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A new release from an up and coming hip hop artist/producer adds a much needed soundtrack to the new-found activism that is energizing young men and women of color. The song is “Power” and the artist’s name is Rell. He gave me an interview and allowed Socially Urban to debut the new song and video. The full interview can be read below the video.
Thanks for sitting down with us. What inspired the song “Power” and what message were you hoping to get across with it?
“My inspiration came from seeing how with this new government is running things and giving those who still live on and believe in racial inequality the green light to exhibit racial and bigoted behavior without any consequences.”
“I’m trying to get across to the black and brown culture that we have the ability to change this all. We have the numbers, the platforms and the influence but we have to come together with unity and educate our youth since they are our future lawyers, doctors, judges and politicians.”
The lyrics in the hook says “you have the power to change it all”. Is that message specifically for the youth of today? If so how hopeful are you that the new generation can change it all?
“That’s exactly what I was referring to. The younger generations are more inclusive and accepting of all regardless of Race, Religion, or Sexual Orientation. With hearts and minds like that, they are the answer to making the old, racist raised bigots in charge extinct.”
It’s pretty incredible that you did all of this yourself, and I think the finished product is impressive. How long did it take to write record and shoot a full video for this song?
“Thanks, I really appreciate you acknowledging the process and what it takes. I’m actually a certified audio engineer by way of Omega Studios School of Recording Arts and Sciences in Rockville, MD and I’ve been producing music since about 2003. I’ve always been a lyricist at heart ever since I can remember. Me and my cousin wrote our first song somewhere around the age of 8 or 9 I think. What’s crazy is I still remember my verse. It took me about 3 days to actually write “Power”. I’ve had the beat for a while but the vibe hit me only recently. I shot and edited the video in one day. All i had was a black backdrop, iMovie, DSLR camera and a vision. My cousin has always been my drive and motivation to continue my music journey. He was the first person to put me in a professional studio and ever since then I’ve been hooked and forever grateful. I’m attending Full Sail University now to get my Bachelors in Music to close the loop and become a triple threat in the music industry.”
I think this kind of music is very much in need right now in this racially charged political environment. When can we expect a full album like this from you?
“I’m looking to drop an album around the 4th quarter this year. Hopefully around August or September at the latest.”
I’d like to thank Rell for letting us debut his new video and letting us ask him a few questions. You can follow Rell at www.twitter.com/RellDaProducer and www.instagram.com/RellDaProducer to get updates on his new material.
While listening to some very early blues players music on youtube a while ago I had an inspirational thought that made me feel even more connected to the music because of the rough history my people have had in this country. I thought about the vileness of slavery, the hell of Jim Crow, the rough journey we’ve taken from being sold as slaves to where we are now… a free people with full constitutional rights. While listening to Arthur Crudup literally inventing a new genre of music it makes that journey seem even more remarkable to me. A very small number of oppressed black people 1 generation removed from slavery creating new art-forms that have become wildly popular all over the world. Blues, rock, jazz, R&B, etc all created in a country that officially amended our constitution counting black people as 1/5th of a person. Just that thought alone inspired me. If musical pioneers like Arthur Crudup could achieve so much with so little, it makes me feel that anything is possible regardless of your current circumstances. Unfortunately someone read my inspirational comment and got offended by it. This person read it and thought what I wrote was racist. It literally makes no sense so I decided to do a print-screen and share the exchange with everyone. Here’s the full conversation so you can decide for yourself. I didn’t edit anything out or add anything in. I did blur his name and picture because I thought it was the right thing to do.
Interesting right? I’ve never had anyone tell me I should be thankful for slavery. That is definitely a first. After the last comment above, I informed him that I would love to share our conversation on my blog which lead him to quickly delete his side of the conversation. I figured something like that might happen so I made sure I copied everything just in case. It’s weird how he saw my comment as being racist against whites. History is history. Slavery happened, Jim Crow happened, lynchings happened, the kkk happened. Using those very hard times as a marker for progress shouldn’t upset anyone and it certainly doesn’t make someone a racist for talking about it. Especially when someone talks about it in an inspirational way like I did. Americans shouldn’t be ashamed of the progress we’ve made. We should talk about it more in my opinion. That’s a pretty stark contrast from then to now. That should be celebrated. Even-though we still have inequality within our institutions we can overcome that as well. Just like the abolishment of slavery, just like ending Jim Crow, just like gaining amendments to protect our right to vote. There’s always progress to be made. In my opinion, I think he knew what he was saying wasn’t right. He probably had some time to think about it and that may have lead him to come back, read it again, and delete it. Misunderstandings happen all the time and we’re all imperfect human beings, so I don’t think any of this makes him a bad person. But that’s just my opinion.
