc-A-Fella would enter into a joint equity deal with Def Jam, itself a former indie label, founded in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin and later distributed by Sony and Polygram. When Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam agreed to partner, a 40 percent share of the latter was about to be sold to Polygram for $130 million. Shortly thereafter Polygram was bought by Seagram (yes, the liquor company), creating the Universal Music Group, which would later be acquired by the French company Vivendi. At the very moment that Vivendi/Universal (where Jay Z, 50 Cent, The Game and Eminem currently work) was unveiled, Clear Channel could claim ownership of more than 1,200 radio stations -- 247 of them in the top 250 national radio markets. Clear Channel's emergence as the dominant force in commercial radio was directly related to the bill that Clinton signed into law in 1996. Confusing? Of course it is, but imagine how confusing it was -- and still is -- for your local up-and-coming R&B artist who can't find a major label to sign her or a urban radio station that would play her music even if she did.

Arguably the most noticeable of the wide-ranging effects of the Telecommunications Act has been the Clear Channeling of America's public airwaves. Prior to 1996 companies were constrained from owning more than two radio stations in any market and could own no more than 28 nationally. The logic behind this was simple: As the Broad Artist Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition argued in their joint letter to the FCC and Congress in 2002, "radio is a public asset, not private property.... The quid pro quo for free use of the public bandwidth requires that broadcast stations serve the public interest in their local communities." While many radio stations do some form of public-affairs programming -- usually in the early morning hours on the weekend -- serving the public is broader than that. Part of the responsibility of any radio station is to support music that speaks to local tastes. This is one of the ways that local music scenes have developed and been nurtured in the past, whether it was Rhythm and Blues in the Midwest in the early 1960s (which produced Motown and Curtis Mayfield), the Philly Soul of Thom Bell and Gamble and Huff in the 1970s or hip-hop in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1980s.

In the aftermath of the Telecommunications Reform Act, the massive consolidation in radio has left fewer people making the decisions about what music will be played. The ten largest radio conglomerates in the U.S. control more than two thirds of the national radio audience, with Clear Channel and Viacom (which, incidentally, owns both MTV and BET) controlling more than 40 percent of that. That these conditions impact what music you hear on the radio and the ability of local groups to get on their local radio station goes without saying. In the past, for example, if a particular region had 20 radio stations, 20 different program directors (PDs) would likely decided what would be played. In the current environment playlist decisions are now in the hands of a smaller group of PDs, who often cede some of their decision making power to regional and national program directors. Furthermore, as the Future of Music Coalition noted in their 2002 report "Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians", in any given region, the concentration of ownership among a small number of conglomerates is even more intense. The Clear Channeling of radio has homogenized American radio. This is why urban stations in the major markets all sound the same.

The nationalizing of local radio has made it increasingly difficult for listeners in various locales to hold programmers accountable. One of the best examples of these struggles was the protest of New York City's Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), after the station's morning drive-time team performed a racially insensitive parody about the tsunami that destroyed portions of Indonesia and Africa. Though nationwide protest eventually forced the station's parent company, Emmis, to fire a producer and a host at WQHT and to pledge $1 million in tsunami relief, the fact that the drive-time hosts felt comfortable enough to perform a bit that was so insensitive to its core audience in the first place speaks to the distance between the conglomerates that manage the stations and the communities they are supposed to serve. About the people who ultimately decide what's heard on your local radio station, activist and journalist Davey D recently told Democracy Now, "we've got to know that these are 40 and 50-year-old men and women behind the scenes, calling the shots, deciding that at 7:00 at night, you can hear the Yin Yang Twins talking about 'wait until you see mi d-i-c-k' and that it's not a problem."

Along with radio consolidation has come the emergence of nationally syndicated morning drive-time programming (6:00 to 10:00 A.M. in most markets) geared toward African-American and other so-called urban audiences. Of these syndicated shows, the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS) is best known. With a foothold in more than a hundred urban radio markets, the TJMS is potentially a formidable political force, as it can reach and unify listeners across the country. In its best moment, the TJMS is a digitized version of the chitlin' circuit, the network of clubs, restaurants, hotels, dance halls and the like that were crucial components of black life and culture during the era of Jim Crow segregation. As African-Americans pushed for integrated social and cultural institutions in the 1950s and 1960s, the thinking was that the chitlin' circuit would die off. But in the current era of niche marketing -- which urban radio and R&B exemplify -- the chitlin' circuit survives not to unite to black audiences but to deliver advertisers access to a vibrant black middle class with disposable incomes.

