Posts Tagged ‘lowkey’

A quick reflection on the Immortal Technique and Lowkey gig

I really enjoyed the Immortal Technique and Lowkey gig in London last night. First time I’ve seen Tech live. He’s a great performer and an inspiring guy, and he had the audience properly pumped up and feeling like they were part of a movement for revolutionary change. That’s cool. A lot better than feeling inspired to get ‘Rich Off Cocaine’.

The problem is when you wake up the next morning and you’re *not* part of a movement for revolutionary change, because that movement doesn’t exist, and hardly anyone has even considered why that is the case, and hardly anyone has given any serious thought to what the idea of revolution means in the 21st century in the heartlands of imperialism. There’s no leadership, no critical reflection, very little analysis of the failures of the past, very little strategic innovation, very little ideological clarity, an almost outright hostility to political/economic/social/cultural theory, very little willingness to challenge (or even recognise) the colonialist/racist/sexist prejudices we inherit, no willingness to *unite* with one another in any meaningful way, and so on. In summary, we have too much division, confusion, prejudice, ignorance, inertia, dogma and cowardice. Yes, there are a few small groups that consider themselves revolutionary, but they have no connection with the oppressed people they want to lead, and they show no real willingness to address their shortcomings. They’re waiting for external conditions to arise that will make the masses flock to them. Meanwhile, the ruling class continues full speed ahead with its programme of demobilising and diverting (and destroying) oppressed people.

So some inspiring radical culture is nice. It made me feel good; I’m sure it made others feel good. But unless it encourages us to face up to the difficult issues of creating a movement for change, then we shouldn’t kid ourselves that going to a gig is some sort of revolutionary act.

Lowkey: best wishes for the future

As you no doubt already know, Lowkey has decided to press pause on his rapping career, for the foreseeable future at least. Before deactivating his fan page, he wrote on Facebook:

After many months of contemplation I have decided to step away from music and concentrate on my studies. Maybe at some point I will get back into it again but at this stage I feel I should direct my energy in different, more helpful directions. The ego is a destructive thing and I feel this business and these social networks in particular have a tendency to feed it in an unhealthy way. I will be decactivating this page. Thank you for all those who have supported me over the years. See you on the other side people.

As Beat Knowledge has supported Lowkey since the site first started in August 2010 (I was lucky enough to write the first review of his album), I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Lowkey for his contributions over the last few years and to wish him all the success and happiness for the future. Knowing him personally, I have no doubt that he will continue to use his abilities to further the struggle of oppressed people worldwide. If music is not bringing him fulfilment and growth right now, then it makes sense for him to give it a break.

Despite a few disagreements I’ve had with him over the last couple of years, I have a lot of love for him and a great deal of respect for what he’s done. His effect on the music scene has been incredible. He has combined his lyrical ability with knowledge, a whole heap of honesty, and a love for the people. The result has been game-changing: he has created a path for UK artists to build a career in music, remaining independent, staying true to their beliefs, talking sense, and serving the people rather than the music industry. Tracks like ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Obamanation’ have been a major talking point, and have opened up the discussion of some important topics.

I’m sure Lowkey will be back with another album in the next few years. In the meantime, a million thanks for your contributions, and best of luck!

An album worth waiting for: Lowkey – Soundtrack to the Struggle

Lowkey and Jody McIntyre

As Lowkey says in the intro: it’s been a long time coming.

Twenty-five-year-old rapper Lowkey (aka Kareem Dennis) has been well-respected on the underground hip-hop scene since he was a teenager, winning notoriety for his humorous battling style and rapid-fire lyricism. But it was a few years into his career, in early 2009, that he really emerged as the leading voice in the “soundtrack to the struggle” – making music representing the hopes and dreams of oppressed peoples around the world; people struggling for freedom and equality.

A key moment in this process was the massive rally in Hyde Park on 10 January 2009, protesting against Israel’s brutal bombing campaign against Gaza. Lowkey’s impassioned acapella performance of the poignant ‘Long Live Palestine’ (which has since become a massive hit) caught a lot of people’s attention, and Lowkey quickly became a leading voice in the anti-war movement, one of very few with the ability to put radical ideas in a form that young people can relate to.

Since then, Lowkey has released a string of hits and established himself as the leading voice of political hip-hop on these shores (in addition to gaining the respect of some of the major radical voices of US hip-hop, such as Dead Prez and Immortal Technique). The reach of his singles has been unprecedented for a fully independent artist with no mainstream media support. His tracks ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Obamanation’, both hard-hitting pieces of political and social commentary exposing the lies and hypocrisy of imperialism, have received 1.6 million and 1.4 million YouTube views respectively. A generation of young people has been inspired and educated by these songs, which have successfully captured people’s imagination in a way that the many organisations bringing a somewhat similar message have failed to do.

And although there are a few that want to ghettoise him as a ‘Palestine rapper’, Lowkey has continued to make music about police brutality, about respect for women, about the music industry, Cuba, Diego Garcia and much more, and has collaborated with leading London rap voices such as Wretch 32, Klashnekoff, Akala, Black the Ripper and Sway.

In addition to his music, Lowkey has also spoken at meetings, rallies and pickets up and down the country, speaking out against war, racism, islamophobia, government cuts and police brutality. He has taken his skills and knowledge around the world, speaking and performing in the US (alongside respected anti-zionist academic Norman Finkelstein), Palestine and Australia.

Along with activist Jody McIntyre and rapper Logic, he has formed the Equality Movement, bringing young people from different ethnic, political and religious backgrounds together to learn and act in the struggle for a better future. A true activist-musician, he’s as comfortable with the megaphone as he is with the microphone.

