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Reflecting on Stereotypes in Professor Green’s ‘Jungle’ music video

Co-authored by Sukant Chandan of Sons of Malcolm and Carlos Martinez of Beat Knowledge

To make it clear from the outset, we are not saying that Maverick Sabre and Professor Green are racists; not at all. From what we know about them, they are aware of many social and cultural issues. From reading interviews with Maverick Sabre in particular, it’s clear he is a conscious brother with great talent and intelligence. Professor Green is also an intelligent, talented and well-respected artist who undoubtedly opposes racism. This track and video may even have been conceived as an attempt to address some negative aspects of our lives in order to move positively away from them.

Nevertheless, the most anti-racist and conscious of us will never wholly rid ourselves of white supremacist ideas, as they have been beaten into our consciousness, constantly reinforced by the education system, the media and the music industry, which always seeks to colonise our youth and community’s natural wealth: our culture. So it’s important for us to look out for each other when we might slip up, and discuss in a mutually respectful and calm way in order to build towards freeing our peers in our communities from the mess we are in. Many of us are doing this in many ways, including in such forums such as the recent Hip-Hop History evening, an inspirational event featuring a panel that included highly respected artists such as Lowkey and Akala, at which over a hundred youth took part in a deep debate on issues such as sexism, racism and violence within music.

So although we understand that Maverick and Professor not racist, we consider that there are a number of very problematic elements to the track ‘Jungle’, which combined with the music video raises some deeply troubling issues.

The video is based in Hackney, in North East London. Hackney is one of the poorest boroughs in England and has a high concentration of working class people, including high concentrations of peoples from backgrounds from the Caribbean and Africa, Turkish and Kurdish peoples, and East European and Asian. The video starts of with Green stating:

“Welcome to Hackney, a place where I think somebody’s been playing Jumanji.
A manor where man are like animals, an’ they’ll yam on you like they yam on food.”

So this video features two white artists telling a story about how life in Hackney is like a “jungle”. To show this, exclusively Black people are used to portray a “jungle” life of back-stabbing, violence and crime – a dog-eat-dog world where the only two white people in the video are simply observing.

Apart from one young man, the video depicts only Black men committing graphic violence against other Black men with the use of various weapons including firearms. Admittedly, this is not the behaviour of upstanding human beings concerned with their fellow humans, but to compare these people to animals in the context of this video whereby those passing comment (Sabre and Green) are white men surrounded by a sea of Black on Black ultra-violence leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Or as one friend put it in relation to the video: “Dehumanised discourse, stereotypical ‘Black behaviour’, while two white boys take an observational stance, worried about getting ‘yammed’”.

We don’t know how much input Green had into the writing and the direction of the music video. Often in the mainstream industry, artists have very little say on the artwork and videos, so it would be interesting to know Green’s level of involvement in the conceptualisation, writing, directing and editing of the video. As it stands, this video is more akin to Daily Mail propaganda: fear culture injected into the underground music scene.

The theme of de-humanising the Black subjects in the video continues with Green stating:

“London ain’t cool to cruise through where the hunters pray, Looking lunch today, and your chains looking like fresh fruit to a hungry ape.”

Although several other ‘jungle’ animals are used to talk about Black crime in Hackney, using the term “ape” in a video (when the word is mentioned the video cuts to a young Black man’s face at 1:13secs) is massively insensitive. Is it so difficult to understand that this can be construed as deeply offensive and racist?

Presumably some would argue that it’s just a fair representation of reality, where Black people are over-represented in street gangs (an issue that deserves to be dealt with in a serious and considered manner). However:

a) While many gangs might be majority Black, most have white members as well. Given that Professor Green is a white artist making music that has its origins in the Black community, you’d think he would have the cultural sensitivity to paint a more balanced picture. Yes, Professor Green is from the ‘ends’ himself and is perfectly entitled to comment on what life in poor inner-city neighbourhoods is like (indeed this is to be welcomed), but we can’t afford to ignore the issue of race, which still runs deep in the society we live in. As the respected US professor Cornel West points out: “All people with black skin and African phenotype are subject to potential white supremacist abuse.”

b) Any artist trying to communicate a socially relevant idea has a responsibility beyond simply painting a picture of a dystopian reality. In the words of the legendary singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson: “The role of the artist is not simply to show the world as it is, but as it ought to be.” The net result of this video is to promote white supremacist ideas – that’s not helpful.

c) No doubt Sabre and Green would claim to be anti-racist. Hence they need to actively take responsibility for countering racist attitudes. Racism is overwhelmingly concentrated in the white community; therefore white cultural figures such as Green (especially where he’s making a good living off Black music) need to have a clear, unambiguous, public anti-racist policy and to be an example to others.

Hackney has some of the worst levels of working class crime in the country. The reasons for this are many: for example, high levels of unemployment; poor provision of youth services; gentrification; concentration of poverty; neglect from the state; and many more.

Hackney has a large Black population and high levels of crime but our mainstream media does a very good job to portray non-white people in England as untrustworthy, crime-loving, dangerous savages and all this video seems to do is reinforce and glamorise that, which is a great shame as Sabre and especially Green are actually in a position to challenge that.

Also, there are plenty of white people involved in crime in east London, but to someone who relies on the Daily Mail or the Sun for information, this video would simply confirm their prejudices that violent crime is an exclusively Black affair.

Again it promotes ideas that Black people are condemned to a world of Black on Black violence. When in reality, the main problems for Black people are deep-seated racism that affects every aspect of their lives. From being 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police, twice as likely to be unemployed as white people, racism in our schools (which actively deletes Black people’s history in relation to England) which creates racist attitudes in society at large through to the dehumanisation of Black peoples of the Caribbean and Africa.

Instead of just saying ‘this is how it is’, could not have Sabre and Green not done something to show why it is like that? Hackney being the second poorest borough in the country obviously has a lot to do with the fact that for many people being a part of the system is not an option. Surely reinforcing white stereotypes of Black people was not the intention but as Sabre said in a recent interview: “If you’ve got four minutes in someone’s head, in someone’s room, a young person – why say bullshit to them? The most important thing to me is that people can say I really connected to your song, whatever the song may be, and I understand something about myself more or something about society more.”

