Rap Legends Push Personal Responsibility at Laney Conference By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday May 03, 2005

For those whose exposure to hip hop and rap is the occasional video seen while flipping channels, or a gold-toothed face on a magazine at the supermarket checkout counter, the scene at Laney College this weekend would have been unrecognizable. Two rap legends showed up at the third annual Malcolm X Consciousness Conference with no entourages in sight, and an emphasis on think-think rather than bling-bling. 

Speaking in keynote addresses were Chuck D of the legendary Public Enemy and South Central LA’s Yo Yo, one of the first nationally recognized female rappers. Also speaking was Fred Hampton Jr., the son of the Black Panther Party leader killed by Chicago police in 1969. 

Bringing together black student activists from around California to trade ideas on a statewide program, the three-day event was sponsored by Club Knowledge, a four year old Laney-based African-American student organization, and was held to further the group’s goals of setting up a statewide coalition of Black student unions. 

With tracks like “Fight The Power,” “Fear Of A Black Planet,” and “Don’t Believe The Hype,” Chuck D’s Public Enemy is considered one of the founders of the consciousness-knowledge wing of the rap world, far different from its party wing or gangsta’ rap. In a rambling, two hour address on Sunday morning, Chuck D told conference participants his views on everything from personal responsibility to movement activism to the history of hip hop, as well as acknowledging Oakland’s Black Panther Party as one of the inspirations of his political thought. 

A good portion of his speech took dead aim against the violence plaguing black communities across the country, blaming, in part, the glorification of that violence by some hip hop artists and the people promoting them. “I was listening to a radio show,” he said “where the deejay was interviewing 50 Cent and the Game”—two popular gangsta’ rappers”—and making a joke about the number of their exit wounds. ‘So you been shot nine times, 50, and Game, you been shot only five. When you gonna’ catch up?’” He said that law enforcement officials investigate the deaths of hip hop artists with less vigor than the deaths of other celebrities, noting that “They tracked down [Donatella] Versace’s killer on a boat in the ocean, but they still haven’t found out who murdered Biggie [Smalls] and Tupac and Jam Master Jay [of Run DMC].” He also spoke on how the increasing violence in African-American communities is slowly squeezing out a grassroots intelligent response to Black America’s problems. 

“Twenty years ago, you had gang-bangers and athletes and college students hanging out together on the corners or in barber shops in the ‘hood,” he said, “and if somebody said something really ignorant—like ‘the sky is purple,’ or something like that—everybody would tell him to shut up. And if he got belligerent, he might even get an asswhipping. But nowadays, if someone says something ignorant on the corner, all the smart people shut up and don’t challenge him, because they’re afraid he might go to his car and come back with a 9 millimeter and wipe out the corner. So in the black neighborhoods, ignorance is allowed to go unchallenged, while intelligence has to keep quieter and quieter. That’s one of the reasons why you’re seeing so much ignorance coming out of our communities.” 

Chuck D said that growing up in Long Island, New York in 1968, he participated in the Free Breakfast Program sponsored by the Black Panther Party, and said that “I love Oakland because Oakland has gone against the grain so long.” He said the he was “fortunate to meet Huey P. Newton when he came to a Public Enemy show” in the Bay Area, and was in the midst of making preliminary arrangements for an association with Newton when the Black Panther Party founder was killed in West Oakland in 1989. 

But mostly, the rap artist, producer, and activist preached the politics of personal responsibility to the conference participants, urging them to get involved in local politics. “Instead of complaining about the lack of education or black youth getting thrown into jail, you better understand who’s on your school board or how your judges get elected,” he said. “Voting is as essential as washing your ass in the morning. It’s something you’re supposed to do. You shouldn’t get props for it. You should just do it.” 

Personal responsibility was also the Saturday afternoon message of Yolanda Whitaker, the 34-year-old rap artist who, at the age of 17 under the stage name Yo Yo, was doing rap-battles with NWA’s Ice Cube. 

“Back in the day, people were always asking Ice Cube if he was a role model and he’d say ‘no, that’s the parents’ responsibility,” Whitaker said. “When I was 18 I was saying the same thing.” She said that changed in the mid-90s when she realized that young black women were taking literally the famous lyrical suggestion—from the rapper’s 1991 track “You Can’t Play With My Yo Yo”—that they “carry gats [guns] in their purses.” Whitaker also gave props to Los Angeles-area Congressmember Maxine Waters, “who took an interest in hip hop artists, pulled us to the side, and educated us. She took us seriously. I love her to death.” Whitaker says she has since formed a group called the Intelligent Black Women’s Coalition, and is active in promoting positive changes in the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up. She called upon participants to take responsibility for hip hop and its influence on the African-American community. “Hip hop is our culture. We can’t let them take our culture away from us,” she said. She urged participants to “contact radio and television stations to influence the types of songs and videos they play. Make them promote the positive aspects of hip hop.” 

Club Knowledge member Danae Martinez, a graduating Laney College student, said that the purpose of the organization “is to raise consciousness among African-American students.” She said the organization was founded on the Oakland campus four years ago, but has since “spread out to other colleges in the state as students have graduated and moved on.” The purpose of this weekend’s conference was to bring black student union members together from around the state “to unite around a common program,” and said that representatives came from as far away as Humboldt and Fullerton. She said that in the fall, the organization plans to convene a statewide meeting to work on a formal California coalition of black student unions.›