On Christmas eve, 18-year old Joshua Davis was shot dead in the West Englewood section of Chicago. He was an aspiring rapper, going under the name Jayloud. He was killed in an altercation, allegedly because he was wearing a hoodie bearing the name of his close friend, the rapper Lil Jojo, himself shot to death in October. Another couple of statistics, I suppose, in a country suffering thousands of murders, the majority by guns, every year. Another couple of footnotes, I suppose, in the ongoing self-destruction wrought by poor inner city youth on themselves. But tragedy, first and last.
The only reason I know about these deaths is because of the hip hop connection. The power of hip hop, in large part, has always been the voice it gives to subaltern parts of the world, primarily the United States. This is its lifeblood and its discontent. In the present case, hip hop music played an integral part in the gang feud leading to the killings, and secured for it much broader exposure than other such — from a news perspective — sadly routine events tend to get. Hip hop can be a beautiful thing, it carries a promise of emancipation, but gnawing at its core is a despairing nihilism reflective of its brain trust. It’s enough to make you wanna holler.
The New York Times has a section up remembering notable people who died in the course of the year. I found this one on legendary graffiti writer Stay High 149 poignant, this one on Adam “MCA” Yauch incisive, and this radio clip with the great Maurice Sendak is very moving.
Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the blunt, shocking memoir of surviving Hiroshima, Hadashi no Gen (1973-1985, Barefoot Gen) also passed away this week. For those who read Danish, I wrote an obituary at Nummer9. Read a scanlation of his first work to engage the aftermath of the atom bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (‘Struck by Black Rain, 1972) here.
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people… Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women’s right to be free. We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society…
This week Obama finally put on the line his position of gay rights. Forget the spin, it was an important moment. One that will hopefully vindicate the despicable distraction the Bush government used to get elected in 2004. One for the books, even if it loses Obama the election, and it seems we can be pretty confident it won’t.
The other notable — and sadly early — passing, of course, was that of Adam Yauch, aka. MCA of the Beastie Boys. I already wrote a little on his achievements, but just wanted to point anyone not already in the loop toward this:
As the stray reader might have noticed, the blog has been dormant for a while here, feeling the effects of pressure elsewhere. I can’t let the passing of Adam Yauch, aka. MCA of the Beastie Boys pass in complete silence, however.
I refer you to the New York Times obituary for the lowdown on his remarkable career, and New York Magazine‘s oral history for a record of the auspicious beginnings of the Beastie Boys. Here, I’ll merely add that they were always the exception to the rule: three Jewish kids staking an entirely credible claim in hip hop that has never been challenged, communicating with a wide, predominantly white audience at a time when the genre had not yet become the commercial juggernaut we came to see through the nineties, and doing it without losing any cred with the hardcore audience. Part of their innovation, and surely instrumental to their success, is that they took the humor and irony of old school rap and gave it their own twist, maintaining and developing it over the years as the rest of hip hop largely forgot it. Continue reading ‘Adam Yauch RIP’