Hip-Hop, Politics, Drugs and Black Life in the 1980sEpisode 38
Legendary music journalist Touré and Black Studies Professor Dr. Stefan Bradley join Panama Jackson to discuss the birth of hip-hop and its role in shaping the political and cultural climate of the 1980s.
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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black podcast network. Black Culture Amplified. What’s going on, everybody? Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast for by and about the culture. I’m your host, Panama Jackson. We have two very special guests today who are going to be merging journalism and academia and talking about one of the wildest decades of Black human existence especially. Well, that’s probably not true. They’re a bunch of decades in the 17 or 1800s. And it point is, for hip hop purposes, we’re going to talk about one of the wildest decades, and that’s going to be the eighties. So I’m joined today by my colleague here at theGrio Black Podcast Network at theGrio. Veteran music journalist, a name that you know from Twitter, from all of the amazing interviews he’s done, from the articles he’s written, he is a well, we’ll go ahead and give you these flowers, a legend in the hip hop journalism game,Touré .
Touré [00:00:57] Thank you, brother. Thank you, brother.
Panama Jackson [00:00:59] And we are joined by a professor at Amherst College who teaches a class called Rap, Reagan, and the 1980s professor Stefan Bradley, who is here to discuss how we merge academia and hip hop and politics and all that. So we have two people literally, who are at the crux of this and who have been spending their careers doing the very thing that this class does. So put your virtual hands together for my guest today, Touré and Professor Stefan Bradley, for one. Thank you both for joining me here today. On Dear Culture. I’m a hip hop head. 2023 celebrates 50 years of hip hop. You know, we’re all year. I mean, everybody who cares even a little bit about hip hop culture is going to be talking about the 50. The Grammys happened and there was a big 50 year tribute produced by Questlove, who, you know, there’s been some criticism of that. But I mean, L.L. said up front, we can’t include everybody. Right. But, you know, Touré you have a podcast that you’re going to be doing here at theGrio Black Podcast Network called Being Black in the Eighties, which focuses on songs that were important to, I believe, up and make sure that I’m getting this right, songs that help kind of frame the way we look at the eighties or take things that were happening in the eighties and lend music in voice to them artistically. Stefan, you have a class that’s about rap, Reagan and the 1980s. I’m going to ask you both. We’re going to start here. Why the 1980s? Stefan, let’s start with you.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:02:33] Well, first of all, thank you for having me on this show. Look, I finally made it big time. I’m on here with Touré and Panama Jackson look here. Youlet the little people come on. That’s why I love you all, that’s important.
Touré [00:02:48] You don’t forget your.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:02:49] Roots is what they say. So thank you for letting me be on the podcast. But when we talk about the 1980s, I think there’s no way to understand this, this contemporary moment without understanding the 1980s. Like, I think the political scene set the stage for Make America Great Again. I think in terms of the economy, this deregulation moment with reason why there are so many, you know, economic issues today when we’re talking about the way that corporations were ready to operate. When we talk about policing, the 1980s was was kind of the blueprint for for the way that people would be policed later on and the militarization of police. But then I think culturally, too, there was a lot going on. So you’re talking about a group of people who had to who who had to create culturally, in part because of circumstances. And as Black people do, they set they set a trend. And nobody thought what Black people were creating at that moment would last. So the 1980s, to me explains so much about the contemporary moment. And the students that I have were were not born in the 1980s or the 1980s. In the 1880s. Oh, no. So trying to explain it all to them is vitally important because they don’t understand that, you know, their grandpa, their their daddy or their uncle or grandma or whatever was dealing with, you know, the Reagan eighties and what that meant in terms of immigration and drug infestation and then and and viral diseases.
Touré [00:04:33] He said grandfather. Wow. Okay, great. Thanks for that, brother. You know, but I think there’s three important, at least three important things that happened in the eighties. Hip hop moves from a strictly New York underground subculture to a recorded national phenomenon. And we saw it developing up like, oh, we have to go to like a small record store to get the latest tape to this continued sort of just skyrocketing up of more emcees, more creativity, a bigger place in the culture. So, I mean, it was it was incredibly exciting to see it move from this tiny thing to this, you know, national thing that was super important. But at the same time, we get the declaration of the war on drugs and then the crack epidemic after the declaration of the war on drugs.
Former President Ronald Reagan [00:05:32] Tonight, I can report to you that we’ve made much progress. 37 federal agencies are working together in a vigorous national effort. And by next year, our spending for drug law enforcement will have more than tripled from its 1981 levels.