Musically, the TJMS adheres to a standard "smooth R&B and classic Soul" format with no interest in breaking new R&B acts. Instead they have made even harder for local acts to break through. Nationally syndicated shows such as the TJMS or The Doug Banks Morning Show (on ABC Radio Networks), have made local drive-time personalities obsolete, thus denying many audiences the opportunity to have their local culture and music reflected during the drive-time hours, when listenership is at its peak. Despite being jettisoned from New York's WRKS in early 2003, the TJMS cemented its domination of the urban market when Tom Joyner entered into a partnership with Cathy Hughes's Radio One Corporation, the largest black-owned radio conglomerate.

Consolidation was not restricted to radio. In the late 1990s record-label consolidation also played its part in the demise of R&B. As Michael Roberts notes in his essay "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," label consolidation began in the late 1960s when WEA (Warner Brothers, Elecktra, Atlantic) became one of the first super labels (See Rhythm and Business). Motown Records, which the Harvard Report urged the Columbia Record Group not to purchase in 1972, was eventually sold to Polygram in the mid-1980s. The Columbia Records Group itself was purchased by Sony in 1988, at which point much of the popular music produced in the United States was controlled by what was referred to as the "big six". With the merger of Seagram's music holdings with Polygram in 1998 and the recent annexation of Sony music by BMG (Sony BMG Music Entertainment), six has become four. With the recording industry is dominated by four transnational conglomerates, fewer people make development and production decisions and fewer staff the A&R (artist and repertoire) departments responsible for signing new talent.

Because R&B had lost market share to hip-hop in the late 1990s and because new R&B was neglected due to the programming logic of "classic Soul and smooth R&B" formats, R&B became viewed as a retrograde genre. While undiscovered Soul and R&B artists suffered under consolidation, hip-hop has benefited. Forms of hip-hop thought to be regional as little as 10 years ago thrived in the new media landscape. The perception among both the record labels and radio programmers is that this older audience is unwilling to support contemporary R&B music to the extent that younger urban and crossover audiences support hip-hop (the success of "classic Soul and R&B" tours of course suggest otherwise). Even those acts perceived to have commercial potential among traditional R&B audiences -- I'm thinking specifically of the Philly Neo-Soul scene that produced Musiq, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Bilal, Res, Kindred, Jaguar Wright, Amel Larrieux and Floetry -- we're marketed as throwback performers, whose proclivities for so called positivity were construed as an aesthetic value. Regardless of the critical acclaim that Neo-Soul (organic R&B) received, major labels and urban radio never thought it anything but a niche market. Of course, such top-tier stars of R&B as Mary J. Blige, Usher, and Mariah Carey (no longer marketed as a pop act) held their own in the marketplace, often trading creativity for familiarity, rehashing the production styles that first made them popular or acquiescing to the allure of hip-hop-style production in an attempt to remain relevant to younger urban audiences.

One would be hard pressed to think of an R&B artist, established or otherwise, that has received the kind of promotional support that 50 Cent or The Game received for their major label debuts. One recent exception might be Alicia Keys, though a fair amount of her initial success must be chalked up to Clive Davis's bag of tricks -- this is the man who helped established a little known teenage singer from New Jersey, Whitney Houston, as the best selling female vocalist of the last generation. And such artists as Ashanti, Ciara and John Legend weren't necessarily promoted on their own merit but on the merit of their hip-hop benefactors. Lacking strong promotional support, many established R&B acts have little incentive to push the envelope on their recordings. The career trajectories of Gerald Levert and Brian McKnight are instructive. Though these two are easily the most consistent artists in contemporary R&B, their recent recordings rarely break from the formula that helped establish them more than a decade ago (Levert's Do I Speak for the World? might be the exception). Their respective labels value such an approach because when peddling a known commodity McKnight and Levert can regularly move 500,000 units without any real promotional support.

Meanwhile consolidation allowed hip-hop to leverage its growing commercial power. As major labels began to seek out regional hip-hop groups to sign -- much like the imperial powers of the past seeking to annex new lands (and resources) to their empires -- it created the context where these groups could quickly and easily gain a national audience once they were added to the playlists of the urban stations of the major radio conglomerates (and video channels). The damn-near-hegemony of crunk in 2005 is probably the best example of this process. Crunk is not a new phenomenon -- can anybody say MC Shy-D? -- but the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 allowed for the regional Southern sound to be heard in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and other locales far-removed from the "dirty, dirty."

