Disclaimer: The language expressed in this article is an uncensored reflection of the views of the artists as they so chose to speak and express themselves. Censoring their words would do injustice to the freedom of expression and political content this article intends to explore. Therefore, some of the language appearing below may be offensive to personal, cultural, or political sensibilities.
On the 16th track of Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary, Volume 2, Mumia Abu-Jamal theorizes on the inherent contradictions between the lived reality of many Americans and the notion of homeland [in]security. In doing so, he explains how the musical phenomenon of hip hop captures these contradictions by displaying “gritty roots” that are bound up in systemic injustice and deep feelings of fear and hatred. These feelings, according to Mumia, engulf entire generations of children who have been betrayed by systems of capitalism and white supremacy, and their intricately constructed school-to-prison pipeline:
“To think about the origins of hip hop in this culture, and also about homeland security, is to see that there are at the very least two worlds in America. One of the well-to-do and another of the struggling. For if ever there was the absence of homeland security, it is seen in the gritty roots of hip hop. For the music arises from a generation that feels, with some justice, that they have been betrayed by those who came before them. That they are at best tolerated in schools, feared on the streets, and almost inevitably destined for the hell holes of prison. They grew up hungry, hated, and unloved. And this is the psychic fuel that generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry. One senses very little hope above the personal goals of wealth to climb above the pit of poverty. In the broader society, the opposite is true. For here, more than any other place on earth, wealth is more widespread and so bountiful, that what passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. Their very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure. And homeland security is a governmental phrase that is as oxymoronic, as crazy as saying military intelligence, or the U.S Department of Justice. They’re just words that have very little relationship to reality. And do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duct tape and Kleenex and color codes will make you safe?”
In his short commentary, Mumia refers specifically to the Black community in the US – a community that has been ravaged from every angle through America’s relatively short history: two and a half centuries of chattel slavery followed by various forms of legalized systems of servitude and second-class citizenship, including sharecropping , convict leasing , Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. A history consumed with betrayal after betrayal, complex layers of institutional racism carried out under the guise of legality, and a systematic ghettoization supported by both ” white flight” and widespread discriminatory housing and employment practices. Mumia juxtaposes this unique experience to the “broader society,” one that is riddled with insecurities stemming from “opulent and relative” wealth, to expose the irony of “homeland security,” a term that he views as oxymoronic.
Mumia is correct in characterizing the reactionary temperament of both the American middle and upper classes – sects that both determine and maintain dominant culture. Broader society is molded by this temperament, which is buoyed by small pockets of socioeconomic comfort floating in a vast sea of instability that not only plagues the Black community in its never-ending struggle against both white supremacy and capitalism, but also poor and working-class white communities that have been similarly doomed by their forced reliance on wage labor. Despite what he describes as “bountiful wealth,” American society has always been propped up on this hidden base of despair, felt by a majority of the population that exists below the façade. Since the 1980s, this façade has been slowly chiseled away as neoliberalism has successfully funneled wealth to the few at the top while creating a race to the bottom for everyone else, including those once deemed “middle class.”
This race to the bottom has exposed the underbelly of instability through its attack on a fast-eroding, mostly-white middle class that now finds itself desperately seeking reasons for its newfound despair. While those of us at the bottom may welcome the company, in hopes that it will bring the critical mass needed to finally confront and bring down the capitalist system, it also signals trying times ahead. In being consistent with similar erosions of “relative and bountiful wealth” throughout history, the American demise brings with it a fairly high probability of a fascist tide. In fact, this tide has already begun to form, largely through millions of white tears dropping from the Tea Party, its Reaganite forerunners, the “alt-right,” a surge of neo-Nazism and white nationalism, and Donald Trump’s pied piper-like rhetoric that has pooled it all together.
While middle-class America comes crashing down along with the empire, the Black community remains steadfast in its centuries-long defensive posture. Despite facing an acute, structural oppression that is unparalleled in any other modern “industrialized” setting, and in spite of Mumia’s sobering analysis, the Black community has in many ways survived and thrived like no other. This survival in the face of intense hatred has been expressed through many musical forms , from the early roots of rock n roll, Blues, and American Jazz to the hip-hop phenomenon that Mumia speaks of. This collective survival is perfectly captured in Tupac’s poem,The Rose that Grew from Concrete, which tells the story of
…the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned how to walk without havin feet
Funny it seems but by keepin its dreams
It learned to breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
When no one else even cared.
In explaining the meaning of the poem, Pac summed up much of the African-American experience, as well as the reactionary temperament often directed at it from those in more privileged positions:
“You try to plant somethin in the concrete. If it grows, and the rose petal got all kind of scratches and marks, you not gonna say, “Damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete.” You gonna be like, “Damn! A rose grew from the concrete?!” Same thing with me… I grew out of all of this. Instead of sayin, “Damn, he did this, he did this,” just be like, “Damn! He grew out of that? He came out of that?” That’s what they should say… All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me. I’m just tryin to make somethin.”
Pac’s story also describes that of the entire American working class, as a collection of former slaves, indentured servants, peasants, and poor immigrants set up for failure by a capitalist system designed to exploit us all, collectively. The working-class struggle is tightly intertwined with the Black struggle. The Communist Party knew this long ago. The Industrial Workers of the World did as well. The original Black Panther Party also knew this, as did all those coming from the Black Radical Tradition in America: W.E.B. DuBois, the African Blood Brotherhood, Harry Haywood, the Revolutionary Action Movement, Frances M. Beal, Angela Davis, C.L.R. James, the Combahee River Collective, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Congress of African People, and so many others.
As this struggle commences and intensifies during what appear to be the end days of American Empire, underground hip hop provides us with a soundtrack that is laced with historical context, deep analysis, and valuable knowledge – all of which should be applied while moving forward. The “psychic fuel” that Mumia points to in his brief commentary, which “generates the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry” is far from misguided, and extends far beyond cathartic release. While in the mainstream, the Black Radical Tradition continues to be tragically mocked by identity politics , activist-celebrity tweeters pimping corporate brands , black liberation-themed credit cards , high-dollar-plate events, non-profit organizations, and the Democratic Party, its torch remains lit through the lyrics burning on underground hip-hop tracks. And this underground reflects the pulse of the streets, where tens of millions experience daily life in the underbelly of instability – not on Twitter, Facebook, or fundraising dinners at the Marriott.
Structural Oppression Under Capitalism
As resistance movements gain momentum in the days of Trump, an understanding of the disastrous effects of capitalism is necessary. Party politics are, as John Dewey once explained, the “shadow cast on society by big business (capitalism).” Politicians from both parties work within this shadow, delivering rhetoric to the masses before and after taking orders from their donors, sponsors, and corporate overlords. Regardless of who is in the highest office, whether it’s an eloquent black President or a blustering billionaire, “the attenuation does not change the substance.” As a popular Internet meme recently noted, the ‘hood under Trump is the same as the ‘hood under Obama, which was the same as the ‘hood under Bush, which was the same as the ‘hood under Clinton. Sadly, this sentiment could go on for as long as Presidents have occupied the white house. Politicians and presidents come and go, and nothing changes for most of us; because, quite frankly, it is not supposed to. Politics serve capitalism; and capitalism does not serve us.
