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Under Lock & Key

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 10]
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Hip Hop: Living Culture or Commodity?

Hip-hop can be a very powerful weapon to help expand young people's political and social consciousness. But just as with any weapon, if you don't know how to use it, if you don't know where to point it or what you're using it for, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot or killing your sisters and brothers." — Assata Shakur

There are four main elements that make up what hip hop culture really is: Break dancing, DJing, MCing and Graffiti art. Each element plays a major role in hip hop. This beautiful culture originated in the Bronx, NY from the oppressed lumpen proletarians. The music from this culture was diligently expressed through MCing (rapping) about oppression and the conditions the oppressed people were going through in this capitalist decadent society. It was not about money, cars, jewelry and negativity but as the years went by and white capitalist businessmen saw a fortune in this culture that they could exploit the voices that created hip hop were greatly silenced.

The common refrain of many submissions we got for this issue of Under Lock & Key was that "Hip Hop is Dead." But the reality is much more complex, and we are not ready to dismiss hip hop. The objectification and commodification of culture often signifies the end of its existence as a culture, as Fanon argued. However, in the height of imperialism, where the capitalists have learned to fashion their products to niche markets, all cultures will be commodified, and yet the oppressed still need a culture to call their own.

The reason why MIM(Prisons) is focusing on hip hop in this issue on culture, is that hip hip came from the oppressed nations in the u$. Today, "hip hop" is pretty much considered synonymous with oppressed nation youth culture even as that culture continues to evolve in many different ways. This is true in the united $tates, but also true to an extent in many parts of the world today.

We put our hope in the oppressed nations because of their objective interests in progressive change. That interest comes through in hip hop culture, as much as the white corporate media and its white consumer audience do to discourage that. Still the mainstream acts like all you need is a certain type of a beat in a commercial and it's hip hop. Or dress your employees a certain way and it's hip hop.

In their day, the Black Panther Party criticized Black bourgeois elements who fetishized pieces of African culture with no context as "pork chop nationalists." There was no connection to a real people with an existing lifestyle. The Panthers were greatly influenced by Frantz Fanon, who wrote in an essay entitled "Racism and Culture":

"Exoticism... allows no cultural confrontation. There is on the one hand a culture in which qualities of dynamism, of growth, of depth can be recognized. As against this, we find characteristics, curiosities, things, never a structure."

Hip hop developed as a living, dynamic life of a people; oppressed people in north amerikan ghettos. As we'll touch on below it is still a living evolving culture that has been both adopted and adapted by people around the world. But before going global, hip hop culture was commodified by white record owners for white consumers. They sold this exotic culture to white youth looking for rebellion and excitement. Decades before, thousands of white youth gave money and support to the Panthers to express their desires to challenge the dominant culture and status quo. With hip hop, corporate amerika could sell a much more sanitized and safer version of Black rebellion to whites. And while there were benefits in terms of the building of public opinion around the struggles of the oppressed, this was soon drowned out in what became a new form of cooning - reinforcing racist ideologies.

Commodification of Hip Hop

Hip hop culture began in the late 1970s, but it wasn't until the middle to late 1980s that the cultural life and expression of hip hop grew to influence youth throughout amerika and the world.

During the late 1980s and early 90s, the culture continued to thrive. In this era, Black and Latino youth further developed their voices through hip hop to express their anger, fears, ideas, art and frustrations within the dominant white-oppressor culture, with its police brutality and poverty.

Hip hop culture isn't just about the music, it's about a lifestyle - from the clothes we wear, style of hair, taggin' rail cars and walls with radical art and graffiti, unity and more. It's a culture of resistance.

As Immortal Technique wrote in his article, "Gangsta Rap is Hip Hop" a few years back, what was called Reality Rap in the early years of hip hop was a reflection of the conditions that the MC's saw around them. These images were influenced by machismo and other viewpoints that were part of the survival techniques of those coming up in that environment. As survival also required recognizing that the system does not work for us, this Reality Rap was a reflection of the mass revolutionary spirit that had fueled the Black and Brown power movements of the previous generation.

The first response from white amerika was predictably negative, but the amount of attention given to hip hop quickly escalated as fears rose. There was a reason why the George HW Bush and Bill Clinton administrations spent so much time disparaging artists like 2pac and Ice-T. Someone was telling Dan Quayle and Tipper Gore to carry out their censorship campaigns. (see Hip Hop in the Scopes of the State)

To counter their critics, rappers said they were merely reporting the truth. It is true that the rapper has usually served as a block reporter, but there are two problems that have skewed this reporting. The first is bourgeois views of "objective" reporting, that pretend that what is reported and how it is reported could be somehow outside of class struggle. This view allows the oppressed to report on conditions thru rap without taking an approach that serves our struggle. The attitude is "this is just how it is", which leads to acceptance and reinforcement of the status quo.

This becomes an even bigger problem with the pressures from an industry, which tries to protect its bourgeois interests. This brings us to the second problem: the block reporters who make it are the ones reporting in a way that sells to white youth and please white corporations.

Coming from the depressed ghettos of the 1980s, flooded with crack cocaine by the CIA, there was no question of whether or not to become a professional rapper if the opportunity presented itself. As Tupac rapped in his song Don't Stop, "If I wasn't spittin' it'd be prison or death/This rap game all we've got left." Yes, a lot of us found a way to eat, but the result was a lack of potency in the music and a watered-down culture where cars and ice are the motivating factor. It is a culture that is teaching our youth that it's all about them (as individuals). That it's cool to be a dope fiend (sippin' syrup, etc.) and to be victims of HIV/AIDS (it's ok to have multiple sex partners, without ever mentioning protection). Is there any wonder why the highest rates of HIV/AIDS are among Blacks and Latinos between the ages of 13-24?

