Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why I Care About Hip Hop

I decided I wanted to be a rapper in 1994. I was sitting in a prison cell in Upstate New York and made the decision that upon my release I would try my hand at it as a career. Not because I thought I was the best rapper at the time; but because I knew this was one thing where you could make a living and it didn't require any qualifications. You didn't have to be educated. You didn't have to have a background check or be screened for your criminal history. Having a criminal history is not a good thing to have when applying for a job so I said 'Hey, why not' let's go for it. While crafting my first few songs, I noticed everything that I was writing about were the exact same things that had gotten me in the ugly harsh realities I was facing in my life. It was my life, so I had every right to speak on it but I noticed I was glorifying something that wasn't so glorious. I remember talking to a fellow inmate and close friend and he said to me, "Have you ever thought about rapping about something that might be beneficial to a young mind as well and entertaining?" I didn't quite understand at the moment but he started to give me books and the more I read, the more of what I was reading would come out in my raps. I remember making the decision that if I ever got a chance to obtain a record deal, I would always make songs that would be beneficial to the growth and development of a young person. What I didn't understand is this would be a decision that would severely stunt my growth as an artist in many ways.

My earliest memories of hip hop, I think of a time when everything I heard in a rap song, I could look out my window and actually visualize the lyrics so clearly. Whether it was Melle Mell rapping about 'broken glass everywhere' in his song "The Message" or hearing emcees rhyming about the graffiti stricken trains and buildings that filled the streets of New York City. Hip hop was a reflection of the impoverished neighborhoods we were being raised in and we loved it. We didn't realize it at the time, but we actually needed it. The music was clearly a reflection of where we were being raised. It was Our CNN or Huffington Post. We would go across town to have break dance and MC battles against other crews who rapped and danced. While being across town or even sometimes in other boroughs, we would find out who were the top people in their neighborhoods. The commonality we had was hip hop it brought us all together. It was the beginning of a culture that would influence America like no other before it.

I got a major record deal and signed to Atlantic Records, home of many great legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and many others. My first single, "Pain In My Life" with rising star Trey Songz. The song detailed a young promiscuous teen who was intrigued by the things that are praised in popular hip hop songs and eventually sleeps with the wrong player and contracts H.I.V. With black women being the #1 leader or new cases of H.I.V. and AIDS, I felt the need to showcase this in my music. My decision to lead with this song was met with resistance from my record label. I was encouraged by them to make more songs that were sex infused and exploitive. When I refused, my project shelved for six years and eventually released from the label. I made the decision that I would continue to make music independently and not only would I NOT switch over to rapping about things I believed to be detrimental to our youth; but I would go even harder at speaking about things to combat it.

Listening to today's music, I hear a variety of songs with the content that sounds like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Songs with titles like "Money To Blow," Rich Forever etc, you wouldn't begin to fathom that we're in some of the worse economic times. Songs that speak of buying Bugatti's and Bentley's like they were Honda's and Mazda's. If I'm correct, a Bugatti retails at over a million dollars and a new Bentley cost roughly around $300,000. I know there is a group of artists who have reached the level where they can obtain this caliber of vehicles but it seems this has become the norm in hip hop music. In 1996, Nas rapped on his hit record If I Ruled The World, "If I ruled the world and everything in it, sky's the limit, I'd push a Q45 infint... An Infiniti Q45 retailed at about 45k at the time and that was major for even the biggest rapper in the game at the time.

I wonder when and how did the art form stop reflecting the realities of the place where it was born? It's become the opposite of what is taking place in its birthplace. We are in some of the worst economic times in modern history but you wouldn't believe this if you listened to a rap song. There is a disconnect with hip hop and the community where it was started, but it has become somewhat of a detriment. The imagery in popular hip hop is either extremely sexual or extremely violent. These artists have become vessels for corporate America to exploit to sell commerce. Whether it's Mercedes Benzes or the latest flavored Vodka. Hip hop culture has become a big advertising tool and nothing more. When you see the sales of Timbaland rise and fall depending on the popularity it yields in rap songs is proof. When you see the sales of Vodka go through the roof because its hip hop's drink of choice is proof. When you see multiple artists who have taken the moniker after clothing designers, clothing brands, car brands etc is proof. The language we created to combat oppression and to tell the stories of our trials and tribulations of being young black descendants of ex-slaves; is now being used to sell sex, cars, drugs and other things that have and still plague the same community in which it was born. Who caused the disconnect?

My new album came out on November 6, which was Election Day 2012. The title of my new album is The Greatest Story Never Told 2: Bread And Circuses. The album is filled with songs like "Brownsville Girl" that details the senseless killing amongst young black people in inner cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. I penned songs like "Best Thing That I Found" featuring gospel rapper LeCrae that attempts to encourage people to keep faith in GOD when times seem to get rough and life seems hopeless. "Game Changer" featuring Marsha Ambrosious details my situation and my struggles in the music industry for trying to make what I call 'think rap.' These and a lot of the other songs are just an example of the power of music when its done right. You can be entertaining and still have a powerful message in music as Marvin Gaye once proved. As Bob Marley and Peter Tosh did. As Tupac did before he was assassinated. I sacrificed potential millions of dollars as well as endorsements to make music I thought could save lives. I was very cognizant of sex and violence being what sells in hip hop. I continue to stand firm in my beliefs today. I would rather touch the lives of 100 people in positive way and make less money, than lead 1,000,000 people down the wrong path for monetary gain. This music is shaping the minds of our children and whoever controls the mind of our children, controls our future. If America wants our future to be in good hands, we have to do better as a generation leading the way. Bread and Circuses... Let's take back our future.