It also has to be said, for fear of sounding clichéd, most of our youth are humble, intelligent young people who want to do well in life even though they are usually aware and spend nearly every day of their lives countering the many obstacles a racist and exploitative system puts before them.

Our youth need a culture that is not scared to address the negatives, but in a way that uplifts them, inspires and informs them, and gives due credit and direction to the potential and actual power that is in the hands of our youth. We are not “apes”! We are beautiful and intelligent human beings who are fighting for our cultural, moral, social and political freedoms. And for those who are falling victim to the society’s traps, our job is to unite with them positively and bring them into our freedom struggles.

Gig review: Akala at the O2 Islington Academy



On Monday night I was lucky enough to attend the London stage of Akala’s current UK tour.

It was my first time seeing Akala do a headline set, and I was definitely not disappointed. Nor, if their shouting, dancing, smiles and applause meant anything, were the two hundred other people crammed into the upstairs arena at the Islington Academy.

Akala’s set was a great representation of his energy, diversity, passion and intelligence. Never one to conform to the norm, he did the whole set with a live drummer (yeah – a really effin’ good one), and a lot of the instrumentals in his set were basically hard rock (those of you familiar with his latest album, Doublethink, will know what I’m talking about!)

However, the fact that the music wasn’t all ‘standard’ hip-hop definitely didn’t stop anyone from shucking out and having a great time – Akala’s ability to get a dancefloor moving is something special. From the very beginning, the entire crowd was fully involved in the show, chanting ‘Wele-wele-wele-wele-wele-wele-weleeee’ along with the first track (the classic ‘Freedom Lasso’). It was inspiring to see people get down to such diverse and intelligent sounds.

Akala played a fair few tracks off ‘Doublethink’, including ‘Psycho’, ‘Find No Enemy’ and ‘XXL’, in addition to treating the crowd to a bunch of classic material, including ‘Roll Wid Us’, ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Bullshit’ (which he introduced by saying: “Now if I were to say that we invaded Iraq because we were genuinely concerned about it attacking us, what would you say?!”).

The tracks were interspersed with Akala sharing his ideas about the state of society and in particular the music industry. Pointing out that this is his fifth fully independent headline UK tour (not bad for a 26-year-old!), he said that it was clearly possible for artists to maintain their independence and not sell out to the corporates.

Akala and DJ Mutiny

Akala and DJ Mutiny

The sad fact is that the corporates are not going to push conscious, intelligent music. Not because people don’t want to hear it, but because the big labels have a vested interest in keeping people stupid. Akala pointed out that the recent ‘Yours and My Children’ release had a phenomenal reception the few times it was played on commercial radio – for example, Mistajam played it and had 100% positive user feedback – and yet it received relatively little airplay on the big radio stations.

Because the radio stations don’t support the music, it doesn’t sell as well as the playlist bullshit that gets cranked out all day, and therefore the music industry can claim that people don’t want to hear what artists like Akala have to offer (“sales figures don’t lie”).

Actually most people would *love* a break from the bullshit that gets pumped into our heads in the name of ‘urban music’. Most of us have had just about as much ‘crack rap’ or ‘sex rap’ as we can handle. A lyrical discourse that glorifies black-on-black violence or a negative attitude towards women frankly does not represent the ideas of the vast majority of people, and yet the music industry insists on pushing the same old tired nonsense. Where is the music industry catering for people who respect the culture and who want to hear artists representing intelligently and positively?

Akala summed his points up nicely with a very moving performance of ‘Find Your Enemy’:

They can keep the charts
All I want is your hearts
Call it black radio – don’t make laugh
So is black music all about tits and arse?

Shouting out Lowkey, Akala told the audience: “We are part of the resistance to the (for want of a better word) bollocks they want us to buy into.” He encouraged the crowd to question the motives of the corporates and the state, and to constantly seek to improve their knowledge: “Whoever told you that being uneducated is cool is trying to oppress you”.

The set ended on a high: we got to hear an exclusive new track, ‘One More Breath’, from the forthcoming live album; then he did an acappella of his F64; then came ‘Find Your Enemy’, and the classic ‘Comedy Tragedy History’ to round it off.

All of the 15-20 people I spoke to after the gig were massively impressed and deeply moved by the set. Akala is one of the great voices of our generation – an uncompromising artist with deep humanity and endless respect for his artform and his audience.

If you get the chance to catch one of the remaining shows of the tour, don’t miss out! So far the tour has seen Akala visit Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Cambridge, Southampton, Tunbridge Wells, Liverpool, Sheffield and Hertfordshire. The remaining gigs are:

  • Oxford on Friday 12 November
  • Winchester on Saturday 13 November
  • Leeds on Monday 15 November
  • Manchester on Tuesday 16 November
  • Bristol on Wednesday 17 November
  • Bournemouth on Thursday 18 November
  • Exeter on Friday 19 November

More info from

Check out Akala’s F64
Lyrics to Akala’s F64
Buy ‘Doublethink’ on iTunes
Check out ‘Yours and My Children’
Follow Akala on Twitter

Dubbledge – Making of a Slave

On the last day of Black History Month, I can’t understand why this song hasn’t been *everywhere* for the last 31 days. Dubbledge uses the notorious Willie Lynch letter (here’s the Wikipedia entry) to explain how the slave masters cultivated slave mentality, and how this has been passed on from generation to generation.

Great lyric, great flow, great voice, great beat – let’s spread it further.

I’ve got this big old house, living larger than ever
Bought some slaves at the walks and work hard they’d better
Cos I’ve got this leather wire lace bull whip
I’ll tie him to the tree and I’ll beat that nigger
Best call me massa, best call me sir
I ship them in from Africa
And I’ll even use the bible as part of my plan
And teach them that they the son of Ham
Cos Ham had a son that was cursed to be a slave
And serve his brothers for the rest of his days
Make you my slave, you don’t like it, oh well
A white man’s heaven is a black man’s hell
I bring ? by changing the scripture
Send them to church, make ’em praise my picture
Cos I’m a put a picture of myself as the saviour
So looking up to me is just a part of they nature
Take away they history, take away they past
Take away their culture, kick ’em in the arse
Read a book in class, made so much sense
Called ‘Making of a Slave’ by Willie Lynch
And will I lynch? You damn right, sonny
I’ll even kill some children in front of their mummy
Cos that’ll make their mother want to protect her seed
And fear will make her raise them to do what I need
And she’ll breed that thought into future generations
And future generations will breed the same thought into future generations
Slave mentality will soon become just a part of their personality
And that mentality will get passed along
So they’ll keep suppressing one another when I’m gone
And that’ll carry on til the end of days
So I can sit back while the slaves make the slaves make the slaves
That make you the slave

Check Dubbledge on Bandcamp.