Touré [00:05:47] And I’m glad that the professor’s course puts Reagan so central because Ronald Reagan is one of the critical anti fathers of hip hop. Who is what he does helps create the conditions for hip hop that we are responding against. So the crack epidemic, you cannot overstate the massive impact that this had on Black America in terms of health, family disruption, economics. And it also leads to the third major thing, which is the the drastic rise in sentences right before largely stemming from the death of Len Bias memory serves. That was 1986. And what you started to see was what we call basketball sentences, where people were getting prison sentences as long as basketball scores. And so before that, you might get arrested for something and get a five or ten year sentence. And people were like, I can do that. I can I can live with that and come home and continue to have a life. So I’m not going to destroy other people’s lives to get myself out of this. And there was a culture of like, you know, don’t say anything if you did the crime, take it and move on. When people start getting 40, 50, 60, 70 year sentences dangled in front of them, they start to be like, Yo, he did this, he did that, look at him. Which then starts to get some of them out of trouble, but it breaks down bonds in the Black community. I can’t trust anybody I haven’t known for 20 years. I can’t talk about because almost everybody is being touched by the criminal justice system in some way. So you don’t know who you’re talking to. Yo, we took down that thing the other day. Yo, dude, over here needs to keep telling the cops about stuff that he knows. So he’s going to tell them what you said and then they pick you up. So now I can’t trust anybody I haven’t known forever. So now how do we create bonds with each other when we can’t trust anybody? So that sort of starts to break down the bonds within the Black community. So all those three things have massive, decades long impacts on the Black community.
Panama Jackson [00:08:02] Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. Yeah. You know, it’s it’s funny because the eighties is also that’s so I live in Washington D.C., home of Rifle Edmonds one of the you know crack kingpins of all time but also considered one of the greatest snitches of all time who speaks directly to what you’re talking about today. Like, you know, they built these empires and then it also came crumbling down. And, you know, they took as many people he took as many people out with him as possible, depending on who you ask. You know, you said something really interesting Stefan about like your class. So nobody nobody was taking your class. And I was born in the eighties, right? Like I, I was born in 79. So my relationship with the eighties is, you know, like, you know, the nineties is really the era that I remember most when in terms of my own foundational, growing. So what’s it like? So first of all, tell us about this class that you teach in, what the reception is like to these people, to these students who effectively have no real understanding? You’re at Amherst. So I’m wondering, like, what’s the makeup of this class? And like, how do these people how do the students like, respond to the music you’re talking about the the era in general and even Reagan as a whole?
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:09:16] It’s a lot going on. And I appreciate Touré for talking about those wide receiver numbers. That’s what we used to call them, wide receiver numbers. And you know, in the expanse of crack like so important, You know what, we talk about that a little bit later. But in the class itself, even in Amherst College, there is there is, I don’t know, about 50% Black students. And then, you know, white student made up the white students and others made up the other part of the class. It was a very popular course over you know, over enrolled. You know, one of the things that I tried to do is I tried to trick them, you know, when when when they came to class, I know they all assumed that we were going to be, you know, doing the Migos and in whipping up. Whipping up. But what I tried to do is try to hit them with with some economic theories, to try to try to hit them with trickle down effect, tried to hit them with with with the Laffer Curve, all of these kinds of things that were were unique and and and important and significant in the Reagan administration were the types of things that we were able to go over, but we were also able to go over things that that they should know. Like. So these I assume these are going to be the leaders of America in the world, that then they should know about the Iran-Contra affair and what kind of effect that would have on the United States in terms of weaponry, in terms of the entrance of drugs, in terms of the policing of of Black and brown people. So so in the class itself, they got a chance to go over lyrics. So it’s wild to watch these these upper middle class and elite class students go over Tooo Short’s, The Ghetto vixen and and you know and go line by line through the.
Speaker 5 [00:11:11] Housing authority in OPD all these guns just to handle me in the ghetto.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:11:17] I love it I love to watch it happen. They they they crack up at the cadence of rap in the 1980s in contrast to the right now. But what they end up doing is learning to appreciate just how cold now, how fresh rap was during that period. And how diverse it was.
Touré [00:11:36] One thing that the professor reminds me also is the class element of the Black community that in the eighties, the Black middle class expands immensely, right? And we start to hear the term bupkis. Yuppies was a term for young urban professionals. That was white people, especially young white men, who had a lot of disposable income. So they’re driving Mercedes and Benzes. They have, you know, the latest technology in their cars and what have you. And they have money to spend and a lot of marketing dollars are going toward them. But you start to see Bumppies, Black urban professionals who have some of that cash, expendable cash are getting into the law, medicine, academia, you know, rising on up. So the promise of, let’s say The Jeffersons is being answered by the Cosbys and more people are getting closer to what the Cosbys were. So we didn’t always see the I mean, we saw the Cosbys as aspirational and talk about the Huxtable family. But more and more was like, what? I know a couple of people who are kind of like that. He’s an architect, you know, she’s a doctor. So we are sort of rising to that. Some of us are hitting that level, but at the same time also made me think about the Air Jordan, which comes out in the eighties, becomes I mean, it’s hard to remember at the beginning of the eighties, the sneaker culture, as we have it now, did not exist at all. Right? There was there was no competition for sneakers. Most people just wore white sneakers. It was not a big deal. And the Jordan is one of the sneakers that one of the shoes that transforms this landscape into something that people had to have, that people would shoot or kill people over that would you know, I would work a second job as a teenager or what have you, so I could afford the latest Jordans creating the craze to get the next one to go, to get the four. Got to get the 5 to 6, whatever. So that you know that that hero worship around Michael Jordan and the commodification of it by Nike is is really important and not something we had ever seen before. Dr. J did not have that cult around him.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:14:03] Not with sneakers, not at all. Like, you know, in sneakers were a utilitarian up until that point, you know, so you had a certain crowd, you know, that would rock the Adidas without the laces in them right? And you you would have a crowd to do that. But sneakers weren’t what they are now. And then, you know, to speak to somebody like Jordan or the Cosbys, this idea that this this was a generation who got a chance to benefit from affirmative action. Yeah. And so, like, that’s a policy decision that worked to help create a larger Black middle class there that Touré was talking about. And and that’s important. But when we talk about Jordan, you have to you have to remake the conversation. You have to create new things for the conversation. Because here was a Black man who had the opportunity to transcend Blackness in a way that is the day that kids all over the world we’re talking about, I want to be like this, you know, this, what, six foot six, this dark skinned, bald Black man, Like, come on, now, nobody. That’s not a thing. That’s not a thing that ever happened before. And and so that that, to me is is part of the hyper capitalism of the 1980s. And that involves so many different things that happened.
