Cops in New York seized the opportunity provided by Jam Master Jay’s senseless murder to declare the dawn of a new “hip-hop war” that allows them to put rappers under surveillance. There is no possibility of such a war, and if there were, the last people to be involved in it would be Run-D.M.C., consistent apostles of peace.
The minute it was discovered that one of the snipers came from Jamaica, MSNBC produced a shrink to compare the murder spree and the plot of the reggae film, The Harder They Come. Yet no one at MSNBC has pointed out that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Ridge, Ashcroft and Rice crafting a lame remake of The Magnificent Seven.
The snipers’ messages contained a common slang phrase (used by Ice-T in New Jack City, for instance), so U.S.A. Today rushed in a pundit who “revealed” a connection to the 5 Percent Nation, a Nation of Islam offshoot that’s influenced certain rappers. Media coverage portrays the 5%ers as villainous thugs. In fact, the 5%ers are best known for porch step philosophizing and their felonies probably amount to providing one another with smoke.
As Davey D (www.daveyd.com) points out, “police departments all over the country have been collecting and now have very detailed dossiers of rap artists and who they’re affiliated with. From New York City which actually has a ‘rap task force’ to Oakland to Mountainview, California where the police chief sits down and determines what RAP acts are allowed and not allowed to perform” New York cops declared the Zulu Nation, of Afrika Bambaataa fame, a “gang,” then arrested 34 of its members for tutoring students in a Staten Island park, suddenly declaring it illegal for more than 20 people to gather in a public park. The “war on terror” features accusations that suicide bombers recite 2Pac lyrics and FBI interrogation and surveillance of hiphop activists. Yet, as Davey D also points out, “Let’s roll” came out of the mouths of DC rapper Doug Lazy California’s Chill EB long before it came out of Flight 93, but nobody is giving hip-hop credit for that. This story stretches back to the 1989 arrests of five Harlem teenagers for raping and beating a jogger in New York’s Central Park. According to the cops, these kids had been in the park “wilding,” a supposed piece of rap jargon derived from Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing,” and meaning a vandalism spree. In reality, “wilding” came only out of the mouths of cops and the media.
In reality, someone else raped and battered the jogger; that person confessed and the DNA confirmed the confession six months ago. The forensic evidence used to convict the kids is unquestionably bogus. The cops coerced their confessions, as the kids and their families said all along. The state denied one of the police victims parole for 13 years because he refused to deny he’d been framed.
The ongoing vilification of poor young people and especially minority youth began so far back that even The Birth of a Nation, another “wilding” fantasy, is but a midterm marker of its progress. As Jimmy Breslin wrote in Newday, “the cops, news business and prosecutors-white to the last thought-decided to base their lives on a vocation that is esentially vicious: the framing of the not guilty.”
Meanwhile, E.R. Shipp, a black columnist with the Daily News, argues that the convictions represent an acceptable error because the kids must have been out there doing _something_ bad. Shipp’s words are important because they establish that this battle isn’t purely white on black. It’s also privileged on poor, a category that cuts through racial lines.
That’s why Eminem has two hit albums right now.
(what’s playing in my office)
1. Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers: The Complete Specialty Recordings (Fantasy, 3 disc box)-Forget everything you know about Cooke from his pop recordings. What’s here is the greatest music he ever made. Maybe ten of the 84 tracks rank with the greatest gospel recordings ever made. Four (“That’s Heaven to Me,” “The Last Mile of the Way,” “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” “Jesus Gave Me Water”) rank with the greatest records of any kind ever made. Great notes by Cooke biographer Daniel Wolff.
2. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones (ABKCO)-Greil Marcus recently nominated “Gimme Shelter” as the greatest rock record of the past 30 years. Certainly, this mix of dirty blues and sexual dysfunction must be the Stones’ greatest album, although I plan to wade through all the band’s reissued catalog for certainty’s sake. It’ll cost less than a ticket to the show, and the music’s guaranteed to be better.
3. Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues, Chris Thomas King (21st Century Blues)- Southern to its bones, a sort of halfway point between B.B. King and Outkast. Over the last four minutes, he’s like a one-man Public Enemy, if Chuck D and the Bomb Squad had hired Catfish Collins or Eddie Hazel to do the guitar licks or, actually, scratches.
4. Nothing to Fear, A Rough Mix by Steinski (bootleg)
5. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (Sony)
6. Jerusalem, Steve Earle (E Squared)
7. God and Me, Marion Williams and the Stars of Faith (Collectables)-This 1963 album was the best Williams ever made. Including the great title track, “His Hand,” the group’s breathless Hallelujah chorus, plus twelve additional tracks, from who knows where ’cause the creep who runs Collectables doesn’t give enough of a shit to say.
8. The Lost Tapes, Nas (Columbia)
9. Revolverution Public Enemy (Koch)
10. The Naked Ride Home, Jackson Browne (Elektra)
11. Live at Newport, John Lee Hooker (Vanguard)-Do you think I can safely save at least one slot here for renewed Hooker revelations for, say, the rest of my natural life?
12. Shootout at the OK Chinese Restaurant, Ramsay Midwood (Vanguard)
13. When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine, Cedell Davis (Fast Horse Recordings)
14. Louis Armstrong and His Friends (BMG France)-In 1970, Armstrong explains to “some of you young folks” why he believed it is a “Wonderful World.” He proves he meant it by singing triumphant versions of “We Shall Overcome,” “Give Peace a Chance” and, most startling and beautiful, Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”
15. “The Talking Sounds Just Like Joe McCarthy Blues,” Chris Buhalis (demo)- Ashcroft’s response to “Give me liberty or give me death”–“Don’t tempt me.” P.O. Box 2896 Ann Arbor MI 48106 or chrisbuhalis.com. A patriotic $5
16. The Year of the Elephant, Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet (Pi Recordings)-The most graceful, not to say grandiloquent, of recent recordings by members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Malachi Favors Maghostut’s bass and Jack DeJohnette’s drumming define gravity; Smith’s trumpet and flugelhorn and Anthony Davis’s piano and the various synths define acceptance and defiance of gravity’s rules. (Box 1849, NY NY 10025)
17. Groove Recordings, Charlie Rich (BMG UK)-Rich’s most obscure period came when he was doing jazzy blues-rock saloon singing over countrypolitan choruses for this RCA subsidiary from 1963-1965. Imagine Billy Sherrill orchestrating tracks produced by Sam Philips. Damn straight it’s a trainwreck but Rich still sings great.
18. Sleepless, Peter Wolf (Artemis)
19. Bluegrass and White Snow, Patty Loveless (Columbia advance)-It already snowed a foot in Minnesota, so it’s time. For the best bluegrass Christmas album ever, I mean.
20. Dope & Glory: Reefer Songs der 30er & 40er Jahre (Trikont, Ger; 2 discs)
DAVE MARSH coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. Marsh is the author of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org