Lyrics: Termanology feat Reks – Freedom

Most of you who keep up with current hip-hop will have peeped the new Statik Selektah and Termanology album, 1982. So far this is my favourite track of the album. Termanology has got a great voice and good flows, but I’m not generally into his lyrical content; however, it’s great to see him exploring socially relevant ideas in this collaboration with Reks, who has more of a reputation as a ‘conscious’ MC.

Reks kicks things off with a classic ‘keep your head up’-themed verse:

The government don’t love us, they told us we were two-thirds
Human being, you MCing, keeping them scared
Keeping ’em worried, that’s why they bury Panthers
Bobby Seale prolly fist still up in the air
Who murdered Malcolm, who murdered Pac, who murdered Big?
Is there a heaven out there from this hell we live?
Right in this hell we live, I tell my son to dream big
See he don’t understand what struggle is
Or how the government planned to keep us in ghettos
Drug dealers our heros, I come to tears
Thinking the black leadership shrinking
Cos of innate feeling that we inferior, fearing our peers
Niggaz is, always was free
Even when we fall like Sir Humpty
We pick up the pieces
From following leaders to leading demons from the dark
Ghetto is our Garden of Eden
Long as you breathin’ gotta keep your head believin’, boss

Reks’s verse is basically optimistic, saying we *will* make progress. Term’s verse is arguably more nihilistic, explaining the messed up situation without showing a path out of it. However, it’s great to have this overview of the Puerto Rican experience in the US, which, given the role played by Puerto Ricans in the development of hip-hop, is not heard often enough.

My people came to this country in 1950
Now my family are mean Puerto Ricans
So that alone shows you that we know a different struggle
Americans got heritage we didn’t fuck wit
Like that racism, and the prejudice
We was only here to get them dead presidents
We weren’t here for the slavery or the bravery
Of the women who fought so they could get their right to vote
We was them dirty Spanish kids on the trifest boats
We was in them cold-ass houses, no lights and soap
Now you’ve been schooled in why we do shootings
Move drugs and treat our women abusive
Cos that’s all we ever knew from day one
Ain’t got a dollar but uffin’ to make one
We had our own rules and this is not all we know
But we learnt to pack the [gun?] when we learnt to rock the coke
There pappy go, gettin so populoso
With his 4-4, more chains than Loso
Caucasians, Asians and Latinos all buy from us
So we be on the d-lo, killing every race including our own people
Until somebody snitch on us and we in chino
We Latino, feeling of the proudest race
Before we powdered our face, Jesucristo
Was the man that our momma used to talk about
Papa somehow made it to church, though we fallin’ out
We never had a great leader in America tellin’ us keep ya head up
Shit got me fed up
So now these young bucks going for the cheddar
Put masks on they faces, straps on they waistses,
Sip hennessee out the bag, no chasers
Keep ratchets in they bag or they basements,
Man this shit’s outrageous

Statik’s production is, as ever, bumping and soulful; a perfect complement to Reks’s and Termanology’s vocals.

Get the album on iTunes
Termanology on Twitter
Reks on Twitter
Statik Selektah on Twitter

Big Cakes – Brothers in Africa

Big respect to Big Cakes for this one. Not too many rappers right now are highlighting the struggles Africans are going through, as well as celebrating African history and culture, so it’s a lot that Big Cakes is willing to go against the flow and come with a positive and important message.

Incidentally, the track is by no means meant to alienate non-Africans – Cakes says clearly that he stands for unity, “black, blue, white, green – every colour”. However, Africa needs to be highlighted – it is widely ignored in our Eurocentric culture, and yet it is the continent that has suffered most from colonialism, slavery and white supremacy.

Once again, respect to Big Cakes.

Follow Big Cakes on Twitter, and buy the track on iTunes – we’ve got to support the music we want to hear!

Hip-hop as a weapon for change

In this article, I put forward the view that hip-hop is, by definition, radical. In its essence, it stands for positive social change, for progress, against oppression and against racism. That is perhaps a controversial view in these days when the rap charts are full of ‘crack music’ and we see a little bit too much of Young Jeezy, 50 Cent, Snoop, Petey Pablo, Li’l Wayne and Ludacris.

Although arguably gangsta rap does have a legitimate place within hip-hop (reflecting as it does the conditions and mindset of many young people living in the ‘fourth world’ ghettoes of the west), I contend that the dominance of gangsta rappers within hip-hop represents an anomaly. Ultimately, a lot of what people think of as hip-hop is really just manufactured urban pop. It’s an MTV/BET-conducted circus; a 21st century minstrel show, portraying a ridiculous caricature of people of African descent that is designed to perpetuate racist prejudices.

We mustn’t let the major record labels define hip-hop for us. Hip-hop, as a major social and cultural movement, represents something very different to the Rick Ross’s lies about getting ‘rich off cocaine’.

As MK Asante Jr points out in his phenomenal book, ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip-hop’, the name ‘hip-hop’ itself gives some interesting clues as to hip-hop’s radical essence.

The word ‘hip’ comes out of the Wolof language, spoken by the Wolof people in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania. In Wolof, there’s a verb, ‘hipi’, which means “to open one’s eyes and see.” So, hipi is a term of enlightenment.

So the ‘hip’ is all about knowledge and understanding. What about ‘hop’?

‘Hop’ is an Old English word that means “to spring into action.” So what [hip-hop is] about is enlightenment, then action.