Touré [00:15:19] And affirmative action was so critical in reshaping the opportunities that a lot of Black and brown people had this notion that you should have some level of diversity in your high school, your college, your business. But one of the things that I discovered in doing the research for my upcoming show, Being Black in the Eighties, Jelani Cobb came in and he’s a genius. And he talked about how affirmative action put a lot of us in white spaces that many of us had not been in before, at least not in those sort of numbers. And that leads to the rise in Afro centrism, because a lot of people are saying we and diasporic thinking. Right. So it’s a we need a counterbalance. Now, I’m in this law school, this medical school, this Fortune 500 company surrounded by white people. I need a counterbalance in my life. And a lot of people found that in looking at the world in a more diasporic way and saying, my, you know, Africans are my brothers and sisters. And like in the sixties, in the late sixties, to be called an African was an insult to a lot of African Americans. Right? African American. The term does not start until the eighties, right? Afro-American rises up. I think in the seventies you might start to hear in the sixties a little bit. But African-American is an eighties term where we were like, yes, they are our brothers and sisters and Nelson Mandela’s struggle and Stephen Biko struggle is our struggle. And that thinking is critical to just creating a global mindset among a lot of Black people. The struggle is not just here, it is all over the world.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:17:06] Yeah, no, I think that’s that’s the way to think about it. You know, the other thing to think about is, is and I would never, never, never quibble with Jelani Cobb big brother, and the frat brother, I would never do that. But I would also say.
Touré [00:17:20] But, but I’m gonna.
Panama Jackson [00:17:20] Right?
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:17:20] And Jelani Cobb is big, too, by the way. I don’t know if you all know that, but he’s a broad shouldered and.
Touré [00:17:30] Believed to be the gentle giant.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:17:32] Of course. And he loves us all. I used to see him down in Ferguson and everything else. He did excellent work down there. And so but I was going to say that we have to remember that these people in the 1980s who were enjoying hip hop and creating hip hop were the actual sons and daughters of of Panthers, of people from through revolutionary action movement, you know, so people who were in the movement. And so by the end of the 1960s, you have this push towards what they call cultural nationalism. And so that allows for the X clan to come through, that allows for a sense of Sonic Youth that they do like. And so those kinds of things are important holdovers from the 1960s and seventies that that meet up in the 1980s to to, you know, to to mix in with what you were talking about.
Touré [00:18:24] I mean, those of us who are old enough to remember eighties music, the folks you talked about were righteous teachers, the early Harris one and Boogie Down Productions. Who’s the public enemy? You know, you mentioned X Klan and some others. Paris. Oh, yeah. We saw a political spine within hip hop, but not everybody was doing this. But there were a lot of people where if you listen to hip hop, it was kind of like being in a an African American studies class. You got that pride. You got that knowledge. Look, Farrakhan, whatever you want to say about him, was basically banned from television in the eighties and as a younger person. The first time I heard his name was in a Public Enemy record, which made me go, Who is this person that Chuck is talking about? Let me research this. You know, Frantz Fanon is a reference in a record. Let me see what this is about. So this is modern hip hop. And I don’t want to be on like, you know, old back in the day. But like, modern hip hop does not generally have that political spine that we were used to in the eighties. And some of us are sort of disappointed that we and others aren’t able to get that from the music anymore.
Panama Jackson [00:19:40] Let’s take a real quick break. And when we come back, we’re going to continue this conversation about the hip hop of the eighties, specifically because that’s exactly where I wanted to go. So hold on one second here. Stay tuned right here on Dear Culture.
Speaker 5 [00:19:52] theGrio, Black Podcast Network is here. Everything you’ve been waiting for, Black culture Amplify. Find your voice on the Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio mobile app and tune in everywhere. Great podcast are heard.
