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Seminal rapper speaks on “Art, Race, Activism”

By Jess Linde

Section: News

December 4, 2015

Renowned rapper, record producer, activist and teacher KRS-One addressed Brandeis students this Wednesday in Rappaporte Treasure Hall as part of the “Arts, Race, Activism” integrated arts project. The lectures are funded by the Brandeis Arts Council and organized by the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AAAS), the Fine Arts Department (FA) and the Rose Art Museum. Two previous lectures in the series this semester featured a talk with video artist Yoshua Okón and New York University Professor Tavia Nyong’o’s lecture “The Fugitive Present: Sweet Sweetback and The Mythic Being.” Addressing a packed room, KRS-One delivered an artist talk to students based on questions from the audience that addressed the concepts of art, race and activism.

Introducing the event, Professor Chad Williams (AAAS) spoke directly to students involved in the Ford Hall 2015 movement, who just the day before had ended their 12-day occupation of the Bernstein-Marcus Administrative buildings once their demands were addressed by Brandeis Interim President Lisa Lynch. “This night is for you,” Williams said. “You held it down for 12 days; for 12 days you all were straight hip-hop.” Taking the stand, KRS-One congratulated student activists on their “total victory,” before taking questions from the audience, which ranged from the KRS-One’s favorite albums of all time to his opinion on the role of women in hip-hop. He identified artists who “shaped the genre” as his favorites, including famous albums by Run DMC, Public Enemy and Eric B & Rakim. In regards to women, KRS-One named “the usual suspects” such as MC Lyte and Queen Latifah as artists he respects.

Much of the lecture, however, stemmed from his response to the question: “How does white supremacy play a role in hip-hop culture?”

“The term ‘white supremacy’ is something I take issue with,’” KRS-One said. “The surface answer is to say look at MTV and BET, look at the media … That literally says ‘this is what you believe black people are like’ in a negative way.” He continued to argue that white supremacy “as we know it, the idea that the white race is somehow above all other races, is not supreme. We should not teach white children that the supreme form of their culture is murder,” he said, adding that “racism is a low thought for everyone.” KRS-One went on to suggest that a “true white supremacist can love me more than I can love myself, because love is supreme.” This led to KRS-One’s statement that art is the greatest measure of civilization.

By this definition, he argued, true “white supremacists are not racists; racism is a low thought for anything, it is not supreme.” KRS-One argued that artists like Eminem and the Beastie Boys, because they are white people who participated in hip-hop, a “supreme form of art,” serve as “supreme white people.” He went on to argue that hip-hop is the only “global culture” in which the dream outlined by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech exists, because it is a culture that judges people based on their ability in dancing, rapping and other skills.

Institutionalized racism is to blame for many issues, KRS-One argued, because it “cannot see the intelligence of young blacks.” This issue and its subsequent problems are the result of the colonial origins of the United States. “You cannot educate the public accurately if your foundation is kidnapping, rape, theft and murder,” he said. He also encouraged the African-American community to move beyond slavery and focus on the history of African civilizations and natural migration to the Americas. “If you’re claiming black anything, you have a responsibility not to black, but to humanity … everyone else comes from the African, the African comes from natural forces,” he argued.

The lecture continued along this line, with KRS-One further describing his philosophical and political beliefs, including an autonomous “black sovereignty” in which black Americans create their own rule of law for their community. He also criticized modern rap music as not “authentic” hip-hop. “Real hip-hop would never be in the White House,” he said and encouraged young people with a hip-hop mentality to always be skeptical and to use their intelligence to see “both sides of the world being presented.” KRS-One also defined the “greatness of hip-hop” as “defeating the United States government of the 1980s … hip-hop united the black community when the world was against us.” He cited the fact that he has experienced hip-hop fanfare all over the world as an example of hip-hop’s success as an “indigenous culture to the United States.”

KRS-One also argued for individual sympathy for police officers, because “America is a lawless place, and they [police officers] are afraid.” He called on black “CO’s, judges, and prosecutors putting our kids in jail” to break from the system and for black Americans to “wake up and realize that we are a nation unto ourselves” and to create their own voting processes and choose their leaders from the wisest among them.

The talk ended with KRS-One telling the audience to “sprinkle your learning with a little hip-hop” and taking pictures with students, before he and several members of Ford Hall 2015 left for a dinner and discussion.

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