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News ::
Hip-Hop Peace and Unity Fest, Boston! (english)
05 Aug 2003
"If all you got is air, use it. If all you got is speech, use it!"
KRS-One speaks in a dialogue with inner city youth, city councilors- Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo, and other members of the community about the state of hip hop and some of the issues facing the culture specific to Boston. The gathering of positive hip-hop acts brought out some 30,000 to City Hall Plaza.

"Hip-Hop is a Political Tool.”
–as stated by City councilor at large, Felix Arroyo,
at the Hip-Hop Peace and Unity Lecture.

"My face was on the ground of New York City. I was
like any other homeless man you would pass in the
street.... If all you got is air, use it. If all you
got is speech, use it!"
These words came from a man that still refers to
himself as homeless, when in physical reality being far from
it, as one of the great grandpops of hip hop, "the one
they call KRS!” This was only one of many easily
disclosed self-proclamations of KRS-One’s in his
discussion with Boston youth and community members at
the Hip-Hop Peace and Unity Lecture. KRS participated
in the lecture at upon what I like to call, his
"enlightening pilgrimage" to Boston, a part of the
first annual Hip-Hop Peace & Unity Fest this past
18th-19th of July.
KRS-One -originally coming from his graffiti tag-
Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Every One, or
otherwise referred to as Kris Parker when paying his
taxes, arose in the late 80's with rhymes that tried
to re-invent positivity in the culture, talking about
issues such as the importance of educating oneself and
safe sex. He was one of the first to be critical of
the system in early tunes, such as 1988's "Stop the
Violence"::
"They paid missiles, my family's eating gristle
then they get upset when the press blows the whistle
Of course the main profiles are kept low
you temper with some jobs, now the press is controlled
Not only newspapers, but every single station
you only get to hear the president is on vacation
But ehrm, stay calm, there's no need for alarm
You say "go back" to your mom, and you're off to Vietnam
You shoot to kill, come back and you're a veteran
but how many veterans are out there pedaling?
There's no telling, 'cause they continue selling
As quiet as it's kept, I won't go into depth
You can talk about Nigeria, people used to laugh at ya.
Now I take a look, I say 'USA for Africa'?!"

KRS is considered one of the few emcee's to stay true
to bringing consciousness back to hip-hop. He spoke
of his past and philosophy and how to actualize
positive life models in hip-hop during his esteemed
lecture at the Strand Theatre, alongside a panel of
community representatives and other artists. Then on
July 19th, 2003, Inebriated Rhythm and the city of
Boston came out to sponsor what had to have been the
largest gathering of TRUE hip hop this city has ever
seen. The concert was promoted as well to unite and
celebrate hip-hop's cultural diversity and implant
more positivity into the scene, with the likes of
emcees such as KRS-One, Pharoahe Monch, Big Daddy
Kane, PMD, and EDO G.

I don't think I've ever seen such a successful use of
public space in Boston proper as I was delivered that
beautiful Saturday afternoon. I could feel the life
in the concrete vibrating as soon as I stepped out of
the T, city blocks away. I followed the bass,
reminiscent more of large political demonstrations
than of cultural events sponsored by our Major, Thomas
Menino. And everyone I spoke with was bewildered that
Menino would summon this kind of event upon Boston
City Hall plaza, never mind help sponsor it. I called
Menino's office in hopes of getting a clearer
understanding of the motivational factors, but of
course they only painted fluffy pictures for me of
"hip hop being a huge part of the city", and how they
"try to reach out to all different cultural
audiences".. And the image sure ran clean...
The mayor's press person I spoke with claimed it
was an "absolutely fabulous 30,000 people." I was
estimating something closer to 3,000 folks, so who
knows what the actual figure is. Regardless, it
certainly was a sight; the convergence of hip-hoppers
with hands in the air descending on those steps I had
thought were designated only for businessmen and other
suits. This ol’ skool mobilization of freedom could
not have happened if the event was charging entrance
fees, if security had set up barricades or subjected
one to any sort of hip hop racial profiling, something
more typical of Boston's official behavior. Perhaps
this will be a lesson to segregationists and hype
reinforcers in this town.
The "Write to Eat" graffiti crew were there with
slabs of wood siding, where they were allowed a free
space to paint their (technically FELONistic!)
styles. And a few organizations mulled about, handing
out action information, like Alliance for Jobs &
Justice for Our Youth, who organized a youth rally in
conjunction with the festivities.
At Madison Park High in Roxbury, about 30 youth and 25
adults gathered earlier that afternoon, demanding a
"Stop to Youth Profiling and Racist Criminal
Injustices and MCA’s". One of the founders of this
new alliance, Chuck Turner, commented that it is in
part trying to pressure the “state to begin spending
the money allotted by the federal government to reduce
the over-representation of youth of color in jails.”
The rally marched from Roxbury to the concert. The
parade by foot downtown became a space where the youth
and adults could listen to one another and claim a
face for their fight. After a long day's work handing
out leaflets, they were able to see some of their
ideals in motion, joining the festivities at Boston
City Hall Plaza. In hip-hop, there is the politic,
and there is always celebration.