“It’s like an open-air prison and it remained packed”
Hip hop serves as historiography in this sense, documenting the conditions of neighborhoods throughout the US for the past four decades, examining the histories behind multi-generational poverty, and seeking ways to address the dire situations many find themselves in. Ironically, the rise of hip hop paralleled the rise of the neoliberal era, a period that has been marked by an intensification of the capitalist system. During this time, things for most have at best remained stagnant, and at worst become increasingly disastrous. The hook in Erykah Badu’s The Cell (2008) captures this lived experience in sobering fashion:
We’re not well
We’re not well
We can’t tell
Brenda done died with no name
Nickel bag coke to the brain
Will they ever find the vaccine?
Rich man got the double barrel
Po’ man got his back to the door
Code white stands for trouble
Shots from the po-po (blah blah)
Jean Grae’s Block Party , the 4th track on her 2002 album Attack of the Attacking Things, provides an intimate glimpse into the state of Black communities during this time:
I don’t wanna preach or come off bitter, this is a commentary auditory
Editorial, about the state of things, state of mind and state of being
What the fuck is goin on? How the fuck we gonna make it out?
It’s hectic, from asbestos filled classrooms
To the stench of death that’s still in New York
The air is thick with it, but it reaches further
Like the world murder rate
While illustrating the chronic conditions found in many communities, Grae immediately offers insight into possible solutions rooted in consciousness. Without actually saying it, her lyrics brilliantly dip into a structural analysis that calls for abandoning capitalist culture and realizing the tragic ironies in seeking individual materialistic goals. In doing so, there is an underlying theme to escape values that have been implanted into not only predominantly Black communities, but also working-class communities as a whole:
We need to globalize, further spread on this earth
To appreciate the full value of individual worth
To realize how ridiculous the thought of ownership is
And protectin your turf – that’s bullshit man
That’s how we got colonized
Missionaries create foreign schools and change the native way & thinkin
So in ten years, we can have a foreign Columbine
In some small village in the Amazon, c’mon man
Grae’s second verse masterfully ties together a narrative based in seeking a collective consciousness while avoiding a house-slave mentality that aims to, as she puts it, “chill with rich white folks.” Again, while directed toward members of the Black community, Grae’s commentary is undeniably relative to the working-class struggle in its entirety, especially in terms of how the “rags-to-riches,” so-called “American Dream” is framed strictly within individual pursuits of wealth and hyper-consumerism. Ultimately, as Grae suggests, this mentality must be shed through deeper calls for knowledge, community, and shared struggle:
It’s every man for himself
That’s why the black community is lackin in wealth, there’s no unity
We soon to be chillin with rich white folk
And that means that we made it
Let our kids go hungry before our wardrobe is outdated
…If the system’s corrupt, then change it
Fought for the right to vote, don’t even use it
Forget electoral winnin
The way the world’s goin, we in the ninth inning
Heh, and we still aren’t up to bat
Niggas is happy just to have the rights to sit on the bench
Like floor seats is alright, and that’s as far as we reach
Materialistic values, not morals, that’s what we teach
I see it in the youth, hungry for fame and money
Not for knowledge and pursuit of the truth
Pick up a book or a newspaper
Take a free class in politics or human behavior
Talib Kweli and Rapsody’s Every Ghetto , the 2nd track on Kweli’s 2015 album Indie 500, echoes Grae’s track in addressing the systematic ghettoization of the Black community under the intertwined tandem of capitalism and white supremacy. Crucially, the track challenges the often-mistaken attempt to characterize ghetto life as a monolithic existence, seemingly warning against the fetishization of the black struggle while reflecting Pac’s poem of the concrete rose and highlighting the unique struggle and persistence of the Black working class. Kweli’s bridge builds on Grae’s Block Party narrative, celebrating the communal potential of struggling communities:
I’m good walkin’ in every ghetto around the world
The hood often embrace ya when you profound with words
I say the shit they relate to, I keep it down to Earth
Other rappers sound like they hate you, them niggas sound absurd
So when they walk through the ghetto they get their chain snatched
They gotta talk to the ghetto to get their chain back
It’s like an open-air prison and it remain packed
Nothin’ but straight facts
Kweli’s initial verse jumps directly into a layered analysis, with the first bar alone touching on chronic malnourishment, poor education, smothering crime, gentrification, and a culture of anti-consciousness:
Every ghetto, every city, like Ms. Hill
They way too used to the missed meals
Hard to concentrate, hard to sit still
Murder rate permanent place in the top 10
We live here, these hipsters drop in
You hear them barrels cockin’
They say consciousness mean a nigga ain’t rugged
Until they get beat within an inch of it
Rapsody closes the track with a powerful verse, filled with structural and cultural critiques all tied to capitalism and white supremacy. Her verse is laced with innuendo in a masterful play on words as she illustrates the lived reality of generations of Black Americans who have been systematically targeted by America’s settler-colonial project, pointing to everything from police terror and the destruction of the Black family unit to the false promises of individualized pursuits of wealth.
Indie 5, for the people by the people
Ya-ya, giddy up, who got the juice now?
Snatch it out your kiddies cups
The shit you gave us watered down
This one’s for Basquiat
They be brushin’ with death, uh
Is this The Art Of War for cops?
We double-dutchin’ duckin’ shots
Every home ain’t got a Pops
Every man ain’t sellin’ rocks
A different will to win here
Different from switchin’ cars
They pray that we switch our bars
To a fiend from a metaphor
Lotta love and this life hard
Keep us prayin’ like “oh God”
Illegally thievery think us peelin’ off easily
Frustrated we hate it
That’s why we scream out “nigga we made it”
It’s an odd future they ain’t know we was all some creators
Somethin’ from nothin’ was told Kings walk and man you frontin’
For the people and by the people but them over money
I’m on my Viola Davis here, workin’ for justice
How you get away with murder? Be a cop and just kill us
How we supposed to not catch feelings?
Innocent lives, boy we got kids in these buildings
I’m on my Viola Davis, it’s what you call a defense
For all the drama they gave us I’m spittin’ Shonda Rhimes wit
Too high for you like ganja, that’s what Shonda rhyme with
I holla back in the Hamptons, you still black if you rich
Spread love ain’t just the Brooklyn way, it’s universal
360 and the nine lives, whoa, what a circle
“Keep it movin’ on”
While systemic oppression has plagued many generations of working-class Americans, especially non-white (as noted by Grae, Kweli and Rapsody), the middle class has only begun to feel the pressure of the capitalist system. The American middle class is an anomaly in history. Its formation defied the internal mechanics of capitalism, a system that is designed to favor the privileged few who have access to enough capital to own the means of production. This anomaly was beneficial for America’s capitalist class, in that it allowed for a slick rebranding of capitalism as a system of “freedom” and “liberty.” For decades, the American middle class was held up as the ultimate advertisement for a system that we were told allowed for social mobility through “hard work.” These fables became so strong that an entire century was spent trying to shape a benevolent form of capitalism through government intervention (Keynesianism) and a robust Welfare State. Because of its relative success, mainly due to US imperial endeavors abroad, the capitalist system was not only propped up, but it was even sold to the masses as “the only alternative.” The era of neoliberalism ended all of that. As capitalism’s internal mechanics were unleashed during this period, so too were its natural consequences – capital accumulation for the elites, and mass dispossession for the people.
