In COLD LIPS 04 MALIK AMEER CRUMPLER – of the best new old-skool hip-hop band, MADISON WASHINGTON interviews MOTHER RAP.
The commission came from that age old question about genre, something Malik has worked hard to explain with his crossover work in poetry, rap, music production & editor. He’s made glitch art films, six books of poetry. He was guest-editor of Paris Lit Up issues 4 & 5. He’s co-editor of The Opiate & co-founder of Bayonics, Those That This, Satori Ideas & Visceral Brooklyn. And if that’s not enough, he rules the English-speaking spoken word scene in Paris (alongside Moe Seager, David Leo Serois, and the other David) co-curating and co-hosting Transatlantic Poetry, Poets Live & The Wordists.
HIS new BOOK walks the line of poetry and rap:
AND HIS ALBUM with THIS MAN MONKZ – walks the line of rap and poetry.
The band name: MADISON WASHINGTON, after the rebel enslaved cook who mutineered a ship to British land from New Orleans, freeing 128 slaves.
HERE’S THE STORY:
Frontman of Madison Washington, MALIK AMEER CRUMPLER is host at the longest-running anglo-poetry night in Paris, Poets Live, where he edits on several literary publications: The Opiate, Those That This, Paris Lit Up, Transatlantic Poetry, and is staff writer on ItchySilk. Living in France for the past two years, he was born and raised in Oakland, California until he moved to New York for twelve years. His forthcoming album on Def Presse kicks tough, find it via our reviews. We’re delighted to publish this specially commissioned creation, where he chats with RAP.
If you’ve been following Rap the way I and millions of other devotees have for the past four decades, you’ve probably grown restless with pop culture’s absorption and commodification of the craft. You may even refuse to listen to contemporary rap altogether and instead seal your ears in an auditory time capsule packed with tracks from the Golden Age. Although many people believe Rap’s development was stunted in her youthful malaise, for those of us who pledged allegiance to the cult of Rap, we know that she is more alive than ever in the underground priesthood.
I recently caught up with Rap at a beachside Heladeria in a sparsely populated town in Valencia that she currently calls home. She wore several elekes, a neon pink bikini that showed off her tattoos and a bit of forty-something pudge, along with obsidian Porsche 5620 shades. She puffed a discreet spliff, sipped an ice cold Horchata, and had a fresh one waiting for me when I arrived.
Me: What you been up to in this cozy beachtown all these years?
Rap: Oh, you know how I get down: travellin’, chillin’, playin’ chess, dominoes, Go, researchin’, meditatin’, bingin’ series on Netflix. Hackin’ myself. You know, the usual thing you do on sabbatical.
M: How’s the writing going?
Rap: Sun, you know I never write. The rappers are the writers. Except for when they get to cypherin’ or freestylin’. I’m all improvisation. I get that from my grandma.
M: Can you let it be known who your grandma is?
Rap: Wow, they don’t already know? Big Mamma Jazz.
M: Right. How’s she doing?
Rap: She stay chillin’. If she ain’t on siesta upstairs, she’s probably eatin’ peanuts, chain smokin’ Newports and watchin’ telenovelas, sippin’ Sangria. You know how she do.
M: What’s up with your grandpa?
Rap: Which one, Big Daddy Blues?
Rap: Usually, ‘round this hour, he at the bar drinkin’ Siete Años Ron and lyin’ ‘bout some adventure he never took.
M: Word up. How’s your parents?
Rap: Ain’t talked to them in a minute. But Mamma Funk moved back to L.A. and Spoken Word Pops, been runnin’ ‘round all over the world, hustlin’ between Slam and that new thing, I forget what they callin’ it, now.
M: What’s good with your siblings?
Rap: My sister, Punk Rock’s doin’ great. She out in London experimentin’. House’s still beefin’ with his twins, Techno and Electronica, you know how that go. Neo Soul just got out of rehab again, and I think she’s livin’ with my cousin, Afro Beat, in Lagos. My little brother, Trap just moved from Atlanta to Ethiopia to study with our Uncle Reggae.
M: So, everyone’s everywhere doing everything, except in the U.S.?
Rap: Well, my Aunt Free Jazz and Uncle Creative Music still over in Manhattan & Chicago, but man, are they goin’ through it, over there.
M: How do you mean?
Rap: You know how it is in America, ruthless appropriation and all that. Plus, a lot of their priests and greatest practitioners recently ascended. So, they’re havin’ a lot of difficulty figurin’ out what to do about their new generation, which is a problem I’ll never waste my time on.
M: Could you build on that, real quick?
