Talib Kweli and Me On Race + Lyrics Panel

all photos by Danielle Kline

Talib Kweli, Myself, Street Soldier Host Walter Smith, and Christian Rapper Yaves Ellis aka Street Pastor were panelists fielding the questions of 3rd to 5th graders about Race, Rap Lyrics, and the Media at Millenium Community School on May 9th.

It was an interesting experience to say the least. I got into rap partially because of how naughty Two Live Crew and NWA’s lyrics were. I was a 5th grader when I first heard “We Want Some Pussy”, but at the same time… You can’t tell kids in a school its ok…RIGHT?!

Keep reading, this is a long one.


I tend to think everyone and everything is both likable and full of shit. Any other perspective sets one up for disappointment. That way when people fuck up, it won’t really make you angry and you can keep a proper context on what is important.

So when the Imus situation went down, and debate about rap lyrics that followed. I was kinda like eh?! Not really up in arms either way but I thought he should get fired for saying offensive things. If you are truly trying to be offensive then there should be some danger. That’s the point of being edgy. And if you hurt someone’s feelings that was the risk you were taking.

That extends to rap lyrics as well. You prolly should run into resistance if you are keeping it gutter.

On the other hand, I also can’t believe people care about things like old radio announcers. Who really cares about Imus? Are rappers that important? Like do they make it so you can buy some food or hump your girlfriend? Did the invadd Iraq? Are they NYC Police officers licking 50 shots, and killing a black teen? Naw, they are just people talking.

The day after my dad died, I made fun of death which caused all my school counselor to think I was a ghoul. That was mainly because they were getting on my nerves and were really the ones incapable of having souls. There is more to that story. I am trying to say that often times people are insincere about what they claim to care about and also I am not the normal gauge of what’s offensive. And old people talking to young people mostly come off irrelevant.

But outside of my evil heart, I do have a concept of respecting other people’s realities.
Fact of the matter about racism in America is that it still exists. Like one likes to think we are passed it. One likes to believe it’s really archaic and outdated. But there are still people I see everyday that think all black people are all criminals and can’t just look at a black person and be like.

OK That’s a middle class dork. That’s a popular guy. That’s a weirdo. This guy wants to dress metro sexual and seduce women. That’s a guy who buys G-unit shirts at TJ Max with his check from the call center. That guy likes to smoke weed and look at comic books. People are people.

And why would you care?

So while one may be indifferent about someone’s color that doesn’t mean that from the age two to yesterday there wasn’t some uncomfortable white person shaping the next man’s understanding of the world…

Black people do need to check white people on occasion.
Cause sometimes the white man is still the devil. And I don’t fuck with white guilt at all.
Fuck any group of white people that spend their time feeling smug about their concern for the black struggle. It’s just creating some sort of ideological vanity.
Buy a nice car if you want to feel self-important. Affluence is prolly the most understandable reason to feel superior to another person.

You can’t really gauge out caring the next man, and nor should you find giving shallow lip-service to something you have no chance in hell to effect.

I am not a missionary. I just know the world is hell-bent on making us all crazy so any chance to understand the next human will give you clarity.

This applies to black people too as well. Being able to see things for what they are is a good step towards mastering the universe. That’s a crotchy old man who is unhappy with how his life turned out. Or that’s corny white person that believes being white and upper-middle class makes them an aristocrat. Or that white person is just way out of touch.

So when I was contacted to participate on a panel in front of Millennium Community School on the subject of Race, Lyrics and Prejudices, I had complete respect for the idea of being included but at the same time had no clue if someone who has fairly nihilist tendencies had any business talking to children.

The panel was moderated by 107.5 Radio Personality Konota. The 4th and 5th graders lined up with cards in their hands and asked questions. The first question was something like “Why is the media prejudice?” They sent it directly to me because I am some sort of a journalist. It was lightweight awkward.

How do you explain that often times the forces behind the media outlets don’t live in the community they are covering to a 4th grader? The media can never attempt to give real human understanding because its going reflect the views of the person that empowered himself to control the coverage. On top of this, the microphone was feeding back cause they had me sitting directly next to the monitors.

Luckily the two emcee’s in building, Street Pastor and Kweli, reacted and made the proper adjustments to the technical problem. And in addition Kweli continued on with the idea of the media’s coverage reflects its owners by stating that racism is institutionalized in America because it has been ingrained in our countries 400 year existence. So the coverage is going to be controlled by people that have benefited from and and continue to maintain their power.

Kweli and Yaves comented on the fact that racism exists in every aspect of society, and told the children they were going to have to face it everyday.


At some point I was asked if anyone ever stifled me because of my skin color in relation to my context in hip hop. I tried to convey the idea that there is a difference between reverse racism and reverse prejudice. Reverse racism doesn’t exist because black people don’t really have the power to enforce discrimination on a large scale. As for prejudice, there have been black people that have been rude to me, however I told the kids that no matter what, it is up to them to decide how a prejudice person effects them. The rude person only has power to stop you if you allow them that control. I told them certain people may make it really hard on them but if they handle all fundamental necessities of what they are involved with, they will eventually find a path that is effective for them.