White-owned corporations saw a profit to be made and stepped in to co-opt the movement. They became owners of record labels and put up money so these impoverished and oppressed people could sell their soul and music for crumbs while these CEO's got millions upon millions of dollars.

With the help of the rappers, the record labels promoted a one-sided image of oppressed youth, an image that has been pushed on the oppressed for hundreds of years - one of uncontrollable libidos, violence, substance abuse and general barbarism. They did this through lyrics about smoking crack, robbing and shooting other Blacks and Latinos in oppressed communities, misogynist raps and raps with no substance. We started to stray away from the four elements and this type of hip hop started to negatively influence the youth and poison their minds. While culture reflects life, it also influences it. And arguably, the corporatized thug image contributed to the thousands of deaths that plagued southcentral Los Angeles and other amerikan ghettoes in the 1990s.

Hip Hop is Dead until it takes up revolutionary politics


So with this contradiction in the culture of the oppressed came total destruction of the originality and with this concrete analysis there must be change. Like comrade Lenin once said, "concrete analysis of concrete conditions is the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism." We must regain the true culture of hip hop, which is based in the real struggles of the people and helps to teach, empower and unite the masses. This culture can be used to ignite the lumpen proletariat to support the revolutionary cause, like Mao once said, "Revolutionary culture is a powerful revolutionary weapon for the broad masses of the people."

Culture is an essential element of the history of a people, and it's social development. Culture in general, and hip hop culture in particular, plunges its roots into the base of the material reality of the environment in which we live in the hoods and barrios and it reflects the organic nature of society, which is more or less influenced by the dominant white society and culture of our oppressed communities. Currently the revolutionary side of hip hop is not the dominant aspect of the contradiction with the corporate/oppressor side. Amilcar Cabral once had this to say about culture:

"Study of the history of liberation struggles shows that they generally have been preceded by an upsurge of cultural manifestations, which progressively harden into an attempt, successful or not, to assert the cultural personality of the dominated people by an act of denial of the culture of the oppressor... it is generally within the cultural factor that we find the germ of challenge which leads to the structuring and development of the liberation movement."

We saw this germ in the Reality Rap two decades ago. If hip hop is to transform into a true vehicle for social change, we must demand that our artists keep it a hundred and give us more analysis in their music. Stop promoting the use of addictive narcotics, that they become more active in our communities, and give our youth the encouragement to study, unify, and resist oppression. Hip hop needs to reflect the struggle, and push it forward. If they fail to do this, hip hop remains sterile and dead.

Hip Hop as Reflection of Amerikan Culture

During the 1990's, people like Dolores Tucker and Tipper Gore earned the loathing of the booming hip hop culture as they targeted it for censorship and blamed it for the moral depravity of oppressed people. There was a lively debate around whether art reflected life or the other way around. But the answer to those involved was clear: people didn't start rapping about murder, drugs and misogyny because they were trying to corrupt the youth. The youth were corrupted by a system that did not provide them with positive outlets and this was reflected in hip hop, both for good and for bad. Everybody knows censoring rappers isn't going to improve the hood, but improving the hood will change what people are rapping about.

Even after its takeover by white-owned corporations, hip hop continues to be under fire for its misogynistic, materialistic, explicit content and for delivering negative messages to today's youth. What they did is sanitize the rebellious voice of the oppressed, while maintaining the negativity as a form of pseudo-rebellion to reinforce racist stereotypes of what oppressed nation youth are all about. Yet, upon deeper examination, one tends to see that the messages are merely the same ones being transmitted to the society at large by the institutions which govern society.

The parallels between the ideas propagated through the mass media and other sources; and the ones rapped about on the radio by recording artists are not hard to recognize. While this society proposes to thrive on such "rights" as "freedom of speech" and embraces such abstract concepts as individualism, materialism, and using sex to make a profit, it lambasts and condemns artists who are the products of such defunct ideas and who have chosen to endorse and promote them for monetary gain—similar to their capitalist counterparts and employers, only creatively set over catchy beats in rhyme form.

While the hip-hop/rap culture is made up primarily of lower-class, urban youth, generally from the New Afrikan community, the question that arises is: Why are these destructive, negative values so unacceptable now? It seems that as soon as these inner-city youth find a way to use this society's own value system to their benefit, and use their experiences and conditions of poverty, drugs, and crime as an avenue to create material wealth, they are demonized for their efforts. "Rap music" is condemned, rather than society as a whole. This theme is a regular refrain for many rappers who tell their critics through rhyme, "I am what you made me."

While rappers are being chastised for glorifying violence and criminality, the chastizers fail to confront the underlying causes of such crime and its solution, instead placing the blame on rap culture. From a young age, youth are taught by society that accumulation of wealth is the desired goal of life, to look out for yourself and obtain as much as you can. At the same time — through acts of war at home and abroad — our country reinforces the idea that during the quest for the "almighty dollar" any means may be employed to get more money, including violence, murder, and deceit. When a person not from a privileged upbringing and background employs these same tactics, even for the same objectives, they are labeled "criminals" and are subject to incarceration and, in some cases, death. The laws that govern this country blatantly display the fact that they were made to protect the privileges of the upper-class and oppressor nation at the expense of the lower-class and oppressed nations.