While mainstream media outlets continue to push a tired narrative, hip hop has shed some light on the real effects of capitalism. Vinnie Paz’s 2010 track Keep Movin’ On provides insight into these effects, and especially how they relate to the American worker. The first verse informs us in two ways. First, Paz illustrates the workers’ role in the capitalist system, which is merely to serve as a tool to be used and exploited until no longer needed. In this role, we are not considered as human beings with families, needs, and inherent rights; we are only valuable as long as we provide owners with an avenue of extracting surplus labor from us for their profit. Second, the verse specifically describes the plight of the American manufacturing worker and the demise of middle-class jobs over the past 40 years due to globalization, corporate offshoring, and free trade agreements – all elements of the proliferation of capitalism in the neoliberal era:
I lost my job at the factory and that’s disastrous
They said it’s due to regulation and higher taxes
They ain’t give me no notice. They knocked me off my axis
I can’t pay the electric bill. It’s total blackness
I suggested some incentives for innovation
But that was met with resistance like it’s a sin of Satan
I’m losing my patience over here. I’m sick of waiting
And I ain’t never expect to be in this situation
And the manufacturing jobs are fading fast (Damn)
Can’t do nothing else. I should’ve stayed in class
I have to wait till summertime to cut the blades of grass
I have this little bit of money. Have to make it last
I have children to feed. I have a loving wife
I had a hard time coming that was nothing nice
I keep asking myself what am I doing wrong
And they just look at me and tell me “Keep it movin’ on”
“Kill my landlord”
Along with massive unemployment and underemployment, the working class is also constantly faced with insecure housing situations. Landlordism is a natural byproduct of a capitalist system which seeks to commodify basic human needs such as food, clothing, housing, and healthcare for profit. Under this system, the few who can afford to own multiple properties are allowed to exploit the many who can barely afford basic shelter for themselves and their families. Because of this, many of us go our entire lives without ever establishing a stable home environment.
As of 2017, this natural housing crisis has reached a point where it’s being labeled an epidemic even by mainstream sources. As rent continues to soar , so do evictions. ” As of 2015 , more than 20 million renters-more than half of all renters in the U.S.-were cost burdened, meaning they spent at least at least 30 percent of their income on rent. That’s up from almost 15 million in 2001. And while rents have risen 66 percent since 2000, household incomes have only risen 35 percent.” In 2015, an estimated 2.7 million Americans faced eviction. Median rent has increased by more than 70% since 1995, while wages have stagnated for almost 30 years, and jobs that pay a living wage have disappeared during this same period. Landlords will go to great lengths to throw families and children out in the streets, sometimes even for falling behind one month on rent. “A landlord can evict tenants through a formal court process,” explains Matthew Desmond , “or they can choose cheaper and quicker ways” to boot the families, such as “paying them a couple of hundred dollars to vacate by the end of the week” or even by removing the front door of the home. In order to protect this for-profit housing system from total collapse, the federal government uses numerous programs to assist people, including public housing, rental assistance, and even massive tax subsidies for homeowners. Despite this, many families are cold-heartedly exploited and discarded by landlords who want nothing more than to profit off this forced, human desperation. After living such an existence, The Coup’s 1993 track Kill My Landlord , which featured the less-known rap duo Elements of Change, is surely to serve as a long-standing anthem for many:
Overlord of the concrete jungle but I’m humble
As I witness my opponent crumble
Like the shack that I live in the house that I rent from him
Roach infested I’m sure that the rats are nesting
The heat doesn’t work he still hasn’t checked it
Disrespected me for the last time
I loaded up the nine stepping double time
Bullseye, Another point scored
Right between the eyes of my landlord
All who have relied on rental property to live can certainly relate to the undignified relationship between landlord and tenant. Like bosses, landlords exploit us as resources. And the capitalist system not only allows them the power to do this on mass scale, it actually supports their rights with force if necessary. Our collective desperation is their individual gain. And our forced dependency on them leaves us with no leverage against their power. The second verse of The Coup’s classic track reflects on this slave-like existence brought on by capitalism and landlordism:
So me I’m chilling at the table with my family
Hypothetically trying hard to keep my mind off the economy
Yeah I know the reason I find it hard to pass the test
Call me a victim cause I’m another brother jobless
Every day it seems like I’m moving closer to the streets
PG&E repo’ed the lights and my fucking heat
The situation’s getting hard for me to handle
Had to trade my Nike’s to the store to buy some candles
Last to first and I’m a-hunted and a ho I know
The man is going to come and throw me in the cold
Tears in my eye as I’m thinking of place to stay
While I’m staring at the freebie cheese up in my plate
I heard a bang bang bang knocking at my door
I looked up it was my motherfucking landlord, let him in quick
Followed by the sheriff deputy trying to come in
Every po on my property, staring me down
Mugging hard up in my family’s face
While they’re sitting at the table trying to say grace
But before I make this one my last meal
Any moves, yeah I’m looking for the damn kill
I said it twice in case he didn’t hear me though
Sucker made a move evidently when he hit the floor
So now I’m in cuffs for the crimes I’ve committed
Maybe I’ll go to jail, heh, or maybe I’ll get acquitted
But the fact still stands I killed my landlord dead
Now I’ve got three meals and a roof over my head
In the third verse, Boots Riley connects the inherent injustices of landlordism to not only capitalism, but also to European conquest and the process of primitive accumulation that allowed settler-colonists to create wealth from the Atlantic Slave Trade and Indigenous holocaust. There is an overt racial component to this process, as descendants of former slaves are still forced to depend on descendants of former slave-owners for basic needs. Recognizing the injustices and illegitimacy of this system, and seeking revolutionary change, is crucial. Boots delivers knowledge:
Cash is made in lump sums as street bums eat crumbs
So I defeat scum as I beat drums
Rum-tiddy-tum like the little drummer boy song
Here comes the landlord at the door, ding dong
Is it wrong that my momma sticks a fat-ass thong
Up his anal cavity cause he causes gravity to my family
Says we gotta pay a fee so we can stay and eat
In a house with light and heat
The bastard could get beat, stole the land from Chief Littlefeet
House is built on deceit, got no rent receipt
So I’m living in the street and I’m down now
Don’t you know to not fuck with the Mau Mau?
Notice of eviction, four knuckle dental affliction
Friction, oh did I mention
You’ll be finger licking as I handicap your diction
And you say you’re not a criminal like Tricky Dick Nixon?
While we’re fixing to impose rent control
We didn’t vote on it, this land wasn’t bought or sold
It was stole by your great granddaddy’s ganking
Osagyefo said they call it primitive accumulation
Plantations, TV stations wealth is very stationary
I learned the game and I became a revolutionary
Scaring the corporate asses cause the masses are a loaded gun
Killing the world banking and international monetary fund
I’m done, we’re done with what you’ve done
For twenty-five score we’ve got a battle cry
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my
Kill my, kill my, kill my, kill my landlord
While representing a main staple of capitalism, landlordism also mimics the dynamics of settler societies in that settlers gain a disproportionate amount of land ownership at the expense of the mass dispossession of native populations. In many ways, modern landlords in the US represent the traditional colonizer, often buying up property in “foreign” communities for the sole purpose of exploiting masses of renters through dispossession and forced reliance. As in the process of gentrification, landlords dispossess thousands of poor and working-class people in their never-ending pursuit for more and more property to commodify. E-Roc finishes the track strong, calling on a figurative Mau Mau rebellion to “kill” the modern version of colonizers.
