My Kanye Ramblings…Why Because I?…For Reasons

Yesterday there was an interview in the NY Times featuring Kanye West. I had several thoughts about it but there were three that that stuck with me. The first, is that Kanye is one of the only Black men in pop culture who continues to evolve publicly, in real time, while remaining squarely in front of his narrative.

Second, a big part of Kanye’s public evolution has to do with his willingness to be vulnerable and emotional, publicly. He is willing to be vulnerable, honest and wrong. When I say emotional I don’t mean full of rage, there is space for Black men to do that in pop culture, in fact some folks expect it.  In fact way back in 2008, I wrote about his willingness to be vulnerable with the album 808’s and Heartbreak.

Last, I realized that a huge portion of the public sphere conversations about art don’t pivot around Black artists who put their craft first. On Twitter, we talk about Scandal (and Shonda Rhimes certainly puts her craft first but our conversations on Twitter aren’t about that dimension of her work), we talk about Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, we talk about rap music lyrics if they are inflammatory. But Black visual artists who are craft first!?!? But perhaps  one of the issues playing a role here is privilege, my own personal privilege that I need to own in this conversation. By privilege I mean the ability to know, study and read about Black artists who are craft first. When I think about Black artists who are craft first the folks who come to mind are Ava Duvernay, Wangechi Mutu, Sanford Biggers, Bradford Young,  Dee Rees, Aisha Simmons (who is on and engaged on Twitter). This list isn’t exhaustive, these are the folks who came to mind. I am not saying that they don’t have online presence, they do, what I am saying is that reading that Kanye article made me wonder, where are the artistic conversations by young(er) established and emerging artists in 2013? Or perhaps the conversations exist and I am slipping. If you are aware of such conversations, please link me, I’d Love to see them.

If a huge portion of the Black public sphere is happening on the internet, and this is MY observation, then what does it mean if we don’t see these artists in these spaces having conversations. Or is the issue also of one around time, space and labor. In other words, if you are too busy shooting documentaries, shooting photographs, writing novels, creating web series, creating multi-media work, then you simply may not have the time to be on Twitter.

Social media is labor.

Anyhoo, just some thoughts that the Kanye interview had me thinking about.

I guess also has me thinking that as I move forward with the book and the doc, one of the questions rattling around in my head is whether will the historic spaces that I have visited and participated in, will they feel the same? Will the internet conversations be enough?

The Choices that Creatives Make

Image via Metro Times

Dedicated to Jonzey and our conversations about Hennessy / Carol’s Daughters sponsored art.

This post is about money, artists and how corporations are deliberate and never neutral.

Spending the last few months teaching a multiracial group of young people about race, art, class, history and feminism, I have learned a lot about how challenging it is to teach people about topics that force them to question basic assumptions that they have held nearly all of  their lives.

Especially when it comes from a body that reads as one that some are not socialized to see as being “an authority” on intellectual topics, ideas and teaching.

Some were clearly resistant to learning how race, hue, class position and gender structure our day to day lives. Others LOVED being taken seriously, Loved examining their own social position as it relates to others, Loved thinking about questions of agency and gender roles.

They also wanted to derail on sexuality, but I was not going there, not yet.

The topic that arguably it was most challenging for my students to understand is that corporations are not not neutral. Now, they KNEW that corporations are set up to make money, but they had a hard time making the connection between the fact that they are set up to make money and how the desire to make money means that corporations will and have looked the other way when a crime or many crimes occurred as a direct result of the pursuit of profit.

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me “How Do I make money”? I waited before I responded because I was unsure where her intentions were. I thought, why, you have a freelance writing job for me? I also thought to myself, and I didn’t know if it was true, so I kept it so myself, clearly the daily labor invested in teaching and writing original knowledge production is not being seen as all encompassing as it is.

Having taught about corporations, I am very clear about them. As someone who studies the political economy of Black cultural productions, which is fancy way of saying that I study Black pop culture (Beyonce, Tyler Perry), how much money they earn, why they are allowed to earn the money they they do, the ideas conveyed within their productions, how their work relates to the history of Black movies and music, and how these ideas shape how we see ourselves regarding gender roles, race, sexuality etc.