But aspiring R&B artists have been challenged by what the Future Music Coalition calls the "twin bottleneck" effect. Basically, with intense consolidation in both the recording industry and commercial radio, artists are squeezed out of a hearing at both the labels and radio stations. While independent labels remain an option for artists, the reality is that the four major label conglomerates -- the four industry gatekeepers -- are responsible for more than 80 percent of what makes it on commercial radio play lists. As the Future of Music Coalition explains, "Major record labels have large promotional budgets. Because the promotional money is there, radio companies have an incentive to make access to the airwaves more scarce, and thus more expensive" (my emphasis). And of course, among the major-label conglomerates, the competition for the airwaves is fierce, as airplay directly affects sales.

What strategies can a label employ to guarantee that their artists will receive the kind of airplay that they deserve? In the early days of rock and roll, the practice of payola was critical for up-and-coming labels trying to get the attention of DJs, who at the time were primarily responsible for what was played on the radio. For example, there is a subtle scene in the recent film Ray, where Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records passes cash on to a DJ to get him to play Ray Charles's breakthrough crossover hit "I Got a Woman". But paying DJs to play certain records has been illegal since the early 1960s, when Cleveland-based DJ Alan Freed was indicted on charges of bribery.

As program directors replaced DJs as the primary gatekeepers of radio playlists, forms of payola have become more elaborate and covert (See Fredric Dannen's Hit Men). In fact there were two notable forms of payola, that while highly suspect, were legal. One was the practice of using "independent" promoters to interact with radio programmers (thus obscured the possibility that labels are directly paying stations) and the other was that of "paid spins", where songs for a particular label are played as part of an advertisement spot. The latter is perfectly legal, as long as its disclosed that the spot is paid for by said label. The case of independent promoters received much of the attention in investigations of illegal payola, simply because of the huge amount of money exchanged between labels, promoters and radio stations to guarantee that certain records regular airplay. According to Eric Boehlert, in the latest of his on-going articles on commercial radio at Salon.com, the practice of paying independent promoters cost labels as a group as much as $150 million annually. In this environment, virtually everything that appears on a station's playlist has been paid for in one form or another.

Most radio programmers retreated from using independent promoters when Representative Russ Feingold and others in Congress, and most recently New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, began to raise questions about the process. (The same retreat occurred in the mid-1980s when Rudy Guliani, then an U.S. Attorney, and Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, announced payola probes). Though Boehlert can boldly claim that payola, in its most recent incarnation, is "dead", he has also acknowledged that urban radio is the "Wild, Wild, West" of the record industry. Indeed, Cedric Muhammed of Blackelectorate.com, asserts that in the recent past DJs at Radio One, for example, have been "admonished" for playing music that is not on the station's playlist and in some cases "terminated" if a non-playlist song is played five or more times. R&B artists who don't appeal to younger urban/hip-hop audiences are already at a disadvantage at the major labels, and even those aligned with independent labels who do support them, like, say, Hidden Beach, home to Jill Scott, Lina and Kindred the Family Soul, are further disadvantaged because commercial radio is governed by how much one is willing to pay to get tunes on the air. While it's easy to suggest that audiences have the power to demand music that they would like to hear, the reality is that an audience must first know alternatives exist. And mainstream commercial radio remains the place where most listeners become aware of new music.

The current radio and label consolidation, along with the emergence of hip-hop as the dominant cross-over genre and the perceived aging of traditional R&B audiences, has created the situation where the best R&B being recorded is simply not heard by the audience that would be attracted to it. Satellite Radio has been one of the places where new R&B can be heard, but the format's overall audience is still paltry when compared to that of commercial radio. The alleged death of payola suggests that at the moment, at least, there exists the possibility for a more diverse range of music to hit the commercial airwaves, but even Boehlert laments that "tight radio playlists are unlikely to improve anytime soon", in part because programmers "will rely more and more on proven hits singles as well as older, already familiar songs, leaving less airtime for new acts." Ultimately, the current state of contemporary R&B has little to do with the mediocrity of R&B's status quo -- there is great music to be heard -- but unless mainstream labels create conditions in which emerging R&B artists can be nurtured, without the pressure to cross-over to urban youth audiences, and audiences themselves become more vigilant about seeking out and supporting new music, much of R&B's current greatness will fall on deaf ears.

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posted by R J Noriega
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