I need six hundred dollars by the end of the week
My body is cold, dirty socks on my feet
Not a black sheep, but who’s the creep
Trying to put me on the street while I’m trying to sleep?
I wanna kill my landlord, murder in the first degree
If there’s something wrong he wants to blame me
Wants to be a threat so he carries a gun
Well I pack a 9 cause I can’t trust 911
Son of a gun, I’m the one who cuts the grass
Wash the windows and he still wants me to kiss his ass
But I laugh cause America’s not my home
My landlord took me away from where I belong
But it’s a sad song so I face reality now
Pick up the phone and now here comes the Mau Mau
To the rescue, down with The Coup
Yo landlord, I’ve got a little message for you
I’m going cuckoo, fuck a machete or sword
E-Roc is on a mission to kill my landlord
How the Capitalist/Imperialist War Machine Works Against Us
On Track 7 of Immortal Technique’s 2005 Bin Laden remix album, Mumia Abu-Jamal once again spits knowledge, this time providing brilliantly poetic commentary framing capitalism and imperialism as ” a war versus us all “:
“The war against us all
This war in Iraq isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of Wars to come
All around the world at the whim of the Neo-Cons in the White House
This is the Bush Doctrine come to life; War, war and more war!
War brought to you by the big corporate-masters who run the show
This isn’t just a War on Iraqis or Afghanis or Arabs, or even Muslims
It is ultimately a War on us all.
That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War
The cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries
For the 125, 000 plus troops, is money that will never be spent on;
Education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing
Or to train and place the millions of workers
Who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone
The War in Iraq is in reality; a war against the nations’ workers and the poor
Who are getting less and less
While the big Defense industries and making a killing, literally.
What’s next Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela?
We’ve already seen the corporate media
Play megaphone to the White House, to build and promote a War based on lies
War is utilized by the imperialists first and foremost, to crush internal enemies
We’re seeing the truth of its insight
When we see the sad state of American education
The rush of seniors to buy affordable medications from the Canadians
Because American drugs are just too expensive
The threat of privatization of Social Security
And the wave of repression that comes with an increasing Militarized Police;
This is a War on all of us
And the struggle against War is really a struggle for a better life
For the millions of folks who are in need here in this country!
The fight against the War is really to fight for your own interest
Not the false interests of the Defense Industry
Or the corporate media or the White House
Down with the Wars for empire.”
Immortal Technique’s subsequent track, Bin Laden , is a masterful critique of US imperialism and the corollary effects of government control on American citizens. Written during the W. Bush administration and the Iraq War, the track touches on the fear-mongering that led to the Patriot Act, the hypocrisy of American politicians, and the CIA’s dealings in the Middle East during the 1980s, which created and strengthened groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Tech begins by contrasting the lived realities of most American citizens with the artificial realities disseminated from the power structure and its calls for blind patriotic loyalty:
I pledge no allegiance, fuck the President’s speeches!
I’m baptized by America and covered in leeches.
The dirty water that bleaches your soul, and your facial features.
Drowning you in propaganda that they spit through the speakers.
And if you speak about the evil that the government does.
The Patriot Act will track you to the type of your blood.
They try to frame you and say you was trying sell drugs.
And throw a federal indictment on niggas to show you love.
This shit is run by fake Christians, fake politicians.
Look at they mansions, then look at the conditions you live in.
He wraps up the first verse by summarizing US foreign policy during the 1980s, specifically referring to the substantial financial and military aid provided to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during their prolonged war against the Soviet Union. During this time, Osama Bin Laden was a US ally who was a beneficiary of much of this aid, as was Saddam.
All they talk about is terrorism on television.
They tell you to listen.
But they don’t really tell you they mission.
They funded al-Qaeda.
And now they blame the Muslim religion.
Even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician.
They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose.
Fahrenheit 9/11? That’s just scratching the surface!
…And of course Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons.
We sold him that shit after Ronald Reagan’s election.
Mercenary contractors fighting in a new era
Corporate military banking off the war on terror.
The fact that the US government once supported and funded Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein is not the main point in Tech’s lyrical thesis, but rather the context that leads us into deeper analysis on US foreign policy, the military industrial complex, and the rise of Islamophobia and the War on Terror. By showing how loyalties easily sway, Tech is showing us how the purpose of US interventions abroad are not really about “protecting freedom” or “defending us.” Rather, US foreign policy is a chess game played by the capitalist ruling class for the purpose of engineering and maintaining the US Empire , which in essence is serving as the forerunner and protector of the global capitalist system. So-called terrorism and “Muslim extremism” are nothing more than a manufactured fears designed to scare a sizable portion of the American public into supporting these destructive efforts abroad. Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book Clash of Civilizations is often looked to as the main driver in this farce of a cultural/religious global war. In supporting Tech’s message, Noam Chomsky talks about the obvious contradictions of Huntington’s thesis here , as Edward Said further discredits ithere . A simple search of stock reports for major weapons manufacturers over the past decade shows how profitable the “war on terror” has been. Understanding geopolitics is often as easy as following the money.
Part of Tech’s second verse includes a brilliant critique of state nationalism and patriotism, illustrating how and why government and capitalist interests are not the same as the peoples’ interests, despite being advertised as such. While these wars spread and intensify, most of us continue to struggle.
They say the rebels in Iraq still fight for Saddam
But that’s bullshit, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
‘Cause if another country invaded the hood tonight
It’d be warfare through Harlem and Washington Heights
I wouldn’t be fighting for Bush or White America’s dream
I’d be fighting for my people’s survival and self-esteem
I wouldn’t fight for racist churches from the South, my nigga
I’d be fighting to keep the occupation out, my nigga
…. ‘Cause innocent people get murdered in the struggle daily
And poor people never get shit and struggle daily
In a remixed version of this track that includes hip-hop vets Chuck D and KRS-One, Tech tweaks the lyrics to this verse in order to show how the “clash of religions” narrative, as highlighted by Chomsky and Said, is falsely perpetrated:
They say that terrorism revolves around the Qur’an
But that’s stupid, I’ll show you why it’s totally wrong
Cause if this country was invaded and crumbled
I’d turn Harlem into a Columbian jungle
And I wouldn’t be fighting for a Christian nation
I’d be fighting for survival from extermination
I wouldn’t fight for Fox News, them racist niggas
I’d be fighting for the hood, for the faceless niggas
Tech also addresses the hypocrisy of America’s fundamentalist Christian sect, which strongly supports the Republican Party, the clash of civilizations/religion narrative, the Israeli Apartheid state, and military interventions abroad. Christian fundamentalism in the US plays an important role as a conduit to white supremacy and class warfare, as seen in its common stance against the interests of both the Black community and the immigrant community, as well as the poor and working-class communities altogether. This conduit has shown itself in the Republican Party’s four-decade-long Southern Strategyand the rise of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has brought with it overt elements of white supremacy, or as Tech puts it, “devils that run America like ‘Birth of a Nation,’ a popular white-supremacist propaganda film from 1915:
Government front religious, but their heart is empty
Like a televangelist preaching out of his Bentley
Calling abortion murder in a medical building
But don’t give a fuck about bombing Iraqi children
Talking like units in the fucking libretto
Look at their mansions and look at your suburban ghetto
The gulag, the new hood where they send us to live
Cause they don’t give a fuck about none of our kids
That’s why Blacks and Latinos get the worst education
While devils run America like “Birth of a Nation”
Affirmative action ain’t reverse discrimination
That shit is a pathetic excuse for reparations
Fake News, Structural Misinformation, and How the Ruling Class Control Politics
The notion of “fake news” has become a prominent theme in American politics due to Donald Trump’s constant use of the term to explain what he views as his unfair treatment and misinterpretation by some media outlets. Ironically, the term is also being used by liberal opponents of Trump to claim that Russia had influenced the Presidential election in Trump’s favor. The Washington Post even went as far as publishing a report citing “anonymous groups” to list dozens of online news sources that allegedly served as “instruments of Russian propaganda” during the 2016 Presidential race. Despite some backpedaling on the initial article (to include an editor’s note and the removal of some websites from the list), liberal-leaning media outlets like the Washington Post and MSNBC have persisted with this seemingly hysterical and bizarre Russophobic angle to attempt to discredit Trump’s presidency. As if Trump’s personal history, business dealings, fascist rhetoric, narcissism, constant lies, and hyper-capitalist policy platform are not bad enough.
