Tuesday, April 12, 2005

13] Jawi Raiders and The Temple of Hip Hop

Jawi raiders and the Temple of Hip Hop
Azly Rahman
Apr 11, 05 12:56pm

I'd like to one day own a CD of the first Malaysian hip hop group that speaks to me directly as a transcultural philosopher. I would use the lyrics in my classes on Cross-Cultural Perspectives and Global Challenge, to teach Malaysian teachers how to understand ‘youth cultures’ in the local and global context they are in.

That will be an innovative teaching strategy close to our teachers' experience so that they may teach our youth better. I think it will also be great to study what is being produced and from what worldview it is going to be coming out from. It would be great to learn about the enabling and disabling aspects of rap and hip hop.

The incident at Zouk Club should be an occasion for hip hoppers and rapper to come together to freestyle, get the beats, get the turntables spinning, and record the messages of new ‘youth revolution' that transcend racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries'.

Zouk club-goers should reflect on why they were raided.

The incident is also an occasion for the Jawi (religious department) raiders to learn about hip hop; about how our society must understand what our children are socialized into, before another raid happens and before society is angry again. Similarly, the youth of today must understand what they are listening to, before being raided again.

And again, in all these no one will gain anything from the ongoing conflict. What we get will be mass anger and more violent ‘gangsta’ rappers colonising our youth.

The reality is that our political-economic condition is a historical design that creates the "two forces of truth"; one of dakwah and one of disco. Between religious ethics and personal choice.

The Jawi raiders should reflect on why they made the raid.

More urgently though, let us understand this thing called hip hop. Let us visit a classroom in New York.

Defining Hip hop

When I was beginning my doctoral studies at Columbia University, I took a course that examines youth cultures, oppression, and the multicultural dimension of it. We talked about different genres of Black American music, from blues to jazz to rap to hip hop.

It was a fascinating class. We discussed and argued cultural theory, political-economy, and postmodernism. The best part was listening to two of New York's ‘grand-daddies’ or ‘mahagurus’ of hip hop who actually created a ‘Temple of Hip Hop’ in New York.

Pee Wee and James Moody were our guest speakers who, in between their lectures on the genre, rapped and rhymed, and free-styled. In a class of almost all Blacks, the lecture room turned somewhat into an underground hip hop joint. I was the only Asian defending my stand throughout that ‘race is a social construct’ angering my classmates from the beginning to the end.

I had several heated exchanges with a classmate who claims that one needs to decide in life what race one is to belong to and die for. It was intense, but many times hilarious too. But the best part was my exploration of another one of America's cultural creation marketable worldwide, like the British did for Beatlemania.

Being interested in the history and ethnography of jazz, rock, classical, and world music, I was fascinated by what this new genre was all about. My interest in issues of slavery, oppression, and human expression added more zest to the learning process.

Hip hop, as defined by Pee Wee and James Moody is "Black and Latino manifestation of oppressed creativity" and claimed to be a culture in itself which originated two decades ago in Harlem, New York City. It has undergone transformations and reinterpretations as well as a tug-of-war between ‘old and new’ schools.

It has since become globalised; just like how disco culture of the Brooklyn underclass swept the world and into Malaysia in the 1970s. The world danced to it while John Travolta disco-ed his way to the bank. I remembered being a part of it. Malaysian teenagers were then running around town like John Travolta clones, greasing nightly, the dance floors in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, and Penang. I am sure many grew out of it though.

The cultural producers and self-proclaimed originators cautioned us to differentiate between hip hop and rap. The latter is a "white manifestation of hip hop to package and sell". Hip hop contains the cultural manifestations of break-dancing, emcee-ing, deejay-ing, and graffiti drawing.

From it evolves a temple, a high priest in the making perhaps, disciples, documentation of history, distinctness of language, and the construction of the principles of ethics and virtues to be passed down to followers, and all other elements which will, I believe, be produced and reproduced.

From subaltern to grand narratives

Hip hop claims itself to be a musically-based culture which has evolved from a subaltern voice of youth in the inner city to a louder voice in the mainstream; its rise aided by the American print and electronic media, its popularity trajectoried into mainstream media such as radio's Hot 97 and television's Black Entertainment TV (BET).

Looking at hip hop from a post-industrial tribalistic point of view, this cultural manifestation can help us understand that the socio-economic condition and the alienation the inner city Black and Latino subgroups is preconditioned into is needing of such expression as a form of rediscovering of self-esteem and as a form of political recognition.

