He was a thinker. I could quibble with some of his thoughts (like getting caught in the focus on the individual trap and not realizing he was surrounded by women artists), but that is not the point. Much of this conversation is sadly relevant, partly because they touch on some perennial questions and partly because there is some prescience in Jim’s thoughts. And remember he was 26. I could post actual philosophers and write 5,000 words on this, but no one would click on it…
I’d like to say this is true. It hasn’t looked that way for quite a while. The only way to make it true is to organize.
Arcylic and computer collage on canvas
25 x 20 cm
Self Portrait (Mustique)(2002)
Lithograph on Fabriano paper
24 x 19 cm
“My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter. The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety, all of the high points of one’s life.” – David Bowie
Click here to watch Boots Riley’s extended interview on Democracy Now! I’m glad he was interviewed and given time on DN!, but it’s a shame most people will miss seeing this second part, because it wasn’t aired. It’s only available on the DN! website as an extended interview.
The first part was important because it got the story out about his cousin and introduced Boots to people who had had never heard of him. Unfortunately, it was rushed and it didn’t give people a chance to fully see what he has to offer politically or musically. He didn’t choose one of his best rhymes (which, even more unfortunately, he flubbed) and the interview just didn’t communicate enough about Riley’s knowledge and experience.
In this extended piece, he has time to relax and tell his story – and surprisingly, he ends-up giving a great analysis of the left that many on the left don’t want to hear. It’s not a total analysis, but it gets to crux of the problem. He also gives a much better performance of a much better song. And there’s even more good stuff in there. So, as they say, watch and learn…
Here’s a little time capsule: A 20/20 Report on rap. Surprisingly, it didn’t do a bad job talking about its origins. Of course they missed quite a few things, like the dozens, Gil Scott-Heron, and if they were really on it they would have included a toasting clip from a Jamaican sound system instead of the clip they showed, but I was surprised they even generally got the idea. They tried to put it in some historical and cultural context as well, while showing some respect. Usually there is much more condescension in stories like this from sources like this. The reporter also predicted rap would have staying power. Not too shabby considering the source.
In the end, he states everybody can rap. Maybe, but not everybody can rap well. It’s like saying everyone can sing. But he was trying to make the point that the music was accessible to the makers and the listeners.
For the hardcore old school Hip Hop heads: because he went to the epicenter to get footage, there are actually a couple of clips I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Enjoy the time capsule. The discerning viewer will see how much (and how little) things have changed, in all respects.
I just took another look at the beginning of the video and caught the producer’s name: Danny Schechter. That was Danny Schechter the News Dissector, who recently passed away. Now the quality makes sense. This happened to be from the time Danny spent in corporate news, but he was a good ol’ leftie. Like anyone, he wasn’t perfect or always right, but he left a legacy of engagement and activism when he died, from the struggle for South Africa to media freedom. Here is my post on him from 2013:
“This is what I really would love to have in my music: presence. You know, as long as I can live. I mean I don’t care about nothing I played yesterday if I can go home right now and write some music that, is a presence. You know? That’s why they have machines, you know, so, if you want the past, there’s a machine that’s got the past. Right there, you know…which I think is very good, you know; so therefore, that means we as human beings can be in the present.”