There are some very interesting points to take from this liberal narrative. One is regarding the corporate media itself, which has both perpetuated the allegations of “fake news” and been accused of delivering it. Ironically, Trump is correct in referring to these news sources as fake. But they are not fake for the reasons he claims they are fake – which is only regarding how they portray things related to him. They are fake because they ceased being news agencies decades ago. They are now part of the entertainment industry. They are concerned with ratings and advertising profit, not with delivering information to the public. Information does not sell, sensationalism does. Fox News knows this just as much as MSNBC and CNN know this. To earn profit, you need ratings. To get ratings, you need people to tune into your channel. To get people to tune into your channel, you need drama, controversy, fear, sex, shock, sensationalism; in other words, entertainment.
Another point is regarding corporate news as a de facto fourth branch of government. Often referred to throughout history as the fourth estate, media and press journalism have long been relied on to provide a valuable fourth branch of checks and balances in the US. However, as time has gone on, rather than uncovering conflicts of interest, exposing backroom deals, and delivering investigative journalism, the media in the US has become both complicit and indifferent in and to government corruption. This was never more evident than in the months leading up to the Iraq War, which according to Australian journalist John Pilger , may have never happened if journalists had done their job of uncovering truths in the face of, and in spite of, power:
“…had journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children might be alive today; and millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and the infamous Islamic State might not now exist.”
Media collusion with the power structure has been a central theme to the work of Pilger, who has consistently tied the media’s full institutional compliance to what is properly referred to as “the deep state” or “invisible government” through the proliferation of propaganda . This was also the main theme of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, as well as the subsequent 1992 documentary by the same name. According to Chomsky and Herman, mass media in the US “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship , and without overt coercion.” Which is to say that profit-driven news not only seeks to appease popular narratives, but also will toe the government line in return for continued access or exclusive scoops, all of which are determined by government officials.
Immortal Technique’s 2003 track, The 4th Branch , fortifies the work of Pilger, Chomsky, and Herman by illustrating how the media and its propaganda serve the ruling-class narrative. Released in the aftermath of 9-11 and during the beginnings of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tech weaves multiple theses into a central theme of propaganda versus reality. The hook sums up the track:
It’s like MK-ULTRA, controllin’ your brain
Suggestive thinking, causing your perspective to change
They wanna rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto
The fourth branch of the government, want us to settle
A bandanna full of glittering, generality
Fightin’ for freedom and fightin’ terror, but what’s reality
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children
The opening verse introduces us once again to Huntington’s clash-of-civilizations narrative and the role of Evangelical Christians in pushing forth this narrative. Tech focuses on the moral bankruptcy of Christian fundamentalism in the US and how US foreign policy is continuously designed on a base of hypocrisy and misinformation, carried out by agents of the capitalist class:
The voice of racism preachin’ the gospel is devilish
A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist
Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond
And Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu’ran
They bombed innocent people, tryin’ to murder Saddam
When you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran
This is the information that they hold back from Peter Jennings
Cause Condoleezza Rice is just a new age Sally Hemings
The remainder of the first verse continues the critique on conservative ideology and Christian fundamentalism, tying them into the ultimate hypocrisies perpetrated in the founding of the United States. The miseducation that most of us are subjected to through years of formal education interplay with Tech’s exposure of the public misinformation that disseminates from media sources, all of which combine to produce a hidden history of the US that is a perfectly pliable tool firmly in the hands of the ruling class:
I break it down with critical language and spiritual anguish
The Judas I hang with, the guilt of betraying Christ
You murdered and stole his religion, and painting him white
Translated in psychologically tainted philosophy
Conservative political right wing, ideology
Glued together sloppily, the blasphemy of a nation
Got my back to the wall, cause I’m facin’ assassination
Guantanamo Bay, federal incarceration
How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave
Indigenous holocaust and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin’ offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism
Human rights violations, we continue the saga
El Savador and the contras in Nicaragua
And on top of that, you still wanna take me to prison
Just cause I won’t trade humanity for patriotism
Returning to Vinnie Paz’s track, Keep Movin’ On, we see the experiences and views of an American soldier, handpicked from the working class to serve in illegal and immoral wars and occupations abroad. The verse touches on everything from the recruitment process and the brainwashing effects of patriotism to the gruesome effects of serving as tools of war for the capitalist ruling class :
I signed up cause they promised me some college money
I ain’t the smartest motherfucker but I’m not a dummy
They told me I would be stationed in places hot and sunny
I had a lot of pride. Motherfuckers got it from me
These people over here innocent. They never harmed me
My sergeant tried to convince me that they would try to bomb me
I feel like an outsider stuck inside this army
Everybody brainwashed. American zombies
I ain’t realized how much it set me back
Until I lost my leg and then they sent me back
I don’t have anything now. I’m left with scraps
From a government who created AIDS, invented crack
People told me not to join. I tried to prove ’em wrong
Now I’m homeless and I’m cold without no food thas’ warm
I keep asking myself, “What did I do that’s wrong?”
And the government telling me, “Keep it movin’ on”
Tech’s closing comments on the 4th Branch summarizes the class-component that shapes the military industrial complex, a system designed to create, maintain, and protect private profit. Echoing Paz’s verse on the experience of soldiers, Tech illustrates our role in this system while touching on the constant propaganda we are bombarded with, which pushes this narrative of “we,” as if “we” have anything in common with the American ruling/capitalist class and their servants in mass media.
The fourth branch of the government AKA the media
Seems to now have a retirement plan for ex-military officials
As if their opinion was at all unbiased
A machine shouldn’t speak for men
So shut the fuck up you mindless drone
And you know it’s serious
When these same media outfits are spending millions of dollars on a PR campaign
To try to convince you they’re fair and balanced
When they’re some of the most ignorant, and racist people
Giving that type of mentality a safe haven
We act like we share in the spoils of war that they do
We die in wars, we don’t get the contracts to make money off ’em afterwards
We don’t get weapons contracts, nigga
We don’t get cheap labor for our companies, nigga
We are cheap labor, nigga
Turn off the news and read, nigga
Read… read… read
Tech’s final verse is powerfully connected to liberation movements of the past, echoing among other the great Irish socialist, James Connolly, and his call for international, working-class solidarity during the beginnings of World War I. In his A Continental Revolution (1914) , Connolly sums up the profit motive and class-basis of war:
“… [in war] the working class are to be sacrificed that a small clique of rulers and armament makers may sate their lust for power and their greed for wealth. Nations are to be obliterated, progress stopped, and international hatreds erected into deities to be worshipped.
