Tuesday, January 1, 2008


I don't know much about Mumia. Santa Cruz had a lot of activists trying to get him off death row, but I didn't pay much attention. This is him on Immortal Technique's "Revolutionary Volume 2":
To think about the origins of hip hop in this culture and also about homeland security is to see that there are at the very least two worlds in America. One of the well-to-do and the struggling. For if ever there was the absence of homeland security it is seen in the gritty roots of hip hop. For the music arises from a generation that feels with some justice that they have been betrayed by those who came before them. That they are at best tolerated in schools, feared on the streets, and almost inevitably destined for the hell holes of prison. They grew up hungry, hated and unloved. And this is the psychic fuel that seems to generate the anger that seems endemic in much of the music and poetry. One senses very little hope above the personal goals of wealth and the climb above the pit of poverty.

In the broader society the opposite is true, for here more than any place on earth wealth is more wide spread and so bountiful. What passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. They're very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure. And homeland security is a governmental phrase that is as oxymoronic, as crazy as saying military intelligence, or the U.S. Department of Justice. They're just words that have very little relationship to reality. And do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duck tape and Kleenex and color codes will make you safer? From Death row this is Mumia Abu Jamal
Some of this is fairly common (though useful) rhetoric, but I like two things: the link juxtaposition of American poverty, opulence, and political rhetoric; and the brief analysis of anxiety that ties these three together. I would add to this the identity politics of the American majority. The politics of (the same) identity is what allows gay marriage and intelligent design
to be powerful political issues. This same image of identity is what rejected and then appropriated hip hop (while still retaining the rejection), and at the core of identity politics is anxiety (which is why maybe there never was a postmodern culture).

The rejection of political rap--which preoccupies Immortal Technique--has nothing to do with profanity and violence. This is a genre which exists aside from commodity culture: it's system of valuation is not one of exchange. It validates the American underclass, illuminating the underlying compulsions of behavior patterns that are thought by the privileged to be free choices.

The end of one of his songs is apt, especially given the specular/visual importance of identity: "Turn off the news and read a book."

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