Rap: Bet. Unlike the rest of my family, I gave my followers complete free will and creative freedom. You know what I mean?
M: Absolutely not.
Rap: Well, because we weren’t dealin’ with the rigid technical laws of traditional musical instruments, they wasn’t bound by instruments… Naw, that’s bullshit, here how it really went. You remember that loop when everyone in pop-rap was coppin’ the same flow, same style?
M: They still do, basically.
Rap: That’s a whole other argument. I’m talkin’ ‘bout them late 70s early 80s when everybody had the same tone, vibe, annunciation, cadence and content bitin’ Fatback, Blondie, Melle Mel, Sugar Hill Gang and all them.
M: That old, old school.
Rap: Well, they almost got trapped in that, but then the teenagers: Roxanne, L.L., MC Lyte, Rakim, Slick Rick, Biz Markie and all those cats, broke them out of that once they peeped bitin’ and obeyin’ rules ain’t the agenda. Same with Punk Rock at that time, you know what I’m sayin’? Distinctiveness is the only rule.
M: I hear that. So, then what happened?
Rap: Rap as a whole matured, honestly. Content got so political, the Amerikkkan audience got overwhelmed with all those dense issues. So, when the party and bragrap vibe came back, they was all relieved. Every song, just a bunch of insults. But the audience dug it, grew, got more diverse. They stopped carin’ ‘bout the lyrics, sun. That’s what did it. All of a sudden, it was all about the beat and the hook. Checkmate, fish bait.
M: But then gangster rap was a blockbuster. All entertainment, pure Hollywood. Rappers became celebrated actors. The audience couldn’t get enough of that popcorn. Artists obeyed the trends, not the essence. Rap dried up when it went Hollywood. Extra butter.
Rap: I’m dried up?
Me: Not you. You know what I mean?
Rap: Well, to tell you the truth, that ain’t how it went. I mean, the point of Hip Hop was always rugged originality and honesty, especially with the rappin’. I wanted rappers to be honest and self-sufficient. You know, we really beasted with the whole D.I.Y. aesthetic. Well, not just Rap, Punk took it even further than us, but unlike us, Punk’s priesthood didn’t betray their original constitution.
M: You might want to inform the audience about our original constitution.
Rap: Bet. Fuck the system, fuck authority, fuck sameness, fuck fear.
Rap: Now, it’s obvious that most rappers bought into the system and then got fucked by it, cuz they were too afraid to endure the struggles that come with real résistance.
M: I know a lot of rappers, would bark, ‘What were we supposed to do, starve?’
Rap: Cowards. You know, when I was in Cuba back in the early nineties, a O.G. revolutionary warned me, “Americans don’t want revolution, they want assimilation and equality in the same system that destroys them. They’ll never be revolutionaries, they’re too obsessed with the dream, to fight the nightmare.” I didn’t want to believe her then, but now I get it. Whatever, Sun, I ain’t mad. Ain’t this Horchata perfecto!?
M: I don’t buy that.
R: I got you on the Horchata –
M: Not that. This all accepting attitude of yours, I don’t buy that.
Rap: It ain’t for sale. I mean, what you expect a rapper to do? Or anybody for that matter, when the kids starvin’, homelessness huntin’ your ass, all you gotta do is give into the market and your life’s changed? It’s survival. It’s bullshit. Anyway, most them rappers rappin’ now, ain’t my kin, they businessmen or gangsters, or whatever, they ain’t M.C.s. But you already know that, they way after my time anyway.
M: After your time?
Rap: After I went on sabbatical.
M: When exactly was that?
Rap: Sometime after the mass audience decided to follow Puffy, Jay Z, Cash Money, Master P and all them. Even my own practitioners took their side. I looked around and figured, fuck this, I’m surrounded by Iagos, I’m out.
M: No one took your side?
Rap: Of course, a couple folks did, but I couldn’t provide for y’all, financially. It was mad depressin’, I collapsed for a while… Me and Gil just hid in heroin for decades.
M: Why didn’t you fight for them?
Rap: How could I? When Punk Rock, Spoken Word, Fusion, Performance Art and I were comin’ up, we never planned or expected this shit to become the number one artistic export of the American dream. We was the antithesis of all that. We didn’t give a fuck about the radio or MTV. We made our own stations. We fuckin’ despised pop fashions, all of them. We wore neon hair, ripped clothes, spikes, man, fuckin’ chains & spikes. No fucks given. That’s why I loved so called “Gangster Rap” we finally told the uncensored truth about strugglin’ to survive the American nightmare. But then, we got infiltrated… That loop from the ‘60s activated and ain’t blown over yet, but it will.
