Why Didn’t We Listen?
by Brian Lindenmuth
Let’s take a look at some of the spoken word performances, that were accompanied by music, that make up some of the significant DNA strands of rap.
The Watts Prophets, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Last Poets are considered some of the godfathers of rap. They were poets interested in a performative mode (tapping into an oral tradition), married with different musical styles, and accompanied with musical instruments. Some of the topics they wrote about are still relevant to modern audiences.
“What Is A Man” by The Watts Prophets is from the 1971 album Rappin’ Black in a White World
“Why do you insist on keeping us caged?
You know all that does is intensify rage
The word knowledge sees the time
And all power to the people!
Power to the people!
Then I threw another log on the fire
“Putting us in a cage was a mistake
All that did was intensify hate
Now to our cages, you expect us to wait?’
While you fool around on the moon
And from there look for another place to conquer
While I throw another log on the fire”
The epic “B-Movie” by Gil Scott Heron was released in 1984 and is a scorcher of a song.
“What has happened is that in the last 20 years
America has changed from a producer to a consumer
And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune…
The consumer has got to dance
That’s the way it is. We used to be a producer – very inflexible at that
And now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand …
“As Wall Street goes, so goes the Nation
And here’s a look at the closing numbers …
Racism’s up, Human Rights are down
Peace is shaky, War items are hot
The House claims all ties
“Jobs are down, money is scarce
And common sense is at an all-time low with heavy trading
Movies were looking better than ever
And now no one is looking”
Finally, “Mean Machine” by The Last Poets is from the album “The Prime Time Rhyme of The Last Poets”
“Designed to drive your brain insane
Loudspeakers blasting inside your head
Saying what someone else said
For you to do what they want you to
No. Go. Fast. Slow
Getting you high off the latest lie
Telling you when, where, how and why …
“Factories of insanity playing on your vanity
As they distort your sense of self
Telling you what you need and how to succeed
As they steal all of your wealth
Probing your mind, trying to find
How to scheme on you best …
“Putting you to the test
Death dealing devices sold at high prices
Designed with you in mind to buy
As they kill you slow and some of y’all don’t even know
Y’all paying the Machine to die
Mechanized lies dressed up in disguise
In forms of various kinds
Treachery and deceit the people must defeat
In the battle for free men’s minds”
Art from marginalized communities can be among the front line voices for various issues, we just don’t always listen. So here we are, still, dealing with some of the same issues in 2019.