If we want to get to the root of the problem, our attacks shouldn't be aimed at a rap culture that developed from the harsh conditions of this society and which only reflects the same backward ideas and values that have been indoctrinated into the masses since birth. Instead, our attacks should be concentrated at a capitalist system that institutionalizes these degenerate values and ideas, and the ugly conditions it has consequently created in this country. Only when we begin to confront the root causes of crime, poverty, unemployment and racism will we be able to teach and educate our youth, and society as a whole, to new positive and progressive ideas and values, based on people helping and caring about other people-in one word: socialism. Anything short of this is a failure to confront the real issues and is simply a step backward.

Hip Hop Lives in Palestine, Senegal, Somalia...

When hip hop blew up in the amerikan market, it was only natural that the capitalists tried to push it globally, as much of the Third World is so brainwashed into worshiping anything that comes from the united $tates as being superior. In many cases, the Third World has adapted hip hop to their own conditions and needs though. In fact, Third World hip hop has consciously rejected many aspects of hip hop that we are also critical of: the killing, the misogyny, the drugs and promiscuity. Many Third World nations are not comfortable with all that. In Muslim countries in Africa, there are hip hop heads who very much look up to rappers from the u$, but do not imitate much of the negative lyrical content. (see http://www.africanunderground.com) There is a class difference between the Third World masses and the u$ lumpen, who have become cultural leaders globally because of u$ imperialism not in spite of or in opposition to it.

While we can be very critical of hip hop for promoting drug use, violence against the oppressed, misogyny and racism, others want to back-handedly criticize it for empowering the oppressed. In contrast, revolutionary artists often embrace while redefining the gangster and the hard images of both mainstream and underground rap music. With the globalization of hip hop and the "I'm more hard" and "I'm more gutter than you" personas that are even pushed by the mainstream, we've seen the appearance of Third World voices with a more internationalist voice.

New York-based artist Immortal Technique said in his title track about the Third World, "it makes the hood in amerika look like paradise." Meanwhile, Somalian rapper, K'naan, claims to be from the most dangerous place in the world and challenges the studio gangster images of rappers in the u$ in his song "What's Hardcore?":

I'ma spit these verses cause I feel annoyed
And I'm not gonna quit till I fill the void
If I rhymed about home and got descriptive
I'd make 50 Cent look like limp bizkit
It's true, and don't make me rhyme about you
I'm from where the kids is addicted to glue
Get ready, he got a good grip on the machete
Make rappers say they do it for love like R-Kelly
It's hard
Harder than Harlem and Compton intertwined
Harder than harboring Bin Laden and rewind
To that earlier part when I was kinda like:
We begin our day by the way of the gun
Rocket-propelled grenades blow you away if you front
We got no police, ambulances, or fire fighters
We start riots by burning car tires
They looting, and everybody start shooting...

This is the kind of "Reality Rap" that the OG's from Los Angeles used to spit, before "gangsta" became a caricature.

A thriving Palestinian hip hop scene has popularized the slogan, "Hip Hop's not dead, it lives in Palestine." This is coming from youth who are using hip hop to express their desires for national liberation, combating the slander being used to label their people as terrorists.

The idea of a global culture is still a new reality. But if such a thing can exist that is really based in the lives of real people, then it must represent the interests of the world's majority. Maybe a culture that arose from the oppressed in the heart of the empire, and was then popularized by the empire itself, can be turned around by the masses to become just that. We are currently seeing two futures of hip hop play out. One has billions of dollars behind it, the other has billions of people. If we can still call it "hip hop" culture in all its different forms around the world, then we can bet on the oppressed peoples' version winning out.

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[Organizing] [Censorship] [New York]
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Building Peace is Political

Yesterday the study course materials from MIM(Prisons) were withheld by the facility Media Review Committee, who once again stated that study materials promote and incite violence. So I naturally appealed it, because I know for a fact those claims are false and absurd! Last time they did the same thing and I appealed it and won due to those frivolous claims. How many times do we have to show these sadistic pigs that we are not reactionaries, nor do we promote senseless violence or disobedience towards prison staff? I understand they don't want to see growth and development and for one to do progressive things in prison, but I'm a revolutionary with a righteous cause and I will prevail by all means.

I just read an article written by the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project in the Bayview newspaper that dealt with a riot that exploded in Chino concentration camp by Mexicanos and Afrikans once again. The article stated that this violence went on for 11 hours with slashings, stabbing, cuttings and over 200 were hurt and several critically injured! I get highly frustrated when I read Black and Brown people's violence towards each other, this is counterproductive and reactionary to the fullest. This inter- or self-oppression we commit towards each other empowers the pigs and their capitalist-imperialist system. This old "divide and conquer" strategy is really in full effect and as long as the lumpen are at each others throat and can't make an analysis between who are our real enemies and who are our comrades in struggle, then we will never be liberated!

I suggest we do another ULK on Peace, Unity and Solidarity because this is needed in order for us to make revolutionary change! Brothers who are studying with MIM in Cali Concentration Camps need to really put theory into practice and stop this ignorance and senseless violence amongst Black and Brown peoples.

MIM(Prisons) responds: As we have stated before, we see the principal contradiction within U.$. prisons to be that between the different groups of oppressed people. So yes, we will continue to work on this issue of peace, and hope to put out a ULK dedicated to this work again in the next year. We want to be able to make progress in promoting peace agreements and protocols, but as this comrade stated, it is up to those involved to step forward and put the theory into practice. MIM(Prisons) cannot create peace from the outside.