… against the patriotism of capitalism – the patriotism which makes the interest of the capitalist class the supreme test of duty and right – I place the patriotism of the working class, the patriotism which judges every public act by its effect upon the fortunes of those who toil.
To me, therefore, the socialist of another country is a fellow-patriot, as the capitalist of my own country is a natural enemy.”
“Fake news” is simply propaganda constructed through ruling-class channels to boost systems and cultures that support the power structure. In other words, it is the status quo. It is nothing new. It happens rather naturally, flowing from concentrations of money and power. Regarding the newfound liberal version of “fake news,” the final point to consider relates to the idea of an outside influence on American politics. Long before the Russia hysteria surfaced, the American political system had been bought and sold numerous times over. To suggest that politicians from either major party ever represented the interests of American people is incredibly naïve. Campaign financing and corporate lobbying determine who wins political races and which legislation is introduced and passed in Congress. Long before Russia was accused of influencing elections, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms were proven to influence elections. Long before Trump supposedly got a boost from Putin, official US policy had been directly shaped by Israeli interests in the Middle East.
Access to oil has always determined foreign policy, access to capital for big business has always determined economic policy, and the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision has ensured that the Kochs’, Soros’, Gates’, and Buffetts’ of the world will always hold more political weight within the electoral system than 100 million voters combined, if they so choose. Whether it’s Goldman Sachs, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Putin, the American people have never had a say in what the political machine does or doesn’t do. This fact renders the Trump-Russia hysteria as moot. Any real sense of US national interests has long been replaced by the global capitalist order, if they ever truly existed at all. In terms of political empowerment and self-determination for the working-class majority within the US, a foreign president is no different than any number of nameless American millionaire hedge-fund donors.
The Seamless Political Machine and the Failures of Identity Politics: From Reagan to Trump
Within electoral politics, lesser-evilism has become the dominant stance for at least half of the American population. For individual voters, the 2-party duopoly has been mostly abandoned as identifications with either party have reached near-historic lows . As of 2015, nearly half of registered voters identify as something other than Republican or Democrat. However, despite this overwhelming rejection of the 2-party system, many of these voters continue to choose what they view as the “lesser evil” in voting for candidates from one of the two major parties.
Since the Reagan administration and introduction of a seamless political machine based in neoliberalism (an intensification of capitalism), presidential administrations regardless of party have been almost indistinguishable. Despite this seamless identity that’s emerged, many voters still insist on claiming differences between the two corporate parties, even if it means choosing what they view as the lesser-evil. The fact that some public radical intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis have proposed lesser-evilism lends this direction some undue credence. However, when we step back and analyze the big picture, away from the emotions that often emerge in the heat of electoral moments, it is easy to see that lesser-evilism, as an electoral tactic embraced by the Left, has pushed the entire political system to the right over the past 40 years. Clear evidence of this shift can be seen in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, which carried forth Reagan-esque economic policy, while also gutting welfare (Clinton), facilitating mass incarceration of the Black community (Clinton), escalating US bombing campaigns (Obama), pushing historical levels of deportation of immigrants (Obama), and maintaining the attack on civil liberties that began under W. Bush (Obama). Even more evidence is the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a candidate who is viewed as being an outlier of the Democratic Party, despite an ideological identity that is consistent with run-of-the-mill liberalism of old. Yet, when compared to a Democratic Party that has clearly shifted rightward, toward more hard-line capitalist-friendly policies that have characterized the neoliberal era started by Reagan, as well as highly-destructive imperialist missions abroad, Sanders looks like a radical.
Killer Mike’s 2012 track, Reagan, brings us to the start of the neoliberal era. In a social context, specifically regarding the treatment of Black communities throughout the country, the Reagan era merely picked up on hundreds of years of oppression. By implementing an official “war on drugs,” this era provided the basis for what Michelle Alexander termed The New Jim Crow , in her book with the same title. It also created a new wing of the military industrial complex through the construction of an extensive for-profit prison system and widespread militarization of domestic police forces. Mike’s second verse introduces us to the Reagan environment, as experienced by the Black community:
The end of the Reagan Era, I’m like ‘leven, twelve, or
Old enough to understand the shit’ll change forever
They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror
But what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys, but they would call us “niggers”
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for some profit
The intensification of American policing in poor communities of color served a bigger purpose. As Mike explains in the same verse, it bolstered the cornerstone of US economics and capitalism: free labor. As per the 13th amendment of the US Constitution , “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In other words, the forced free labor of convicts in the US prison system is still legal. And the “war on drugs” helped to create nearly 1.3 million free laborers for mainstream corporations , as the prison population in the US grew from roughly 300,000 in 1980 to over 1.5 million in 2015 . Killer Mike touches on this:
But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That’s why they giving drug offenders time in double digits
Mike closes the track by moving the focus from Reagan to the system, telling us that Presidents (and most politicians, for that matter) are nothing more than “employees of the country’s real masters,” serving capitalist interests rather than the masses of people:
Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor
Just an employee of the country’s real masters
Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama
Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters
If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic
Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Gaddafi
We invaded sovereign soil, going after oil
Taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby
Same as in Iraq, and Afghanistan
And Ahmadinejad say they coming for Iran
They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor
If I say any more they might be at my door
(Shh..) Who the fuck is that staring in my window
Doing that surveillance on Mr. Michael Render
I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead
Reagan the man may be dead, but his spirit has survived in symbolic terms through the perpetuation of neoliberalism’s capitalist/imperialist order. The actions of our last President, Obama, who may appear to be the polar opposite of Reagan in any superficial analysis, confirms this perpetuation. The 2015 remix, Obamanation 4 , hammers this truth home in magnificent fashion. Opening with excerpts of speeches from Malcolm X, the track sets up a premise of systemic analysis as Malcolm rails against the “international Western power structure (capitalism),” calling upon “anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change the miserable conditions on this earth.”
Echoing Killer Mike’s track, M-1 (from Dead Prez) uses his verse in Obamanation 4 to expose the systemic nature of our political system, illustrating how not only the Democratic Party, but also the first Black President, equal nothing more than cogs in an imperialist machine. His analysis begins by disregarding the propaganda stemming from right-wing sources like Fox News and syndicated radio, all of which claimed Obama represented a diversion from politics-as-usual by having some mythological “radical-left-wing agenda.” In reality, Obama’s administration continued, and even escalated in some cases, America’s imperialist endeavors abroad. M-1 flips this “right-wing propaganda” and puts it back on progressives, rhetorically asking “who you gonna blame” now that the man in charge is no longer a white Republican named Bush:
After you divorce yourself from the right wing propaganda campaign, it’s all simple and plain.
America customed the game.
Your President got an African name, now who you gonna blame?
When they drop them bombs out of them planes.
Using depleted uranium, babies looking like two-headed aliens.
Follow the money trail, it leads to the criminal.
Ain’t nothing subliminal to it, that’s how they do it.
Continuing on this theme, M-1 pinpoints Obama as the new head of the US’ global imperialist agenda, even touching on the irony of a Black man carrying out neo-colonialism with white-supremacist underpinnings. M-1’s verse is not only insightful in its blanket condemnation of the 2-party machine, but also in its inherent warning about the dangers of a brand of identity politics that seeks to plug folks from historically marginalized groups into the power structure. Ultimately, to M-1, as to all radicals and revolutionaries, it’s the system that drives our injustices, not the figureheads chosen to facilitate the system:
See they game they run.