I think I used the word “determination” 7000 times. After I finished my rant, I realized that “determination” was a prominent statement on a song off of Talib Kweli & Mos Def’s Blackstarr album. Which kinda made me rethink the idea of what music is putting into our subconscience, and where it could possibly reoccur.

Walter Smith spoke on several things. He encouraged the kids to look outside of Hip Hop for musical inspiration, saying there are so many forms of expression and they shouldn’t limit themselves to Hip Hop. He also stated that he doesn’t let his kids listen to 107.5 except for his radio show, because he finds the content negative for children.

He also went on a tangent about Maurice Clarrett being a victim of systematic racism. I personally thought there were possibly better examples of injustice. But to be real, Walter Smith spent 11 year wrongly imprisioned for convictions on unrelated rapes. I get pretty hostile when I know I am telling the truth on small things, and people don’t believe me. So I can’t even imagine what it would be like to spend 11 years in jails for rapes you did not commit.

Kweli on children and Hip Hop.. He said that a lot of Hip Hop is not for children, it is in fact adult entertainment. Kweli said that he had children, so as a parent he monitors what his children do. He said he watches the Soprano’s but his children do not. He also said his son raps. But he said son isn’t allowed to pursue interests like rapping if his grades aren’t up to par.

There was a definite discussion about how rap should not be anyones number 1 career option.

I brought up the fact that given the state of the industry, even the people that appear to be successful prolly aren’t doing so well. Kweli agreed with my point about famous rappers not quite being what they appear. Talib said he does 250 shows a year and is paid decently.

So there is revenue in going against the grain, even it the television would tell you otherwise.

There was a discussion on the word bitch.(B-word in a school context). Everyone agreed that sexism in Hip Hop is out of control. Konota strictly for the sake of devil’s advocate asked why women can call each other bitches but men can’t. I said that just as white people should never use the n-word even if they hear black people call each other it, males shouldn’t use the word bitch. While my point is correct, I couldn’t help to know for a fact that I use the word bitch. Hell, my ex-girlfriend who attended the panel prolly was shocked to hear that I think using the word bitch is wrong. So even as I said it, I knew I was lying the kids.

That was the weird thing for me on whole. I grew up on Hip Hop. I listened to everything from Beastie Boys to Too Short To Public Enemy starting in the 3rd grade. As we were telling kids that they shouldn’t listen to misogynist and negative music. I couldn’t help to feel a little dishonest.

There was one little kid that was flicking me off every time I talked. I was way into him. He resembled how I would’ve felt at his age sitting through a similar discussion.

At the end of the day, it’s prolly better to be a hypocrite than someone bordering on child endangerment. My friend’s dad tells him how to scam contractors. If your father is encouraging negative behavior then where would any balance come into play in the rest of your life.

Female rapper Middle Child, and several people in the room became really heated about the radio’s role in subjecting children to negativity. Konota, being a 107.5 radio celebrity, was taken to task for this. He tried to tell him it was a business, and the radio does what is profitable.

I felt bad for him. 107.5 is owned by Radio One. So his control or even access to anyone with any sort of power is so distant that there isn’t a single thing he could ever do about it.

It is messed up that a huge corporation can determine what is street and urban. So I guess my initial thoughts on apathy toward the Imus situation, and the backlash against rap were a little off. By attacking Imus and holding corporations accountable it at least will make it so old white people don’t determine what the black community likes. I completely subscribe to secondary support roles re: Stokely Carmicheal. I feel like black people should always determine their destiny.

With that said, I still like offensive music. But to be real, I didn’t hear Eazy-E on the radio. I heard it was from my Mexican cousin when I was visiting my grandma in Los Angeles one Summer. So maybe cleaning the airwaves is a noble pursuit.

  • I think it is wrong for these young children to compete, because they are all very good and full of confidence.Everyone is the number one. Someone on EbonyFriends.com said that these races are crude.

  • isaac trump

    good shit, Wes

  • sonofsound

    interesting to me how they have this panel at what appears to be a predominately African-American school. they should do this shit everywhere, especially for the kids that are pumping a great deal of money into the corporate, media-fueled part of the industry.

  • Jade

    Next time, have some balls and host this panel at an all-WHITE school. It’s tough to bitch about racism when the vast majority of your campaigning is aimed at the victim, who already KNOWS it’s wrong?

  • weswes

    The panel was organized by the school itself. Take all complaints up with Dr. Linda Gibson and Jermaine Mitchell.

    I would imagine it would a lot harder for Charter School to throw a panel at a Suburban School.

    Also I think there was an agenda to make rappers and people involved with the media examine what children are exposed to.

    I mean.
    One of the questions was “Do you consider yourself a disgrace to your race?”
    Refering to the idea that Hip Hop promotes negativity within the black community.

    So the whole panel was not specifically on racism.

    My take is. It seemed like this is an Afro-Centric school, so I am not really in a position to critique the schools methods, because I am not an African-American.

  • Jermaine Mitchell

    Good article Wes. Yes, If anyone has an issue please take it up with me. I organized the event and would love to speak to whomever has something to say, negative or postive. You can contact me at ceographix@hotmail.com


  • Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well happpy. The more I see articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there could be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.

  • Great info, thanks for the post!