If You Love Hip Hop, Buy Some

These past months have seen some classic controversy in hip hop. Azealia Banks, famous for her 2011 hit ‘212’, made headlines once again for attacking superstar Iggy Azalea, adding to a long and drawn out feud the origins of which have never been clear, and in reality aren’t even relevant at this point. The difference was that rather than Iggy coming off as the successful, demure hip hop royalty and Banks as a racist, bitter lunatic, as had previously been the dynamic, some interesting questions were raised this time, largely due to Q-Tip’s 40 tweet long sermon to Iggy about the origins of hip hop as a socially and politically conscious movement born from black oppression.

Let’s be clear, I like that ‘Fancy’ track as well as ‘Work’ and I thank Iggy for good nights out with good friends. But, I can see where Banks is coming from. There are injustices in the world and that’s life, but when you are on the receiving end of these injustices, a shrug just isn’t as cathartic as ripping into an artist who represents the injustices that are holding you back.

It is normal for the public to be more impressed by something that surprises them than something that’s been done before, like for example an angry, black woman ranting about racism versus a skinny white Australian chick who has a decent flow and a bubble butt she knows what to do with. It has a lot to do with marketability and selling an image. We always want something different, something new or fresh, because music moves at the pace of light and audiences get bored quickly. The angry black chick routine has been done, white girls who twerk are the new talk.

In an interview with US radio station Hot 97, where the current battle began, Banks points out that “Iggy Azalea isn’t excellent”. From the few tracks I’ve heard, Iggy’s flow is okay albeit unoriginal, lyrically she is average and her content is pretty reminiscent of every other mainstream artist: sex, money and swag. To me she is a good pop act who raps, she isn’t an excellent hip hop artist. Banks also pointed out that Macklemore’s Grammy award winning album wasn’t better than Drake’s and Macklemore himself believes that Kendrick’s album was better than his. Her point is that quality black artists are routinely overlooked because their white counterparts are easier to sell. Referring to Iggy’s Grammy nomination she says “all that says to white kids is you’re great, you can do whatever you put your mind to” whilst reminding black kids “you don’t have sh*t, you don’t own sh*t, not even the sh*t you created for yourselves.” She has a point.

In hip hop terms the race line ends more or less there, I feel exactly the same way about Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ as I did about ASAP Rocky’s ‘F***in Problem’ and Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black and Yellow’. Those songs represent for me the loss of the era during which I fell in love with hip hop, and the numb acceptance that I had to get over it if I were to enjoy a good night out. Being that I was only 16 when Nas’ ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ album came out, I was too young to believe the best of it was over but too old to pretend the previous five or so years hadn’t already formed my relationship with and my expectations of hip hop. So I quietly retreated into my classics and watched lyricism and quality of content slip down the list of ‘important qualities successful rappers should possess’.

Since this recent drama was unleashed there seems to be a tirade of Iggy haters jumping on the bandwagon desperate to get a cheap shot in. Now Iggy knows better than anyone that haters are gonna hate and being a female in the rap game she also knows sexism better than most. This may explain why she feels her having a vagina is responsible for the negativity because as she points out, Macklemore doesn’t get treated like this. But neither does Macklemore avoid the issue of how his skin colour affects his success and how white privilege affects his country, and besides, Macklemore has definitely received a decent amount of criticism. Is it possible that Iggy, being a female in a male-dominated environment and constantly a victim of sexism because of it, much like a black person in a white dominated environment often held back by the colour of their skin, could be being a little over sensitive on the gender front? Maybe her and Banks have more in common than just a name after all.

The fact is Iggy’s continued refusal to talk about why Banks was really crying on the radio that day (because of the ongoing injustices faced by black people in the US, not because Iggy got to be a pop star and she didn’t) makes her look either ignorant, in denial or just racist. But I’m starting to wonder whether it even matters anymore. Where was all this vehement passion and outrage when Tyga redefined repetition with a track that used the word “rack” in it 30 times? Or when YG repeated “my nigga” so many times that white kids had to start singing along because you can’t just bounce to a track in a club silently for 3 straight minutes. Or when Bow Wow and Soulja Boy had a beef through the mediums of youtube and twitter not once attempting to put pen to paper and lyrically attack their opponents as you would expect two so-called rappers to do. Why are we so determined to keep hip hop in the hands of black people if this is all we intend to do with it?