Asante goes on to quote the classic KRS-1 lyric from ‘Hip-Hop Lives’:

Hip and hop is more than music
Hip is the knowledge / Hop is the movement
Hip and hop is intelligent movement

When hip-hop started in the 1970s, it was a party movement. Rappers didn’t talk about politics as such, but nonetheless the culture was *implicitly* political because it represented the unity and voice of oppressed people who weren’t supposed to be uniting, who weren’t supposed to be partying, who weren’t supposed to have a voice. As the Palestinians say: existence is resistance.

It was the South Bronx. There were no jobs; the housing was terrible; there were race wars; there were turf wars; there were gang wars. Hip-hop arose out of the different gangs and communities and ethnic groups putting their differences aside. These people were supposed to be fighting amongst each other for scraps; they were supposed to be barely surviving, whilst mainstream America forgot about them. Yet all of a sudden they get together and create the most creative, dynamic, innovative, powerful culture that anyone has seen for decades. Drawing on the rich legacy of African, Latino/a and Caribbean culture in the US, this new culture combined rapping with mutated disco beats, and added the innovations of scratching, breakdancing and graffiti. It was an amazing explosion of creativity.

The people in the forefront of this movement didn’t have newspapers or TV channels, but they created a loud, powerful voice. Soon they were putting that voice to very good effect, letting the world know about what was going on in the US ghetto – probably the most oppressed community in the ‘first world’. People like Public Enemy, Melle Mel, Rakim, KRS-1, Poor Righteous Teachers, Paris, Sister Souljah and the Jungle Brothers did a great job bringing this message.

Nowadays the voice still exists and is louder than ever, in the sense that hip-hop as an art form reaches hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. However, the sad fact is that this voice is increasingly not controlled by, or used in the interests of, working class and oppressed people.

In 1985 Melle Mel was rapping about the dangers of coke and crack:

My white lines go a long way
Either up your nose or through your vein
With nothin to gain except killin your brain

In the same song he makes an important point about comparative sentencing:

A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time
He got out three years from now just to commit more crime
A businessman is caught with 24 kilos
He’s out on bail, and out of jail and that’s the way it goes

These days we’ve got Young Jeezy:

I’m knee-deep in the game
So when it’s time to re-up I’m knee-deep in the ‘caine.

Or Li’l Wayne, whose routine, apparently, is:

Wake up in the morning, take a sh**, shower, shave
Stand over the stove and whip it like a slave.

So in a single chorus he is both trivialising the history of slavery and the African holocaust, and at the same time glamourising the sale of crack cocaine, the spread of which has been another (state-engineered) disaster for Black and Latino communities. (Incidentally, given that Wayne is a platinum-selling artist, it is extremely unlikely that his daily routine has anything to do with cooking up crack; therefore instead of “keeping it real”, he’s making himself rich off a self-destructive ghetto discourse that promotes maximum personal wealth at the expense of the community’s wellbeing).

Dead Prez break down the current state of hip-hop very clearly:

Hip-hop today is programmed by the ruling class. It is not the voice of African or Latino or oppressed youth. It is a puppet voice for the ruling class that tells us to act like those people who are oppressing us. The schools, the media, capitalism and colonialism are totally responsible for what hip-hop is and what it has become.

How did we get to this point?

It’s simple really. Like with any powerful cultural movement, big corporations wanted to get their piece of the pie. They jumped on hip-hop, and made a whole load of money off acts like Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow, Public Enemy and Rakim. But the music industry became keenly aware of the fact that it was promoting music that pretty clearly wasn’t in the long-term interests of Big Money. So it came up with the perfect solution: carry on milking the cash cow, but put an end to the politics. The strategy: only bring out the monster marketing machine for rappers that talk nonsense and that promote negative, sexist, racist, exploitative images.

The record labels had the power to do that. ‘The Big Four’ – Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, EMI Group and Warner Music Group – account for over 80% of the US music market. Within a couple of years – 1990 to 1992 – it went from Public Enemy being the number one act in hip-hop to political rappers not being able to get the promotion or financial backing they needed to get serious sales.

In Byron Hurt’s excellent documentary ‘Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes’ there’s a great quote from the former Def Jam president Carmen Ashhurst-Watson:

At the time where we switched to gangster music was the same time the majors brought up all the labels and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. At the time we were able to get a place in the record store and a bigger presence because of this major marketing capacity, the music became less and less conscious. We went to Columbia, and the next thing I know we went from Public Enemy to pushing a group called Bitches With Problems.

Where do we go from here?

The fact of the matter is that we’re not going to win the battle against the MTV/BET-conducted circus any time soon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to improve the situation and to get back to the real ethic of hip-hop.

The first thing is that, obviously, we’ve got to support the people that are making the type of music we want to hear. People like Akala, Lowkey, Immortal Technique, Jasiri X, Dead Prez, Skinnyman, Ms Dynamite, Black the Ripper, Logic, Shadia Mansour, Genesis Elijah, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Gazateam, Ty, Rodney P, Stormtrap and many others are doing an incredible job and we are extremely lucky to have them. We need to do our bit in terms of pushing them, encouraging them and promoting them, because they don’t have massive corporate machines behind them. Their support base is grassroots, and it relies on word of mouth (and of course the internet).

Also, there are quite a few artists out there who you could characterise as ‘semi-conscious’. They have progressive, anti-racist, anti-exploitation ideas, but they have been led to believe that they can only succeed if they keep those ideas as quiet as possible. Those artists need to be pushed in the right direction; they need to know that there’s a market for conscious, militant music.

In terms of ‘reclaiming the real’, the second thing to remember is that, very simply, we need to fight for our rights, regardless of music. Music by itself is not a movement. It can be part of a movement; it can massively help a movement, but some beautiful lyrics don’t mean a thing if we’re not in the streets demanding our human rights. When James Brown sang ‘Say it Loud, I’m black and I’m proud’, it really resonated because out on the streets there was a massive movement for black people’s rights in the US. By fighting for our rights, we make our music truly relevant.

There are real social, economic, political, cultural problems that the system is not doing anything useful about. Who’s doing anything about unemployment, the lack of good facilities, postcode wars, police harassment of youth, disappearing higher education places, irrelevant and bad quality education, high cost of living, rising prison numbers, the danger of walking from A to B, benefit cutbacks and so on? If we don’t do anything about these things ourselves, we can’t expect anyone else to!

We need to demand that our musicians say something about these issues, but it’s up to all of us to do something about them.

