Archive for June, 2004

Hip Hop Reflections on Ronald Reagan
by Davey D

Well, today is June 11th, and I’m watching all these TV stations play Ray Charle‘s rendition of ‘America’ [Brother Ray just passed away yesterday] while showing the funeral of former President Reagan. Some stations are even showing pictures of the two men together. I can’t help thinking something is not right about what I’m seeing. In the words of Public Enemy, ‘Can’t Truss It’ .

To start with, I feel like my senses have been assaulted all week with non stop news coverage that seemed designed on getting me to believe that we had just experienced the passing of a Saint. I keep asking myself how is this happening?, because when I think back to the Reagan years I recall some very troubling and contentious times that we are still recovering from.

Gil Scott Heron

It has been suggested by President Bush that we stay home to mourn and reflect upon the life and times of Ronald Reagan. Well, when I reflect, I like to do it to music. So I guess it was only appropriate that I pulled out Gil Scott Heron‘s 1981 album ‘Reflection‘ which contained a highly charged 12 minute spoken word song called “B-Movie”, which was directed at Reagan shortly after he took office. I also pulled out a landmark record from pioneering rapper Mele-Mel called ‘Jesse’ which was released in 1984. Both these songs spoke truth to power and help me cut through all the hoopla, fanfare and blatant rewriting of history with regards to Ronald Reagan. Gil Scott starts off his B-Movie song by saying:

“Well, the first thing I want to say is.’Mandate my ass!’

“Because it seems as though we’ve been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate — or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running.

“But, oh yeah, I remember. In this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Raygun, I remember what I said about Reagan. Meant it. Acted like an actor. Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California, then he acted like a Republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for President. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We’re all actors in this, I suppose.”

— from ‘-B-Movie-‘ by Gil Scott Heron

As I listened to all this lavish praise being bestowed upon Reagan, and US Senators proposing that his face be put on a 10 dollar bill and carved into Mount Rushmore, I kept asking myself — is this the same guy who immediately started cutting back social service programs and started scapegoating folks in the hood as the reason for inflation and overspending in government? Gil Scott early on let us know just what we were up against, as he kicks his third stanza.

“… What has happened is that in the last 20 years, America has changed from a producer to a consumer. And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune. the consumer has got to dance. That’s the way it is. We used to be a producer — very inflexible at that, and now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand. Natural resources and minerals will change your world. The Arabs used to be in the 3rd World. They have bought the 2nd World and put a firm down payment on the 1st one. Controlling your resources we’ll control your world. This country has been surprised by the way the world looks now. They don’t know if they want to be Matt Dillon or Bob Dylan. They don’t know if they want to be diplomats or continue the same policy — of nuclear nightmare diplomacy. John Foster Dulles ain’t nothing but the name of an airport now.

— from ‘-B-Movie-‘ by Gil Scott Heron

Click to peep Melle-Mel's 'Jesse'

Mele-Melwho helped kick off a wave of message-type songs from Hip Hop’s then-emerging scene, starting with his groundbreaking song ‘The Message‘ in 1982 — also brings home some salient points. After dealing with 3 terrible years of Reagan’s economic policy, the ‘trickle-down’ theory, also known as ‘Reaganomics’, Mel summed up the situation in the first verse of his song ‘Jesse’

See Ronald Reagan speaking on TV
Smiling like everything’s fine and dandy
Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk
To over 30 million poor people like me
How can we say we got to stick it out
When his belly is full and his future is sunny
I don’t need his jive advice
But I sure do need his jive time money.

from ‘-Jesse-‘ by Mele-Mel

click here to peep song

I’m listening to these songs — reflecting and asking myself how in the world are 200 thousand people standing on line waiting to see this cat’s body? Was this the same Ronnie Reagan who had no problems closing down mental wards and setting all those ill patients to fend for themselves back in our community?

Is this the same Iran-Contra scandal Ronnie who back in the 80s showed his first signs of Alzheimer’s by stating he didn’t recall all the corruption taking place right under his nose?

Was this the same Ronald Reagan, the jovial jellybean eating, ‘great communicator’ who is credited with ending communism and bringing down the Berlin Wall, but vetoed a bill calling for sanctions against the racist South African Apartheid Regime?

Is this the same Ronald Reagan who wouldn’t lift a finger to help end Apartheid, but in 1983 was more than willing to send US troops to smash the Black Government of the small Island of Grenada, who they said had links to Cuba and Communism?

Ronald Regan

Was this the same Ronnie Reagan who got called out and embarrassed by Noble Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, who said he was “evil, immoral, and un-Christian” because of his ‘Constructive Engagement’ policies toward South Africa. This article in the Boston Globe gives the breakdown on this:…/2004/06/09/reagans_heart

I kept asking myself with such a sordid track record that impacted so many and continues to impact many, how are folks shedding so many tears for this guy?