Panama Jackson [00:20:09] All right, What’s going on, everybody? We’re still here on Dear Culture, talking about the eighties with Professor Stefan Bradley from Amherst College and Touré. And, you know, when we left off, you all were basically talking about how the hip hop of the eighties was effectively was, as you said. So we’re like a course in Black studies. And it is interesting because when I think of hip hop from the from the eighties, I do think of all the political stuff. I do think of the X clans, the public enemies. Of course, I remember the trouble that L.L. Cool J got in when he decided to go with the I Need Love route. You know, there’s all these discussions about how everything was turning political. The medallions were everywhere, the African medallions. And then, you know, so anybody who wasn’t taking an opportunity to speak to the condition of Blackness, the Black CNN is, as Chuck Diesel famously put it, you know, it wasn’t really welcomed at that time. But, you know, when you when you taught this class, professor, like, how do you what songs were you focusing in on to help these students understand the eighties and the political nature of hip hop in the eighties? Like, where were you going with that? AndTouré, I want you to I know you will like hop in with even some of the songs that you’re talking about in your podcast, because, if I’m not mistaken, open this ain’t letting a cat out the bag. But I it’s like when I think of songs, I think of like De La Soul, like my brother’s a bass head, right? Like, and I think that’s a song that you might be looking at because it kind of speaks to, you know, that’s kind of vulnerably putting your family out there. But it’s also reality for a lot of people’s families. You know, like no Black, I don’t know of any Black family was immune to crack or something, you know. You know, especially in the inner cities, you know, my family’s. Yeah. So so so you know what songs are you talking about in class that that, you know, are essential to this discussion.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:21:59] Yeah, well, I mean, before I let off into that, I just. I just want to touch on the last point that you made, that look, you were all a big city boys. You come from, you know, you come from from from major U.S. cities that come from Yakima, Washington. Let me tell you something. That crack had a you know, crack had come to Yakima, Washington. It was a place, you know, an agricultural space where crime families from below the southern border would bring, you know, cocaine and crack up into up into my area. And because of that, national news came to my little town, my little city. And so this is important to understand that, like, crack wasn’t just for New York or, ah, Los Angeles. They it was affecting people all over the United States. And when you talked about no Black family went unscathed, I believe that to be true. I believe that to be true For those who were benefiting from affirmative action, they always had a family member that was affected by crack, but also affected by some of these other things that these songs that I teach about deal with. So. So of course, we do songs like 911 as a Joke.
[00:23:06] To Get Up and Down. 911 is a joke, you know.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:23:10] Which is talking about the inefficiency of civil services in Black neighborhoods. We we talk about how it’s like that we do Run DMC. It’s like that. And we talk about the ineffectiveness of some schools, the defunding of education. Everybody’s scared, defund the police, but they defunded education. There is federal defunding of education in the 1980s. We talk about stanza sonics Africa and linking the struggle here in the United States to the decolonization efforts and the push against apartheid southern Africa over there, you know, Botswana and and everywhere down there, South Africa and Mozambique, all those places. We talk about those, but we also this is important. One of the things that you said was, was that some people would be ostracized for not talking about the movement to to an extent, yes. But one of the things that we really try to dig into in the class is just the diversity of music that made it to the mainstream, that made it to the mainstream. So. So when you talk like that, I think about the song Jimmy, the BDP song, Jimmy, where they talk about the use of prophylactics because of this AIDS epidemic that was affecting the Black communities and in such a major way. So yeah.
Touré [00:24:31] One of the things that hip hop does is it doesn’t necessarily give you a whole song about something, but it will make a reference to it. And like the notion of you have to wear a condom was rampant in AIDS conversation. Now much of it was wrapped up in a misogyny of like, we can’t trust these hoes.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:24:53] Yeah, right.
Touré [00:24:54] So it was problematic but it was also rock and roll was not constantly telling its listeners, wear a condom. AIDS is out there. Hip hop is constantly saying that. Yeah so the crack epidemic is a massive impact on Black people in the eighties. In being Black in the eighties, we really fixate on different songs and different messages, right? But two of the things we talk about. My brother’s a bass head by De La Soul, which is a 1991 song, but it speaks to the experience of the eighties. And Night of the Living bass heads Public Enemy and Night of the Living Bass Heads talks about the experience of being a drug addict and the problems in the community that comes from that. My brother’s bass head is, for the most part, as close as hip hop gets to like that sort of touching ballad that breaks your heart sort of thing. But it’s like upbeat and funny because it’s De La Soul. But he is telling the real story of my positive news. My older brother got into crack and he spiraled out of control. And like we talked to Prince Paul de La Soul’s producer generally considered the fourth member of the group who was like, It’s a totally real song. His brother was really going through it. He pretty much everything in the song is accurate to their real life, what he was dealing with, with his brother. And, you know, it’s just it’s really powerful to hear that. But, I mean, in the eighties, hip hop felt so young and new that, like, almost everything was revolutionary. De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were not usually making overt political statements, but saying Afro centrism, suburbanism is, you know, not being an inner city Black person. These are this is a relevant thing that felt, you know, revolutionary and political in a personal sense. Right. Like everybody who was doing something seemed to. Let it go in some way. And the apolitical nature of the modern, most modern hip hop, I think disappoints some of us who grew up feeling used about like, this is what hip hop is about. Hip hop is partly about a critique of America and a discussion of the ways of oppression in America. For all the criticism that a lot of white people had of N.W.A. Their song The Police, is a great early conversation about police brutality. So that three stages BLM by several years, you know, And like, you know, we’re like, where are those records now? I mean, you would have that George Floyd moment really radicalized a lot of us or woke a lot of us up. I thought I was unapologetically Black. And just being in the space of 2020 and seeing what some millennials were doing, I was like, Yo, I could be more. And I was inspired by the millennials around me. Like I could go further in my unapologeticness. And I know a lot of people had that same reaction. But did that go into our music? I don’t think so.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:28:14] You know, I don’t know. I mean, I think. Let me let me, you know.