NB. The above article is based on a talk I gave at the excellent Hip-hop History event organised by the Octavia Foundation in August 2010.

Jasiri X interview

Jasiri XTake a few minutes to read this in-depth interview with the very talented revolutionary rapper Jasiri X, which appeared on a few days ago.

Gone are the days when rappers actually had something of substance to say when they picked up the microphone. The late 80’s and early 90’s were filled with Hip-Hop acts that raged against the machine while most of today’s acts are simple and overly hedonistic. I guess everything is all good.

Pittsburgh MC Jasiri X is a throwback to acts like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Paris, and X-Clan. His lyrics are not about being combative but more about doing the right thing. With rhymes steeped in factuality Jasiri X is a breath of fresh air to Hip-Hop in 2010.

I spoke with Jasiri X about the Tea Party Movement, police brutality in the inner city, his upcoming album Ascension, and why Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame are part of a modern day minstrel show.

SS: I first heard of you from your song What if the Tea Party was Black? Talk about why you decided to record that song and explain the meaning behind it.

Jasiri X: It really came from a conversation that I had with Paradise the Architek from X-Clan. He sent me an article written by a gentleman named Tim Wise. The article basically said, imagine if the Tea Party was black. I read the article and I thought it was decent. I saw Paradise later on and he asked me about it. I said it was cool, and he said that it would make a great song. I was like, “Wow, it would.” At that point in time it was instantaneous and I just started writing.

The purpose was to show media bias. It wasn’t about the Tea Party as much as it was about how they’ve been covered. It’s interesting to me when you hear them talk about revolution and see them with guns. We know the history of our revolutionary organizations and how the government conspired to destroy them, but what if black people decided to march on Washington with guns? How would they treat us? We know it would be a lot harsher treatment than the Tea Party gets. I’m somebody that always analyzes and studies the media. It was right along the lines of what I like to do as far as exposing the biases that I see in the media–especially when it comes to our people.

SS: Race has been in the news recently with people like Shirley Sherrod, Jesse Jackson, and Mel Gibson making headlines. Recently I had a discussion with my 15-year old cousin concerning Jesse Jackson’s allegation that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had the mentality of a slave master. My cousin said, “Why are people still talking about slavery? Why do people still bring up race?” I’ve heard similar comments from people of all colors recently but it shocked me coming from a young black man. What would you say in response to my cousin’s questions about why race and slavery are still brought up in 2010?

Jasiri X: Wow. I would talk to him about how race matters. It’s sad because you would think that in 2010 we would have witnessed Dr. King’s dream by now. Especially with the election of President Obama, we would have moved beyond it. What you see with the election of President of Obama is it’s gotten even more racial. I’d talk to him about Oscar Grant because everybody missed that when LeBron James made his decision on ESPN. Grant was a young brother in Oakland who was shot point blank in the back on video tape. The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter. I would show your cousin how statistics say that young black men born after 1991 have a 91% chance of going to jail at least once in their life. The percentage for white people is just 5. I’d talk to him about graduation statistics and employment statistics. Even today when we go before a judge after committing the same crime we get longer sentences than white offenders. The reality is, race is still a problem.

Here in Pittsburgh we were called America’s most livable city. At the same time a report was issued saying that we have the poorest black community of any of the major cities in the United States. Black children under 5-years old are poorer in Pittsburgh than anywhere else in the United States. That’s the disparity right there. If your cousin lived in the hood I’d say look at your neighborhood and ask why is it not like the neighborhoods of others.

SS: He does live in the hood! He’s on the west side of Chicago and it’s serious over there…

Jasiri X: Wow. Oh yeah. I’m originally from the south side so I understand. I would say look around your own neighborhood, you know?

SS: Tell me about the American History X mixtape that you dropped a few months ago.

Jasiri X: The idea came about from watching the movie. The movie deals with race which is a topic that I deal with often. The white student writes a History paper about Hitler and the black principal takes him into the office and says, “I’m your history teacher now, our topics are going to be about current events, and the class is going to be called American History X.” This Week is a video blog where I was dealing with a lot of current events and issues–the mixtape was right along those same lines.

SS: Earlier you mentioned Paradise the Architek; how did you hook up with Paradise?

Jasiri X: Man, just found out he lived in Pittsburgh! I’m someone who is definitely inspired by X-Clan. We ended up hooking up but what’s interesting is when we did it wasn’t about rap. Paradise is someone who has a tremendous love for our people. He’d call me every time a young person lost their life in Pittsburgh and ask me, “What are gonna do?” We ended up getting with some other young brothers who love Hip-Hop and love working with young people and formed a group called 1 Hood.

After organizing with 1 Hood and doing the anti-violence things in Pittsburgh we got to the music. I almost gave up Hip-Hop because I didn’t think people wanted to hear conscious rap. It changed for me when I wrote the song Free the Jena 6. It ended up being played all over the country and Michael Baisden was the catalyst for that. I ended up in Jena and people responded well to the song saying it touched their lives. It showed me that people really wanted to hear Hip-Hop with substance and a message. That’s when Paradise and I really started working on music together.

SS: Going back to the era when X-Clan came out, acts like X-Clan, Public Enemy and Brand Nubian were at the forefront of rap, now acts like that you won’t see on BET. Why do you think that’s changed in less than 20 years?

Jasiri X: The powers that be of the industry will say outright that that music doesn’t sell. A group like Little Brother who you might not even classify as conscious, I would say they’re conscious or have intelligent music; BET wouldn’t play their video because they said their music was too intelligent for their audience. I think what happened was this industry created a formula for a hit record. People began focusing on making hit records instead of music that inspires and educates. It was like if you don’t fit into this formula that equals hit we aren’t going to support you. The industry is saying we won’t invest in you because you won’t be this big monster hit. This is actually why we started putting our videos on YouTube to show that people want to hear this type of Hip-Hop. It’s good to be able to negotiate a contract and say we have a half a million views on YouTube and people want to hear this type of music.

