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How Does Yasiin Bey’s Mathematics Add Up Now

by CHRIS STEELE

Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) released his album “Black on Both Sides” in 1999.  A single off of the album “Mathematics” became a cult hit and touched on many socio-political topics such as racism, economic inequality, and the prison industrial complex.  15 years later let’s see how Yasiin Bey’s mathematics add up for better or for worse.

 Then:

“Three for the forthcoming future shock”

 Now:

Alvin Toffler’s book “Future Shock”, published in 1970 could not have imagined how much technology would change society in such a short amount of time.  In 1999 when Yasiin Bey mentioned the forthcoming future shock people were paying $100 for a 32MB USB drive and the first Matrix movie was just released.  Now we have 512GB USB drives for a whopping $600.  Current future shock involves the heated NSA controversy since the Edward Snowden revelations.  Jacob Appelbaum’s recent lecture at the 30C3 conference summarized the leaked NSA files that revealed large corporations are working with the NSA, dangerous back-doors are left open for the NSA that leave everyone’s information vulnerable, and the NSA even has a futuristic-sounding radar wave devicethat can send out waves to your computer to see what you are typing.  This would give Orwell future shock!

 Then:

“Nine planets faithfully keep in orbit, with the probable tenth, the universe expands length”

 Now:

Yasiin Bey was right but we lost Pluto! Although it is still a controversial debate in the astronomy field, astronomer Michael Brown said he was looking for the tenth planet, which he found, he named it Eris. When the International Astronomical Union got hold of the news, they demoted both planets to dwarf planets, making underdog fans, elementary school kids, and Minnie Mouse cry, leaving the solar system with only eight official planets.

 Then:

“Hip-Hop passed all your tall social hurdles”

Now:

Hip-Hop has confronted almost all social hurdles.  Hurdles such as racism, police brutality, community violence, and the prison industrial complex.  Since 1999, when homophobic references were in abundance and misogynistic songs were common, many other social hurdles have been confronted.  Since 1999, Master P and Chamillionaire don’t cuss anymore.  Common pledged he wouldn’t use homophobic references anymore and Macklemore dropped the song “Same Love”, which is a pro gay rights song that was a radio hit.  In the post 9/11 age, rappers like Yasiin Bey, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, Stic and M1 (Dead Prez), Boots Riley, Sole, and Sage Francis have tackled issues such as anti-capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Then:

“Like the nationwide project-prison-industry complex”

Now:

In 1999 the total prison population was 1,366,721.  In 2010, the total was 1,612,395.  That’s an 18 percent rise since Yasiin Bey released “Mathematics”, not to mention that Federal Private Prison populations have grown by 784% since 1999 with the largest increase in Arizona with a 146% increase.

Then:

“Working-class poor: better keep your alarm set / Streets too loud to ever hear freedom ring”

Now:

In 1999 the unemployment rate was 4.4%, now it is estimated at 6.6%.  Aside from unemployment, the minimum wage in 1999 was $5.15, currently, the average minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, this still puts people in the working poor category.  A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined that if minimum wage was kept in accordance with productivity gains since 1968, minimum wage should now be $21.72 an hour! However, Seattle just elected Kshama Sawant, a Socialist City Council member, and minimum wage was increased to $15 an hour in SeaTac, Washington.

Then:

“Say evacuate your sleep, it’s dangerous to dream”

Now:

Sleep has steadily been declining.  30 is the new 20, 4 hours of sleep is the new 8.  Energy gum, energy chap stick, energy bars, I’ll have a double shot of energy coffee with energy sugar steamed with a Red Bull.  On another note, “it’s dangerous to dream” nowadays can refer to the Dreamer Movement.  The Dreamers are undocumented youth working to attain human rights such as being able to attend a university in the US if they aren’t a US citizen.  The Dreamers are also fighting against immigration detention centers owned by the private sector that submit undocumented people to horrible prison conditions and are unjustly separated from their family.

Then:

“But only 15% of profits ever see my pockets like”

 Now:

The majority of signed artists typically get 10% of their sales.  In recent years these numbers have gone down but every deal fluctuates.  Another variable is the advance deal many labels give artists, these typically turn into loans that can’t be paid back with record sales.  That’s why so many artists are going indie.  Not to mention, many mainstream record labels are propped up by weapons manufacturers and are highly invested in private prisons.

 Then:

“69 billion in the last 20 years / Spent on national defense but folks still live in fear”

 Now:

Yasiin Bey wrote this song right before national defense dramatically increased after 9/11.  In 2012, the US spent 1 trillion on national defense.

Then:

“Nearly half of America’s largest cities is one-quarter black”

Now:

Same.

Then:

“16 ounces to a pound, 20 more to a ki”

Now:

A kilogram is 35.27 ounces, but who’s counting?