The only thing that really itched at me, besides the
corporate sponsorship, was the inclusion of some
emcees with whack misogynistic/more negative lyrics
and the lack of women performers present. Kiki
Breevlife was the token chic for the evening. I must
shout out solidarity for her doing it alone. I spoke
with Mahlon from Inebriated Rhythm, the independent
record company mostly responsible for the event, about
this. He was very apologetic for some of the acts that
ended up on the bill. He said the attempt was, "to
bring together artists who have gone against the
green, artists specializing in conforming to the
embodied elements of hip hop. Some of the artists did
not adhere to that and they won't be asked to come
back." However, when I asked him why there wasn't
more female performers, he said something like he was,
"just looking for the talent, and in Boston there's
not much for women artists and I wasn't going to dig
them up just so we would have more women." KRS was
kind enough to close the night with "big respects to
all the women" and other more sensitive commentary.
Which reminds me that I must get back to KRS's
words at the previous evening of the Fest at the
Strand Theater... This gathering was designed,
following the proposal for the concert, in attempts to
engage the intellect of hip hop and put the culture's
concerns in a forum with city councilors, artists, a
BPD officer(!), and orgs like Teens Against Gang
Violence and Street Peace. This event was sponsored
by the Strand and Inebriated Rhythm, (not Menino!), as a fundraiser for Strand youth programs that have been hijacked by
statewide cutbacks. However it was sadly
under-attended, and all the money that did resonate
somehow needed to go to the artists involved, like
ahem, KRS.
Lisa Jones, the marketing director for the Strand,
told me this. . But she also told me how pumped and
enthusiastic KRS was.... He was supposed to leave like
any big artist, immediately after his moment of fame,
but he hung out the whole night. He was there with the
rest of the “audience” to show respect to the great
local talent, like The Foundation and others
associated with Critical Breakdown. He signed his
book, Ruminations, and talked with kids. He in fact,
“had to be TOLD to leave at the end of the night.”

When I first got to the theatre, I had no idea what
was about to unfold. I walked in to what was maybe a
half hour into a 2 hr. speech by Mr. Parker. It was
so strange to hear this poet, who I've known to refer
to himself as the "prophet KRS" for more than 10 years
now, speaking to an audience with that same grandeur
and confidence that I find empowering in his music.
There has been criticism of his level of
preach-man-ship and his ties with "The Man" and the
industry, but that night I found a better
understanding of the root of some needed ego flowing
and the embodiment of true values like empathy...

"You don't get what you pray for. You get what you
are." KRS-One began to shake out his metaphysics
tools right away to an audience of inner city youth,
city officials and councilors, who may have been
lacking of contextual philosophy lessons such as the one that I
will transcribe next. (I know this here may seem a
strange forum to all of a sudden be shouting out rules
of the universe, but c’mon since when does philosophy
and politics or philosophy and hip hop have to be
separate intellectual items).
KRS played well with the humor that such philosophy
could lend him as well. He sent the crowd into
bellowing laughter at one point, holding up a bottle
of water to proclaim that it was simply a "bottle of
piss." His emphasis was on making good use of the
power of interconnectedness of all life. He began to
point and fondle the space - the air in front of him -
describing it as conscious energy.
"Emcees should not speak of their own destruction
because the words you say, (sound, voice, vibration),
when you vibrate this substance (air/energy) you are
giving the universe a command. It is here to help
you, to serve you. You are inhaling it; you cannot
live unless this substance is constantly around you,
in you. The minute you're cut off from this
substance, what's the first thing you lose?
Consciousness!
So first realize you are not the body. You are
consciousness, and when we speak we move this
substance. So we emcees can't say things like, 'I'm a
thug nigger and I'm on my way to jail.' Are you
crazy!? You are giving a command to the universe.
Whatever you say is what's it's gonna be. So it's
better for you to say I am health, love, awareness,
peace, wealth, unity. Say it every day. Move that
energy. This is the first rule of Free Your Mind.
Learn how to speak.
Any time you get angry you are destroying yourself.
Every time you say, 'oh, what so and so did… I hate
him.’ That's like putting a gun to your head. That's
destroying you on top of whatever they're doing to
you. Now you can reverse that. Someone does you
something wrong, protect yourself first. C'mon, kill
'em with kindness. Say, 'I forgive you. It's
alright. I love you.'" (KRS-One: revolutionary or
reformist? you decide.)
Maybe this seems like an after-school special, and
maybe it is, or maybe it should be during school, as
city councilor, Chuck Turner, remarked during the roundtable panel dialogue about getting black cultural studies/history in the classroom; "Can it be integrated in that. No!
Don't put it in an after-school after-thought. We
need to tell them what WE want. These are our own
children. 75% of our students are Black and Latin and
we need to come together to say this is what we want
because we are tired of having our children programmed
by you. We have a problem in this state getting the
truth about the Black, Latin, Asian experience put
into the history class, so I know they aren't about to
integrate the reality of hip hop until we say we won't
accept anything else."