Throughout these last nearly three years of intense activity, the anticipation has been growing for a Lowkey album – a body of work that sums up his experiences, and our whole generation’s experiences, over the past few years; years characterised by imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Libya; bombings of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; global economic crisis; massive cuts to public services in most of the affluent countries; and rising resistance to the status quo.

Although Lowkey’s debut album, Dear Listener, appeared in mid-2009, and was a very solid release, it was clear that it was a prelude to his first major album, which has finally arrived in the form of Soundtrack to the Struggle. And it’s a classic. No weak tracks, no cringe moments, no need to skip or fast-forward; just 20 exceptional pieces of thought-provoking and soul-stirring music. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this album sits comfortably alongside the best UK hip-hop releases of all time (such as Skinnyman’s “Council Estate of Mind”, Rodney P’s “The Future” and Klashnekoff’s “The Sagas”). Furthermore, given the international relevance of the subject matter and the intensity and lyrical ability Lowkey brings to the table, I would argue that Soundtrack to the Struggle deserves a place alongside the best political/radical hip-hop releases (such as Dead Prez’s “Let’s Get Free” and Immortal Technique’s “Revolutionary Vol. 2”).

The intro track, ‘Soundtrack to the Struggle’, sets the scene perfectly, with its cinematic strings, choir voices and the chorus reminding us that “the system need fi change right now, too much yoot a go down inna grave right now”. Lowkey makes his mission very clear:

This album has been in the making a quarter century
Born to bless the beat and rap over recorded melody
I knew the truth since I was a small little boy
I am a product of the system I was born to destroy

The next track, ‘Too Much’, featuring the singing talents of Shadia Mansour, has a clear message about the dangers of our society’s obsession with money, asking “Do you possess money or by money are you possessed?”. The recently-released video, shot in Havana, contrasts this money madness with the simpler and more altruistic life favoured in Cuba.

Track 3 will already be known to most of you – ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ featuring radical New York-based hip-hop legend, Immortal Technique.

‘Hand on your Gun’ is a new track over a ridiculously funky Show’n’Prove production, exposing the sinister forces behind the weapons industry.

First in my scope is BAE Systems
Specialise in killing people from a distance
Power is a drug and they feed the addiction
Immediate deletion of people’s existence
Who says what is and what isn’t legitimate resistance

Next up is a skit based on a firing speech by Reverend Jeremiah Wright that, in two minutes, tells you everything you need to know about imperialist state terrorism. “Violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism”. This of course provides the perfect introduction to ‘Terrorist’, Lowkey’s biggest track to date, and probably the most widely-discussed piece of music of 2010.

After ‘Something Wonderful’, the video for which was released early last year, comes a new cut, ‘Dreamers’, a deeply personal track dedicated to the dreamers: not the people that “see things that are there and ask why”, but the people that “see things that aren’t there and ask why not”. The emotional lyrics and tight flows work perfectly alongside Mai Khalil’s wistful adlibs and the acoustic instrumental (which you will almost certainly recognise!).

A clip of a speech from well-known activist/journalist Tariq Ali, assessing the record so far of US President Barack Obama, sets the scene nicely for ‘Obamanation’, which, although released back in March 2010, only gets more relevant with the passage of time.

Next up is ‘Cradle of Civilization’ featuring Mai Khalil, a haunting and moving tune devoted to the homeland Lowkey has never seen: Iraq.

What I view on the news is making me shiver
Cos I look at the victims and see the same face in the mirror
This system of division makes it harder for you and me
Peace is a question; the only answer is unity

In ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’, Lowkey joins forces with UK hip-hop heavyweight Klashnekoff for a track reflecting on their careers and their roles within the music industry. Everybody around the scene knows that these two brothers could be living large off music right now if only they were willing to give up control of their minds and bodies to the major label puppet-masters. Both have opted instead to stay true to what they believe in over the course of their careers. Lowkey’s verse describes his mission to give voice to the voiceless:

I don’t do this for the happy ravers or the aggy haters
I do this for the warriors and the gladiators
Do this for those whose lives you never cared about
Can’t pronounce their names, their origins or their whereabouts
Those brought up around tragedy and sadness Who adjusted and found normality in the madness
Fight the power, til I’m out of breath like Malcolm X
You empower the powerful, I empower the powerless

In the new track ‘Everything I Am’, heavyweight producer Show’n’Prove again comes through with the goods with a phenomenal sample flip. Lowkey explores his own identity and how he is perceived, particularly by his fans.

Preferably the aim is equality eventually
Don’t relegate me below, or elevate me above, you
Needless to say, in either place I’m uncomfortable
I treat you as an equal I’m simply a man
Your brother in humanity is everything that I am

The next skit, introducing ‘Long Live Palestine’, is based on a beautiful and deeply moving speech by Norman Finkelstein, explaining why he, as a Jew, feels compelled to support the struggle of the Palestinian people. This will make you cry.

My late father was in Auschwitz, my late mother was in Madjanek concentration camp. Every single member of my family on both sides was exterminated. Both of my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. And it’s precisely and exactly because of the lessons my parents taught me and my two siblings that I will not be silent when Israel commits its crimes against the Palestinians. And I consider nothing more despicable than to use their suffering, and their martyrdom to try to justify the torture, the brutalisation and the demolition of homes that Israel daily commits against the Palestinians. So I refuse any longer to be intimidated by the tears [of Zionists absolving themselves of any crimes by making reference to the Nazi holocaust]. If you had any heart in you, you would be crying for the Palestinians.

The next new track is ‘We Will Rise’, an optimistic tribute to those fighting against empire, in particular against its disastrous impact in the Arab world over the course of the last century. The track ends with a powerful poem from young Yemeni-British poet Sanasino.

