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Spirit of Conscious Rap: Review of "Letter to the President"

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Produced by Thomas Gibson and QD3 Productions, 2004, 91 mins.

Snoop Dogg narrates this talking-heads rap with America’s black youth. Rap and Hip Hop stars take turns discussing the history of the genre, the current state of US inner cities, the suppression of black votes in the 2004 election, and the need for a return to “conscious rap.” 

Poet Amiri Bakari warns, “We need to recreate that cultural weapon to try to rescue ourselves and America from this neofascism of the Bush junta.” 

Journalist Gary Webb (author of Dark Alliance) consulted on and appears in the film. He discusses his groundbreaking story of the CIA selling cocaine in the States to finance its secret war in Nicaragua.  Sometime after the making of this film, Webb reportedly shot himself behind a dumpster.  

Recording artist and activist Kate Rhea discusses the U.S. prison system, a modern version of legalized slavery.  Statistics are cited which support the view that blacks are targeted for imprisonment and forced labor.  The facts bear out these assertions.  In the year preceding the making of this film, U.S. prisons grew by 900 inmates a week, with 61% of the prison population being non-white.  

The U.S. holds the startling distinction of having the highest rate of incarceration (in sheer numbers and per capita) than any other nation on the planet.  This is followed by Britain, China, France, and Japan – four of the Group of Eight (G8) nations which meet each year to discuss economic growth strategies.  One has to wonder if forced labor is part of their conscious and deliberate strategy. 

Also discussed is the resistance among society’s gatekeepers, who seek to suppress rap.  The daughter of Malcolm X, Attallah Shabazz, is shown with Colin Powell in a meeting between several black leaders of society and rap artists, asking them to tone down their message.  When Outkast wrote a shout-out to Rosa Parks, saluting her, they were sued for defamation of character.  Black society has its system guards just as white society does. 

While the suppression of black votes in the 2004 election is raised, it is clear that advocates of hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) have not reached the consciousness of Hip Hop artists. Talking heads mention the unequal allocation of machines in predominantly black precincts (as evidenced in Franklin County, Ohio). But, no one in the film questions the use of technology in public elections, or that elections are run by those who derive their seats of power from them.   

Secret vote counts – votes that are cast or counted inside a machine – violate the most basic principle of democratic elections: a transparent and observable vote count.  HCPB advocates would strengthen their cause by allying with these artists to implement the dream of democracy that we all share.   

The final song in the film addresses this dream: “This ain’t about Hip Hop. This ain’t even about no mother-f*cking movie, man. This is about life. This is about dedicating yourself to a dream that people tell you ain’t sh*t. And this is about looking at them and saying, ‘f*ck you.’…” 

Revolution resides in the minds of our youth. Letter to the President details many subjects the Hip Hop culture can and should address, when speaking to America’s black youth. It also puts the U.S. on notice of a partial “history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny…”    

 

 

In 2004, Rady Ananda joined the growing community of citizen journalists. Initially focused on elections, she investigated the 2004 Ohio election, organizing, training and leading several forays into counties to photograph the 2004 ballots. She officially served at three recounts, including the 2004 recount. She also organized and led the team that audited Franklin County Ohio's 2006 election, proving the number of voter signatures did not match official results. Her work appears in three books.

Her blogs also address religious, gender, sexual and racial equality, as well as environmental issues; and are sprinkled with book and film reviews on various topics. She spent most of her working life as a researcher or investigator for private lawyers, and five years as an editor.

She graduated from The Ohio State University's School of Agriculture in December 2003 with a B.S. in Natural Resources.

All material offered here is the property of Rady Ananda, copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Permission is granted to repost, with proper attribution including the original link.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Tell the truth anyway.

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