Isn't Zouk club a manifestation of the alienation of our oppressed youth?

Hip hop in America is an emerging political movement expressed in the form of a poetic and lyrical genre. It speaks for and to the generation of the alienated, the marginalised, and the radical multicultural. In America, there is also a Hip Hop Summit organised by Russell Simmons that gathers youth to encourage them to be politically conscious, and to put anti-war politicians into power.

If only the Zouk club-goers know how powerful this genre can be, instead as being blindly accepted in Malaysia as the music for, in some cases, the new Malaysian spoilt brat and the children of the rich and powerful whose daily allowance on leisure can feed a family of abject poor in Banda Acheh for a week!. Again, the Malaysian youth may be living a life of ‘false consciousness'.

Imagine how wonderful it would be if there was a Malaysian Hip Hop Summit that will vote corrupt politicians out of power, or to educate the Jawi raiders of the beauty of the political usefulness of the musical genre.

In New York City, promoters of the musical genre claim that hip hop culture has an essentialist core acronymed as Silver – self, intelligence, love, vision, evolution, and revolution. It should then be interesting to follow the development of the progress of such a cultural transmission project from a culture "given birth" circa 1970s.

In a study of the genre, Black Noise hip hop is defined as:

a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalisation, brutally truncated opportunity, and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African-American and Caribbean history, identity and community. It is the tension between the cultural fractures produced by post-industrial oppression and binding ties of Black cultural expressivity that sets the critical frame for the
development of hip hop. (p 21)

Rap music, on the other hand,

[i]s a Black cultural expression that prioritizes Black voices from the margins of urban America. Rap music is a form of rhymed storytelling accompanied by a highly rhythmic, electronically-based music. It began in the mid-1970s in the South Bronx in the city of New York City as part of hip hop, an Afro-Caribbean youth culture composed of graffiti, breakdancing, and rap music.

There is a slight difference in the definition and how hip hop and rap have progressed is also a cause for struggle by the hip hop community. It is a question of "cultural appropriation" in that the hip hoppers claimed that the huge global success of rappers are partly due to the adulteration of the noble values hip hoppers originally plan to propagate, which instead has worked to the benefit of the rap music industry.

This is an issue faced by cultural originators from the Black and Latino community which can be at the mercy of recording companies and electronic cultural producers which see more value in marketing messages of violence, gangsterism, anti-family, irrational hedonism, eroticism, sexual perversion, foul language use and the like, through rap groups living and breathing images of destructive counter-culturalism.

Are we importing the destructive strand of hip hop? Do our youth in Malaysia understand what type of rap and hip hop they are listening to?

How can our youth be taught the progressive and liberatory dimensions of hip hop so that they may be part of the new Malaysian movement for liberal humanism and not forever become sucked into the Black Hole of ideological consumerism?

Gangsta rap and degenerative hip hop

The incident at the Malaysian Zouk Club might be a good start for the youth to think of itself as not merely a generation to be exploited by those who own the means of producing this global ganja called gangsta rap and gangsta hip hop.

These gangsta music are destructive forms of the otherwise beautiful poetic and liberatory genre of contemporary music. Gangsta rap and hip hop promotes the culture of guns, drugs, disgusting machoism that relegates women to the role of objects of desire to be consumed.

Names like 50 cents, Ja-Rule, Jada-Kiss, and Snoop-Dog come to mind; names that trigger images of the gangsta in rap. The lyrics to their songs are predominantly laced with no-nonsense and no-shame vulgarity that is indeed not suitable for the youth of our nation that we hope to groom to be the next generation of leaders.

Even Dr Bill Cosby, entertainer and the voice of Black American ethical consciousness, is raising the issue of youth degradation emanating from the gangsta rap culture. Gangsta rap and hip hop makes money selling vulgarity and human degradation, in the name of free speech and rapping about human suffering.

The rapper 50 cents represents that image par excellence; being shot many times in his neighborhood, survived, raps for the gangsta culture, and promotes the image of human degradation.

Gangsta rappers and hip hoppers capitalise their talents on vulgarity and lyrical and linguistic prowess of absurdities around four-letter words and the promotion of gun-styled, gang-styled violence. Like mantra their lyrics get memorised by the listeners.

While America is not easily symbolised, one thing is clear of the most extreme form of youth violence: the proliferation of gun-carrying, drug-peddling, gangsta-rapping youth gangs such as The Bloods, The Crips, The Latin Kings, The Nyetas, The BAD ("Bad Ass Dominicans"), and MS-13 (newly emerging Mexican youth gangs).