Iggy Azalea is not the problem. The problem is that hip hop is a commodity and it was sold to the highest bidder somewhere between P Diddy deciding that he could be a rapper and selling millions of records to prove it and 50 cent giving up on making good music after his first album, because flavoured water made him a multi-millionaire. Anything that sells gets made and gets distributed, heavily, from white Australian females with a southern drawl to ignorant black men with no talent or story to tell but a willingness to be any and every stereotype a white audience will pay him to be.

The good news is: it is possible for us to take hip hop back. And by us I don’t mean black people, I mean anyone who really cares about the art and feels more than the vibrations of the beat when they listen to hip hop that relates to their truth. J Cole broke records last year in the first week of his album release because people love him for his lyrical content and dedicated fans actually pay for music sometimes. If J Cole fans were given more Kendricks and more Nas’ we would buy that too! This is the message that we need to be sending to the next generation of artists who are now choosing their styles, deciding what their content is going to focus on and figuring out how they can make a career out of their passion, not if you’re a female stay running between the gym and the surgeon’s office and if you’re a man make sure you have someone around who can verify your gangsta. There is so much innovation and diversity within hip hop, Azealia Banks is just one example of that, and if that’s not your flavour buy Dave East’s ‘Black Rose’, go and see Chance the Rapper live, support the artists you want to see succeed. If you can’t do that for hip hop, do me a favour and sit down and applaud when Iggy wins that Grammy.

Theresa May versus James Dyson and Why Are We Still Having This Conversation?

Home secretary Theresa May plans to expel international students after graduation as a means of controlling immigration. Sir James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson hoover, thinks this is a short term crowd pleaser which will lead to long-term economic decline. Nigel Farage believes the poor level of English of immigrant doctors is “scandolous”. A study by UCL found that in the last 15 years immigrants to the UK have made a net contribution to public finances. Why then are we still having this conversation?

The conversation I am talking about is of course the immigration debate. In the last election the Liberal Democrats didn’t even consider immigration an issue, but this year it seems it is all anyone can talk about. Immigration and benefit fraud are the two biggest non-issues that consistently made headlines in 2014, despite having essentially no negative impact on the economy that they are always accused of destroying. The statistics for benefit fraud speak for themselves. False benefit claims only make up about one sixth of unclaimed benefits. That is to say if all those who were legible for benefits claimed them there would be less money in the kitty than there is now. End of discussion.
BenefitFraud1609
The immigration debate  seems not quite so easy to quash however. A number of studies have shown that immigration has brought a wide range of benefits to both to the British economy and public services but people will not be convinced. Nothing makes this clearer than the rise of Mr One Policy and One Policy Only, Nigel Farage. By focusing on this one issue alone UKIP has gained enough popularity to force every other party to start developing their policies on immigration, with even Ed Miliband claiming it was an issue that Labour was taking very seriously. Interesting because ‘issues’ used to mean problems or concerns, things that we should be thinking about and addressing. I am not concerned about immigration and I do not think it is a problem.
                I feel genuinely confused as to what expectations those who demand changes to immigration policy actually have. Assuming the hope is that some robust policies on immigration will lead to a reduction of the number of immigrants in the country, how then will Britain be so greatly improved? More English will be heard on public transport, less of a language barrier with your doctor or nurse, less queuing at the doctor’s surgery or hospital, more places at the best schools and of course jobs for all!
               The idea that one immigrant gone means one more job for the angry and unemployed (or worse in work and still poor) has been disproved again and again. Those who have made no effort to understand the economics around this and genuinely follow the logic that more immigrants mean less jobs need to do their research. The idea that the NHS could survive without without immigrants is simply incredible, in the literal sense of the word. With a saving of £70 000 on nurses and almost £270 000 on doctors (of whom 26% are indeed immigrants), who arrive already equipped with training that the government then avoids paying for, a 100% British health service would be dire for the financing of the NHS. As for the best schools, inequality within the education system is by no means a product of recent times, although it is worsening as the cuts continue. It is a long held British tradition that those who can pay, do, and generally go on to great things. Our Prime Minister, for example, is a product of Eton College a school established in the 15th Century and which currently costs around £33 000 per academic year. Accessibility to the ‘best schools’ is therefore a difficult topic, private education considered.
              Again, those who do not know must teach themselves, but Theresa May pulling pointless policies out of thin air is only fuelling the ignorance that sustains this conversation. Theresa May knows full well that the lives of the angry and jobless will not be improved by the expulsion of foreign graduates. The same tactic was used on benefit fraud last year, when a law was created to cap benefits at £30 000 per year. The law may not be an issue, but the insinuation was, that there is a problem of people claiming benefits that needed to be addressed immediately. There wasn’t. Refer back to chart if doubtful.
              Continuing the immigration debate is the most transparent manipulation of divide of conquer politics visible today. Brits all over the country feel shortchanged as jobs are scarce, wages are low and everything is more expensive than it used to be. This isn’t the fault or the responsibility of the man or woman next to you, the problem is much, much higher up. The money that you feel is being held from you is not in the hand of the immigrant, he or she does not take your taxes nor cut your public services. The NHS is rife with problems at the moment, cuts to services have resulted in unprecedented shortages and a more urgent need than ever to import cheap labour, at the expense of huge brain drains on other countries. The big issue is not that your doctor’s English is a bit off-key.
               The fact remains that if the government spent more time taxing big businesses and mansions and took less from the National Health Service, the doctors of the NHS, home-grown or not, may have a better chance at doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Owen Jones said it best: “who has caused our country the most problems, the bankers who plunged us into economic disaster, the expenses milking politicians who have the cheek to lecture us on benefit fraud, the wealthy tax-dodgers keeping 25 billion a year from the Exchequer… or Indian nurses and Polish fruit pickers?”