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[Political Repression] [Organizing] [Pennsylvania]
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Inspired to fight, restricted by prison

I'm fortunate to say that your letters and assistance have encouraged me on a constructive level and I truly appreciate your correspondence. I'm 33 years old and my approach has always been to confront and address oppression physically. I still believe that occasional physical resistance is sometimes warranted, but as a growing man, thinking about these struggles, I understand that attacking in anger is to do so in confusion.

Like many of my brothers and Askaris before me, I was under the impression that muscle alone equals might. For a moment I even fell in love with confrontation and the opportunity to flex that muscle. Such heedlessness has led to my current placement in confinement, but is also the reason for my redirection, as well as my gratitude to you for reaching out.

As the komrade Huey P. Newton so eloquently phrased it: "the walls, the bars, the guns and the guards can never encircle or hold down the idea of the people. And the people must always carry forward the idea which is their dignity and their beauty."

Here's the latest pertaining to me which begs for more of your input: Because of some correspondence I sent out on July 30, 2009, I received three disciplinary misconducts (270 days) for third party correspondence, and unauthorized group activity with prisoners at other plantations. However, the letters in question, 2 in particular, were not addressed to any current or former prisoners. And the misconducts were based on assumption due to my alleged affiliation and no facts. More importantly, there are policies in place to safeguard constitutional rights when scrutinizing or monitoring mail.

Because of that incident, all of my incoming and outgoing correspondence is now monitored by security, and they're attempting to use that to infringe on my First Amendment. My outgoing mail, including privileged legal mail, is being withheld for over a week before being processed for delivery. This intentional prolonged withholding of my mail has directly conflicted with the timely deadlines of my administrative appeal process, and is intended to disrupt my correspondence to sensitive media outlets like yourself.

Pennsylvania's DOC policy statement DC-ADM 803 states that all mail should be processed within 24 hours. And that "an inmate shall be notified when outgoing mail is being withheld." My postage receipts verify withholding of longer than 24 hours and I have never received any notification authorizing my mail to be held.

I've brought this to the attention of the pink bellies, and I've exhausted my administrative remedies without any redress despite my eagerness to learn litigation. I'm lost on how to proceed to the courts: what motion, what court, etc, etc.

Pennsylvania has a common practice throughout the state that limits prisoners who are housed in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) to purchasing only 10 envelopes a week. Every prisoner is afforded 10 free envelopes a month, but once those are gone, s/he must purchase the rest. I typically run through 50-60 envelopes a month, and any limitation on paid envelopes seems to be a violation of the first amendment.

In enforcing this limit, prisoners in PA's RHUs can correspond no more than 40-50 times a month, sometimes 30 because it often takes two full weeks to receive your commissary order. I've initiated a grievance challenging the practice.

I'm in solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time for what has been termed "a failure to adjust" and "affiliation to an STG". However, when I addressed officials at a hearing last week and voiced my willingness to participate in counseling, I was told that there are no such programs available to me. So, I took it upon myself to seek counseling from an outside party, and was warned by the farmers that if I continued to pursue that counseling, or wrote and informed, that I would receive a misconduct.

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[Political Repression] [Virginia] [ULK Issue 11]
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Comrade Drops Out of Study Group Because of Repression

Dear MIM,

Hello comrades. How is life on the outside treating you? I hope the injustice system is not overpowering you or your goals in life. As far as me, I keep an optimistic view of everything which happens to me. But recent events are really taking a toll on me.

First off I want to say I'm going to drop out of the study group until I go home due to incorrigible censorship that's transpiring here at Red Onion State Prison. I've been recently attacked with violence and threats to my safety and well being. They say they're investigating me as a possible terrorist associate and have taken everything, and I mean everything I owned in this penitentiary. So all my books, materials, etc. were confiscated. And I just recently came out of total isolation in a cold, dark lonely cell with nothing but a torn up bible to read. I was physically assaulted on June 6th and was not able to write it up (push my grievance) because I was in this predicament. It is an injustice to be treated like this. I am a human being! Just because I committed a crime doesn't diminish my capacity to feel and act on emotions! I can't wait for the revolution! I'm definitely gonna get some retribution! But I'm not going to be naive enough to just jump out the window on some fuck shit.

You know all of this stemmed from my political associations. But you better trust and believe I'm not going to let it hold me down or stop me from doing what I need to do and to stand up for what I believe in. Because if I won't stand for something, I'll fall for anything. And I'm not gonna fall for no bullshit.

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[Civil Liberties] [Political Repression] [ULK Issue 10]
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Hip Hop in the Scopes of the State

Show them as scurrilous and depraved... Have members arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to the newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap... Obtain specimens of their handwriting. Provoke target groups into rivalries that may result in death. - FBI COINTELPRO tactics documented to be used against political musicians(1)

I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. - Mao Zedong. To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing (May 26, 1939)

Public Enemy in the scope

One indication of the revolutionary potential of hip hop is the bourgeois state's reaction to it. Just this summer, police arrested Paradise Gray of X-clan, and the Zulu Nation, which played a big role in shaping hip hop in its earlier years. Gray was arrested while he was filming a demonstration against gentrification. (2) Paralleling some of Tupac's efforts discussed below, Gray is currently working with 1Hood to promote peace among the oppressed nation youth in Pittsburgh, PA. There's nothing the government fears more than for the oppressed to stop killing themselves and each other.

While the popular culture likes to see Reality Rap, now known as Gangsta Rap, as the beginning of the ultimate corruption of hip hop, the truth is that pioneers Ice-T, NWA and Tupac were unabashedly opposed to the state and received a lot of heat for it. Their shows were canceled, their records delayed, their songs were censored and they faced constant surveillance and regular harassment.