Panama Jackson [00:28:18] Go ahead. Go ahead.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:28:20] No, no, no. Just real, real quick. Like I think part of it. Part of it has to do with circumstances like with the unrelenting blitz of things that were hitting people in the 1980s. It was almost impossible not to talk about these things. So how did he has that song Batter Ram out to be from out there in Los Angeles, back around my like so we have the police like that’s that’s a song that’s an anthem that’s that’s everything we do is on the street we’re hearing that batter ran song and understanding what precisely it meant for the police to be militarized like what what that meant. And so they were singing these kinds of songs. That was a political song. I don’t know if you meant it that way, but he’s talking about the mayor, he’s talking about the chief of police. These are elected positions. These are these are appointed positions. And so in my mind, that’s that’s political political speak. I’m not sure, you know, if it’s fair, you know, to compare this moment to that moment, because I think there’s been a lot of into individualization happening in between the 1980s. It’s hard to believe this to Touré brother but that was like, you know, you know, 35, 40 years ago, you know, a lot of individualization happening in between this moment and that. So.
Panama Jackson [00:29:35] Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. Yeah. You know, I was going to say in terms of like I, you know, I look, I’m I’m 43, so I grew up basically in the the nineties era hip hop, you know, the late eighties, nineties era hip hop is where is my sweet spot. And I do think obviously a lot of that music was more political and definitely spoke more to the situations and in you know even you know even going back you know when prodigy from the past when you go back and listen to like the infamous his verses specifically like there’s a lot of talking about pain it’s not just pure nihilism like there’s a lot of you know when you read between the lines on these things. I do think nowadays this is probably why artists like Kendrick get elevated so much, because it’s not just strictly money or this idea of money and capitalism. Like he’s trying to use his platform to speak on different types of things. And what I think is there’s a lot of artists that attempt to do that is just. Like with every commercial, you know, commercial hip hop argument, that stuff doesn’t really write. You have to look harder to find it. If you’re looking for that, they’re like, and I hate to say this, this is going to sound jacked up, but a lot of this stuff just ain’t as good now, like back then, because hip hop was so new and revolutionary. The people making it like the bomb squad, you know, America’s Most Wanted is as political a record as you’re ever going to get. Right. I mean, you know, like it includes I remember when I when I first heard the term like these records taught me about L.A., I knew nothing about Los Angeles. Right. But even words like ghetto bird were like I never knew what that meant. I didn’t realize they were talking about the helicopters, the LAPD helicopters circling around and stuff like that. You know, so I do I do. Take your point about the what seems like the lack of that happening now. But, you know, the people like Killer Mike, the run the jewels of the world, they still they’re still out there. They might not have as big of a platform, but, you know, everybody loves Killer Mike. Right? Mike was on CNN for a while, right? Like he he was able to move into a space where the hip hop artists were having having a voice. What’d you say?
Touré [00:31:37] I wouldn’t go so far to say everybody loves Killer Mike.
Panama Jackson [00:31:41] Okay.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:31:42] You know what? You live long enough to be the villain.
Panama Jackson [00:31:45] Like Killer Mike has a lot more fans than you would be surprised. He has a lot more fans and I think will be expected of an artist who’s who kind of lives in the truth telling, whether you believe it or not, truth telling realm, so to speak. Like Run the Jewels is a pretty popular act, you know what I mean? Killer Mike had TV shows like Killer Mike. So that’s I mean, I guess he has a bigger platform than I think you would expect for what or what you would deem a political rapper nowadays.
Touré [00:32:13] The thing, the thing that jumps out at me because I always ask this question of DC folks, because every area that has a significant number of Black people has had a hip hop community or hip hop output. Right. There’s rappers from. There’s there’s so many Black people in DC and there’s this vibrant crime scene and there’s this vibrant music scene and a vibrant basketball scene, DC is critical. DC In general, it’s critical to the bench. So you’re doing all these other things that every major. But but there’s no significant DC born rapper scene and I don’t understand why that did not develop.