After ‘My Soul’, the video for which was leaked in July, comes another deep new track, ‘Butterfly Effect’, produced by the highly-respected New York production team Beatnick and K-Salaam. Lyrically a very deep and unique track, ‘Butterfly Effect’ sees Lowkey giving voice to a disabled homeless war veteran and exploring how events and decisions have repercussions that we can never predict. The beautiful sung chorus, solemn instrumental and powerful storytelling make this one of the standout tracks of the album.

Next comes ‘ObamaNation Part 2’, the video for which was released just a few days ago, and which has become an instant classic. Three intense verses – from M1 (Dead Prez), Black the Ripper and Lowkey – over an epic Nutty P production.

Then we have another new BeatNick and K-Salaam produced banger, ‘Dear England’, featuring Mai Khalil. The grime tempo/feel is a welcome change of pace and gives Lowkey a chance to show off his double-time skills, very appropriate for this insightful track about the recent London riots.

Britannia lit the match but Britannia fears the flame
Where blood stains the pavement, tears stain the cheek
When privilege is threatened, the fear reigns supreme
Where bankers are earning from shooting and looting
The nervous are shooting, we search for solutions

‘Haunted’ is perhaps the most personal, reflective and fragile moment of the album, as Lowkey gives the listener an insight into some of the psychological conflict he deals with daily, haunted by the memory of his brother, ground down by the stress of his ongoing court case, and lied about and misrepresented in the press. He ends by urging the listener to remember: “When I go, just know, that I did it for the people”.

The penultimate track is the long-awaited ‘Terrorist Part 2’, featuring the young London-based Iraqi rapper Crazy Haze taking the role of a barrister defending Lowkey against charges of ‘inciting terrorism’ with his music, and then as a prosecuting barrister cross-examining Lowkey. An innovative and interesting track over a tasty Last Resort beat.

The final cut of the album is the impassioned ‘Million Man March’, which encapsulates the sentiment of Che Guevara: “I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun”. Mai Khalil (whose contribution to this album cannot be underestimated) sings:

My back’s against the wall
But you can’t kill us all
Even if you take my life
Still we will survive
We shall overcome
And the tables will turn
Today I die as one but as millions I’ll return
But as millions I’ll return
But as millions I’ll return

And there you have it. Twenty phenomenal tracks that make you think and make you feel. An album worth waiting for. I’m sure there will be many more albums to come from Lowkey (who at 25 years of age displays a remarkable musical, lyrical and political maturity), but it’s not going to be easy to top this.

The album is released on 16th October. Here is the iTunes pre-order link. If you are a Lowkey supporter, please do your best to spread the word about the album far and wide! There is no multinational corporation sponsoring this music; it is our music; music for the people. If we don’t support it, it can’t continue.

Viva Cuba! Lowkey ft Shadia Mansour – Too Much

The latest leak from Lowkey’s long-anticipated album, Soundtrack to the Struggle, has a clear message about the dangers of our society’s obsession with money, asking “Do you possess money or by money are you possessed?”

In contrast to the crass materialism of modern capitalist society, the video shows vibrant images of life in Cuba, a society where money is less important than physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being. The beautiful video ends with an important message from independent film-maker Pablo Navarrete about Cuba and the US blockade against it:

The US government’s blockade against Cuba was first imposed in October 1960.

It was introduced after the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro (which came to power in January 1959 after overthrowing the brutal US-backed dictator Fulencio Batista) nationalised property belonging to US citizens and corporations.

Since 1962 the blockade has been tightened further and today represents the longest blockade in history.

The cost to the Cuban economy has been catastrophic, estimated at more than 750 billion US dollars, in current prices.

The UN General Assembly has voted every year for 19 years on a resolution condemning the blockade. Every year the condemnation is virtually unanimous.

In the most recent vote in October 2010, 187 countries voted for ending the blockade. Only the US and Israel voted to continue with it.

The criminal US blockade of Cuba has for over 50 years tried to suffocate the island; to teach its people and revolution a brutal lesson for standing up to US imperialism and daring to be free.

With heroic sacrifices, Cuba continues to not only resist but to shine a light on the path to a fairer, more humane world.

Cuba resists; Cuba lives; Viva Cuba!

Another deep and important track from Lowkey. Very much looking forward to the album!

Follow Lowkey on Twitter.
Follow Pablo Navarrete on Twitter.

Lowkey – My Soul – “I’d rather die than smile with my oppressor”

Another big track and video from Lowkey. Video shot on location in Cuba by the always-excellent Global Faction.

They can’t use my music to advertise for Coca-Cola
They can’t use my music to advertise for Motorola
They can’t use my music to advertise for anything
I guess that’s reason the industry won’t let me in
Refuse to be a product or a brand; I’m a human
Refuse to contribute to the gangster illusion

You might take my life
But you can’t take my soul
You can’t take my soul
You might take my freedom
But you can’t take my soul
You can’t take my soul

Tell ’em!

Follow Lowkey on Twitter.
Follow Global Faction on Twitter

Some thoughts on MTV, Lowkey, Ghetts, hip-hop, grime and unity

You almost certainly know the story, so I’ll keep this brief.

Just over a week ago, MTV Base UK aired a show about the UK’s top ten MCs, a list picked by a panel of industry heads including Logan Sama, Ras Kwame, Charlie Sloth and Stanza.

Here’s the list:

  1. Tinie Tempah
  2. Dizzee Rascal
  3. Skepta
  4. Pro Green
  5. Wiley
  6. Giggs
  7. Devlin
  8. P Money
  9. D Double E
  10. Chipmunk & Lowkey

A fairly predictable list, given that it’s focused at the more commercial end of the ‘urban’ market. A couple of things that were unexpected:

a) Lowkey is included, in spite of being an unsigned and outspoken hip-hop artist, and in spite of having received zero support so far from the ‘industry’.

b) Ghetts isn’t included, in spite of being widely recognised as one of the best (and maybe *the* best) lyricists in the scene.

