Some of you may be familiar with my work in the Hip Hop space. I’ve been in the game one way or another since 1988 (I wonder if that means I’m still spending money from ‘88?).
I started out publishing a graffiti ‘zine, then I co-published a Hip Hop newspaper called Beat Down. Then a magazine called ego trip. Eventually, I would get involved with Mass Appeal. Soon I would do some books, some television. Some film. And here we are today. Some of you may have seen my latest, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men.
But really, I’m here to talk about rock. Punk in particular. I’ve been in a few bands over the years where I started in my teens. This is back when people made fun of Black dudes who liked rock. Which is just silly seeing that Black folks had the heaviest hand in the creation of rock ‘n’ roll.
A few years back I was in a band called the White Mandingos. Legendary West Coast rhymeslayer and HipHopDX contributor Murs was on vocals. And Darryl Jenifer, bassist from the infamous Bad Brains played bass and more.
Do you know what rock ‘n’ roll means? It’s ‘hood slang for the act of lovemaking. Imagine a brother in Memphis, say around 1923. He’s 23 years old. He’s with a young lady he wants to holler at. They’re at a speakeasy—a shack behind the local laundromat. The spot can accommodate 23 people. Anyway, dude takes a sip of that White Lightning, takes a cough, then leans into his sweety. He takes a strong pause, then says “hey baby, I’m fixin’ to get me into some rock ‘n’ roll. How about that?”
Maxine responds with, “cool daddy, cool.”
That’s where the fuck the idea behind rock ‘n’ roll came from. It’s hot, it’s sexy, it’s dangerous, it’s adventurous. It has rhythm. It has swing. Word to Big Mama Thornton, Chuck Berry, Little Richard (you little rappers think y’all came up with that “Lil shit”?), Jimi Hendrix, Betty Davis, Death, Pure Hell, Bad Brains, Living Colour, Erykah Badu and a whole gang of other muthafuckas.
Go peep all of those bands. Learn about yourself if you’re Black. Learn about your fellow Americans if you’re not.
My new band is called the 1865. Why the 1865 you may ask?
Well, our band is Black — as in our members are all Black. Powerful sister behind the vocals. If Tina-Turner-got-turnt-up-and-turnt-out-by-the-Bad Brains then there you go homeboy or homegirl (or the they, them). What’s love got to do with it? You tell me after peeping it.
Seriously though, we’re the 1865. That’s the year Black folks finally caught that mighty Emancipation. During the initial years after the Emancipation, Black people were looking up: Black businesses, universities—politics. Black people were adjusting to freedom. Making strides.
Some people felt threatened by all of this. Groups like the KKK stepped out of the shadows (with their faces covered, of course). Then your man Jim — Jim Crow that is — stepped up. I’m sure you remember him from your junior high textbook.
Fast forward to your man Obama. Wow! A President of the United States who just happened to be Black. Impossible! People wept in the streets. This fellow was elected twice! Oh shit, America was turning a corner … then boo-ya-ka boo-ya-ka — them boys from way back came out of the shadows again. Not like they ever really left. They had tiki torches. Trump was their Cobra Commander. They wore corny red caps with white lettering. The foolishness shook White America’s answer to Supreme. Get it? (Pretty damn good if I say so myself. The kid still has bars!)
History is my best friend. History can give you the blueprint. History can give you hope. When you overstand there’s a good chance history will repeat itself, you’ll be prepared for both the worst and best that life will throw at your lazy ass.
Our album, Don’t Tread In We! was released by Hip Hop label Mass Appeal (wink wink, I’m the Chief Creative Officer at Mass Appeal. Keeping it a ‘hunnit for the sake of journalism. Old habits become personality traits). Some people dig it. Maybe you will too. But looky here, I’m not messing with HipHopDX strictly on a promo mission (still, there are links included here and here). I’m here because I wanna get some joints offa my chest. Because I’m vexed like a dirty cop in the projects.
Anyway, the nice folks at the label sent it around to various networks and platforms. The Fader premiered it. The response has been positive.
For the visual to the lead single “Get Out,” there are some big themes that push the album and race is at the center of it all. The video, directed by Christopher Frierson and John Tashiro, features some “blackface.”
Although, some outlets fronted. Which is to be expected. It’s just shocking to see certain “Black” outlets front on it. The following is a note one particular “Black” outlet wrote regarding why they couldn’t get behind the clip for “Get Out”:
“We all watched and talked about this one at length — we passed just because of the very high volume of blackface imagery throughout. We felt that the themes of the song didn’t come across strongly enough in the lyrics to justify having such a steady stream of these images, and out of context it could be especially jarring.”
O.K., fair enough.
Word to mother though, I can talk about some jarring stuff, too. The aforementioned network has given after-hours airtime to Peter Popoff — a white man who is a well-known skam artist and “preacher” who pimps bootleg holy water to older Black folks who don’t know no better. You’ve seen his infomercials. The one where Black people talk about being down on their luck, struggling and looking for answers. Then they write in for that miracle spring water. All of a sudden you see your auntie throwing crutches in a random bingo hall, talkin’ ‘bout I’ve been healed AND I’m RICH!!! F … O … H.
The same network spent years supporting R&B singers who beat women and/or urinated on underage girls. This scribe can go on and on re: the various infractions served up on this platform.
It’s just funny when as an artist you set out to make works that actually stimulate conversation and encourage people to think about topics that won’t go away. A white person didn’t make this video. A Black band made a video that addresses blackface. Which is the dumbest thing ever. It’s dumb that blackface is still even a thing. It’s sad that there are white folks who still fall for the okey-doke, who still think that rockin’ blackface is O.K.
But what’s even sadder is the idea that Black folks aren’t sophisticated enough to look at Black art and say, O.K., let them speak on it how they want to speak on it. A Black band made this video. We are controlling the narrative here.
That, my dear Watson, is the crucial difference.
Seriously though, go peep that video. You’re a sellout if you front on it.
Just kidding. Kind of.
Sacha Jenkins is a writer, filmmaker and musician who came of age in 1980s New York City. He’s written extensively about hip hop and graffiti culture for all of the major magazines that no longer exist. Jenkins is also the Chief Creative Officer at Mass Appeal. Keep it locked over there for more of the real.