Panama Jackson [00:33:02] Yeah. I mean, that’s that’s the age old question. I’m not born and raised in D.C. I’ve been here. I’ve been here. This is the place I’ve lived longest in my life. And that’s a constant argument even on the ground, Right? You know, that’s why artists like Wale would fight for, like, I’m putting DC up. Like people aren’t appreciating that how much work I’ve done to put DC on the map. But I that’s people always talk about the Go-Go influence like, you know, the Go-Go influence in DC reign supreme here. And that’s a very localized, you know, it’s a very though it should be more appreciated by the Black diaspora, so to speak, because it’s the most percussion heavy, you know, we love as good drums, right? It’s a, it’s a percussion heavy music, but Go-Go seems to be the the art form that even now seems to dominate the city’s discourse, even though I think the deregionalization of hip hop also has a big impact on that. Because I mean, everybody sounds the exact same Shy Glitzy, popular artist here sounds just like anybody from New Orleans or New York or anywhere now. Right. Like there’s everybody looks like Lil Wayne and everybody sounds like like we’re.
Touré [00:34:11] Definitely deregionalized and I don’t say it to to dunk on D.C. I’m sort of like, where’s where’s my DC hip hop? I feel like we have missed out on something and people always talk about, well, Go-Go sort of eclipsed any potential hip hop scene. I just don’t understand why there’s not something you don’t even need to have your own unique sound. Yeah, like you said, it’s it’s d regionalized now, but just the guys coming out, you know, a rapper named Rafael right, he was, like, winking at that old stuff. Like, you would think there would be something by now.
Panama Jackson [00:34:49] Yeah. We’re going to take one more quick break here and we’re going to come back. And I want to talk a little bit more about kind of hip hop and academia. And then we’re going to get to some Blackfessions and Blackamendations. So stay tuned here on Dear Culture.
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Panama Jackson [00:35:21] We’re back here, Dear culture. And I’m still joined by Touré and Stefan Bradley was a professor at Amherst College, taught a class called Rap Reagan and the 1980s. And you know, I let me just ask this. We’ve been talking about the eighties and hip hop and all this stuff like that. And you look listen, hip hop literally has covered the gamut of everything you could possibly talk about in a culturally anthropological way. Right? Like hip hop takes all of that and literally synthesizes it out in some way, shape or form. But I know I mean, more recently, you get tons of classes using hip hop as a center focus to to teach larger lessons. I mean, I don’t think but in maybe a few places hip hop studies is a real thing yet, like as a as a, as a concentration. I don’t want to be wrong about that. You would know better than I would. But like, why do you think it’s been so difficult to really get hip hop to break into the anthropological space in an academic university setting?
Touré [00:36:20] Well, there’s a program at Harvard that I believe Marcy Morgan is it? I remember that sister’s name. Right. Marceline and Morgan runs. And she has a beautiful museum with lots of artifacts. And they talk about hip hop in a very deep way there. I know about that.
Panama Jackson [00:36:38] They do at Duke as well. Duke University has stuff, you know, like there’s classes but and it. But why isn’t this universal at this point? I mean, we’re talking 50 years of hip hop in. I don’t know if any other art form has been as hard hitting in the progression of the human condition since it got here as as hip hop, which documents all of it. Like, why is that? Yeah, you know, maybe I’m underselling it. Maybe it’s more prevalent than I just know, but.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:37:06] You’re right on point by what you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is, is the idea of what gets to be art. So this was this was the big controversy of the 1980s. Like, is hip hop considered music? Is hip hop considered an art form? What’s what’s valuable in the institution, in the academy? Like, what’s worthy of study has always has always neglected Black people. And so when we’re talking about this current current issue over A.P. courses dealing with African-American studies, it’s the same thing that goes on with why hip hop is not pervasive as a as a form of understanding. The 1980s, you know, 1990s and so forth, people had a hard time coming to terms with the idea that that these people who didn’t have jobs, these people who who created their own names, these people who dress their, you know, the way they wanted to in unconventional ways, what they called it, these people who talked about crime, that these people actually knew something and could comment and critique American society. Because, you know, oftentimes in the academy, people who wear ties like me in spectacles, we’re the ones that get to do all the critiquing. We get to do all of the all of the assessing and evaluation of American society when in fact, when in fact, these young people, these young people from the 1980s and onward were able to tell us about American society, to tell us what are the effects of deindustrialization, what are the effects of of there being no economy. So we create an economy out of out of crack. What are the effects of you take away afterschool programs and so we’ll just build gangs and you won’t let us in the in the Boy Scouts and we’ll make our own kind of Boy Scouts. And so so I think in that way, the very same thing that is blocking critical race theory, that’s blocking African-American studies in AP courses is the same thing that’s kept hip hop out of the academy for this long.
Panama Jackson [00:39:17] Yeah, I’ve always been just it’s such a fascinating, you know, it’s such a fascinating discussion to me because. I mean, hip hop is very regional, right? Like, every like what? What comes out of Houston doesn’t sound like what comes out of New York,.
[00:39:31] Because without your boys, I have to tell you, something good is not good.