After I posted this blog I got another comment from the same person. Apparently I have angered him. He wanted to call me a racial slur but he stopped himself and left hints about the slur he had in mind instead. So here’s the latest:
Here’s the latest developments (2/2/2016). This guy came back and deleted his comment about calling me a racial slur (the one from the 1st update), then tried to pretend he never said anything about a racial slur, and somehow I hallucinated the entire thing. He should have known I was going to screenshot the comment as soon as he posted it. It was only up for 20 seconds but I was quick enough to grab it. Here’s how it went:
After this last comment he decided he had enough and deleted everything again. People don’t know how to react when they are angry and lashing out but you are cool, calm, and rational. They end up looking like the irrational crazy person, which is what they are usually. When you’re smart, confident in your message, and honest about your point of view, there’s no need for anything extra like insults, slurs, and put-downs. Whenever I engage with people who try to attack me personally instead of debating the merits of my ideas, I try to keep that in mind. It’s hard not to call people like him assholes, but I know measured restraint is always the better option.
This blog post started off as a comment I left on a youtube video. I realized halfway through writing my comment that it was way too long to post as a comment so I “appropriated” (lol) my words and took them to my blog. I’m explaining all this because my writing style for this one is more conversational because it was never meant to be a full blog post. Anyway, here it is: It’s amazing to see African American culture influencing the entire world. Especially in music, dance, art, fashion, and sports. Descendants of slaves created almost every new musical genre of the 20th century. Rock, blues, jazz, R&B, soul, doo wap, pop, swing, big band, etc. all came from a very concentrated number of blacks crammed into a handful of southern states in the US. Now the world has taken this gift and created some of the best most innovative music the originators probably couldn’t even fathom. Living on cotton plantations our ancestors used song, dance, and rhythm as a way to feel connected to their homeland, and as a way to communicate important information to each other that only they could understand. Living through the hell of slavery and being treated like cattle is enough to kill the spirit of most men, but they created and sang songs to inspire one another which became just as important as bread or water. I’ve heard people say that the most creative and honest art comes from pain and struggle. If that saying is true then it makes perfect sense that these extraordinary gifts were possessed by slaves and passed on to each subsequent generation as a birthright.
I could argue a pretty convincing case for artistic purity while highlighting the unavoidable negatives that come with any appropriation of culture such as compensation, recognition, and commercialization, but to do that justice I’d have to ignore how much music has become a uniter reaching across borders and oceans like a war averse cultural diplomat. Thinking about the history of my country and the deep dark oppressive history of my people both still dealing with the effects of slavery and only 50 years removed from the horrors of segregation and Jim Crow, I feel such immense pride at the things we have accomplished and created in spite of the adversity. My parents grew up in the south during segregation and Jim Crow. Those weren’t foreign concepts I just read about in textbooks. They had to sit in a back corner of the movie theater where the “colored” section was if they wanted to see a film. While shopping downtown all the bathrooms had “white only” signs on them. Just trying to register to vote could get you fired if your white boss found out, and in some cases you could end up losing your life. Coming from that history feelings of proprietorship are understandable. Our slave ancestors didn’t have wealth to pass on to us, but what they did have was culture. Not being protective of that inheritance would be a gross disrespect to the pain they endured to pass it on.
When I see a Russian hip hop artist, or a Chinese break dance crew, or a French Jazz band, respecting the art and doing it justice, it warms my heart. I think it’s pretty easy to discern the artist who are deferential to the culture from those who mimic the culture primarily for financial gain. I think we should let the universe sort them out and while that process is happening, go buy a concert ticket to see a P-Funk or Earth Wind and Fire concert. Go to itunes and download Biggie’s “Read To Die” and “Life After Death” albums. Find some old clips on youtube of the men who invented Rock & Roll (Arthur Crudup, Goree Carter, and T-Bone Walker). Go to your grandmother’s church and sing along to some old negro spirituals and watch the oldest woman on the mother’s board add 2 more verses to the song that nobody else seems to know. I’m suggesting these things because we can’t be protective and selective of parts of our culture and take it for granted at the same time. If you don’t know who Goree Carter is, then I don’t want to hear your complaint about Iggy, Lorde, or Adele appropriating our culture even if I agree that two of 3 named are doing just that.
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Today I watched a segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe where one of the show hosts (Mika) started a discussion about the NFL Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal. There were three other guests who took part in this discussion (Donnie Deutsch, an MSNBC contributor whose name I forgot, and a black man named Steve Stout). Mika started off the discussion with a news report saying the NFL decided to not use Rihanna’s song “Run This Town” during their game broadcast on CBS like they planned to do before the Ray Rice scandal broke out. Mika voiced her opinion that because Rihanna was assaulted by her boyfriend years ago and didn’t become a spokesperson for domestic violence, the NFL shouldn’t use her song. I think that’s pretty ridiculous and here are a few reasons why.