The older I have gotten I have come to the conclusion that “all money ain’t good money and all head ain’t good head”. I say this to mean that while we do all have bills, and we have all done what we have to do to keep the lights on (I have waitressed), having taught how  corporations are not neutral and HAVING taking the course “corporations” (<<<the fucking irony) I am particularly sensitive to how creatives may be inclined to make choices, in a political economy in 2012 which forces individuals to align with a corporation who at best, can only see you as temporary, expendable and replaceable.

What kind of facts are those?

What kind of terms are those?

This is not to say that folks do not align with them, or I have judgement if they do. No. Going into 2012 in some ways, aligning with one is a means of survival.  What I ask though, is that we acknowledge they are not neutral. That we acknowledge that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on who they protect, who they exclude, who they include. That we can acknowledged that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on how they deal with systemic patterns of harm that are premised on age, race and class. Penn State.

In fact in teaching the students about corporations not being neutral, I had to do a 5 min South Africa, Apartheid, Coca Cola explanation. Geez, laweese, I was not ready for that. And I had to say that I am NOT an expert on South Africa, but you all are too young to remember this AND it serves as an example of young people leveraging pressure on corporations (Universities and Schools) in the 80’s who were invested in upholding racist and oppressive regimes in South Africa. They couldn’t believe it.

I think that learning early on that a corporation isn’t neutral is an incredible tool. I also think that in 2012 creatives, it may benefit us to think about this seriously, especially creatives of color.


You accept the idea that a corporation is neutral?

You remember Coca Cola & South Africa?

Black Poets + Writers, Born to Stay Broke?

Langston Hughes x Underpaid Poets x DJ Kool Herc’s Hospital Bills.

There are a few things going through my head, clearly.

The first is, a couple of weeks ago, poet and professor Thomas Sayers Ellis took the cardboard cut out of Langston Hughes from Busboys arguing that it was disrespectful and that the poets are not properly compensated for the work that they do. The owner of Busboys responded, then the poets responded back with a letter.

The second is that a couple of weeks ago as well, DJ Kool Herc was hospitalized, and unable to pay his medical bills. Several rappers, along with writer and homie Jeff Chang, went on the internet and twitter to fundraise to cover the cost of his expenses. Apparently even Russel Simmons got involved.

The third is a few weeks ago, my homie Simone,  wrote a post in the Couch Sessions that questioned the validity of a Jewish photographer, Mike Schreiber, presenting his book about Hip Hop at a Jewish Community Center, in Chocolate City. While I did find her tone to to be overly snarky in tone at times, there was some interesting dialogue generated and she made insightful points about the implications of the spaces we choose to host hip hop affiliated events.

The questions that she raised triggered a conversation around “who does hip hop culture belong to.” This is worth while as I think that rap music and hip hop culture has gone global, it is easy to forget that the music was created in response to the conditions of the lives of some Caribbean, African-American and Latino kids in the South Bronx.

In fact, I often think of how low income Black and Latino kids are in an interesting position in NYC. They live in one of the richest cities of the world, and produce fashion, language and music that is then taken by corporations and resold back to them and globally as well, all mostly without compensation. I get this analysis from Philippe Bourgois’s “In Search of Respect, Selling Crack in El Barrio.”

Lastly, another thing that I am thinking about is how last week a commenter left a message on my blog that my blog is a public service, and that I deserve to get paid for it, because public servants get paid. I thought this was interesting. I have been thinking about what he/she said, and what it means for a reader to tell a writer that they should be earning money based on what they do. #SociallyRelevantAds?

So I have 9 questions.

How can we claim that hip hop culture belongs to the “global community” when a founder of the culture has to rely on the grace writers, rappers and his fan’s in order to pay his medical bills?

Is it possible for people who benefit from from an exploitive system, a system premised on getting the most out of everything while paying the least possible, to turn around and critique that same system?

How much should the Busboys and Poets poets be compensated in order for the compensation system to be fair and equitable?

Do DC poets need a Union?

Do rappers need a Union?

Would Kool Herc or the Busboys poets be in the position they are in if they had a union?

Do the writers at Huffington Post, which just got acquired by AOL need a union?

Why is a model where the majority of the writers are unpaid sustainable?

Should I expect to get paid for my blog, if yes, how would that change my audience and voice?

You know what, I just wrote a post about the political economy of Black Poetry and Hip Hop. #boom.