M: What do you mean, it will?
Rap: You been keepin’ your ear to the underground?
Rap: Then you already know, nothin’ ever changed in the underground. Whenever the mainstream audience gets sick of the Pop Hop, they’ll do just like they always do and mine the underground for new jewels. Which ain’t nothin’ but the same old thing but in a new time.
M: Really? But everybody’s a rapper now, thanks to the internet.
Rap: But everybody’s not an M.C.
M: What’s an M.C. to you?
Rap: It’s an internal thing, a psychological, spiritual thing. We all know, anyone who can rhyme, can rap but an M.C. is somethin’ different. The high priestesses and priests of my movement, order, cult (or whatever you want to call it) were always the M.C.s and the only rule for M.C.s is to move the crowd, manage consciousness, manufacture chants, maintain collaborations between audience and performance. Remember, M.C.s got put through mad initiations, rituals, humiliations and trials to rock crowds. Yeah, competition was always there, but it was only about props. Who was that rapper that said, “No more props, I want property in every borough.”
M: Rakim, wasn’t it.
Rap: Yeah, he’s one of my favorite priests but when he said that, I said to myself… I’m fucked, cuz I can’t provide that, only Trump can.
M: Damn. What was it that you could provide?
Rap: Genuine correspondence among like-minded individuals pursuin’ the same goal.
M: And what goal was that, exactly?
Rap: Using words as weapons to battle not against one another but the system that made us want to injure ourselves and others in the first place. To cultivate a self sufficient worldwide resource to rival the one that kept us enslaved since the last time history was rewritten. I was naïve, hopeful and arrogant. Forgot that mankind can’t survive by rap alone. I couldn’t protect my followers, so when they went about protectin’ themselves from the beast, they became the beast. I ain’t mad at ‘em but I just can’t fuck with them, at all. You know what I’m sayin’? I’ma order some more Fartons.
M: Dig it. You got any favorite rappers?
Rap: Thousands. But you wouldn’t know any of them.
M: Try me.
Rap: Naw, that’s what got me in trouble last time. I’ll tell you this, though. Somethin’s comin’ and when it gets here, it may not be Rap at all. It may be A.I., it may be a transhumanist rapper, it may be the return of my initial apostles, may even be just folks not sayin’ a damn word. Just breathin’ in unpredictable rhythms with no words.
M: What music are you currently listening to?
R: The Mediterranean sea, wind, my breathin’. I don’t own a computer, phone, record player, none of that 20th or 21st century shit. I dig candles. The livin’ flame. I despise fake shit, fake people, you know what I’m sayin’.
M: So, what you’re really saying is, you’d like to be rebranded?
R: Fuck no, they just need to stop using my name in vain. I mean, we got a few more minutes of sanity and then everything’s all down the drain. To keep it real, listenin’ to rap music these days is like someone squeezin’ fresh lemons on my hemorrhoids.
M: Damn. One last thing: how you feel about all these questions nowadays about “Is rap poetry?”
R: They on that shit again? Look, before I changed my name to have a greater impact and relevance on the 20th century, everyone in the world knew me as Poetry.
And just a note from Kirsty – it comes at a time when LEONARD COHEN’s post-humous dig at genre was published…
Artists like Jeymes Samuel a.k.a. the Bullitts responded in this way:
An imaginary letter to Mr. Leonard Cohen…
Take Jay-Z’s name out your mouth Mr. Cohen,
Don’t speak on a Culture you don’t understand,
it’s easy to say a Black Man isn’t Dylan,
You damn right, Dylan wasn’t enslaved on this land,
Tambourine Man was Duluth,
Reasonable Doubt was Soweto,
All Along our Watchtower was different,
Paved with Police Brutality, drugs and Ghetto,
We never claimed Jay-Z was Dylan,
Bob didn’t bare the weight of that man,
We call Jay, HOV for a reason,
Don’t speak on what you don’t understand,
As for Kanye, well I guess he shouldn’t have Dropped out of College,
And today is the strongest sign of it,
I don’t blame it on the Sunken Place either,
Jordan Peele’s somewhere like; “I ain’t write this sh*t”,
But even with him, you don’t know what he’s been through,
One “Hallelujah” a Black Man’s struggle doth not make,
I wish you were still here Mr. Cohen,
I would tell you and Bob that the Times didn’t Change,
Then I would sit and praise your genius,
I so wish Heaven’s Door didn’t answer your Knock,
We could’ve compared Seven Curses to 22 Two’s,
I bet you’ll tell Like A Rolling Stone to kick rocks,
See I’m not in the habit of comparing our pain to any artist who hasn’t been in Our shoes,
While we’re still haunted by police sirens and funeral songs,
I wish all we had were Subterranean Homesick Blues.