Thank God for Gil Scott, who gives the breakdown as he eloquently explains the American mindset. Peep the lyrics:

“The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can — even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse — or the man who always came to save America at the last moment — someone always came to save America at the last moment — especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan — and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at — like a “B” movie.

“Come with us back to those inglorious days when heroes weren’t zeros. Before fair was square. When the cavalry came straight away, and all-American men were like Hemingway to the days of the wondrous “B” movie. The producer underwritten by all the millionaires necessary will be Casper “The Defensive” Weinberger — no more animated choice is available. The director will be Attila the Haig, running around frantically declaring himself in control and in charge. The ultimate realization of the inmates taking over at the asylum. The screenplay will be adapted from the book called “Voodoo Economics” by George “Papa Doc” Bush. Music by the Village People, the very military ‘Macho Man’.

“‘Macho, macho man!’

“Put your orders in, America. And quick as Kodak, your leaders duplicate with the accent being on the nukes — cause all of a sudden we have fallen prey to selective amnesia — remembering what we want to remember and forgetting what we choose to forget. All of a sudden, the man who called for a blood bath on our college campuses is supposed to be Dudley “God-damn” Do-Right?

“‘You go give them liberals hell, Ronnie!’ That was the mandate. To the new ‘Captain Bly’ on the new ship of fools. It was doubtlessly based on his chameleon performance of the past — as a ‘liberal democrat’ — as the head of the Studio Actor’s Guild. When other celluloid saviors were cringing in terror from McCarthy — Ron stood tall. It goes all the way back from Hollywood to hillbilly. From liberal to libelous, from “Bonzo” to Birch idol — born again. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights — it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. God damn it … first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom.

“Nostalgia, that’s what we want … the good ol’ days, when we gave’em hell. When the buck stopped somewhere, and you could still buy something with it. To a time when movies were in black and white — and so was everything else. Even if we go back to the campaign trail, before six-gun Ron shot off his face and developed hoof-in-mouth. Before the free press went down before full-court press. And were reluctant to review the menu because they knew the only thing available was — Crow.

“Lon Chaney, our man of a thousand faces — no match for Ron. Doug Henning does the make-up — special effects from Grecian Formula 16 and Crazy Glue. Transportation furnished by the David Rockefeller of Remote Control Company. Their slogan is, “Why wait for 1984? You can panic now … and avoid the rush.”

“So much for the good news.

“As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation. And here’s a look at the closing numbers — racism’s up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot — the House claims all ties. Jobs are down, money is scarce — and common sense is at an all-time low on heavy trading. Movies were looking better than ever, and now no one is looking — because we’re starring … in a “B” movie. And we would rather had John Wayne. We would rather had John Wayne.

— from ‘-B-Movie-‘ by Gil Scott-Heron

Deregulation, calling ketchup vegetables, the busting up of unions, trickle down theory economics, attacks and roll backs on civil rights legislation is what I recall about Reagan. For the most part, it wasn’t good. Reagan was the great communicator because he had a nice way of smiling and a jovial way of talking while he put a foot up your ass. The effects of Reagan are still being felt to this day.

As Mele-Mel noted:

The land of the free and the home of the brave
But it might as well be the home of the slave
They got me walking around saying freedom’s come
But my body is free and my mind is dumb
The people ain’t black but the house is white
And just because I’m different they don’t treat me right
They done cast me aside and held me down
Dragged my name down to the ground
Oh beautiful for spacious skies
With your amber waves of untold lies
Look at all the politicians trying to do a job
But they can’t help but look like the mob
Get a big kick back and put it away
Watch the FBI watch the CIA
They want a bigger missile with a faster yet
But yet they forget to hire you, the vet
Hypocrites just talkin trash
Liberty and Justice are a thing of the past
They want a stronger nation at any cost
Even if it means that everything will soon be lost

from ‘-Jesse-‘ by Mele-Mel

Mele-Mel went on to completely embarrass Reagan, by chronicling this all-but-forgotten incident when Reverend Jesse Jackson succeeded where Reagan failed:

The 30th day that’s in december
Is a day that everyone’s gonna remember
Because on that day a righteous man
Thought about taking a brand new stand
The name of the man is Jesse Jackson and his call
Is for peace without an action
Cause now is the time to change the nation
Without just another negotiation
He went to the East for human rights
To free a lieutenant shot down in flight
Just another statistic and the government knew it
They didn’t even want the man to go do it
Before he left he called the president’s home
And Reagan didn’t even answer the phone
But I tell you one thing and that’s a natural fact
You can bet he calls Jesse when Jesse got back

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner


An Open Letter to Peter Jennings About Gangs in LA and Media Manipulation..