Anyway, it’s just MTV, so who cares, right?

Well… Ghetts cared. He took the thing personally, and maybe, just maybe, saw the opportunity for a bit of free promotion. In a world where internet hype is everything, why not put out a new track about how pissed off you are, shoot a video, upload it to Grime Daily, and release the single on iTunes?

In case you didn’t already hear Ghetts’s complaint:

Ghetts turns his rage towards a few people:

  • P Money: “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t know who P Money was.” [Kinda true, although P has got skills]
  • D Double E: “As for D Double E, he ain’t done shit but light up a set” [Streetfighter was big still, although not very original for those of us that grew up listening to Skibadee lyrics]
  • Professor Green: “I like Pro Green, but when I paid for his album, two words: daylight robbery” [I agree]
  • Lowkey: “Lowkey must have had someone on the inside. Yeah that’s it, obviously.” [Umm… not really]

Personally I think the line about Lowkey is just a throwaway comment; Ghetts was probably just genuinely surprised to see Lowkey on the list and probably didn’t know much about him. I’m guessing the lyric had more to do with the fact that ‘obviously’ rhymes with ‘robbery’ than any real disdain Ghetts has for Lowkey (and by no stretch of the imagination is it a ‘send’). But anyway, Lowkey clearly took offence. A week later, after a good deal of egging on from his fans on Facebook, he releases this:

It’s an interesting track. Using Ghetts’s classic ‘Top 3 Selected’ beat, Lowkey keeps focused mainly on his own role within the music industry and the fact that he has earned wide popularity with no support whatsoever from MTV, BBC, Kiss or any other major media outlet.

Of course there are a few jibes directed at Ghetts:

“Never would I side with Lockheed Martin… I don’t make tracks for David Cameron.” [This is a reference to Ghetts’s ‘Invisible’ track encouraging ethnic minorities to fill in the 2011 census – a big topic for another time]

“Top 3 Selected, yeah you was hot then, but what about now when you can’t make top 10.”

It feels like Lowkey isn’t sure if he’s directing the track at Ghetts or at MTV. He should have just rolled with the MTV option in my opinion, but there you go. Lowkey takes a conciliatory tone towards Ghetts in the outro, and makes his point strongly:

Don’t get it twisted; I didn’t make this track to prove Ghetts wrong, cos he was right – he *is* one of the best MCs that this country has ever seen. But I did this track to prove myself, cos so am I. Understand this: MTV put me tied with Chipmunk in that list for one reason and one reason only: friction. And listen carefully to the next thing I’m about to say. As far as I’m concerned, MTV Base never has to mention my name again. I don’t need your support. Yeah? Recognise. Existence is resistance.

I think Lowkey’s response is decent (and no doubt the flows are sick – if he did it to prove himself as an MC, well, mission accomplished), but a much better response to the whole thing would have been to do a collaboration track with Ghetts about this ridiculous music industry that doesn’t work for any of us. That would have been a much more positive outcome; it would have inspired, motivated and educated people, and would have helped a lot to build unity between different subcultures within our wider youth culture.

Ghetts is a major figurehead of the grime scene, and Lowkey is a massive part of the political hip-hop movement that is a growing force within UK underground music. What better pair to lead the unity?

Although there’s plenty of overlap, these two subcultures have some obvious differences and there is a clear lack of unity as it stands. Grime arose from the estates, from the pirate radio scene, from young working class (and primarily black) teenagers expressing themselves and developing a fresh new culture and the businesses to go with it (labels, gigs, websites etc). The audience for political hip-hop has tended to be a bit more student-y, a bit more white, Arab and Asian, a bit more politicised, and often focused around anti-war sentiment.

The differences between the scenes have led to a quite serious division, which the state and media obviously understand very well and are eager to exploit (this is clear from MTV’s decision to put Lowkey and Chipmunk in joint tenth place). We all have to be careful not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by people whose only interests are to silence positivity, disrupt unity and get rich off the back of other people’s talent.

The lyrical narrative of the two scenes is different, no doubt, but both are putting forward valid ideas that need to be heard. Radical hip-hop pushes important political and social concepts in a very innovative way, and inspires people to reflect deeply on the world they live in and to act to improve it. Grime focuses on the harsh realities of life for people who are constantly trodden on by society but who refuse to be ground down.

Yes, the story grime tells might be ugly at times, and may offend people’s moral frameworks (guerilla capitalism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!), but nonetheless it’s a representation of real life, and is a form of loud cultural expression for people that the mainstream would absolutely love to ignore. Meanwhile there are issues such as police brutality, government cuts, racism and the exploitative music industry, which are shared ground between the two scenes and which are an important basis for bridging the gap between them.

Are there real problems with some of the lyrical themes in grime? Sure. There is no shortage of misogyny, of glorified black-on-black violence and more. But how can people address those problems except by reaching out and developing a context in which real discussion and progress can take place? A collaboration track would be a great step towards that; a Youtube diss is not.

Young people from working class and non-white backgrounds are rightly very sensitive to criticism, given that the media, the education system and the ‘justice’ system are highly prejudiced against them. P Money says it well: “Now I can blend with the wealthiest guys / My life’s a sin but look what I made of it / See you won’t understand / Only the guys on road can hear what I’m sayin, innit”. His message is clear: don’t judge me, cos you’re not from where I’m from; you don’t know what it feels like to be poor in a world that constantly dehumanises poor people and puts rich people on a pedestal, so don’t hate me for doing whatever I need to do to not be poor any more.