While the forms of art that originated in hip hop culture have been greatly co-opted through the corporate media to serve the state itself, the potential threat of a culture that keeps strong roots in the oppressed nations remains. John Potash put out a detailed documentation of the history of the state's use of COINTELPRO against musicians, connecting it to operations against revolutionaries who preceded and often inspired them. He describes how the NYPD formed the first rap unit with COINTELPRO training, and then went on to train other metropolitan cops around the country. His book centers around the life and murder of Tupac Shakur.

Tupac Shakur's step-father was former Black Liberation Army and revolutionary physician, turned prisoner of war, Mutulu Shakur. He was one of a number of influential elders in Tupac's life as he grew up that were part of the Black Power movement. In his meetings with Tupac he says that he pushed Tupac to question and define this Thug Life thing, which they eventually did together in a 26 point code that was accepted by Bloods and Crips (and later others) at the 1992 peace summit in Los Angeles. (3) This led to a major counterintelligence operation targeting those involved, including Mutulu who has been caged in a federal control unit ever since.

Sanyika Shakur, a former Crip leader, was one who was inspired to support these efforts. He was also targeted for isolation in the California prison system where he currently sits (such peacemakers are the so-called "worst of the worst" that fill these torture cells). As he pointed out, the government had reason to be concerned about these efforts to unite Black and Latino youth as the street organizations in South Central were recruiting more young people each year than the four armed forces of the united $tates combined. (4)

John Potash's detailed research into 2pac and other musicians and Black leaders, show clear connections between government black operations and the repression of those who mobilized oppressed people. The primary role that Tupac played in the "East vs. West" feud in the hip hop scene was ironic after his work to unite warring sets in Los Angeles. But Potash paints a picture of state-led manipulation that led Tupac to play into their plans.

Potash traces the use of sex and drugs to manipulate both activists and musicians as described in the FBI document quoted above. The sexual assault charges brought against Tupac were one example of this. (5) Death Row Records, who he paints as an FBI front, kept 2pac swimming in alcohol and weed, like the FBI did to his mother when he was a kid using a drug dealer who got close to her. Death Row even turned Dr. Dre, who once rapped "yo I don't smoke weed or sess cause it's known to give a brother brain damage", into a giant weed ad with his debut solo album, "The Chronic." In the decade that followed, regular marijuana use increased significantly among Black and Latino youth, with greater disabling addiction problems, perhaps do to increased potency of the drug. (6) Today, weed and alcohol are constantly praised by rappers.

In his last days, Pac was sober, reading Mao and talking about uniting Blacks across the country. He was soon killed and no one was charged with the murder even though he was being closely watched by multiple state agencies at the time, just as Biggie was at the time of his death.

A big lesson to take from "The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders" is that the government has a strategy for neutralizing potential leaders that they use over and over. To counter this, activists need to be aware of the strategies and develop strategies to counter them. As an individual Tupac was easily manipulated, but even a disciplined party like the Black Panthers was manipulated into a similar East vs. West coast division that could have been avoided. In both cases, the FBI took advantage of internal contradictions among the people involved. So, while studying FBI tactics is a useful way to defend ourselves, more importantly we must put politics in command to make a movement that is difficult to knock off course.

notes: (1) Potash, John. The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. Progressive Left Press, Baltimore. 1997. p.56. (available from AK Press)
(2) http://hiphopandpolitics.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/first-wise-intelligent-now-hip-hop-pioneer-paradise-of-x-clan-get-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/
(3) Potash. p. 63.
(4) Shakur, Sanyika. Monster. Grove Press, New York. 1993.
(5) see Communist Opinion on the Kobe Bryant Case for more on the ridiculousness of such lynching campaigns
(6) Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States. The Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 291 No. 17, May 5, 2004.

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 10]
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Pulse of the People Sounds Like Revolution

dead prez
Hosted by DJ Green Lantern
Turn Off The Radio Vol. 3: Pulse of the People
June 2009


Almost everyone who wrote in complaining about the state of hip hop cited dead prez as the exception. Taking off where 2pac left off with Thug Life, dead prez has popularized a more consistent and developed code under their slogan of Revolutionary But Gangsta. The RBG mentality comes out on this tape in their refrain, "All the G's I know is part of the revolution." While not quite gaining the popularity of 2pac, the generation of rappers just coming up is full of youth who developed their consciousness listening to dead prez albums. We think that's a good thing for the future of hip hop culture.

MIM has thoroughly reviewed dpz's earlier work, and this mixtape follows in that tradition; strong revolutionary music. The sound of Pulse is a little different than the past, with more of a rock & roll element in a lot of the samples used. This brings us to one of the other elements of hip hop: DJing. The fact that DJ Green Lantern hosted this mixtape added to the anticipation for many.

The MC talks, so it is easy to analyze the content of what they say. Graffiti, while not as popular as rapping, is similarly easy to assess for content. But dancing and making beats are more abstract arts. Some argue that music with no lyrics, dancing and even many visual arts have no political content.

As MIM wrote in MIM Theory 13:

Mao explained that all classes in all class societies have both artistic and political criteria by which they judge art - and all classes put the political criteria first. This the bourgeoisie will never admit, but it is constantly shutting out, censoring and destroying proletarian art no matter how high the artistic merit or quality.(1)

Green Lantern is interesting as a DJ who put out this latest dpz mixtape as well as Immortal Technique's highly recommended record The Third World. Before that he put out the Bin Laden single with Tech and earlier this year released a track on the Oscar Grant shooting and riots. All of these works combined demonstrate that yes, a DJ's work is political. As an artistically superior DJ and producer, who worked with such popular MC's as Eminem, Jay-Z and Nas, Green Lantern adds the artistic quality to the political line, to create a superior revolutionary culture. Without DJ's like Green Lantern the "conscious" music never gains mass appeal.

