It's Nation Time. Again.

A new vanguard of rap activists takes to the streets

Yet well-meaning but uninformed artists, hands-off in approach and time, still don't pose the greatest threat to the politicization of rap. Rather, it's those who don't look past their blinders who weaken what could be a powerful constituency for change. Muhammad chalks it up to a highly localized self-confidence. "Despite the big talk," he claims, "deep down inside there's low self-esteem in most of the hip-hop generation." It's that selective ego that lets rappers play the don on record, but get lazy in real life. But that indolence may spell a future more dangerous and problematic than the past. As Mos Def puts it, "If you don't put any type of positive direction on and make people look at you in some other light besides a pop star, then you're doing yourself, and your people, a disservice."

Institution Building

Black Star's Mos Def (left) and Talib Kweli and their families, in front of Nkiru Books
Photo: Dennis Kleiman
Black Star's Mos Def (left) and Talib Kweli and their families, in front of Nkiru Books

A further sampling of the new hip-hop politics:

Jasiri Media Group

Who: Seattle's Source of Labor and affiliated crew

What: Activists long before they entered the music world, the Jasiri folks have found numerous ways to put their creative talents to work. Jonathan Moore (a/k/a Wordsayer) has been a social worker since graduating from Morehouse in 1992. For four years, he coordinated an after-school program at the Miller Community Center in downtown Seattle. This past spring, in partnership with the Seattle International Children's Festival, he, his wife, and his brother DJ Negus One donated their time, talent, and home recording studio to help a group of local teens record a charity CD. Though Moore has left the Miller Center to run the Jasiri label full-time, he still teaches a creative writing and poetry class at Franklin High School. "It all comes down to my family for me," he says. "I know I have a responsibility far greater than myself, and to be able to build a foundation where the legacy is beyond us is amazing."

Mumia 911

Who: A loose collection of artists, activists, actors, and writers numbering in the hundreds, with an advisory board including Danny Hoch, Michael Franti, Ntozake Shange, and Ed Asner

What: On September 11, a National Day of Art will take place at clubs, concert halls, art galleries, and cinemas around the country to protest the impending execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In New York, installations will take place at P.P.O.W., Gallery 1199, and the Bronx River Art Center and Gallery. There will also be a reading and panel discussions at the Brecht Forum. Furthermore, an album, entitled Unbound, is slated for early next year; the first single, "Mumia 911," is available now.

No Mayo

Who: Forthcoming album, The Funky Precedent (No Mayo/Loosegroove), includes contributions from Divine Styler, Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Ozomatli, Cut Chemist, Black Eyed Peas, and Aceyalone.

What: No Mayo is a record label and clothing line that has raised more than $175,000 for California high school music programs, providing instruments, uniforms, transportation to festivals, and the like.

Project Raptivism

Who: Organized by "raptivist" Rishi Nath, this collective's first project is the forthcoming No More Prisons album (Raptivism/Landspeed), featuring contributions from Dead Prez, Chubb Rock, Danny Hoch, the Last Poets, Last Emperor, Rubberoom, and others.

What: No More Prisons is wholly dedicated to challenging America's prison system, which over the past decade has grown exponentially. Sales will benefit the Prison Moratorium Project, a nonprofit devoted to spreading information and battling construction of new prisons nationwide. Future albums will deal with different topics ranging from Native American land debates to welfare reform.

Uhuru Movement

Who: A national organization promoting self- awareness for people of African descent. M1 and Stickman of Dead Prez are influential leaders in the New York chapter.

What: The National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, an affiliate of the African People's Socialist Party, has several chapters, and has been responsible for opening a health food co-op in St.

Petersburg, Florida, where the organization is headquartered. The New York chapter organizes weekly political education sessions, as well as free martial arts classes, prison visits and discussions, and clothing drives. As the first tenet of the APSP platform states, "We want peace, dignity, and the right to build a prosperous life through our own labor and in our own interests."

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