So the barrage of anti-grime criticism that’s been fired off since Ghetts released ‘Who’s on the Panel’ is extremely unhelpful. We need to learn not to judge but to relate to people and to lead by example. The fact is that the mainstream, the government, the corporations hate *all* our culture. If it was up to them, you’d have never heard of Lowkey *or* Ghetts. The two scenes have a lot to gain from each other and a lot to learn from each other.

In terms of creating the unity we need, Lowkey and Ghetts are uniquely well positioned to take the lead and set the right example. The mini-beef between the two has already led to some despicable racist anti-black slurs against Ghetts from some of Lowkey’s ‘supporters’ (and a fair few anti-Arab and anti-Asian retorts). This could easily have been avoided if Lowkey and Ghetts had just done a track together instead of getting bogged down in childish verbal warfare on the internet.

Hopefully that collaboration can happen soon. Better late than never.

Logic, Agent of Change, Jody McIntyre – For My People [with lyrics]

Brand new! Logic comes hard with an anthem for the growing resistance against British imperialism in the belly of the beast. Intro/outro speeches provided by Jody McIntyre and Lowkey, and blues guitar and production provided by, erm, me.

Please leave a comment on Youtube if you like it! And if you reaaaally like it, you can get the full quality mastered version on iTunes for just 79 of your pence.


[Jody intro]
I think we all have a duty to stand up and make our voices heard and to fight against what the government are doing

I get down for my people
Down for my people
Down with the government until we’re all equal
Down with the media
And the corporations
I am not down with invading these nations
Stand up for my people
Up for my people
Fist in the sky until we’re all equal
We need more meetings, more demonstrations
Occupy parliament
This is our nation

[Logic verse 1]
See I’m down for equality
Down to abolish the lottery
Down with all the government’s policies
Silly me to believe no more tuition fees
Nine grand when there’s still soldiers in the Helmland
Lines of division in Palestine and Kashmir
But who put the lines there?
See we created that
Civil war wasn’t born and we made it a fact
The news releases pictures saying that we’re violent
But it we’re not violent, the media is silent
We’ve still got British soldiers occupying Ireland
And they wonder why we’re still fighting
We’re fighting for the third world and everyone who lives there
Fighting the feds who pulled Jody out his wheelchair
We’re fighting for justice, I’m fighting for unity
Bottom line is I’m fighting for you and me

I get down for my people
Down for my people
Down with the government until we’re all equal
Down with the media
And the corporations
I am not down with invading these nations
Stand up for my people
Up for my people
Fist in the sky until we’re all equal
We need more meetings, more demonstrations
Occupy parliament
This is our nation

[Logic verse 2]
Cos these are my people and this is our nation
Too many people have died in fed stations
The US, they have got too many military bases
In places, where they’re not welcome faces
It’s gone past racism
It’s imperialism, capitalism and straight hatred
How can we change this?
Ideally we’d take the whole concept of money and erase it
But this is not feasible
But at the bare minimum
All of our people are equal
The rich man’s the same as the poor
But the poor man still gets ignored
And we’re not the same as the law
But the real criminals are the ones that are making the wars
The companies that are funding the wars
Are the ones we are targettng for
Let’s get ’em

I get down for my people
Down for my people
Down with the government until we’re all equal
Down with the media
And the corporations
I am not down with invading these nations
Stand up for my people
Up for my people
Fist in the sky until we’re all equal
We need more meetings, more demonstrations
Occupy parliament
This is our nation

We should be fighting for equality of all people, irrespective of race, religion, gender, wealth or physical ability.

We must also be 100% clear that while they are talking about cutting spending here, cutting jobs there, cutting benefits here, cutting EMA there, we also have to realise that this country is involved in the occupation of Afghanistan and the full-fledged support of Israel

And this is the central issue at the core of every conflict that is happening. You could not justify killing billions of people in wars around the world unless you considered those people inferior to yourself.

But honestly, at the end of the day, we must always take it back to this, and it’s a quote from someone called Frederick Douglass. He said: “power concedes nothing without demand”. So we must demand, demand, demand, demand, demand. Thank you very much.

Follow Logic on Twitter
Follow Agent of Change on Twitter
Follow Jody McIntyre on Twitter
Follow Lowkey on Twitter
Buy the track on iTunes

Lowkey ft Klashnekoff – Blood, Sweat and Tears [video and lyrics]

‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ sees two UK hip-hop legends, Klashnekoff and Lowkey, reflecting on their careers and their roles within the music industry.

Everybody around the scene knows that these two brothers could be living large off music right now if only they were willing to give up control of their minds and bodies to the major label puppet-masters. Both have opted instead to stay true to what they believe in over the course of their careers.

K-Lash breaks down his role as a cultural leader who has never given in to the industry:

As lightning strikes and thunder pounds
Over the grey skies of London town
Prophesy K returns from the underground
Signified by the people’s trumpet sounds cry
Yeah the system it tried to shut me down
But I’ve been on my ting before Onyx was flinging guns around
Blood, sweat and tears for years
Feels like my career’s been in the dumping ground
Yeah this is how hunger sounds
And I’m the hunter now – Lash the lionheart
AKA the man behind the iron mask
For ten years straight I’ve been raising the iron bar
Trying to breathe the life back into this dying art
So why try and par when you’ll meet the same fate as the lion scar
This game’s fake, full of two-faced lying raas
Who would sell their soul and arse just to climb the charts
But me, I put in too much time in the graft
Refining my craft, for majors to sign me for a minor advance
Picture K-Lash miming on trance
Now picture Dr Dre beats, Lash rhyming with Starks
It’s all fate, and I’ve got mine in my grasp
They’re all snakes, let them die in the past
Who knows what the future holds
These NWO soldiers will probably shoot me cold
All because the truth was told
You should know I did it from the heart

Lowkey’s verse focuses on his mission to give voice to the voiceless:

I don’t do this for the happy ravers or the aggy haters
I do this for the warriors and the gladiators
Do this for those whose lives you never cared about
Can’t pronounce their names, their origins or their whereabouts
Those brought up around tragedy and sadness
Who adjusted and found normality in the madness
Fight the power, til I’m out of breath like Malcolm X
You empower the powerful, I empower the powerless
They’ll play you on the radio if you rap about a Gucci belt
But rap about the government and you might as well shoot yourself
Industry fairies say I rap about conspiracy theories
Just to hide the fact they lyrically fear me
Got the eye of a tiger, the heart of a lion
The mind of a lifer, my stance is defiant
I rise like a phoenix, immediate from the ashes
My existence is inconvenient for the masses
Though we are equal I despise an imitation
I live for my people and die for liberation
I stand as a visionary, some have got plans of killing me
To literally vanish me physically like Aborigines
Hannibal with the mask, an animal with the bars
I’m grappling with my shackles, I channel it through my art
Feel it in the ambience, champion, heavyweight
My life is nothing, but my pride is something you can never take
They think I’m elusive or think I’m a nuisance
I swear these major labels must think that I’m stupid
Keep your 360s you’re convincing these dudes with
Like I’ll give you the blueprint for pimping my music
I say that like K-Lash, he’s another lion
Every hardship from getting scarred to my brother dying
I spit all of it, with or without a big audience
Through the blood, sweat and tears I stand victorious

And the chorus brings it together nicely.

I’m still here, pushing after several years
I’m still here, standing strong, never in fear
I’ll be still here after the dust settles and clears
I’ll be still here after the blood, sweat and the tears

A huge track from these guys. Spread the word!

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Review of the Voices of Rap and Hip-Hop event at the British Library

The Panel

The Panel (photo by Jo Berridge)

On Friday 26 November, several hundred people chose to spend their Friday evening down the library – specifically, the British Library, for an event named ‘Voices of Rap and Hip-Hop’, part of the ‘Evolving English’ exhibition currently taking place at the library.

The event featured some crucial figures from the world of hip-hop and cultural activism: renowned poet, writer and actor Saul Williams; scholar, writer and film-maker MK Asante Jr (whose book “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” was reviewed on this site recently); and two of England’s leading rapper-activists, Lowkey and Akala.

The legendary rapper KRS One had originally been billed to speak, but due to a schedule clash he unfortunately had to cancel. However, while he was in London a few weeks ago, he took the time to record a video message at the British Library, and this video message was played as an introduction to the event.

KRS spoke in particular about the theme of ‘Evolving English’, discussing the way that the English language and hip-hop have affected each other over the years. He mentioned the slang that has been popularised by hip-hop (for example, bad meaning good) that has now made its way into colloquial English in many different countries. He also pointed out that one of the inspirations for graffiti – an essential component of hip-hop culture – was the massive letter that you often see at the start of a chapter of an old book. (Incidentally, KRS One has been a prolific graff artist since the age of 14 (1979)).

Standing in front of a ‘Poetry is Revolution’ poster from the late 1960s with the names of legendary freedom fighters Huey P Newton and H Rap Brown and leading cultural activist Amiri Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones), KRS said of the poster: “this is what hip-hop is really about: poetry for revolution.” Discussing the origin of the term hip-hop, KRS pointed to the Wolof origin of the word ‘hip’ – to open ones eyes and see. He quoted from his lyric on ‘Hip Hop Lives’:

Hip means to know
It’s a form of intelligence
To be hip is to be up-to-date and relevant
Hop is a form of movement
You can’t just observe a hop
You got to hop up and do it
Hip and Hop is more than music
Hip is the knowledge
Hop is the movement
Hip and Hop is intelligent movement
All relevant movement
We selling the music
So write this down on your black books and journals
Hip Hop culture is eternal
Run and tell all your friends
An ancient civilization has bee born again
It’s a fact

He finished with an acappella rendition of his classic track ‘Stop the Violence’ – one of the best examples of cultural activism within hip-hop. It may not have been as good as having him there in person, but the video was nonetheless a great intro to the event.

MK Asante introduced the discussion by talking about the importance of “transforming observations into obligations” – he said that it is not enough to just *observe* something; one has to turn that observation into action. To see a problem is to have an obligation to do something about it. He gave the example of Afrika Bambaataa’s journey as a young man – Bam saw that people of colour needed to do something to break the cycle of violence. He had the opportunity to visit Africa, and this trip gave him massive inspiration and insight, which he used back in New York, turning the Black Spades gang into the Zulu Nation.

MK talked about Bambaataa’s concept of the five elements of hip-hop: MCing, DJing, breaking, graffiti writing and the oft-forgotten fifth element – knowledge. MK remarked that this fifth element informs all the other elements, and that we should make sure it isn’t left out.

MK went on to discuss the relationship between English and the African population in the Americas. He pointed out that slaves taken from Africa didn’t share a single language and therefore had little choice but to speak to each other in English. In order to speak in a way that the masters couldn’t understand, they developed some symbolic transformations of the language. For example, if they heard that a slave had escaped, they couldn’t say “Wow, Saul [the slave] is good”, because they’d be overheard and lashed; so instead they said “Saul is baaaaaaad!” This is the root of the verbal dexterity, the wordplay, the lyricism that is so central to hip-hop.

Asante also mentioned the cultural and linguistic continuity in the African diaspora – for example the culture of call and response, and words such as the Wolof ‘dega’ (from which the slang ‘dig’ is derived), ‘jev’ (‘jive’) and indeed the ‘hip’ in hip-hop.

Introducing the speakers – Saul Williams, Akala and Lowkey – he said that they were carrying on a great tradition of rebellion within culture, citing the example of the great Paul Robeson as a true *artivist*.

