Bring The Noise

In 1993, when the sun was simultaneously rising on rap music that hedonistically inquired, "Are you high yet?", and setting on hip hop that bounced and grooved with the beat of black consciousness, I had the chance to interview Chuck D.

It was a time when wearing red, black, and green Africa pendants had moved from being a symbol of something deeper to merely existing as a fashion statement. The trend was such that the same guy who had Mother Africa around his neck could also be heard yelling, "Wassup, my n****?" to another black man. In fact, the whole movement became so trendy that I even remember seeing a few international students rocking Malcolm X t-shirts. Sadly enough, despite Malcolm's thoughtful face across their chests, they still managed to look scared to death when a real, live black man sat down next to them in the library.

These were the things I talked about with Chuck D. We talked about his experiences in a country built on dehumanizing and devaluing blackness. We talked about a music industry that profits from the perpetuation of lies and stereotypes about black folks. And as insightful as Chuck D was in his analysis of how racism affected his dealings with record companies and the media, I don't think even he could have predicted our society's modern day descent into the excesses of Flavor of Love-type shows, the ever-present Scarface worship and the images of sullen men making cash rain down on women who believe that their worth is located in the roundness of their back shot.

But just as the pendulum of music has swung for the last decade in the direction of rampant materialism, hyper- sexualization, misogyny and a myriad other vain imaginings of our time, I find myself wondering, with all of the changes our world is currently going through, how can it not swing back to reflect a higher consciousness?

I'm not just talking about songs that are love letters to Barack Obama. I'm talking about songs that reflect a longing for love that's deeper than two minutes of fleeting pleasure with a stranger you just met in a club. Where are the songs that reflect the palpable disgust so many in this country are feeling with the blatant racism being revealed on a daily basis. Surely kids are writing rhymes about growing up in foster care and being homeless. Or is it not keeping it real to rhyme about how you can't take your science textbook home because there's only one set of books for 180 students to share?

I don't know, maybe in a troubled economy, people still want to hear about Cristal poppin' and bling bling. White people buy approximately 70% of the current incarnation of rap music so is this still what Average Joe's want to hear about? Do they still need the escapism that objectifying and prostituting the experiences and choices of some black people provides?

I often think about how Obama doesn't fit into the T-Pain and L'il Jon box that some folks would prefer to see black men in. He doesn't have an iced out grill and he's not simply here to entertain. Sometimes I think folks call him elite, not because of his education, but because they're more comfortable seeing a black man behave the way Three 6 Mafia did at the Oscar's a few years ago. I guess Obama's supposed to get up on stage and instead of belting out policies, he's supposed to sing, "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp". America loved that, didn't she?

On Saturday night I was sitting in heavy traffic on the 101 Freeway. I'd been up since 4:30 AM and I needed to listen to something to distract me from the sound of my sons discussing the merits of Obi Wan Kenobi. I clicked on one of the playlists on my iPod and before I knew it, a couple of house/trance remixes of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" were playing. One is by DJ Benny Benassi:

But it was DJ Ferry Corsten's version of "Bring The Noise" that got my five year-old pumping his fist and shouting, "Too Black! Too Strong!":

Yes, hearing my son happily shout, "Too Black! Too Strong!" made me reminisce about sitting next to Chuck D. It made me think about how even if the voice of consciousness in music doesn't shift in the mainstream, it's always there. And it made me smile because I have two little black boys whose lives and experiences around race are already markedly different than mine. They are coming up at a time where the definition of what it means to be a black man in America is shifting like never before. It's what every black mother has always wanted for her sons. It's a multi-faceted definition, one that transcends both the opinion and the objectification of the Average Joe. Thank God for that.

When we are thisclose to something so unprecedented in American history, how can we not choose to Bring The Noise by voting? I doubt that what has been freed in the hearts and minds of so many can ever be repressed and distracted again.


Jen said…
This is just a beautiful, important piece, Liz. You really need to find publication for it. At the very least, send it to the LA or NY Times (I know, two very different papers, but still...)

And white people listen to, and buy, the stereotypical stuff because they are IGNORANT. They feel safe in their boxes and believe they know the boxes of others, too. But they don't.

The biggest travesty in this country is people avoiding each other and staying separate and clinging to their completely inappropriate belief systems because it's "easier".
Nice post. I'd love to know what Chuck D thinks about Flava Flav doing that 'dating' show. If I had kids I'd bring them with me when I went to vote - that would be something to remember. Interesting that you mentioned Lil Wayne because he isn't from the hood and his parents are white collar professionals. It just goes to show differences in class and that career success doesn't equate with consciousness.
R. Lee Gordon said…
Nice read and style . . .