KRS was quick to relay his notions about turning the
blind eye to negativity in hip-hop in the commercial
sense. He grabbed the spotlight again to jump back up
to the audience mic to throw the moderator, the
Program Director for Hot 97! (who helped sponsor the
event), in a hot seat.... "Forget our elected
officials right here. Our children listen to your
station. Why can't we hear EDO G and the bulldogs on
your station? That's black on black crime. You're
the program director so what's up? Your station is
killing our people!"
Of course, this sent the crowd in an uproar. One woman
from Agit Arte even jumped up on stage to find herself
a place in the roundtable… Felix Arroyo let her take
his seat, as she went off about how “commercialized
radio is designed to keep the people ignorant...” And
the moderator, who is supposed to be neutral, became
the center of the discussion. He started off ejecting
the typical ignorance is bliss hype; "As you know it's
all about the dolla dolla bill. I do what I have to
do."
Chuck Turner connected the issue of station designers
to the big picture like he always does so quaintly...
"We can't expect them to change. We have to change
ourselves and that's what adults and youth have to do
together within the culture of hip hop." Ulric
Johnson, the rep from Teens Against Gang Violence, a
community based, teen peer leadership program that
focuses on the prevention of violence, gun and drug abuse,
was also
good at bringing it down to the root... "We cannot
rely on the system to educate us that is designed to
oppress us. You cannot go to the master to educate
you when the master is designed to keep you on the
plantation."

KRS then came back to the picture to talk about the
“house nigger running the FCC,” Colin Powell's son;
“They're breaking the law. The airwaves belong to the
people, but these stations like Clear Channel and Radio One have monopolized the radio so we can't hear nothing but the
5 records that they wanna play. And even if we say we
ain't gonna listen to this station no more, they STILL
play the record cuz the people don't pay them, the
advertisers do. Their power base is no longer with
the people. Their power base is in corporate America.
And I tell you this... You really want to change it?
Stop buying McDonald's, stop buying Heineken, stop
buying the products. And then it will be dictated to
them how to get down."
The Hot 97 moderator thought he had found a possible
light at the end of his tunnel. He tried to make the
connection to his station… "Yeah, you have to stop
buying the products."
KRS was quick to put him back in his place however:
"No. You quit your job."

Mr. Parker couldn’t have laid this down any better.
However, I found KRS’s statement somewhat
contradictory to his own logic… When he discussed
being a child of the universe, he said: “You never
not have anything. You always got something and you
always got air. Use it! All a beatboxer uses is air
and gets money. Oh man… Cats is taking the air and
manipulating it and getting millions! Get up off your
ass already.”
While I get his empowering tactics, his ideas
can also be construed as being too focused on creating
a product of material wealth. KRS admits at one point
that he has to be careful what he says about he says
about corporate America, admitting that he is a
“product of it.” And I can even see some of his
philosophy being manipulated by anti-affirmative
action type folks to empower THEIR argument.

I’m one to criticize KRS for taking it easy on the
white man, but perhaps there is something deeper in
what he is trying to convey… Maybe he means it when
he quotes MLK; that he sees a time when it goes beyond
race. KRS actually confirmed that hip-hop is the
example of such a culmination of races.
Felix Arroyo, city councilor, at one point tries to
relate KRS’s metaphysics to the issue at hand. “What
KRS-One was saying is similar to what we have in
common across cultures and issues, through the
evolution of the manifestation of what we are THROUGH
OUR MUSIC and our ability to say it in the face of a
status quo that rejects us. We really can connect
between people who might be in the police or in
politics or in hip-hop. It’s like what KRS says: An
ability to see oneself in the extension of another and
the other as an extension of yourself and all together
as one. And when we begin to realize that, then we’ll
have the same sense of justice, peace, love… and we
will be able to separate what is hate in hip-hop for
what is love in hip-hop.”

If people begin to aknowledge that not all hip-hop is about the "bling bling and bitches and nines," and try to learn more from the culture, in forums like the Hip-Hop Peace and Unity Festival, then maybe they will begin to aknowledge that it is at the essential heart of the revolution.

Resources and Links:
(Teens Against Gang Violence) http://tagv.org
617-282-9659
http://inebriatedrhythm.com
http:// strandtheatreboston.com
(Alliance for Jobs and Justice for Our Youth-Chuck
Turner’s office) 617-635-3510
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