The editor of this publication wrote a controversial commission in 2016 for the Byline Festival in defence of poetry, pitted against rap –
I don’t like ghettos | Full of one-dimensional rhymes |Of slinging dope |Shotting up for less hits than I could get on the daily GRM |Poetry is class war |Full of Byronic old ways |Meter and pentameter |Feet n yards | I’m metric, y’see, my iambic trips |I am a poet, you are looking at it |Modern
You trapped in your ghetto, boy | Of simplicity |Rap been around longer than you n me| You gotta meet those OGs, to be platinum monnaie| Competition ain’t nice |Poetry seeks to unite, but we all wanna Listen for something new | cos I’ve done my time | On the streets of the salons |Peripheries are where art happens |All I do is hear guff is literary clubs | Progress you see, Comes only to the few, Most people are immitators, No thoughts of their own, Thinking they’ll do the prison of genre, Cos that’s what they know, I’m searching those clubs, To know the difference between The great and the good
Y’know how hard it is| To get heard |Between the festering auld cauldrons of romance
And the butterfly soars? The poets with their silver spoons The publishers of dusty ideas
Pastoral escapes And ol fam lines Of secret sly clubs Where you get your word up
Makes me wanna curl in a boho shrine | A Bukowski hovel on Sunset |But I kinda want the gold rims too |I wanna do stadium poetry at the next level, |I want Jay Z’s cadillac, and all his bling |I want populism |Without the pop |I want to be a rockstar Robert Frost
Without the plastic of faux bravado & insecurity |I want as many followers as what Kanye’s got |I want the best fountain pen |But tell me, is Kanye the new William Blake?
Cutting up Adidas |Like he’s Drake carving up engraved plates |Is Kendrick Lamarr a poetry star?| Is he killing it like Shelley |Is he setting the bar? |Stormzy – you’re big with the 12 year olds| The best they got is you |Trapped in a world of consumer device
I’m here to give you a slice Of what poetry is – it is Chuck D, Slicker than Rick
Like do your research kids Never heard the Last Poets.
Tupac vs McGough – I dunno
Biggie vs Carole Anne Duff – y – I dunno
So much rhyming is | A trap |The minute the boundaries are closed |It’s like a Mexican border road |My point here is simple |Any genre is a deathwish | And yet I see kids, Carrying on being poets. Why?
I’m here defending poetry, right?
But we’re fighting the same | So many shit poets |Saying the same |So many shitsmiths, wordsmiths, rappers, n blaggers |With nothing to say |I’ve done my time in the cauldron of romance| Trapped in a fantasy |Of saying nothing Of lies. Of escape.
A pithy insecurity. Poetry is naked It’s the holy truth It’s only the words – what we say
The reality we create So many poets – printing such trash
Rap is getting out of the ghetto | Poetry is getting out of the bath
Of privilege So often
But one gets called the greater art | The one that puts light on the misunderstood
The intense discovery The beauty of trees
But the measure of success in the hood, to leave it behind, but a poet dies by candlelight
The holy path Of heart on your sleeve Away from industry The American dream
Genre is soured cream
Rap is such an easy meme
Yet poetry rap, both are embedded in ideals of gold
But one ain’t the sunshine | It’s just the glint of the road |The dollar you wear round your neck
Rap is just business | Chasing fame
You gotta say something Or it all sounds the same
Selling whatever you got in the yard But the poetry of having nothing A more truthful reflection than any book All culture creates divides So get out of the silos Say something new
That is art
The attainment of truth
I shoot you in you ghetto, boy,
Stop the divide
Give me some universal basic income and Akala, please.
Stop stereotyping more black boys to look like crooks
Semiotics are the greater mask
Poetry is Words in different orders
this is the fight
caught in a battlefield, of our own device.
We must cross the divides
This is G-war
We selling words as arms
I walked through enough estates
On my way to school
To read about daffodils and satanic mills
That was the hood of poetry
My Snapchat ain’t got all the Gs
I carry a sketchbook
Like the shelter of two dozen Es
Down my knickers
Going to raves
Wow – I thought they were brave
It’s got to be urban
Flecked with pastoral psychedelia to not get rinsed
All I hear at most poetry nights
Is perfect pentameter
Their middle class safety
Cups of tea and silver spoons
But it’s a defense, Solace is words
Poetry is a battlefield, and here we all serve
AND THIS IS WHAT LED TO THE MALIK’S PIECE. PEACE.