Next was a live performance by the legend, Saul Williams, of his poem ‘NGH WHT’. The performance was nothing short of mindblowing. The extraordinary richness of content, the depth of cultural and historical understanding, along with Williams’ flair for performance, left the entire audience amazed. There’s no point giving a summary of the poem – even if I transcribed the whole thing, you wouldn’t really get it unless you heard it. Luckily there’s a good quality video of Williams performing the same poem at a different event (seriously, watch it now!).

The next speaker was Akala, who picked up where MK Asante left off with the theme of cultural continuity. He emphasised the importance of understanding that rapping over a drum beat is not something that started in the South Bronx in the early 1970s – MCs (poets performing with beats) are known to have been existed in some form in Africa for at least 800 years and probably longer.

Akala spoke about the Mandinka people of West Africa, who have a rich oral history tradition stretching back for almost a millennium. This oral history is passed down through jelis (griots) – wandering musician historians – via poetry accompanied by drums and kora (a 21-stringed instrument). These jelis were responsible for educating the population about their history and about current affairs.

Akala pointed out that samba, reggae, hip-hop and other musical forms of the African diaspora are derived directly from this jeli culture – even the rhythms of bashment are traceable to West Africa. Akala explained the importance of understanding this history as a means of informing the music we make today and understanding the role of music in wider society.

The last speaker was Lowkey, who picked up the theme of the importance of the English language in hip-hop. He challenged the audience: “Why is the English language so widely spoken anyway?” The answer: imperialism. The British Empire. He pointed out that, these days, a lot of the best hip-hop is not made in the English language – increasingly people are rejecting cultural imperialism and choosing to express themselves in accordance with their own history and traditions. “The rejected people of the world are speaking; we must listen.”

Lowkey said that hip-hop at its best poses a challenge to power. However, much of what we listen to *serves* power. If the US government likes the music we listen to, then we have to ask ourselves some questions. Hip-hop is being exploited and used as a vehicle to put forward negative ideas, particularly crass materialism and individalism. Who does that serve? Does that build for freedom or oppression?

Lowkey concluded by saying that hip-hop is currently at the forefront of cultural imperialism. The contradiction, however, is that it’s also at the forefront of resistance – people all over the world take up the rebellious element of hip-hop culture and use it to further their struggles. He pointed out that we all have a responsibility to encourage and promote the hip-hop that is challenging power, not the hip-hop that is serving power.

After the speeches, it was time for questions from the floor. I got the chance to put a question to the panel: Given the way hip-hop has been and is being sabotaged through mass media and corporate record deals, what should we say to aspiring young rappers who want to make a career out of what they do? We know that they’re much more likely to get signed if they’re willing to talk negativity and nonsense, so do we say that it’s ok to compromise for the deal or do we say they should stay independent, even if it means not being able to make a living out of their craft?

Lowkey replied that we need to focus on empowerment – taking power away from the music industry and bringing it back to the musicians and the audience. He said that we’ve come to believe that artists have a responsibility to make rich people (record company execs) even richer; we don’t. And with the emergence of new forms of promotion and marketing, particularly internet-based forms such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, it is actually possible for artists to make a living and retain their independence.

Saul Williams took a slightly different approach to the question, saying that artists need to get creative. “Be so good at what you do that the industry has no choice but to play it.” He pointed out that Public Enemy’s beats and lyricism were so innovative, so fresh, so exceptional that the radio had to play their tunes, even though the industry hated the message. Regarding his own career, Saul said: “I get invited to the White House, I have a record deal with Sony, and I say what the fuck I want!”

Saul also pointed out that an awful lot of ‘conscious’ rappers focused a little too much on being ‘conscious’ and not enough on being exceptional. Ultimately, you have to make people dance. The responsibility is on those artists who want to say something worth saying to say it in a way that people *have* to listen to.

Akala noted that we must lead by example. He has just finished his fifth fully independent UK tour, and has recently released his third album on his independent record label. He emphasised the need for persistence and hard work – keep pushing, keep exploring ideas, and trust that word of mouth is a very powerful promotional medium. He also pointed out that Exodus was Bob Marley’s ninth album – it took Bob Marley nine albums to ‘blow’. We can’t expect immediate success; if it takes Bob Marley nine albums, the rest of us can expect it to take more!

MK reinforced Saul Williams’ point about the need for creativity, originality and persistence. He also pointed out that a message for freedom could be pushed in original ways. He made a comparison with the freedom quilt – quilts made by slave women during the days of the Underground Railroad that contained secret symbols with information to aid escape. MK said that the freedom quilt brought together four major themes of the African experience in the Americas: resourcefulness (they were made from any and all available materials, much like the culture of DJing, which grew up in the context of the government stopping funding for musical instrument lessons); beauty; practicality; and symbolism.

The first female voice of the evening came from an audience member asking a very pertinent question: what can we do about the level of sexism within hip-hop?

Akala responded by saying that back in the day, when hip-hop was independent, there were many strong female figures in the scene, such as Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shanté and Salt-n-Pepa. Akala said that African culture generally has a high level of respect for women; however, over the years, the sexism that prevails in western society has been injected into our music and culture. Yes, sexism in hip-hop is a problem, but it’s really just a reflection of a highly sexist society. How do we change it? “Turn off your television!”

Saul pointed to the need to actively support strong female artists – across all musical genres – who are putting forward a positive image and challenging gender stereotypes.

MK reinforced the idea of people collectively supporting the type of music and message they want to hear. He gave the analogy of McDonalds, saying that it’s often an easy option for a quick food fix. You might have a Big Mac, but deep down you know it’s not real food. And you might say “maaaan, food is dead!” The problem is you’re not looking hard enough. If you went to the little cafe around the corner, you might have the opposite reaction. The solution is simple: don’t go to McDonalds. Hip-hop is alive and well; you just have to go out there and get it.