Do we have Malaysian gangs emerging out of the transcultural flow of the culture of the gangsta rap of gun-carrying, drug-addicting, profanity-loving, women-oppressing artists such as 50 cents?

Youth gangs in America operate and proliferate in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit; recruiting heavily high school children into activities such as drug trafficking, car-jacking, and prostituting. These gang members are the underclass of America, namely children of immigrants whose American dream turned into nightmares in broad daylight.

I am sure in the major cities of Malaysia, the culture of belongingness to gang members have developed; initiation rites and all. These developments are a natural progression of the development of what an American sociologist Frederic Jameson call "the cultural logic of late capitalism".

These are the children of both affluent and poor Malaysians who are finding ‘better’ expression in rap and hip hop as schools bore them, and learning strategies are not meeting the needs of their intellectual curiosity and most importantly, the world outside is more exciting and more epicurean than the inner world.

Whether they are in Bangsar or the Bronx, these youth possesses similar characteristics.

These are youth that find their self-esteem elevated and their sense of belongingness taken care of being involved in these gangs; after having failed not only in school particularly, but in life in general, and since they were very young.

In America, these are the so-called at-risk youths that never did graduate from high school but instead graduated into the streets and into the ‘prison-industrial complexes’. Ninety percent of American prison is filled with Black males.

How must Malaysian youths rap and hip hop?

Globalisation and high speed communication system is accelerating at break-neck speed the transfer of gangsta rap and degenerative values of youth-violence America. This is the reality we will continue to face as long as we have an Open Sky Policy run by profit- hungry policy-makers, opportunistic politicians, and TV and movie producers who will sell to our precious youth these ganjas, these chandus, and these cocaines, in the name of free speech in a developing society.

The mission statement in all these is clear: Get the masses stoned cold crazy so that they may lose focus on what kind of ethical society to build. It is easier for any ruling party to manage society that's opiated and Prozac-ed.

Divide and rule, like the British did. Consume and be confused, like corporate America is promoting.

Back to the real hip hop and rap

Hip hop and rap are interesting post-modern tribalistic phenomena of cultural expression with global manifestations. They can provide contemporary sociologists the opportunity to look at culture of subgroups and also help political economists understand the inner-workings of culture industry on a global imperialistic scale with its fashion, language, and lifestyle ‘lock, stock, and barrel" becoming the message and the medium all at once transmitted to the four corners of the free world made safer for ‘democracy’.

What then must we do?

I now address the Malaysian youth:

Yo! Understand the real history of hip hop and produce some real good stuff that's going to bring powerful messages to all of us.

Yo! Don't just consume! You are programming the vulgarity of American gangsta culture into your mind. Adopt instead, the progressive and ethical dimension of the hip hop culture.

In America, rap and hip hop is becoming a powerful political force! As the two guest lecturers in my class said, the New York temple of hip hop has its own philosophy:

Silver – self, intelligence, love, vision, evolution, and revolution.

In Malaysia, the Jawi raiders too operate on a principle of morality:

AM-NM - Amal Maaruf Nahi Mungkar (encourage the good, battle the evil)

The Jawi raiders and the hip hoppers will have to talk to each other.

They are both products of the cultural logic of late Malaysian capitalism. One is no more right than the other. These are two truth-forces contending for spaces of expression. They have their logic.

They have their legitimate claims. They are both creations of an economic system that allow both ‘jihad versus McHip Hop’ to reign.

Both are McDonaldised. They are creations of a larger indoctrinating machine; an example of how ideas from outside, even if they originated from the "projects (slums) of the Bronx in New York, and East LA in California" get appropriated and bricolaged. Appropriations and bricolages exist at all levels, including in the design and creation of Malaysian signature golf courses for the political-economic elite or in the way we define political campaign financing.

Zouk Club is just a site of a battle. The entire nation is a battleground with no winners and losers in sight, yet; a battle between the temple of hip hop and an institution of core values.

Now that our youth is into hip hop, are they ready to embrace its more humanistic rather than consumeristic and degenerative philosophy?

The philosophy that should be embraced is: Silver – self, intelligence, love, vision, evolution, and revolution? Our youth should not blindly consume and be raided again.

Jawi raiders and Zouk hip hoppers: Chill out, yo!

Think and act like philosophers instead. We might not see more raids.


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