I’ll admit, for me the immigration debate is personal for multiple reasons. As an emigrant who merrily waltzes around the world without facing too much hostility or visa drama, I am well aware of the fact that getting into Britain isn’t nearly as easy as it seems. Frankly, it would be downright hypocritical of me to condemn those with the intention of going to my country and making a better life for myself as I intend to continue doing the same wherever I please. Furthermore, there is so much ignorance around it, I feel frustrated constantly pointing out the obvious.  Britain had an empire. Britain spent centuries spreading the word of this wonderful country introducing its religion and education that every subject was forced to follow. It was so successful in its mission that dozens of countries that most Brits would not be able to locate on a map still learn the language, history and culture of the UK in school whilst worshipping images of Michaelangelo’s Jesus.

The English-speaking Caribbean would still be populated with Arawaks and other indigenous peoples had slavery not happened and Britain not relocated millions of people, who then went on to develop their own languages, customs and culture in their new land. Britain has been so influential in the historical development of so much of the world it makes sense that, in Britain, the rest of the world would have an influence too. You cannot spend centuries convincing millions of people that in Britain lies streets paved with gold and hope that with the advent of airplanes and cheap travel, they will not come and check it out for themselves.

Britain is a country built on the labour and riches of those abroad whether we like to talk about it or not. The luxurious lifestyle that we were so accustumed to and so outraged to have ripped from us, in an economic disaster that most of us had no control over, would never have been possible if it weren’t for its success in trade (aided by the gigantic empire) and cheap labour, whether Caribbean in in the 1960s or Polish in the ’00s. If you want to know what it looks like when immigrants come and take, take, take and give nothing back you should look at the land distribution statistics of Kenya, Zimbabwe or South Africa 50 years ago. A lot of countries are still trying to escape or recover from the crippling systems the bankrupted them and pushed them into poverty during the colonial period. Are we really so heartless as to turn away at the door the citizens of those countries who come only looking for what the UK has always claimed to offer?

 

No, You Are Not Charlie.

As the hunt for the shooters responsible for the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris yesterday, Said Kouachi and his brother Chérif Kouachi, continues, a one minute silence and 35, 000 strong march in Paris last night demonstrated the unbreakable solidarity felt with those 12 journalists, police officers and visitors who were murdered on what should have been a normal day at the office. Globally they have been mourned; demonstrations in Berlin, London, New York and Montréal have all shown their support for the victims of the attack and the loved ones who are now grieving. It is certainly touching to see how many people can extend their condolences and take the time out to show their sympathy to other human beings they have never known or even known about.