If you look at the history of the representation of black people in the industry and the media its always been this negative portrayal. It seems to me that now the industry says we only want two representations of black men. Either you’re this unintelligent gangster super thug or you’re this effeminate non-threatening person with super tight jeans. It seems like the media has always had a problem with an intelligent strong black man. Women have it worse. If they don’t want to get buck naked they don’t have a place for you in this industry. This is why me, Paradise, and others have said that we’ll do it independently. There is a market there. There are people that want my music, there’s people that want good conscious Hip-Hop with a message. Look at what’s happening to the industry, it’s collapsing on itself because it’s not producing real good music that people want to listen to. What really destroyed Hip-Hop was when people went into the studio and tried to make hit records instead of making good quality music. What you get out of that is junk. You get a whole bunch of attempts at a hit record and they’re terrible. I took the opposite approach and said I want to make quality music that has an impact and talks about what’s happening.

You’re in Chicago the violence is off the chain! Violence, poverty, the recession, the intense attack on President Obama; all these issues we have and we’re still talking about making it rain? We’re talking about swag? I tend to also get mad at Hip-Hop fans because the fans don’t demand real good music. If the industry is pushing you the fans will accept you. We’ll accept Rick Ross even though we know he’s lying. We know he was a C.O. and he wasn’t a big time hustler. We accept it because the industry is pushing it.

SS: I interviewed Scoop Jackson from ESPN and I asked him why Hip-Hop changed from conscious rap to mostly gangsta rap. He said Hip-Hop didn’t dictate that but the people did. He said in the late 80’s and early 90’s Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton played a much bigger role in the community then than they do now. There is no so-called black leader now so the rappers are a reflection of the people…

Jasiri X: I love Scoop but that’s just absolutely ridiculous. The reason I say that is because I live in the hood. Everybody is not a killer. Everybody is not selling drugs. When you analyze it, it’s a small segment of the people in the community living that life. It’s not everybody. I was just in London Homes; I got a lot of family there. Are there people there doing what they gotta do? Yeah. Sure. But it’s not everybody that lives there. What happens is it’s glamorized. At 1 Hood we walked the worst neighborhood in Pittsburgh called Homewood. Before we started walking it was five shootings in a 21 hour period– a three and a four-year old got shot. We said enough is enough, black men we’re going to get together and walk these streets. What we found out was it really wasn’t that bad. There were a couple of trouble areas but it’s not what’s portrayed. My thing is, yeah we have violence and hustling in the hood but definitely not at the level that these rappers talk about.

SS: On the block that I grew up on there was crime, but there was literally like two houses that people sold drugs out of. Everybody else on the block went to work every day and minded their own business.

Jasiri X: [Laughs] Exactly! Did what they had to do to survive.

SS: Drugs bring guns, people who use drugs steal, and it’s a never ending cycle…

Jasiri X: It’s definitely a vicious cycle. What we saw in Pittsburgh is a change in the policing. It went away from a community policing where people knew the officers and they were from your community. Most of the people that police our communities are white. They’re these hyper ex-soldier type guys that come from the suburbs and rarely have interaction with black people therefore there is no relationship there. That’s why they’re pushing for people to snitch. It used to be where people in the community had a relationship with the police and would talk to them.

An honor student in Pittsburgh named Jordan Miles was beaten severely by the police. He looked like Emmitt Till. He had his locks ripped out of his head. He’s an honor student and a violinist who played for Michelle Obama when she visited Pittsburgh. He was just walking to his grandmother’s house and some undercover cops jumped out on him so he ran. He didn’t know they were cops and they gave him the beat down. The police are defiant in the face of that and the head of the F.O.P says they followed their training. They charged this young brother with resisting arrest and he’s an honor student who never had any history with the police–as if beating him down and ripping the locks out of his head wasn’t enough. Look at the history of America, sex and violence is what America is founded on and what America loves to digest.

SS: I haven’t been stopped by the cops in a while. I’m 34-years old but when I was a teenager I was stopped constantly. It was always humorous to me because I was never in any kind of trouble but the house across the street from me was flooded with drug dealers and the police never bothered them. A lot of these cops work with drug dealers. They take payoffs or shakedown these small-time dope dealers so they aren’t concerned about policing the community. Earlier you mentioned that there should be more black police officers in black neighborhoods but in my experiences the black cops are way worse than the white ones. So how would you propose to change this?

Jasiri X: Yeah, yeah. You’re absolutely right. Pittsburgh was one of the first cities they used the RICO Act on. To talk to those brothers who were victims of that they didn’t get hit until they actually stopped selling drugs [laughs]. I think ultimately what we have to do is begin to police our own communities. It’s like education; do I send my child to this school that really doesn’t care about my child? Or do I take it upon myself to home school my child? We’re being pushed to do for self and practice self sufficiency. Ultimately it’s our neighborhood. On the block that I live on if I see someone breaking into my neighbors’ house I have a responsibility to say, “Nah, you’re not breaking into my neighbors’ house,” because the next house you’ll break into is mine.

The solution is we have to organize block by block and community by community to say we’re going to watch out for one another. Sadly people are afraid to approach these young brothers–they’re approachable. You can say, “Hey, on this block right here we’re watching out. It might be wise to leave us alone.” At the same time our tax dollars pay the salary of the police. With this organization 1 Hood we went up against the police a few times. When we first went up against the police an officer pulled a gun on a 7-year old girl and said he was going to blow her brains out. There were five witnesses to this account. What they tend to do is drag the case out and what we tend do is get real hype when it first happens and then go back to sleep. We have to begin to organize for the duration and hold the police responsible for what they’re supposed to do. What happened was the mother was charged with disturbing the peace because she was calling on Jesus to save her from the wicked police officer. They ended up dropping the charges against her but the judge said he did not believe that this officer would do something like that even though there were five eye witnesses. Less than a year later that officer shot and killed a mentally disturbed man. When we go and speak we bring that stuff up. We have to hold the officers accountable for the jobs they’re supposed to do and not be afraid to do that as well.

SS: Back to the music, I heard a song of yours called Blackface and another song called Just A Minstrel. How do you differentiate between someone having fun and being themselves versus someone putting on a minstrel show?