Then:

“A 5-minute sentence hearing and you’re no longer free”

Now:

The “justice” system is notorious for fast tracking trials and pushing people into prisons.  A recent example is the Kids For Cash scandal in Pennsylvania.  Thousands of kids were sentenced by two corrupt judges (Mark Ciavarella, Michael Conahan) who received $2.6 million in kickbacks from builders and owners of private prison facilities.  Many of these kids were denied a public defender and sentenced within 5 minutes for acts such as suspicion of a stolen bicycle or setting up a website to mock their vice principal.

Then:

“40% of Americans own a cell phone / So they can hear everything that you say when you ain’t home”

Now:

Since 1999, this percentage had screamed up 51%.  Now 91% of US adults own a cell phone, let alone all the young kids texting in class right now.  And yes, Michael Jackson is still right, “You are not alone”

Then:

“Young teens and prison greens facing life numbers”

Now:

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, “Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons.” However, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a report that displayed in 2013, there was a 35 year low in youth incarceration.  Nevertheless, youth continue to be incarcerated for non-violent offenses and the prison-to-school pipeline still has both faucets flowing full blast, unless you are a privileged white kid who suffers from “Affluenza” (A wealthy teen recently evaded a 20 year prison sentence after killing four people in a drunk driving accident where his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.  The teen was given 10 years probation after a psychologist diagnosed him with “Affluenza” which was defined as a “cushy upbringing prevented him from connecting bad behavior with its consequences.”

Then:

“3 strikes and you be in for life, mandatory”

Now:

Three strike laws are still abundant in the US, with more than half of the states still utilizing the law.  On another note, since 2013, pharmaceutical companies have stopped letting prisons use their cocktails to administer lethal injections.  This has resulted in untested drug compounds being used for lethal injection.  In Ohio recently, this untested cocktail was used and according to witnesses, the prisoner could be heard gurgling and gasping for air for 15 minutes until he died.

Then:

“Young bloods can’t spell but they can rock you in Playstation”

Now:

It is estimated that literacy ratings haven’t changed much since 1999.  32 million US adults can’t read, and 19% of high school graduates can’t read, but 100% of young bloods can rock you in Playstation, X Box, Call of Duty or Angry Birds.

Then:

“4 MC’s murdered in the last 4 years”

Now:

Since 1999, due to murder, hip-hop has lost many: Proof, Jam Master Jay, Mac Dre, Stack Bundles, Doc Doom, Soulja Slim and Pavlos Fyssas.

Then:

“8-year olds getting found with 9 mils”

Now:

I don’t think Yasiin Bey is referring to school shootings but since 1999, school shootings have dramatically increased.  Since 1999, there have been an estimated 106 school shootings in the US.

Then:

“When the average minimum wage is $5.15”

Now:

Currently, the national average minimum wage is around $7.49 and the federal minimum wage was just raised to $10.10.  As mentioned before, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined that if minimum wage was kept in accordance with productivity gains since 1968, minimum wage should now be $21.72 an hour.

Then:

“The white unemployment rate? It’s nearly more than triple for black”

Now:

According to a recent Pew Poll, black unemployment is now twice the amount of white unemployment.

Then:

“Stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence / Budget cutbacks but increased police presence”

Now:

The NYPD is the largest police force in the country with over 34,000 officers.  According to a report by the Bureau of Justice, since around 1999, full-time state and local law enforcement employees in the US has risen by a million.  Not only has police presence increased since 1999, but so has police militarization.  Most large city police forces have tanks, shock cuffs, flash bangs, and are now testing or utilizing drones.

Then:

“And even if you get out of prison still living / Join the other 5 million under state supervision”

Now:

In 1999, it is estimated that 1 in 33 US adult residents were under state supervision.  Recent statistics reveal that 1 in 34 people, which is 6.98 million people are under state supervision.  That is almost a 2 million rise since 1999.

Then:

“This is business: no faces, just lines and statistics / From your phone, your zip code to S-S-I digits”

Now:

Since 1999, the rise in the security and surveillance state has grown rapidly.  Along with the NSA, private intelligence security firms such as Stratfor have been called the “Shadow CIA.”  The hacktivist group Anonymous leaked around 5.5 million e-mails from Stratfor on Wikileaks, which revealed that large corporations like Coca-Cola and Monsanto hired Stratfor to keep an eye on activists and protesters against these corporations.  In a recent article by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, leaked NSA documents reveal that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is on a manhunt list and the group Anonymous has been deemed a ‘malicious foreign actor.’  The significance of this is that people who visit Wikileaks’ website or Anonymous chat rooms or related sites risk being put under heavy electronic surveillance, which has a chilling effect on free speech.

Maybe Yasiin Bey said it best, “Why did one straw break the camel’s back? Here’s the secret: The million other straws underneath it: it’s all mathematics.”

Chris Steele can be found on Twitter @TimeRaps.

Chris Steele is a journalist.  He can be reached at: csteele@regis.edu.  

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