Peter Jennings missed important marks in his prime Time ABC Special

Dear Mr Peter Jennings

I just finished watching the Prime Time TV special you hosted on ABC last night. It was with great anticipation that I tuned in especially after hearing all the provocative commercials on local radio stations and seeing the enticing ads on TV. The subject matter of gang violence and police brutality are realities many of us who live in certain communities have to deal with first hand. As was pointed out in your program there aren’t too many people in LA who have not been impacted by the police and the gangs.

With all that being said, I have to say as a California resident and a fellow journalist, I was disappointed, and in many respects, angered by what I saw on your show. I felt the show was unbalanced in what was shown or in this case, NOT shown. I kept asking myself as I watched, where are the community leaders who strived for years and in some cases, even lost the lives of loved ones to try and bring about peace in these troubled areas? Why was there no mention of the historic gang truce that was forged in South Central in the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King uprisings?

Jim Brown of Amer-I-Can

How come you guys didn’t have people like former NFL great Jim Brown and members from his organization Amer-I-Can or former gang members like Bo Taylor and members from his organization Unity One? Bo can heard each week on the weekly Reality Talk [KKBT]? These individuals have been in the forefront of dealing with the challenge of eradicating gang violence.

Where was urban peacemaker Nane Alejandrez of Barrios Unidos? You could’ve reached out to him as well as actor/activist Harry Belafonte who was just on Air America Radio talking about the work he has been doing with Barrios Unidos and other organizations to help LA gangs set up legitimate businesses. He even took a number of them to Africa? I would’ve like to have heard how LA police Chief Bratton and LAPD were doing with their interactions with those community leaders. After all, Chief Bratton kept repeating over and over that the police can not do this alone.

Why didn’t Prime Time interview Minister Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam? The NOI has a long history of working with gangs in LA. Many of their members have grown from gang life thanks to their tireless efforts. Last year they were helping organize a 100 thousand man march in LA to help spark change. How has LAPD fared in working with the NOI?

Former gangbanger Twilight Bey was heavily involved in the 92 Gang truce

There are dozens of other people that should have and could have been included in your report including former gang members Twilight Bey who has been featured in numerous documentaries and was the inspiration and main focus for Anna Deavere Smith‘s book and PBS TV special ‘Twilight Los Angeles‘.

You could’ve gotten former gang member Bone who was both a consultant and shown in the movie ‘Training Day‘. Actor/ Rapper Ice T, rapper Kam, record exec Micheal Conception, Alex Sanchez of Homies Unidos, author Louis Rodriguez, former Senator Tom Hayden, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, activist Fidel Rodriguez of Divine Forces Radio or activist Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope could’ve been in the piece. The list goes on. The names of these community folks are well known. How were they overlooked by ABC Prime Time?

One profound statement that you made in your report was that how the police are in the community some of the time, but the gangs are there all of the time. I would venture to say that scores of these unsung heroes and sheroes are also in the community all of the time.

Many of them have been putting in work day in and day out trying to end gang violence while simultaneously dealing with an out of control notorious police department, which is seen by many as the root cause for many of the flare ups and increased frictions and hostilities between gangs. The significant role they play in fueling gang tensions is an issue Prime Time touched upon and then skirted over, especially when you spoke about the Rampart Scandal.

I understand that the Prime Time special was about the Los Angeles Police Department with the main focus being on the new chief William Bratton. I clearly understand that you can’t fit everything in one show. As a radio talk show host I frequently will do shows where I direct all my attention on one side of the story so that perspective can be shared uninterrupted. Perhaps in some respects it was good to get an unfettered perspective from the Los Angeles police. We got to see and hear exactly what their going through and how their dealing with a harsh situation.

Chief Bratton didn't seem too eager to alert us to Peace-makers in the community

As Chief Bratton stated his goal was to try and heal the huge rift and mistrust that exists between the police department and the Black and Brown communities of South Central LA. Part of that healing comes with dialogue. He got to share that with you and the rest of the country during your one hour special. But now I think as a seasoned journalist who many of us look up to, you have the challenge and responsibility to bring to light those other perspectives that were missing from your Prime Time report. You spent a year working with the LAPD. I hope you take a year to spend time with some of the aformentioned organizations and individuals so you can convey to the country their hardships, challenges and sucess stories. Perhaps their tireless efforts can be a clarion call for those who had no idea that such activities were going on. This is extremely important since ABC is getting ready to do a similar special focusing on the NYPD.

It would be a shame to leave viewers who never been to Los Angeles, with the false perspective that the only ones putting their necks on the line to end poverty, oppression and violence in the community is the police. It would also be a shame to not squarely address the full extent police corruption exits in South central LA and similar communities and how they systematically undermine ongoing efforts to bring about positive change.

In closing I’m including a number of links for you and your producers to pursue so hopefully start putting together a compelling Prime Time Special that focuses on the challenges facing the community.

Davey D
Columnist San Jose Mercury News
Source Magazine
KPFA Radio