Jasiri X: Being yourself, are you really being yourself? To me that’s the $64 million dollar question. I read in XXL magazine that Gucci Mane had an academic college scholarship for computer science. So when we see Gucci Mane playing this role is he being himself? Obviously this dude is super-intelligent. Lil’ Wayne is very intelligent. When you see them acting out like this are they being themselves? I would say no. T-Pain? No. They’re playing a character. When they get caught and get on that witness stand like The Game you can tell. The Game’s lawyer said, “Do not call my client a gangsta rapper. That’s not what he is.” They’ll get on that stand and say that’s not really me, I’m playing a character.

Why is it that the character that they’re playing resembles a minstrel act from the 1920’s and 30’s? Why can’t you being an intelligent man reflect that in your music? If Gucci Mane would be goofy in one video and an intelligent business man in the next I would say OK, in this video he’s having fun and in this video he’s handling business. If in every video you’re showing all your teeth and high on pills that’s not real. Especially when you’re going in front of the judge and talking about how you want to change your life and be a role model.

SS: Waka Flocka Flame…

Jasiri X: Lord have mercy.

SS: [LAUGHS] He got into some minor verbal thing with Method Man. One of the things he said was that people don’t want to hear intelligent lyrics, I’m paraphrasing but that’s basically what he said. I’ve actually never heard one of his songs..

Jasiri X: You don’t want to hear it [laughs].

SS: I don’t think that guy is playing a character. I think that’s really him.

Jasiri X: No. To understand who Waka Flocka Flame is… Do you know who his mother is?

SS: No.

Jasiri X: His mother managed Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj. How hard did you have it if your mom is managing Gucci and Nicki Minaj? You got some money now! That’s the mentality that the record labels have. The record label will say Soulja Boy had a million hits, did a dance, and sold some records so in their mind this is proof that people don’t want to hear lyrics anymore, but explain the success that Jay-Z and Eminem have. To me that’s a cop out. This is somebody who has no respect for the culture of Hip-Hop. He just wants to make money. His mom is managing Gucci so he can get Gucci and Nicki Minaj on a song so it’s like why not put some songs out there and you can make money too. He didn’t have to go through what most rappers have to go through to get on.

Even if you were the hood rapper you have to have some skills. You have to be able to say some rhymes to make the people in the hood say, “That’s him–he’s the one.” He never had to go through that. Because of how he got on and how quickly he got on he doesn’t have the same appreciation and respect for the culture and the music because he didn’t have to pay those dues. He’ll go out as fast as he came in–just watch. People that have an easy time getting on don’t last long. Look at the stories of Jay-Z, Eminem, and Diddy. They had a hard road, they fought. Every record label turned Jay-Z down and he financed his own record. They worked hard just to get their foot in the door. Their grind level is different.

We have an artist here in Pittsburgh named Wiz Khalifa. I’ve known him since he was 16-years old and when I met him he was dead set on being a professional Hip-Hop artist. He had a mindset like a 25-year old. He was in the studio back then, he wasn’t playing the block. He signed with Warner Bros, it didn’t turn out like people thought it would and it made him grind even harder. There was a time in Pittsburgh when there was a hate campaign for Wiz. He used to have to have a bodyguard.

SS: Why?

Jasiri X: It was two reasons. He’s young and his management is young. They made a mistake by marketing him as the only thing that’s happening in Pittsburgh. He also had a couple of street type songs. A lot of the rappers are heavy in the streets and they had a problem because they knew he wasn’t heavy in the streets. Wiz just hadn’t found himself yet and now he’s found himself as an artist. His management learned from those early mistakes. They reached back to Pittsburgh and when Wiz comes back to the city he’s like the Steelers now. It wasn’t easy and that dude went through a lot. I think he’s going to have a longer career than these dudes who just got a co-sign from a big star to get on. Wiz built his own machine and he’s going to be around a lot longer because of what he went through that I witnessed first hand.

SS: Talk about the album you have coming out.

Jasiri X: I’m really excited, it comes out in January. It’s really to me my first real album. American History X is a good album and we got the Pittsburgh Hip-Hop album of the year award but it was more like a compilation of my episodes. What you’ll find on American History X is me talking about things going on around the world and things that affect us. This is the first album where I get to get a little more into myself and just spit on some stuff. I put a couple songs out where I just spit and I’m nice with it. I can spit on this mic. It’s produced entirely by a producer named Rel!g!on out of Vancouver, Canada. He did a song last season that was very popular called Silent Night. I got with him and this new company called Wandering Worx — myself and Planet Asia were the first acts signed to it.

I’m just excited about an album that’s separate from me doing political stuff. As an artist you get more of a wider range of me on the album. It’s called Ascension. When we do the This Week with Jasiri X series we do nine episodes, nine weeks straight. So it’s nine new songs and nine new videos. I pushed myself to a point where I was ready to give up. It was like boot camp times fifty. I edit the videos too so I wasn’t sleeping at all. We kind of changed it up this year. It was a dark time for me so Ascension represents me coming out of that and finding the love for Hip-Hop again. I had to get off Twiter and Facebook and just wrote. Rel!g!on is a super producer as far as his beats and I’m really excited about people hearing it.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Jasiri’s classic ‘What if the Tea Party was Black?’
Jasiri X on Twitter
Jasiri X Facebook group

Remembering George Jackson on his birthday

Soledad Brother

George Jackson, Soledad Brother

A massive happy birthday to George Jackson, martyr of the struggle for freedom, leading intellectual of the Black Power movement, and a major source of inspiration for many of the best hip-hop artists.

Aged only 18, George Jackson was imprisoned for the petty crime of stealing $70 from a petrol station. In spite of the lack of evidence, he was convicted, and the judge threw the book at him, giving him a sentence of one year to life. In prison, he became known as a radical, and for that reason he was never released. When he started teaching other prisoners about the conditions that had got them into prison, and when he started organising the other prisoners to defend themselves, he was put in solitary confinement, where he did seven and a half years.

While in prison, he joined the Black Panther Party, and became one of its leading intellectuals and public figures. His books, ‘Soledad Brother’ and ‘Blood in my Eye’ are essential reading, even today.