Panama Jackson [00:39:42] There’s a different Sound of Music and it speaks directly to the streets, right? Like the way that you listen to music in L.A. because it’s a car culture is entirely different than the way you listen to music in New York, right? Or even in Atlanta, like, you know, in the South, the way that like you can visualize. I understand Outkast innately because that’s the that’s the space I came from but I get how the sound really captured what it was like on the ground and then music videos took that to a whole new level. I mean, most of us only learned about these places because of the videos that were coming out through the music, right? Like, I didn’t know anything about Cleveland. So Bowen hit the scene and all of a sudden I’m looking around like, Wow, that looks a lot like what it looked like in L.A. but there’s a different there’s a difference to it, right? So I’m just always. It seems like such a ripe area for study in almost every single capacity, right? Like just just understanding. And I love that we, you know, like Tupac is worthy of discussion, right? Like, I understand why there are so many classes about Tupac. He’s a fascinating human being, you know, But it just seems like the culture at large at this point should be completely open for discussion in almost every single capacity. And I just don’t feel like I’ve seen that yet but I’m hoping it’s getting there because. You know the obvious? It seems so obvious to me.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:41:02] But. But America doesn’t listen to Black youth. Like, that’s not a thing, right? Like, so Black youth. There’s a picture of Trayvon Martin behind me. Young people came out after Trayvon Martin was killed by they tried to tell America what it was like that you got to stop doing. It’s like this like you’ve got to start with this. America doesn’t listen to Black youth. And so so you’re wondering why it hasn’t made it this far and isn’t pervasive. It’s because of the age old thing there that everybody seems to know what’s best for America without checking for the people who are most affected by America.
Panama Jackson [00:41:40] Fair enough. Fair enough. Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. We’re going to transition into two of my favorite segments here that we do at Dear Culture. And they are Blackfessions and Blackamendations. So what I want to thank you for this conversation has been great. Like, I genuinely enjoy any conversation about how important hip hop is and how important and I love the fact you teach a class about the eighties and hip hop in the eighties and Reagan. We didn’t touch much on Reagan, but bad guy. Let’s just go that wrong. But I want to ask you all if you have any Blackfessions. This is our segment of the show we allow where we we dig into the whole Black people are not a monolith bag, right? We love to say it, but what does it actually mean? So we ask our guests to provide a Blackfession, which is a confession of something that people might be surprised to find out about you because you’re Black. So you’re our vaunted guest here. Stefan, do you have a Blackfession?
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:42:40] I Yeah, I probably have one or two. One is and I hate to admit it, this is going national and international, but I don’t I don’t play Bid Whist. I don’t know how to play Bid Whist. It looks real confusing to me. And so I hate to admit it out loud. The other thing is and you know, my ma is from Mississippi, my pa in Florida, but I don’t necessarily need cornbread. I don’t I don’t need.
Touré [00:43:07] Oh, no.
Panama Jackson [00:43:09] Now that’s a Blackfession. Bid Whist, yeah.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:43:11] That’s it. You know, and I don’t necessarily need it.
Touré [00:43:15] You haven’t had the right cornbread then. I mean it it.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:43:21] It takes up so much space.
Panama Jackson [00:43:22] When you open up with big whist.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:43:23] It’s a lot of work to do on a plate.
Touré [00:43:24] I mean you know you know you know it’s cool you know, I don’t, I don’t mess with mac and cheese. I don’t like it. I don’t like the look of it, you know? You know, apparently that’s a staple. I can’t do it. It can’t, it don’t It don’t look right. And I’m not I’m not putting all that in my mouth. But also.
Panama Jackson [00:43:45] Toure you went to college in Atlanta, right? You went to Emory, right? So you spent time in southern stomping grounds. You didn’t find any mac and cheese like you didn’t make it to the to the southwest side of the city, to hit the soul food spots?
Touré [00:44:01] I mean, I wasn’t looking for it. I ate, I ate a lot of good soul food. My grandmother was from Alabama, would make an extraordinary spread. Every Thanksgiving. The gravy is unforgettable. The biscuits were unforgettable. You know, I, I the gloop and the sound of mac and cheese turned me off from the beginning. It’s a very sonic goo and just just a scooping it out of the thing. I’m like, No, I’m good, I’m good. And I would eat a tub of her mashed potatoes. I would eat a tub of good mashed potatoes by anybody. And that also makes it sound, but not quite the mac cheese sound. So I can’t I can’t. I can’t with mac and cheese. My kids love mac cheese. I have not stopped them from enjoying the mac and cheese. I’m also not eating no grits. It’s not happening, you know, And greens. I’m good. I’m good. But I’m a very picky eater. It’s terrible. Terrible. But the other thing that I would say I love Abba and it’s probably the whitest group ever, but they made it after hit after hit and they well-written, well-constructed songs. Sometimes they’re disco songs. And I’m like, you know, they, they, they slap. I love them.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:45:28] Abba slaps.
Panama Jackson [00:45:29] Yeah, Abba slaps should be.