The DJ has quietly become more and more prominent both alongside and independent from MC's. Green Lantern is a good example of this with his work on video games, which now have their own soundtracks, and his own radio show. While this reviewer isn't familiar with all of these works to speak on Green Lantern's career as a whole, he clearly doesn't work exclusively on revolutionary projects. While Nas's Nigger Tape was a confusing mix of reverence for both the Black Panthers and Barack Obama, Green also worked on a mixtape that was expressly dedicated to getting Obama elected.

On that note, we can say that dead prez is the vanguard here, pushing Green Lantern to do more revolutionary projects. To their credit, dpz has always got the principal contradiction correct, and never wavered. This tape is no exception with lyrics like:

"That's why ain't nothin' patriotic in me
For their system my heart is empty"

and

"I don't represent the red white and blue
I cut the head off the devil and I throw it at you."

The latter line is from Afrika Hot!, which is both the dance hit on this release and also one of the more revolutionary tracks lyrically. The overall message of Pan-Afrikanism and Third World unity in this song is right on. But when groups like the African People's Socialist Party, who Stic Man and M-1 used to work with, go so far as to build an African Socialist International, with leadership based in the united $tates, we think that contradicts the lessons we have learned from previous attempts at communist internationals. Despite their relative oppression, New Afrikans are a separate nation, with a much more privileged class position than the many nations of Africa and should not be guiding struggle on the continent.

For the most part we were ambivalent towards dead prez's dealing with gender and sex in the past, but gave them a much higher rating than the average hip hop artist. In the final track on Pulse, My Dirty Valentine, they get into their fantasies and desires that eroticize power and rape. While MIM(Prisons) opposes sexual liberalism, we also do not try to police people's bedrooms in our efforts to overthrow the patriarchy. But by rapping about these things, dead prez is telling their listeners what is sexy, and art does influence real life.

Overall, dead prez not only provides the critique, but they also provide a method for finding solutions, the dialectical materialist approach to the world. As they mature politically, these themes seem to have become more prominent in their music. The back to back songs Refuse To Lose and Life Goes On are good examples of their inspirational and educational approach, rather than just beating their listeners in the head with rhetoric.

"Many days didn't know what to do/ but we survive/ Every struggle is a test/ a lesson/ You just gotta figure out how to overcome and catch the blessing/ They want us to turn to dope and lose all hope/ spirit broke and confused/ But I refuse to lose/ Through fear/ through pain/ through loss/ I can't stop/ won't stop/ 'til we make it to the tip top/ This is hip hop"

"If you ain't happy make a change then/ If what you're doing ain't working/ it might be time to change plans/ You're looking at a changed man/ from where I used to be/ It's no fear/ I ain't going nowhere/ so get used to me."

"You can make a choice now how you wanna live/ You can be negative/ You can be positive/ But either one is up to you/ It's your prerogative/ It's not what happens to us/ It's how we handle what happens/ The ups and downs in life give us understanding and balance."

And remember, Turn off the Radio! Turn off that Bullshit!

Notes: (1) Chinese Art in Revolution. MIM Theory 13: Culture in Revolution. 1997. p.30.


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[Culture] [ULK Issue 10]
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Eminem = Emeny

Eminem
Hosted by Dr. Dre
Relapse
May 2009

eminiem relapse album cover
Relapse is Eminem's 6th studio album, released May 15, 2009, with the sequel Relapse 2 expected to drop November of this year. It sold over 600,000 copies in the first week of its release.(1) As the title implies, the content of the album is devoted to the many facets of Eminem's struggle with drug addiction. To any fan of Eminem, or anyone who's heard his older stuff, it should come as no surprise that the main objective of Relapse seems to be to perpetuate misogyny, primarily thorough rape fantasies. Although there are two whole entire songs depicting violence against wimmin ('Same Song & Dance' and 'Stay Wide Awake'), that isn't enough to keep Eminem from making references to rape and unwarranted physical contact throughout the entire album. Physical violence isn't just directed toward wimmin; there's violence against gays, graphic depiction of child molestation, and the rare allusion of violence against his peers.

The chorus to 'We Made You' is overly conceited, but with the lyric "Who could really blame you? We're the ones who made you" he is blaming the consumers for his audacity. That is partially true: if amerikans weren't so into individualism and misogyny, then they probably wouldn't be so into Em's shit. But even more true is the role that the corporate record companies have played in pushing it on the people, which you can read about in the title article to this issue of ULK.

There is also a consistent focus on the individual's problems throughout the album, instead of problems of the group. In fact, the only thing Eminem seems to have a group perspective on is that all wimmin are bitches. In the track 'My Mom' he relates all of his drug problems to his mother's addictions, as if she was one womyn separate from society. However, all of us are affected by the culture and society we live in, and drug addiction is one way the people in a fucked up society can adjust to living this way. It's likely that Mathers' mother was the strongest direct influence on him, but she is just a reflection of her culture and society, making that the real problem. In amerikan society it is especially important for us to combat individualism, because oftentimes, ideologically, it is the largest obstacle standing between the oppressed and increased public opinion for their liberation.