On 21 August 1971, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard, who claimed George was trying to escape. As the famous writer James Baldwin put it: “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”

Jackson represented an important ideological thread within the international movement against colonialism, imperialism and racism. He was sickened by the traditional ‘left’, and felt that their lack of courage, their refusal to keep up with new developments and their comfortable middle class backgrounds prevented them from organising real change in society. He took to the Black Panther Party quickly, because he saw that it was an organisation that spoke to the street, to the dispossessed, the downtrodden; an organisation that *organised*, not just talked. In ‘Blood in My Eye’, he puts it very simply:

“We are faced with two choices: to continue as we have done for forty years fanning our pamphlets against the hurricane, or to build a new revolutionary culture that we will be able to turn on the old culture”

The historian Walter Rodney summed up George Jackson’s contribution brilliantly:

“George Jackson, like Malcolm X before him, educated himself painfully behind prison bars to the point where his clear vision of historical and contemporary reality and his ability to communicate his perspective frightened the US power structure into physically liquidating him… The greatness of George Jackson is that he served as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.” (see this article)

George Jackson and his brother Jonathan – who was killed while leading an incredibly audacious courtroom breakout – have been mentioned in many a hip-hop track. Check out Nas’s ‘Testify’, which he dedicates to George and Jon:

George would have been 69 years old today. We can only guess what he might have achieved by now.

“To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It’s aggressive. It isn’t ‘cool’ or cautious. It’s bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred! It can hardly be any other way without raising a fundamental contradiction. If revolution, and especially revolution in Amerika, is anything less than an effective defense/attack weapon and a charger for the people to mount now, it is meaningless to the great majority of the slaves. If revolution is tied to dependence on the inscrutabilities of ‘long-range politics,’ it cannot be made relevant to the person who expects to die tomorrow.” (Blood in my Eye)

Brand new video: Akala ‘Yours and My Children’

Check out this powerful and moving new video from Akala, for his track ‘Yours and My Children’. Shot on location in Rio’s favelas, the video is definitely a major step up from the average hip-hop vid. No bling, no phat cars, no bragging or bullshit; just regular scenes from the Brazilian hood, interspersed with clips from various live performances, all very slickly and professionally edited.

No doubt you’ve heard the track before, so I don’t need to tell you how deep it is. Akala kicks some of the realest knowledge, with breathtaking skill and passionate delivery. His simple message of unity is one that we need to take up! Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics:

Even the fact that I call myself black
Social conditioning and that’s a fact
The idea of races has no factual basis
It was made just to serve racists
To justify doing to some what couldn’t be done to others
But they all are all of our sons
BLack or white, all of our sons
Muslim, Christian, all of our sons
Look up in the sky, that’s all of our sun
Last time I checked, we only had one
So if some were inferior, others superior, based on exterior
Well then surely the sun would know and fall into line
It would rain on your crops and not mine
Air would prefer to inhabit your lungs
Food would prefer the taste of your tongue
If that’s not the case then nature’s declared
Despite what we say, the world’s in fact fair

Kids in Iraq, yours and my children
Kids in Iran, yours and my children
Afghanistan, yours and my children
Even Sudan, yours and my children
Kids in Brazil, yours and my children
Police drive by the favela and just kill dem

Spread the word! Let’s get the view count up and make sure the music industry knows Akala cannot be ignored.

Big ups to SB.TV for premiering the video.

Follow Akala on Twitter
Follow SB.TV on Twitter
Buy Akala’s latest album, DoubleThink, on iTunes
Read our review of the recent Dead Prez and Akala gig

What we need is Nueva Canción – Remembering Victor Jara

Victor Jara

Victor Jara

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the murder of the great Chilean revolutionary musician, Victor Jara.

Victor Jara was one of the leaders of the Nueva Canción (spanish for ‘New Song’) movement – a movement based around “socially committed” music; music that takes a clear stand for freedom, against poverty, against imperialism and against human rights abuses. Nueva Canción gave voice to the millions of peasants, workers and indigenous peoples of Latin America who were being crushed under the weight of US economic and political dominance.

The date 11 September causes most westerners nowadays to think of the World Trade Centre attacks. However, for many, it will forever be remembered as the date on which, in 1973, the Chilean military overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende in a bloody coup. That coup, which brought the fascist Augusto Pinochet to power, was in large part planned and 100% supported by the United States (Henry Kissinger is on record as saying: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”)

On 12 September 1973, Jara, along with several thousands of Allende supporters, was taken hostage by the military and taken to Chile Stadium (now known as Estadio Víctor Jara). Along with many others, he was beaten and tortured; his hands were broken, but his resolve was not. When soldiers taunted him and told him to play something on his guitar (in spite of his broken hands), he played Venceremos (We Will Win). On 15 September, he was murdered.

Across the world, Victor Jara is remembered as a hero and a martyr; an exemplary musician who put his skill and his passion entirely at the service of the struggle for a better life for humanity. In commemorating his death and celebrating his life, we should remember the principal lesson he teaches us: that culture is a weapon, one which must be wielded effectively in these times where oppression and repression are so prevalent. As Paul Robeson said, “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery”.

Here is one of the last songs recorded by Jara:

And here is a poem he wrote during the last days of his life, about what was happening in the stadium. The poem was smuggled out of the stadium in a friend’s shoe.

There are five thousand of us here
in this small part of the city.
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country?
Here alone
are ten thousand hands which plant seeds
and make the factories run.
How much humanity
exposed to hunger, cold, panic, pain,
moral pressure, terror and insanity?
Six of us were lost
as if into starry space.
One dead, another beaten as I could never have believed
a human being could be beaten.
The other four wanted to end their terror
one jumping into nothingness,
another beating his head against a wall,
but all with the fixed stare of death.
What horror the face of fascism creates!
They carry out their plans with knife-like precision.
Nothing matters to them.
To them, blood equals medals,
slaughter is an act of heroism.
Oh God, is this the world that you created,
for this your seven days of wonder and work?
Within these four walls only a number exists
which does not progress,
which slowly will wish more and more for death.
But suddenly my conscience awakes
and I see that this tide has no heartbeat,
only the pulse of machines
and the military showing their midwives’ faces
full of sweetness.
Let Mexico, Cuba and the world
cry out against this atrocity!
We are ten thousand hands
which can produce nothing.
How many of us in the whole country?
The blood of our President, our compañero,
will strike with more strength than bombs and machine guns!
So will our fist strike again!

How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment

Read the full story behind the poem.

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