This was a great ending for a wonderful and inspiring discussion. The only major criticism, echoed by many people I spoke to afterwards (including MK Asante and Akala) was that it was way too short and that at least another hour for discussion would have been great. Note to the British Library: more time next time please!

With the discussion finished, people moved across from the conference centre to the main entrance hall for a live performance featuring the brilliant Zena Edwards, Akala and Lowkey, hosted by erstwhile rapper and talented all-round entertainer Doc Brown. At this point I decided to stop taking notes and enjoy myself, so I can’t give you a blow by blow account, just a quick overview. Hopefully the videos will be available soon.

Zena kicked things off with her usual rich mix of song and spoken word, her wit and personality shining through and delighting the audience. If you haven’t heard her live before, I’d strongly recommend catching her next gig. In the meantime, check this video:

Next up was Doc Brown, a name familiar to anyone that’s been into UK hip-hop for a while. Doc was one of the top rappers on the scene, and a trailblazer who used to host the legendary Deal Real open mic nights. Doc treated us to his hilarious Slang 101 comedy routine, which had the audience pretty much in tears. If you haven’t seen his comedy before, then check out this video:

Doc then reminisced about the old days at Deal Real where he had helped to kickstart the career of a hungry, angry 17-year-old rapper by the name of Lowkey. Bringing Lowkey to the stage, Doc Brown said it was a great pleasure, seven years later, to see Lowkey getting worldwide attention for his skills and knowledge.

Lowkey gave an energetic performance, playing three of his most popular songs: Long Live Palestine, Hip-Hop Ain’t Dead, and Terrorist. For the last track, he brought on the up-and-coming 17-year-old rapper Crazy Haze, who Lowkey is pushing as part of the next generation of radical rappers. The two had the crowd bouncing to the epic ‘Terrorist’, probably the most important hip-hop single of 2009.

Last up was Akala, who came on with full live band – drummer, guitarist, bassist and, later, kora. Akala and his band gave an emotional and eclectic performance, from rock to hip-hop to a London take on traditional West African jeli poetry. With his sister Ms Dynamite and several other family members looking on, Akala moved the crowd with his intense passion, energy, complexity and intelligence. He is without a doubt one of the leading cultural radical figures of our time.

Overall the evening was pure inspiration, and I came away feeling that our culture is strong and our movement growing. Big respect to the organisers, and to the British Library for putting it on. It was great to have the opportunity to meet and connect with so many like-minded people, and to be able to discuss serious issues with some of the people at the cutting edge of the debate on how to use music to move society forward.

Also I must give a big shout to Octavia Foundation, for organising 20 teenagers to attend, thereby massively increasing the number of young people at the event. It’s worth noting that the day after the event, 27 November 2010, was the 10th anniversary of the death of Damilola Taylor, the 10-year-old boy killed on North Peckham estate by teenagers. If nothing else, this anniversary should remind us of the importance of engaging with, supporting, encouraging and helping to educate and organise young people. As fantastic as the British Library event was, it would have been of much less value had it not been for the presence of a decent number of young people, who were deeply inspired by what they saw and heard. The possibilities for meaningful social change are mainly in the hands of the youth. If people of my generation want to see that change, we must break down the generation gap, we must avoid the trap of blaming and judging young people, and we must work with them seriously to find answers to our common problems.

Beat Knowledge review of MK Asante\’s book
Akala’s F64 (with lyrics)
Lowkey’s speech at anti-war protest
Saul Williams anti-war freestyle (with lyrics)

Saul Williams Twitter
MK Asante Jr Twitter
Akala Twitter
Lowkey Twitter
Zena Edwards Twitter
Doc Brown Twitter

Lowkey’s Speech at the Afghanistan Troops Out Protest (video and transcript)

I went with my son down to the demonstration and rally yesterday (Saturday 20 November 2010), and can attest to the fact that Lowkey’s speech was hugely inspiring!

Here’s the video. The transcription is below.

We are here – all of us are here – because we believe in the equality of all and the supremacy of none.

All of us are here because we do not believe in British imperialism. What has British imperialism given to the world? British imperialism has carved up the Middle East. British imperialism has left its scar on Palestine. British imperialism is the reason that Obama is sending drones today to bomb what we call Pakistan.

What people need to realise is that those drones are dropping bombs on the Pashtuns, who don’t recognise the red line which was drawn by the British. They do not consider themselves Pakistani and they do not consider themselves to be from Afghanistan; they are Pashtuns. What is the root of that problem? The root of that problem is British imperialism.

There is a reason that they call Afghanistan the graveyard of empires. There’s a reason. But what we have to ask ourselves is this: if we expect people around the world to resist British imperialism, who are we not to oppose British imperialism *here*?

They have an occupation in Kabul, but we have an occupation down there, in the Houses of Parliament. How can we combat those who are fighting humanity around the world?

Two words: *direct action*.

They want us to condemn the Millbank protestors, but they want us to commend those who drop bombs on people we do not know and people we do not see. They are quick to show soldiers with missing limbs (who of course I sympathise with), but they do not show babies born with deformities because of the depleted uranium that has been dropped; they do not show the soldiers that have babies with deformities because they were exposed to depleted uranium in Iraq and in Afghanistan.


Because the narrative that they are pushing forward wants us to commend imperialism. We say: no, we condemn imperialism, and no, we don’t condemn the protestors – I *commend* those protestors.

So we must take away the lesson from today, with all of us gathered together – all of us who have humanity in our hearts and equality in our aim. The lesson we must take from this is: we are not speaking their language. Their language is: direct action.

Thank you.

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