In real life, Mathers has been using the 12 step program for his recovery, which he mocks in the skits on Relapse. Twelve step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, may work to keep individual people from using. But on a group scale its goal is to adjust people to function without drugs in a messed up society, instead of addressing the problems of society, which can only be thoroughly dealt with through revolution. Of course, we don't think living under imperialism is easy, and people usually do need support outside of themselves to recover from addiction, and to be useful to the revolution. But we would prefer a 12 step program that's not focused on god and a "higher power" and instead focused on liberating oneself through liberation of the proletariat.

With all this talk about dealing with our problems, Relapse doesn't offer many solutions, even for the individual. 'Deja Vu' is a submission to addiction ("I wanna get away from this place, I do. But I can't, and I won't.") which is followed by the rap ballad and single, 'Beautiful.' 'Beautiful' is about fighting depression, and with a chorus like "Don't let em say you ain't beautiful/ They can all get fucked just stay true to you" it's the most, and only semi-encouraging song on the album. This can serve revolutionaries who are feeling alienated by their political views here in the belly of the beast, where the majority of amerikans are bought off by imperialism and aren't materially interested in revolutionary politics.

Dr. Dre keeps our heads bobbing, but beyond that, Relapse, and Eminem's career in general, is just another example of how imperialism and capitalism prioritize the mental health of the people last. It also is another tired example of how capitalism encourages the recording industry to push fucked up politics into hip-hop culture, and this reviewer expects more of the same from Relapse 2.


notes:

(1) http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/content_display/industry/e3i331f30f79c3e3c746847c8d7166631d3

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[Gender] [Arizona] [ULK Issue 12]
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Medical Science Skewed Under Patriarchy

Greetings komrades,

I received ULK July, no. 9 and I disagree with part of your response to the prisoner that wrote on gender. You stated that the prisoner's characterization of women as "very emotional" beings is actually a good example of sexist views.

However this is a topic I have long ago done research in. Medical science in fact states that men think with the left side of their brains which is the logical and reasoning side, and women think with the right side of their brains which is emotional and sentimental. Thus this is not a sexist view but a medical one.

This means if medical science is correct then that would mean that female officers are more emotional than male officers, which of course doesn't make them more dangerous than male officers. Both male and female officers are illogical because the system which they adhere to is illogical. It is also an established fact that some of these hoochies that been dogged one too many times by males on the streets who become guards all of a sudden, because they lack the education to gain better employment, will exercise their piggish authority over male prisoners with a wrath, just because they can.

However that's not to say that male guards don't do the same when they remember that their lunch money was taken away one too many times in high school by thugs, thugs similar to the ones they now have authority over.

To summarize, the job of Gestapo in any U.$. concentration camp sucks, but women guards should never be allowed to work in men's prisons. They're just slightly more useless than their male counterparts. When something serious pops off they all run for cover in fear for their lives. Courage is not a criteria to become a correction pig. "A man who controls his emotions controls his destiny. The one that doesn't is unstable in all his ways."

MIM(Prisons) Responds: Although it may be scientifically too soon for us to say that men and wimmin are completely alike, we must remember that all studies about nature vs. nurture (in this case brain chemistry vs. socialization) are done under hundreds of years of patriarchy. It is impossible to determine how humyns ultimately behave with no outside influence, because we are very deeply affected by the culture we grow up in.

At this point in time under the patriarchy, it is counter productive for revolutionaries to make sweeping proclamations about innate characteristics of men and wimmin. This debate is a distraction from the real issues, and plays into enforcing gender stereotypes. However, this comrade gets it right when he says that "both male and female officers are illogical because the system which they adhere to is illogical." No matter the emotional tendencies of any persyn, they will behave in illogical ways when put in an illogical position. In order to prevent the wrath of any CO, we need to eliminate the illogical job in an illogical society. This can only happen by eliminating capitalism and the profit motive, which will in turn get rid of the prison system.

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[Organizing] [Texas] [ULK Issue 14]
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Pigs bribe prisoners to snitch

Reading ULK 9, I see the same struggles are at the somewhat same level. Some worse than others. The same tactics these pigs use everywhere. I use the term pig freely because there are prisoner pigs also. Those who deem themselves righteous only to stab you in the back and work with the pigs here in Hughes Unit.

For a time these ranking officers were using what they called a snitch box. This box contained soups, chips, pouches of chili, radios, and hot pots. Word spread around that these items could be yours if the information was useful. The more valuable, the more you got. Then people who never make store started having radios, hot pots, commissary. These pigs sold their souls for more petty shit. This tactic has been used in wars. Those in need were kept away from what's theirs, but given to those who work with the government.

I'm in Administrative Segregation. These people claim that I'm a confirmed member of a Security Threat Group. I won't admit to it and I won't sign up for a program for something I'm not a part of. So here I am. Been here since 2005. This time here I've come to learn about myself and start to take different approaches in everything. These people hate to see smart people use their own system against them. I'm still trying to learn and grow more. What you all send me in this ULK gives me an extra push. So thank you comrades!

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 10]
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Space... The Next Frontier

Uhura kissing Spock
[Spoiler Warning]
Star Trek (2009) begins with a battle in outer space, where the last remaining Romulans have traveled back in time to attack the United Federation of Planets, in hopes that by emotionally scarring Spock in his younger years, they will feel better that their planet, Romulas, is going to be destroyed by their dying sun. The Romulans blame Spock as an individual for this disaster, presumably because he was (or will be) the scientist in charge of protecting Romulas. Both old Spock from the future, and young Spock in the present, are forced to witness the destruction of his home planet, Vulcan, as revenge. It isn't clear what Spock's actual role will be in the destruction of Romulas, and for the sake of this review, we will just look at the information portrayed in this film, not the Star Trek television shows or other movies.