Touré [00:45:31] I don’t care. I don’t play it at a party when people come over. But you know what? They after they leave, I might throw it on.
Panama Jackson [00:45:39] Well, I love it. Listen, Stefan, when you say bid whist, most people probably can’t play bid whist. I know tons of people who know nothing about no bid whist but you are absolutely right about the cornbread I was caught off guard on. Well, you said it was like, Oh, man, I have nothing but cornbread.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:45:56] I have small hands, look so I need to make efficient use of a plate. And so that bread just takes up a lot of space.
Touré [00:46:03] You’re killing me man, you’re killing me yeah.
Panama Jackson [00:46:06] Well, to, to to bring it full circle. This one 180 on this, we also ask people to provide a Blackemdation, which is a recommendation about something by for and about Black culture of Blackness that you were interested in it. You’re doing whatever something that you think other people should be checking out that represents the culture in some way, shape or form. Toure, you have a Blackamendation?
Touré [00:46:28] You know, there’s a show on HBO that nobody really talks about, and this is one of the Blackest shows I have ever seen in my life. It’s called Random Acts of Flying.
[00:46:43] Which are you? Pirate or King?
Touré [00:46:52] And just it’s it’s more of a magical realist sort of anthology of stories rather than, you know, like it’s this character who wants this and trying to get that and or the story of this boy and girl and it’s nothing like that. But it’s just in the first scene, a boy is riding his bike and he gets stopped by this white cop and then in the course of their argument, he just starts to fly off into the air. And the cop like these, like rising like a balloon. And the cops are like, where are you going? And he just flies away from the car. And I’m like, yes, I love that. I need that. And like, nobody talks about this show. The second season came out a little while ago, was not nearly as strong as the first season. I love this show and I wish more folks would dig into it.
Panama Jackson [00:47:46] Definitely a fan of that show. Shout out to the homie Terence Nance for.
Touré [00:47:50] Right?
Panama Jackson [00:47:51] Great, great show. It’s an it’s an insane it’s it’s a it’s a it’s a walk through somebody’s mind and in a you know, you kind of got a you’ve got to watch it a couple of times to get some of the stuff. But when you do you’re like this is this is amazing. So I’m with you 100%. 100%. All right, Stefan, what about you?
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:48:12] Yeah. You know, you all have a creative and that’s that’s very good like you have good minds for these things. Along those lines I would say there is there was a in the seventies a series called Soul. There was so, so good. Like I would invite various artists from the period, various intellectuals from the period to come on the show. You’ll have Nikki Giovanni and you have Al Green in the same space then, and they’ll be singing and they’ll be talking and there’ll be, you know, people reciting lyrics, poetry and also interviewed about the contemporary moment. So Chester Hines and all these kinds of people would be on there. It was it was super cool. It didn’t last for like more than a season, I think. But I think you can find it on the Internets in on the interwebs somewhere. But also what I’m doing this month is I’m I’m listening to the speeches of John Henrik Clarke, Malcolm’s teacher, Malcolm’s teacher. And and, you know, somebody that was able to to share the history without having to do so at a university or college. He was the people’s historian in a lot of ways. And so I, you know, if I was suggesting anything is for people to get down on John Henrik Clarke, one of the greatest, greatest minds of this earlier period.
Panama Jackson [00:49:38] Beautiful. All right. Sounds good. Well, I want to thank you both for joining me here. A step and tell people where they can find you if you want to be found and.
Professor Stefan Bradley [00:49:49] Where all the good reasons look rather good. Read them on Twitter. And Professor Bradley, you can catch me there. And like I say, come through. Take a class. Whenever you all are in Western Mass, you’re more than welcome to come through and we’ll make a star at it. And yeah, You.
Panama Jackson [00:50:06] Still on Twitter? It’s all right.
Touré [00:50:08] Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m kidding. I was like, what? My wife would be like, Why are you still on Twitter? My God, it’s a habit at this point.
Panama Jackson [00:50:16] About to say, you famously you you you got to be on Twitter. That’s where this is, where you argue with people and get all of these amazing takes off.
Touré [00:50:24] You know Yeah. I’m on Twitter at Toure, on Instagram, at Toure show and I got a podcast coming out in a couple months called Being Black in the Eighties on theGrio Black Podcast Network, where, as you talked about, we take songs from the eighties and talk about the political and socio political implications of them and the history of the song and the history of the issues that the song is talking about and I’m really proud of it and can’t wait for you guys to hear it.
Panama Jackson [00:50:53] All right. Sounds good. Well, I want to thank you to and thank you, Stephan, for joining us for this conversation about the eighties and hip hop and crack. First conversation about crack that we’ve had on Dear Culture. So, you know, a wonderful way to bring in to in 2023. Thank you both for being here. I am the host Panama Jackson. Have a Black one. If you like what you heard. Be sure to download theGrio’s app to hear more episodes of dear culture and more original content from theGrio Black Podcast Network. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments the podcast at theGrio.com. Dear Culture is an original production brought to you by theGrio Black Podcast Network.