K’NAAN / “K’naan Fela Tribute Mixtape”
Mtume and I were talking about K’naan’s Messenger project and Mtume nailed it when he said, rap is collage. Absolutely. It’s a cut and paste artform that has been inhibited by capitalist business models. Originally, the DJs would look for funky beats, take a break from here, a break from there, add a shout, or a snippet of a vocal line, mix it with some turnabalism and voila you had something funky fresh.
Now, once the record companies got into it, sampling had to cease because it became economically prohibitive to mix, match and mash a dozen samples just to make one song. Imagine what would have happened to Romero Bearden if the powers that be would have made Bearden put his scissors away. (While you might not recognize Bearden’s name, at one time or another, you’ve either seen Bearden’s artwork or for sure seen artwork that was directly influenced by Bearden.)
My point is that rap flattened out beneath the hammer of commerce and lost a lot of it’s original flavor. But now comes the second project in the last year that really makes innovative use of sampling. Yall, might remember Blu’s Her Favorite Colo(u)r mixtape that we featured back in March 2009. Well, that was exhibit number one that I used as evidence for a point I’m about to make.
Exhibit number two is the tracks included on this mixtape. Actually these tracks are only one third of the total projected album, which will feature the music of Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan as interpreted by K’naan and associates, and as mashed up by DJ J. Period. This is some serious shit.
A lot of people say hip hop is in a stagnant place, but I see few actually doing something about it. I love The Messengers because the concept is completely unique, but still true to the original spirit of hip hop: combining the best elements from everywhere to create something fresh, to make a new statement. Fela, Marley and Dylan proved that when great music meets a powerful message, the result lives forever. I hope K’NAAN and I have done their legacies justice with this project.
There’s a message and an aesthetic hard at work here. The message is out there—self determination, self-defense, self-respect. And the aesthetic is equally forward. If you know some of the references, if you know anything about Fela, if you’re at all into afro-beat, you’re going to be delighted with this mixtape. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be Nigerian or Somali to enjoy The Messengers. I’m just saying, if you know a little somethin’ somethin’, you’ll be able to dig a little deeper into what K’naan and J. Period have put together.
But the point I really want to make is: they’re giving this away because there is no way they can sell it. See, what the deal is, the industry got all kinds of rules and regulations governing the use of samples for commercial purposes but if you’re giving your work away for nada but a smile and a download, well, funk you very much Mr. Businessman, you ain’t got a damn thing to say about it.
(L to R) Wyclef, J.Period, Black Thought (The Roots), K'NAAN at the J.Period & K'NAAN "The Messengers" Listening Party (Chung King Studo New York, NY) - Photo: Ace Brown www.positivelightpromotion
So, just like Blu made Her Favorite Colo(u)r a free download, K’naan and J. Period are doing the same thing. I urge you to go to JPeriod.com and download your own copy. Ain’t no telling but in another minute or so, the suits might come up with a way to make it illegal to freely give away this issue.
Don’t sleep, these are some deep rhymes and reasonings, beats you need to keep! Or as Marvin would say, come get to this!
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Just Because We Want To
Funny. I don't remember making that 'rap is collage' comment. It is true though. Kalamu's right about the spirit of the music too. The biggest difference between this K'Naan/J.Period/Fela mixtape and the average commercial release is the looseness. The sense of enjoyment. The fun. They're doing it because they can and because they want to. They aren't about to make any money selling it, so they don't need to think 'hit.'
For everyone who wasn't around or wasn't listening to hip-hop in the '80s, I so wish you could've heard how wild and loose and free and funky records were. DJs would hook up anything they could get their hands on. MCs would say anything they felt like saying. Wasn't all that much money to be made, so it really didn't matter if you sounding perfect or if the average pop fan would like your hook or whether you were good-looking enough for MTV or BET or TMZ or whatever. Shit was just music for the sake of expressing yourself—whatever self you were. Your motivation was to sound fresher, more original, more next-generation than the cat next to you, the same cat who was watching and listening to you and trying to outdo you. It was artistic competition of the best kind.
There was great variety too. You were whoever or whatever you were. Maybe you were serious as cancer, like Rakim. Maybe you had a gift for storytelling, like Slick Rick. Maybe you were political, like Chuck D. Maybe you had an oversized ego and a mouth to go along with it, like LL Cool J.. Maybe you just wanted to talk about girls with big butts over big bass drums, like 2 Live Crew. It really didn't matter because you could -- and would -- do whatever you wanted to do. It was a beautiful thing.
Music like The Messengers reminds me of the old days. Not in terms of the way it sounds - it's way too slick for that. These days, the average bedroom DJ has access to better technology than the best of the best had had back in '87. So although the sound is very different, the spirit is the same. It's music being created because the artists feel that they have something to say. Whether you like it, love it, hate it or don't give a shit one way or another, it really doesn't matter. Why? Because K'Naan and J.Period (just like Blu did with his HerFavoriteColo(u)r project - good call, Baba) are in it for their own purposes. They're not trying to convince you to part with your cash. They're giving you the shit and saying, "If you dig it, spread the word. If you don't, no problem."
Let me say now though there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with an artist wishing to be compensated for their work. It's not just love—it's a job as well. But when your primary motivation becomes money instead of self-expression, your art turns to commerce and your music turns to shit. Which is why the average rap record you hear on the radio today sounds like crap. It's money music. Not rap music.
I could ramble on and on, but I'm going to stop because I'm starting to sound bitter and I hate reading some bitter idiot just blathering on and on. It gets old quick. The bottom line is, I dig what K'Naan and J.Period are doing. I can't wait for the next two volumes of The Messenger series and I'll definitely be checking for the commercial projects of both of these guys. Maybe that's part of their motivation - to get people to buy their official releases. If so, cool. It worked on me.
—Mtume ya Salaam
K’naan Fela Tribute Mixtape Playlist
01 “Introduction to Fela Kuti”
02 “Let's Start (Messengers Remix)”
03 “Let Me Introduce Me (Messengers Remix)”
04 “Messengers & Prophets (Interlude)”
05 “Ololufe Mi (Messengers Remix)”
06 “Who is Fela? (Interlude)”
07 “Got My Dream (Messengers Remix)”
08 “The Story of Fela (Open & Close)”
09 “Gentleman f. Bajah”
10 “Perceptions of Africa (Interlude)”
11 “Africa (Messengers Remix)”
12 “Africa Unite (Outtro)”
This entry was posted on Monday, September 7th, 2009 at 1:03 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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