The writers of Star Trek would like to portray Earth in the year 2233 as its own single, united nation of Humans. This is just amerika's beloved Hollywood attempting to teach us how "peaceful" the planet could be if we all just submitted to the white nation and let them run the show. In the Star Trek future, nearly everyone from Earth is white, which not only opposes political science, but genetics and evolution as well. The filmmakers suppose that present amerika and europe will conquer all non-white nations and either destroy them, or keep them marginalized in the fields of military and imperialist science, thus having no role to play in a movie about intergalactic exploration.

The Federation societies shown in Star Trek (2009) aren't very different from amerikan society today. Alcohol abuse is common, wimmin are sexually harassed and assaulted, expensive material objects are idealized, and individualism is widespread. Humans join the military because they have nothing better to do, want persynal glory, and/or to "kick some Romulan ass." All these factors demonstrate Earth as a capitalist country, another misprediction.

The glorification of the individual is so common in this future society, in fact, that Spock, then captain of the Enterprise, abandons the ship as it is being sucked into a black hole. He does this to rescue his parents from the imploding planet of Vulcan. In the eyes of many amerikans this may seem heroic and forgivable, to put the whole crew at risk of imminent death to protect his culture. Of course, thank Hollywood, Enterprise manages to make it out safely, with Spock on board, but it is a completely irresponsible move. Another example of individualism is shown when a minor crew member is having such a grand time skydiving through the Vulcan atmosphere, ready to kill some Romulans, that he intentionally activates his parachute too late, for fun, and dies. In reality we need to combat our own persynal desires for fame, glory, and subjective "fun" in order to create and preserve a strong movement, and, when the time comes, armed struggle.

The film also supports individualism, as well as ideas of genetic supremacism, through the character of Jim Kirk, who is a naturally good captain taking after his father. He is able to come into the academy from a life of drunken recklessness and surpass his fellow students in Star Fleet. His success justifies judging people's qualifications based on their parents. The Enterprise does function as a team with many roles to play, which is superior to Rambo style heroism. Kirk is able to keep the goal of the Federation in focus, making him a good leader. Like the lumpen, his lack of investment in other things allows him to focus on one greater goal once he is able put it ahead of his self-indulgent lifestyle. While a good leader must be willing to challenge the status quo as Kirk does, the movie romanticizes this as a magical skill that he was born with, not one that requires hard work and experience, particularly in partnership with others, to develop.

The Vulcans are a logical and emotionless "race," which is intended to highlight the passion and senselessness of "human nature." This is incorrect western psychological theory, but it also provides for some good advice from Spock's father, if we humyns should take it as our own. "Logic offers us [Vulcans] a serenity humans seldom experience: the control of feelings so that they do not control you... You are fully capable of deciding your own destiny, the question is, which path will you choose? This is something only you can decide." The lesson here is to avoid escapism, and take control of our future.

But what cultural impact does Star Trek(2009) have? All good art has an impact that is more than just logical, so the question is, what is the outcome of that impact? Good art elicits a response by epitomizing a truth faced by the audience. Hollywood-style art, in contrast, attempts to impose emotional responses through generic intensity. This style of film is based strongly in eliciting emotional responses from the audience, and although there are still plenty of cliff hanging scenes (literally) and tragic moments between loved ones, the action scenes are often overdone in a way that can conflict with this goal. In the end of the movie, old Spock confirms to young Spock the importance of following your gut rather than logic, while his father admits to "loving" his mother for the first time. This triumph of emotionalism opens up the audience for a justification of subjectivism in making their decisions.

To focus back on the Romulans, achieving persynal revenge for the future loss of their home is a poor strategy that doesn't serve anyone. A real solution would have been for the Romulans to have gone back in time and advance technology to save their planet in the future. The Romulans' revenge strategy is very different from the oppressed people in our world attacking the oppressor for their own survival, even when their strategies are not successful. The oppressed lash out because they have been pushed to a point where they have no other options. This may be an emotional reaction or a strategic strike. The Romulans, in contrast, are letting their emotions drive them to act in ways that are contrary to their expressed goals, when they have an unusual opportunity to do otherwise.

It is also worth noting that the Romulans are portrayed as anti-social in appearance in ways that parallel certain lumpen groups in the united $tates. Star Trek can appeal to liberal multiculturalism with their Black, Asian, Arab and even a green-skinned humyn-like character all being included in Star Fleet. This is similar to seeing a Black president as being a sign of progress today, while using Islam, drugs and gang-banging as excuses to attack the oppressed nations. That's why we talk about the problem of white nationalism, which allows for exceptions, and not racism.

In reality, there is no way that humyn society could have survived another 225 years without eliminating the contradictions inherent in imperialism that threaten our lives on a daily basis. Thus, if this were a propaganda film from a proletarian perspective, the universe would have been portrayed as cooperative. What might make such a movie interesting is speculating how such a society might be run after eliminating the militarism and gender dynamics of today. In a proletarian version the Romulans would have seized on their opportunity to use their new found scientific advantage to save their people rather than resorting to revenge. Even old Spock, who had lived through this disaster already, could have been engaged in this project. He actually did bring technology from the future to the present, but it was just to benefit the Federation. While the Federation has the potential to serve as an example of greater international (and interspecies) cooperation in the future, like most Hollywood scifi, it serves as a stand-in for the united states or the united nations, justifying imperialist militarism against the oppressed who are vilified as irrationally vengeful monsters.

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