Give a fuck if he’s cunning, articulate, and handsome.
Afghanistan held for ransom.
By the hand of this black man, neo-colonial puppet.
White power with a black face, he said fuck it I’ll do it.
…. Last stage of imperialism, I ain’t kiddin.
In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye ‘This ain’t living.’
On the same track, Black the Ripper picks up on M-1’s analysis, keeping the focus on Obama as nothing more than a figurehead of a system that must be opposed. This particular verse includes a harsh critique, deploying the house-slave mentality in describing Black figures in power, as well as their accomplices:
See it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
He’s sitting in the White House, so who cares if he’s black?
And why’s there still soldiers out there in Iraq?
Natural resources ain’t yours, it’s theirs, give it back!
You’re just another puppet, but I’m not surprised
Look at Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
They didn’t change shit, house nigga’s fresh off the slave ship.
The Obamanation remix includes a verse from Lupe Fiasco’s track, Words I Never Said. The verse fits the overall narrative perfectly, keeping focus on systemic operations. Lupe takes the analysis even further, touching on various social aspects stemming from capitalism and imperialism, most notably those which keep the American public in line, agreeable, and ignorant through a process of devalued education, fear-mongering, and mind-numbing celebrity gossip. All of this, Lupe suggests, leads to what Chomsky has referred to as “manufactured consent,” which he strongly rejects:
I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit.
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets.
How much money does it take to really make a full clip?
9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?
Uh, and a bunch of other coverups.
Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.
If you think that hurts, then wait, here comes the uppercut.
The school was garbage in the first place, that’s on the up and up.
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the upper crust.
You get it, then they move it, so you never keeping up enough.
If you turn on TV, all you see’s a bunch of “what the fucks.”
Dude is dating so and so, blabbering ’bout such and such.
And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homey, that’s the news.
And these the same people supposedly telling us the truth.
Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist.
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit.
That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.
I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful.
And I believe in the people.
Lowkey concludes the remix with a strong verse on American imperialism, an agenda that has become indistinguishable between various Presidents and both corporate parties. He points to specific missions carried out under the Obama administration, seemingly calling to attention those who continue to portray Obama as a separation from the Bush administration. The verse serves as a prophetic warning about Syria, and nails home M-1’s earlier reduction of Obama as just another “neo-colonial puppet” doing the job that every American President is called upon to do, including bombing an African country (Libya) and disposing of a leader (Gaddafi) known for promoting pan-Africanism throughout the continent:
Was the bigger threat from Osama or from Obama?
Military bases from Chagos to Okinawa.
I say things that other rappers won’t say.
Cause my mind never closed like Guantanamo Bay.
Hope you didn’t build a statue or tattoo your arm.
Cause the drones are still flying over Pashtunistan.
Did he defend the war? No! He extended more.
He even had the time to attempt a coup in Ecuador.
Morales and Chavez, the state’s are on a hunt for ya.
Military now stationed on bases in Columbia.
Take a trip to the past and tell em I was right.
Ask Ali Abunimah or Jeremiah Wright.
Drones over Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya.
Is Obama the bomber getting ready for Syria?
First black president, the masses were hungry.
But the same president just bombed an African country.
The false hopes placed in the first Black President highlight the failures and pitfalls of identity politics, a political approach that is grounded in assimilation. This approach to social justice attempts to mold a multicultural, multi-sex, non-gender-descript power elite by simply placing individuals who identify with these hyper-marginalized groups into the existing power structure. Thus, the ultimate goal is more Black bankers, more gay landlords, more transgender politicians, more women Senators, and so on. This approach has led to the creation of what the left-wing publication Black Agenda Report (BAR) has deemed the black misleadership class in the US. Obama was the ultimate product of this class, but not the totality of it. For as long as identity politics seek to assimilate into the power structure, this class will persist, as will the formation of other such classes: the gay misleadership class, the transgender misleadership class, the women’s misleadership class (Hillary), etc…, because, ultimately, the power structure does not exist to serve the people, no matter how diverse it is. Nas touches on this in his 1999 track, I Want to Talk to You , which addresses the frustrations of living under a government that does not represent:
Step up to the White House, let me in
What’s my reason for being, I’m ya next of kin
And we built this motherfucker
You wanna kill me because my hunger?
Mr. America, young black niggas want ya
I wanna talk to the man, understand?
Understand this motherfuckin G-pack in my hand
Look what happened to San Fran
Young girl hit by policeman
Twelve shots up in her dome, damn
….Dissin us, discrimination different races
Tax payers pay for more jail for Black Latin faces
Coming full circle, Nas closes the track by delivering a prophetic warning against identity politics, characterizing BAR’s “black misleadership class” as nothing more than “fake black leaders [who] are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget (rather than addressing problems that plague their communities).”
What y’all waitin for the world to blow up
Before you hear this rewind this 4 minutes before we timeless
Let y’all niggas bang my shit before Saddam hits
Let Nastradamus tell us what time it is
They try to buy us with doe
Fake black leaders are puppets, always talking ’bout the city budget
The news got it all confused lyin to the public
They eyes watchin stay wise move above it
Water floods predicted, hurricanes, twisters
Its all signs of the Armageddon, three sixes
People reverse the system, politics vs. religion
Holy war, Muslim vs. Christians
Niggas in high places, they don’t got the balls for this
People in power sit back and watch them slaughter us
Mr. President I assume it was negligence
The streets upside down, I’m here to represent this
Confronting the Power Structure
Modern working-class resistance is still rooted in Marx’s class war analysis, whereas the proletariat (those of us who are forced to depend on our labor to survive) finds itself fighting for its collective life against the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the layered power structure created by this economic realtionship. It is also crucially intertwined in the fights against other forms of structural oppression, including white supremacy, patriarchy, and misogyny; because, quite frankly, all forms of oppression that splinter the working class must be effectively destroyed if the working class has any hopes of overcoming the capitalist system.
In echoing Malcolm X’s famous “the ballot or the bullet” speech from 1964, working-class resistance must include “action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.” Since the police represent the front lines of a criminal justice system inherently designed to enforce class oppression, as well as structural white supremacy, working-class resistance must include a firm stance against not only police brutality and mass incarceration, but also against the very foundation of modern policing, which is rooted in “slave-catching” and strike-breaking. This means standing in blanket opposition to policing as an institution designed to “serve and protect” capitalist property and enforce laws created by a capitalist ruling class with capitalist interests in mind. Reflecting on the Black community’s especially intense history of oppression at the hands of police, hip hop has delivered a proper analysis and call to action. From NWA’s seminal track Fuck tha Police (1988) to David Banner and Tito Lo’s Black Fist (2016), the armed extension of the capitalist state is consistently exposed, as it has left countless Black lives lying in its tracks with no signs of slowing. Banner and Lo’s track captures the sheer anger and frustration stemming from this reality:
These crackers got drones. They are flying their saucers
Keep your white jesus, don’t pray to your crosses
They are burning our churches, K.R.I.T. pass me the UZI
I know how to work it; I know how to Squirt it
No Martin, No Luther, No King, No Marching No choirs don’t sing
The same christian lovers that raped our GrandMothers and hung our GrandFathers from trees
They are enemies!