Thanks for caring, sharing, writing and fighting . . .

We are one in UniTee and all the blessed . . .

R. Lee Gordon /
Shiona said…
This was a great post. I like that the old school music can still be relevant and appreciated even today. Like the title says I hope we can bring the noise on the 4th.
Anonymous said…
Interesting point about Obama being called elitist simply because he doesn't fit the cliché image of how black men are meant to behave i.e. know your place, don't act too smart, don't step out of line. And he just doesn't give a toss about all that self-abasement shit, he gets up there and gives it the high five.

And how impressive that he's taking the time out to visit his sick grandma rather than carrying on with the rallies. As long as all those closet McCain nuts stay at home on election day!
Great post Liz.

I was just listening to "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" over the weekend. It's probably my favorite rap albums of all times.

I agree with you that one major reason Obama makes the Rush and Sean Hannity's of the world nervous is because doesn't fit into their little boxes. He's not a poverty pimp, a rapper, a real pimp, a drug etc. and he's smarter than they are are, which drives them nuts.

Two more weeks.
Anonymous said…
I think that alot of people both black and white are tired of seeing the stereotypes - that's why Obama is doing so well in the polls. Change doesn't come about with the exclusion of a race but with the inclusion - a lot of white people supported the civil rights movement too, and they supported the underground railroad. White and black people may like the sterotypes in entertainment but in reality all of us would like to sit next to an educated black man than a gun toteing thug.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for the compliment! Yes, two very different papers but both engaged in layoffs, that's for sure. I think it's more than ignorance at work. I think the objectification and seeing black people solely through a certain lens is desirable because it justifies the inherent sense of superiority that permeates our society. Why is it ok to rap about shooting up Detroit, but not Farmington Hills? Really, neither one should be ok.

I take my kids with me every time I go vote. For the primaries my youngest totally clowned in the voting booth, but oh well, they got "I Voted" stickers and they love that. No, class and career success do not equate with consciousness. Not at all.

R. Lee,
Thank you. Glad you came to visit. Looks like you're doing good things in your city! Good to see that.

Gosh, the early voting stories of folks having to wait in line for three hours are really something. I think folks are bringing it. I really do. I like the new twists on old school too, especially since I'm a huge house/trance fan.

I think that's a huge part of the elitist label. Absolutely. I'm also so glad Obama's taking time to go see his grandmother. I can't believe there are actually people insinuating that he planned this for political reasons.

One of my favorite rap albums too! Rush and Hannity are speaking from such a position of fear and they are trying to incite fear. It's really sad and very, very dangerous.
Liz Dwyer said…
There is undoubtedly an history of racial unity and racial collaboration in this nation and it doesn't get talked about as much as it should. But there are still those who see the educated black man as the same as the thug and don't want to sit next to either. ;) I agree with you though, not everybody is Rush Limbaugh, but that's what keeps folks from changing. We all sit around and think, "I'm not THAT!"
Jameil said…
BARACK THE VOTE!! I LOVE that your baby was shouting "Too Black! Too Strong!" That's awesome!!! Your kids rock!
Anonymous said…
Wonderful and thought provoking, as always.

I grew up in the UK and moved to Chicago 4yrs ago. Although by no means without significant problems, the history, geography and 'politics' at home with regard to race are sufficiently different that I found coming here quite a shock.

I thought I knew my history, but it's different when it's not just in the newspapers or in movies.
There's something you can only really understand, really feel, really learn by living here and noticing 'how it is'- and this whole election process has magnified that many times over.

I'm also hugely grateful to you. Your posts on issues related to race have been like a wise and generous friend who has articulated with mind and soul things that are not, but should be, everyday conversations.
I've learned a lot, notice more and ask more questions. That's good. Thanks.
Liz Dwyer said…
It's mostly Mr. Too Short doing the yelling. His older brother just looked a little embarrassed and then later said, "I'm black and strong too, you know. Not just Too Short. He thinks he's the only one, but he's not."

Wow, I'm going to print that comment out and stick it somewhere special. Thank you for saying it. You know, I've never been to the UK but as I get to know more folks who are from there, the experiences around race have so many similarities, but it seems like here in the US, it's taken to another level that's even more destructive. BUT, I'm glad you're part of changing all this. Keep doing good. (I have a feeling you do a lot of good.)

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