For me however there is a pervading hypocrisy that I have not been able to ignore since the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie first began trending on twitter.

As I understand it, to be Charlie in the wake on this attack on a group of controversial cartoonists is to believe in free speech, and that no one should be punished for printing what they believe, even if it will inevitably offend or anger certain people. This is a sentiment which at its core I wholeheartedly believe in. Last year I remember following Al Jazeera’s #FreeAJStaff campaign as a group of journalists were imprisoned in Egypt for doing their jobs. I often hear tragic stories about journalists killed in their line of duty and as Rafia Zakaria pointed out yesterday over half of the 61 journalists listed by the CPJ as killed for doing their job last year were Muslims fighting extremists. There are few things as important as good journalism which tells the stories and spreads the messages that inform and educate people in order for them to understand the society around them. Often, I struggle to find the kind of brutally honest, agenda-free journalism that I am talking about.

Charlie Hebdo is an incredibly controversial publication that has made a number of enemies since its debut. Despite being branded racist or islamophobic, they continued to print what they deemed honest in a series of cartoons that offended masses of people and was often connected with a growing anti-islamic sentiment among the French public of today. Whether or not you believe that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were acceptable, simply playful, misunderstood, antagonistic, insensitive or downright racist, we all agree that no one should have died as a result of them being printed. But that does not make you Charlie.

In the UK comedians and public figures are constantly going through the rigmarole of saying something they mean or genuinely think is funny, getting in trouble for it, and then being forced to apologise and retract it, from Russell Brand to Jack Whitehall to Jeremy Clarkson. The infamously neutral BBC is constantly losing comedians and reporters to other networks such as Channel 4 or Al Jazeera for being too censored or too politically correct. Can any of their journalists really claim to be Charlie? The vast majority of US media representation of Israel does not leave a shred of space for even the most moderate pro-Palestine voice. Who among them can claim to be Charlie? Those who spend their careers attempting to make heard the issues that the mainstream media, powerful businesses and the political class would rather avoid suffer the biggest paradox in freedom of speech. They have the right to say whatever they like, but never have an audience for their truths. Once you have the crowd’s attention, there’s a script to follow, if you don’t want to follow it there is a queue of people behind you waiting to do so. None of those in it are Charlie.

And there is no obligation for them, or you, to want to be. I can objectively sympathise with the pointless loss of human life and simultaneously admit that I would have never dreamt of printing many of the cartoons I have seen in Charlie Hebdo. Often, if not always, telling your truth is going to upset at least one person, we don’t all agree on everything. By the same token all good things, political correctness included, are effective in their correct doses. Censorship does stifle comedy but if you spend an hour offending everyone in the room, there will be no one left to applaud, like anything it’s about balance. For me, ridiculing a president or a religious leader is not the same as ridiculing an entire religion, especially at a time where many members of that religion are already under attack from so many angles. I am not Charlie.

That is of course not the only reason I had no enthusiasm to join in this hashtag. The innate reluctance I felt at jumping on the bandwagon was later reinforced as more and more islamophobic sentiment became apparent as the day went on (#KillAllMuslims, for example, which was thankfully overrun by those as outraged and disgusted as myself in no time). I then realised that I didn’t want to be Charlie because I didn’t want to pick sides. This attack has nothing to do with me I don’t need to stand in solidarity with one thing in order to condemn another. It’s an unnecessary return the Us vs Them dynamic whose divisive effects I’ve always avoided. If it were simply Cold Blooded Killers versus Those With Sympathy, I would have far fewer reservations, but it never is. First is the sympathy, then the anger and before you know it we’ve declared war again.

If this was indeed the terror attack that it has been made out to be than it was really very well done. Strike Paris. Make a martyr out of ‘Charlie’ who will then become the best-selling symbol of liberty and democracy, erasing any murkiness that ever surrounded the magazine itself. As another terror attack inevitably breeds more islamophobia in a country already struggling to overcome its rise in fascism, create a wider base of young disillusioned Muslims in need of a purpose and a channel for their anger and frustration. Be the organisation that these young people turn to. That’s how you make a terrorist right?