Blood on the leaves, blood on the streets, blood on our feet
I’m sick of walking, I’m sick of dogs getting sicced on us, I’m sick of barking
I’m sick of spitting written sentences listeners don’t get
Don’t get, don’t get, don’t get!
Because they got Chains on their brains and that is not a diss
… I’m staying religious, cause we stay in the trenches
And gotta play where they lynch us, done came to my senses
I bet them crackas never came through my fences
Ya burn up ya cross, and I’ll burn up ya corpse
Then I turn and bang and do the same to the witness
Hang ’em and dangle ’em in the street looking up at his feet
So you never forget this we did this for Martin and Malcolm, even Mandela
Jimmie Lee Jackson and then Medgar Evers
For Clyde Kennard, hard labor slaving in the yard
For Huey, for Hampton, for Bobby we GODLY
For Jordan Davis we gon’ play this, for Sandra Bland we gon’ stand
I’m still out here stomping, for Janaya Thompson, from the Coast to Compton
The video for Black Fist shows a series of events that encapsulate what working-class justice would look like outside the parameters of capitalism and white supremacy. This includes a people’s arrest, people’s trial, and subsequent execution of a police officer who was acquitted of murdering a Black teenager. The fact that this hypothetical scenario could be remotely controversial illustrates how strong we’ve been conditioned to equate our current system with any real sense of justice, of which there is very little if any. The environment of injustice that is bred under so-called legalities is masterfully summed up in Lauryn Hill’s Mystery of Iniquity (2002):
Ya’ll can’t handle the truth in a courtroom of lies
Perjures the jurors
False Indictments publicized
Its entertainment the arraignments
High profile gladiators in bloodthirsty arenas
Enter the Dragon
Souls bought and sold and paroled for thirty talents
Court reporter catch the surface on the paper
File it in the system not acknowledged by the Maker
Swearing by the bible blatantly blasphemous
Publicly perpetrating that “In God We Trust”
Cross-examined by a master manipulator
The faster intimidator
Receiving the judge’s favor
Deceiving sabers doing injury to they neighbors
For status, gratis, apparatus and legal waivers
See the bailiff
Holding the word of God soliciting perjury
The more money you pay.. the further away solution
…Blind leading the blind
Guilty never defined
Filthy as swine
A generation purin it’s own mind
Blown out of proportion
In vein deceit
The truth is obsolete
Only two positions:
Victimizer or Victim
Both end up in destruction trusting this crooked system
Running hand in hand with capitalism’s version of “justice” is the underlying dominance of white supremacy. In the formation of the United States as a nation, as well as the customs, cultures, and systems we’ve become accustomed to during this process, white supremacy has played a formidable role. It has created an all-powerful wedge among the working class, rendering its potential limited. Its divisive message is often hidden in powerfully emotional rhetoric regarding “American values” and patriotism, all of which secretly (or not so secretly in the era of Trump) call for protecting the Eurocentrism that has systematically devalued black skin in dominant American culture. In an old-school track from 1991, Ice Cube uses brilliant analogy and powerful lyrics while condemning America’s history of white supremacy and challenging the toxicity of patriotic rhetoric, concluding with the need to ” kill Sam“:
I wanna kill him, cause he tried to play me like the trick
But you see, I’m the wrong nigga to fuck with
I got the A to the motherfuckin K, and it’s ready to rip
Slapped in my banana clip
And I’m lookin.. (lookin..)
Is he in watts, oakland, philly or brooklyn?
It seems like he got the whole country behind him
So it’s sort of hard to find him
But when I do, gotta put my gat in his mouth
Pump seventeen rounds make his brains hang out
Cause the shit he did was uncalled for
Tried to fuck a brother up the ass like a small whore
And that shit ain’t fly
So now I’m settin up, the ultimate drive-by
And when you hear this shit
It make the world say “damn! I wanna kill sam”
…Here’s why I wanna kill the punk
Cause he tried to take a motherfuckin chunk of the funk
He came to my house, I let ’em bail in
Cause he said he was down with the l.m
He gave up a little dap
Then turned around, and pulled out a gat
I knew it was a caper
I said, “please don’t kill my mother, ” so he raped her
Tied me up, took me outside
And I was thrown in a big truck
And it was packed like sardines
Full of niggas, who fell for the same scheme
Took us to a place and made us work
All day and we couldn’t have shit to say
Broke up the families forever
And to this day black folks can’t stick together
And it’s odd..
Broke us down, made us pray – to his god
And when I think about it
It make me say “damn! I wanna kill sam”
…Now in ninety-one, he wanna tax me
I remember, the son of a bitch used to axe me
And hang me by a rope til my neck snapped
Now the sneaky motherfucker wanna ban rap
And put me under dirt or concrete
But god, can see through a white sheet
Cause you the devil in drag
You can burn your cross well I’ll burn your flag
Try to give me the h-I-v
So I can stop makin babies like me
And you’re givin dope to my people chump
Just wait til we get over that hump
Cause yo’ ass is grass cause I’mma blast
Can’t bury rap, like you buried jazz
Cause we stopped bein whores, stop doin floors
So bitch you can fight your own wars
So if you see a man in red white and blue
Gettin chased by the lench mob crew
It’s a man who deserves to buckle
I wanna kill sam cause he ain’t my motherfuckin uncle!
Ultimately, resistance in the 21st century must focus on the inherent inequities created by the capitalist system and the corrollary social hierarchies that support these inequities. There simply is no choice but to destroy and replace this system. Gang Starr’s 1998 track Robbin’ Hood Theory hammers this home, urging us to “squeeze the juice out of all the suckers with power, and pour some back out so as to water the flowers.” Just as reparations are needed to begin to address the history of Black enslavement in America, so too is mass working-class expropriation of the capitalist class. In realizingthe illegitimacies of the wealth accumulated under this system , we must formulate bold moves toward recuperating it for all of society. Guru preaches, leaving us with our battle cry:
Now that we’re getting somewhere, you know we got to give back
For the youth is the future no doubt that’s right and exact
Squeeze the juice out, of all the suckers with power
And pour some back out, so as to water the flowers
This world is ours, that’s why the demons are leery
It’s our inheritance; this is my Robin Hood Theory… Robin Hood Theory
… They innocent, they know not what they face
While politicians save face genius minds lay to waste
If I wasn’t kickin rhymes I’d be kickin down doors
Creatin social change and defendin the poor
The God’s always been militant, and ready for war
We’re gonna snatch up the ringleaders send em home in they drawers
But first where’s the safe at? Let’s make em show us
And tell em hurry up, give up the loot that they owe us
We bringin it back, around the way to our peeps
Cause times are way too deep, we know the Code of the Streets
Meet your defeat; this is my Robin Hood Theory… my Robin Hood Theory
…Necessary by all means, sort of like Malcolm
Before it’s too late; I create, the best outcome
So I take this opportunity, yes to ruin the
Devilish forces fucking up my black community
And we ain’t doing no more interviews
Til we get paid out the frame, like motherfucking Donahue
We’re taking over radio, and wack media
Cause systematically they getting greedier and greedier
Conquering turfs with my ill organization
Takin out the man while we scan the information
You wanna rhyme you best await son
You can’t even come near, if you ain’t got our share
You front on us this year, consider yourself blown out of here
Yeah… by my Robin Hood Theory