Told by Saigon.

Heart and Soul of Hip Hop

During the turbulent Nineties, South Africa turned to musicians from different ethnic backgrounds to produce the Peace Song, and now, during an era when our country is experiencing political and economic instability, the responsibility to mend ways is squarely on hip hop artist extraordinaire and social activist Menelik Nesta Gibbons, popularly referred to as the influential Don Dada.

Having headlined last year’s Joburg Arts Alive alongside the likes of internationally renowned MCs such as Black Cream and Peoples’ Property, Dada continues to highlight the need foruplifting lyrics and positive messaging in all of his offerings.

His ethos has always been driven by a distinct ability to survey political, social and economic landscapes and to write songs that elevate not only South Africa, but the entire continent. This is most evident as in his philosophy, which includes being conscious about religion, our continent and making a difference for Africans at home and abroad.

Having collaborated with socially responsible artists such as Crazy Lu’s Gods Must Be Crazy and Bentman’s Lord of War, Dada has been recognised by South Africa’s foremost hip hop authority, Hype Magazine, when they featured him three times on their widely revered Hype Mix Session discs.

Besides a Sound Engineering background and being the backbone for a number of mix tapes that resulted in catapulting and bolstering MCs’ hip hop careers, Dada has also worked on remarkably relevant solo tracks that also serve as thread and needle for our moral fibre.

“Africa” is a heartfelt song that shows the continent as a potential-filled vessel, while the Jay Flames produced “Our Time” is as relevant when the master craftsman penned it, as it addresses a pressing need for Africans to come up with African solutions.

With his world-class performance at last year’s Street Beat still having tongues wagging, Dada is set to prove why he will always be applauded for penning fortifying music that makes a difference for a generation that is in desperate need of direction.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Setting the stage alight at the 9th annual LIVE Channel O Music Video Awards

A stunning line-up of African artists is poised to turn the 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards, brought to you by DStv and DStv Mobile, into the biggest celebration of African music talent this year!

The array of artists taking to the stage at the Saturday, 17 November event in Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto reads like a who’s who of contemporary and iconic African stars – and music fans now have the chance to buy tickets to be part of this one-of-a-kind event. The 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards will also be broadcast LIVE on the channel at20:00, making sure fans throughout the continent don’t miss out on what promises to be a superb show.

The star-studded line-up includes “the number one Soweto boy”, Pro, as well as a number of Kwaito music legends in the form of Alaska and Thebe, along with Dr Malinga. Fans and viewers can expect something special from the Kwaito flag bearers - all of whom have worked with this year’s Special Recognition recipient, Oskido, as part of the now iconic Kalawa Jazmee stable. Representing for the Hip-Hop contingent is Ma-E of Teargas fame, Botswana rapper Zeus, and Nigeria’s Ice Prince and Mo Cheddah. Zeus is in the running for Most Gifted South Video for “Dancing Shoes”, Mo Cheddah’s “See Me” video featuring Phenom has put her back in the running for this year’s Most Gifted Female Video after she took it in 2010, while last year’s Most Gifted Newcomer Ice Prince is one of the contenders in the Most Gifted Hip Hop Video for “Superstar” as well as Most Gifted Ragga Dancehall Video.

Also flexing their skills at this Pan African LIVE event on Saturday, 17 November is Hip Hop giant Khuli Chana and Kenyan “Fresh all Day” newcomers Camp Mulla. Khuli Chana and Campa Mulla are both multiple nominees at the 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards: Kenya’s hip hop hotshots Camp Mulla are up for a leading four nominations (Most Gifted Newcomer Video, Most Gifted African East Video, Most Gifted Video of the Year and Most Gifted Duo, Group or Featuring Video) while Khuli Chana is capping a brilliant year with three nominations (Most Gifted Male, Most Gifted Hip Hop Video and Most Gifted Video of the Year).

Another highly anticipated performance is from hotshot Nigerian star, Davido, who is also in the running for Most Gifted Newcomer Video as well as Most Gifted Dance Video and is tapped to set the stage ablaze with his performance.  Ghana’s lyrical fire starter M.anifest who is nominated for Most Gifted Hip Hop Video is also gearing up to show off his tongue twisting talent to the continent.

No celebration of 21st century African music would be complete without some House in the mix Black Motion, Mi Casa, DJ Zinhle and the first lady of SA house, Bucie, will all be taking to the stage on Saturday, 17 November! Bucie is in the running for Most Gifted Dance Video for “Get Over It” where she faces off against DJ Zinhle (feat Busiswa “My Name Is”) amongst others. Mi Casa, meanwhile, continue their blazing 2012 with a nomination in the Most Gifted Group/Duo Video category for “Heavenly Sent” and will certainly up the stakes at the live event.

Finally, adding their rousing, emotional magic to the awards is the Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir - while capping off a superb night’s entertainment will be a performance by Oskido, named as this year’s Special Recognition recipient at the 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards.

Tickets to the 2012 Channel O Music Video Awards cost R50 and are currently available from Computicket. The Channel O Music Video Awards are voted for by the public with voting closing at midnight on Thursday, 8 November, giving fans just two weeks to have their say!