1. Rihanna did not choose to get assaulted by Chris Brown.
2. Rihanna’s song “Run This Town” has no controversial lyrics and it does not speak of abuse or violence.
3. Rihanna was the victim in her assault so she has every right to choose not to become a political spokes person for domestic violence. She’s an entertainer who loves to sing and perform. That is what she’s good at and we should not criticize a victim of domestic violence if they don’t want to talk about it, or if they don’t do what you want them to do.
4. The controversial song Mika was talking about was not the song the NFL was going to use, and it was not even Rihanna’s song. It was an Eminem song that featured Rihanna. It’s appalling that Mika would criticize Rihanna, a victim of domestic violence, for lyrics written by Eminem for a song that was Eminem’s. Not once did she say anything about Eminem. She decided to attack Rihanna instead.
5. In the middle of her attack against Rihanna they show a photo of Rihanna’s beaten and bruised face that was taken after her assault. This victim blaming and slut shaming has got to end. Mika should be ashamed for her behavior in that segment. I think she owe’s Rihanna and all abuse victims an apology.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Mika and the panel decided to connect hip hop with Ray Rice’s abusive behavior towards his wife. This pissed me off almost as much as their unfair treatment of Rihanna. Mika and Donnie Deutsch must think all young black men are connected and controlled by hip hop. Why else would they bring it into a discussion about Ray Rice? Many people who are not fans of hip hop think they know what the genre and the music is about. They think hip hop music is excessively violent, and promotes violence toward women. That is not what the genre or culture is about. Of course there are songs with violent lyrics, and some are derogatory toward women. But that isn’t a significant part of the music. Hip Hop is extremely diverse. There are rappers like Common, Outkast, Nas, The Roots, Black Eyed Peas, etc who are very popular and are known for their socially conscious lyrics. But Mika and Donnie aren’t listeners of the genre so they don’t have a clue. Just like some racist, they see a black man with baggy clothes and dread locks and immediately think criminal, or mistake normal everyday behavior by a black man as aggression. Like the black man who was walking around Wal-Mart talking on his cell phone while playing with a toy gun. The police are called and kill him before he could even explain the gun was a toy. It’s sad that we as black men are all painted with the same negative brush.
While discussing Ray Rice, Donnie Deutsch proclaims he’s going to end hip hop with lyrics he thinks are bad. He says Jay Z is responsible for young black men committing crimes. The music influences them to do it he says. But he has never called for Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino to stop making violent movies. This double standard is unfair and the racial implications are clear. I bet Donnie isn’t even aware that whites purchase more hip hop albums than all other races combined. Inner city crime has ZERO to do with hip hop music. Before silencing artist and trashing their 1st amendment rights, maybe we should do something about the lack of opportunity in those poor black neighborhoods. Maybe we should improve the schools in those neighborhoods. Maybe we should look at the over-policing of those neighborhoods, maybe we should stop giving tax cuts to people like Donnie and Mika and use that money to spark growth in those neighborhoods. Maybe we should stop locking up black people for things that white people get a pass on. They don’t understand that hip hop music reflects the current conditions in the artist neighborhood. Right now it’s the only outlet that gives them a platform to speak to the world. Killing the messenger will only make things worse.
My closing advice to Mika and Donnie,
1. I know young black men may scare you but every thing we do shouldn’t be viewed as aggression. Listen to some of the artist I referred to in my 2nd paragraph. Instead of watching a hip hop video, listen to the song and read the lyrics. That’s the only way you can dissociate the thug cliché you have in your head from the socially conscious artist who wrote the song.
2. Ray Rice is not a rapper. His skin color may throw you off a bit, but trust me. He’s an ex-football player who abuses women and should be in prison right now.
3. Hip Hop culture is not the same thing as black culture.
4. Hip Hop music is entertainment. Just like movies, tv, and other music genre’s, it’s an art form. Your network (MSNBC & NBC) programming depicts a lot more violence than hip hop music does. It’s incredibly hypocritical to chastise Jay Z and hip hop for its violence while being silent about the violence your network makes millions off of.
5. Football is a very violent sport. You praise them for pulling a Rihanna song because some other song she was on with another artist contained a lyric you thought was promoting violence. Your logic makes no sense and once again you’re BLAMING THE VICTIM. Stop it!
I hope my harsh critique adds some much-needed perspective so these mistakes and misrepresentations do not gain credibility. I’m actually a really big fan of Mika and she usually serves as the voice of reason on “Morning Joe”. I want everyone to understand that I am not calling Mika racist. Her misguided commentary definitely seemed out of character, so I won’t hold it against her. We all make mistakes.