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Hip-Hop Fridays: On Styles P., Duality, And The Heart

I remember being with RZA one day in 1997 and hearing him say, "Wu-Tang manifests the highest forms of negativity and positivity." He was making a larger point about the sum total of how Wu-Tang Clan was perceived by many who liked and disliked the group, or its individual members. It was part defense, part apologia, part explanation, and it made me think of the duality or pair principle written of throughout the Holy Qur'an: male and female; night and day; light and dark; good and evil; thesis and anti-thesis; spiritual and material; yin and yang; heaven and earth. Every force, in the present universe, has its opposite - all working for the eventual perfection of human life. Of course, the scriptures also warn about the eventual result of dual servitude or double-mindedness.

I've been listening to the new "A Gangster and A Gentleman" album by Styles P., for two weeks now. It, more than any album I have heard in a while, represents the principle stated above. In sum, it is a very unique album. One of the few that simultaneously makes you feel and think about the totality of what the harsher life is like for a young Black male in America today - the good, the bad and the ugly. But instead of the Ice Cube-perfected approach of taking you through the hood with a camera, like CNN; Styles P., in 79-plus minutes, takes you on an inward and outward journey where you see a young Black mind and heart - the public life (the hood), private life (family and friends), and secret life (inner thoughts and emotions).

That is the best way I can explain it and why Styles has such appeal to the "bottom half" of the Hip-Hop community - the streets and the underground, and intrigues onlookers from the top half, who can swallow what he is saying because the beat is hot.

Sure, it is easy to dismiss Styles, if you listen to those lyrics that superficially reflect disrespect for women, self-hatred, violence and vulgarity. It is all there for the carping of those who are predisposed to plug their ears at the first curse word they hear. A reaction like that has legitimacy. But such a critique of Styles misses the powerful point that he makes on behalf of changing the situations that are even more grotesque than the graghic lyrics of a rap star.

While it would be nice to hear pro-Black, "positivity," and revolutionary words in rap music; in many ways, such presentations, when made without a deep understanding of principles, history, and honesty often result in a creative work that sounds like beats and rhetoric. On paper the words read good but they aren't backed by a heart and soul that can drive the spirit of the "struggle" into your minds. To be honest, that is why I believe the positive-era of rap did not build institutions, create sustainable social change, or significantly reduce the pathologies that exist in Black America.

What we were listening to in many cases, that sounded positive, was spirit-less rhetoric that often was aimed exclusively at commercial success. How's that for paradoxical?

There was something wrong with the consciousness that we were immersed in, for all of the good elements that it did contain. In essence, what we heard in the late 1980s and particularly in the very early 1990s was too positive, so concerned with quotations, phraseology, and the right sampled soundbite, that it became a very narrow expression that evolved into a very elite cultural undertaking.

That is why what started on the block and grassroots ended up at Ivy League institutions and White suburbia, where White America reaped billions and made an intellectual exercise out of a horrible aspect of Black life; and its supposedly revolutionary remedies. The "revolution" of Hip-Hop became absorbed partly because it was more centered on rhetoric than it was on building institutions that reflected the core principles and values necessary to produce social change.

Many may doubt this but a question has to be answered by all of us who lived through that era and even personally benefitted from it: what did the consciousness-era of Hip-Hop produce?

Why are we watching KRS-One battle Nelly, rather than counsel and mentor gold and platinum artists who are having beefs and signing bad contracts? Is that the proper legacy of the Teacher, arguably the greatest rapper who ever lived? What responsibility do we who the Teacher "raised" in consciousness have in all of this?

For my money, I can trust and admire a man, to a significant degree, who is honest about his thoughts feelings and shortcomings before I gravitate towards the person who gives good-sounding words but whose behavior doesn't measure up to an often self-righteous standard that they have placed before the public.

That is why people have gravitated toward Tupac, in life and death. I always marvel at how difficult it is for people to explain what it is about Tupac that they are drawn toward. For me it is quite simple, he, better than any rapper who we have seen, perfectly manifested the principle of duality that runs throughout the universe. As a result, Tupac had more potential power to start or lead a positive revolution than was the case of the leading figures of the "consciousness"-era of Hip-Hop. People want to know that you care before they care about what you know. People felt that Tupac was real. The fact that his ups and downs were in public and before the world only endeared him to the masses. To a degree, the same can be said of Mike Tyson and Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Berry. It is always interesting to see how upset White people (and certain Blacks) get over why Blacks continue to embrace these three "bad Black men." It is the principle of duality and an open heart, that makes people feel they can identify with a transparent, humiliated, and humbled public figure.

This principle can be seen even in religion. While many people believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the most widely-read portion of the Bible among most Black Christians I know is Psalms. Why? Because you literally are intrigued by, and can identify with a human being who is pouring out his heart, before your very eyes. David's fears, "sins," shortcomings, worries, imperfections and "doubts" are placed before us all to read and learn from and be edified by. And for all of the supposedly negative aspects of David's life, it is he more than any other prophet who is viewed, by Christians, as having a heart most like the Messiah. In fact, David's life, is viewed by Christian theologians as a type of the Messiah. Interesting.

Well, another David - 26-year old David Styles, aka "Holiday," aka "S.P.," aka "Panero," aka "The Ghost," is a microcosm of that same principle. For all of the rappers who claim to be the next 'Pac or the closest thing to Tupac, many of them can't touch Styles' ability to paint a touching picture of his mind and heart, include the imperfections, the braggadocio, and match it with a life that reflects much of what he says. Without trying and vying for the post, he, more than the pretenders and wannabes, sounds, in many (not all) ways, just like 'Pac.

With a Mother born in South Africa and a father from Brooklyn, Styles had a very interesting and sad childhood and he brings much of that experience to bear in his rhymes. I once read in an article that he rhymes for four groups: robbers, inmates, the righteous men, and thinking individuals. I already knew that before he said it. But unfortunately, he was most identified with the first two groups due to his background role in his group, The Lox.

That's why I was so pleased to hear Styles had collaborated with the wordsmith Pharaoh Monche on "My Life." I saw it as a step in his evolution as well as an important creative effort that would help to one day end the superificial divisions in Hip-Hop between "street," "conscious," and "underground" categories.

And by the time I had an advance copy of "Black Magic" which pairs Styles with "soul sistah" singer, Angie Stone, I knew that the process was well underway. Anyone who has read or heard the lyrics to Angie Stone's "Brotha" can understand why she would do a song with Styles. You can read the lyrics to her song by clicking here. Styles, in many of the songs on his new album was clearly filling out a more complete roster of "thinking and righteous" material. But it really can't be simplified that easily. Even the stuff he writes for the inmates and robbers is thoughtful. Actually there are millions of righteous, robbing, thinking inmates out there, if only we understood and were honest with ourselves. Those who still can't stomach Styles presentations should consider his own recognition of how his album may be a surprise to his hard-core constituency. In a interview he is quoted as saying, "I know everybody didn't expect my album to be how it was. They probably expected it to be all hard and nobody could relate except dudes. That's why I switched it up."

Many people may have dismissed Styles years ago, after hearing some of his most brutal lyrics, and there are some more where that came from on his current album but don't throw the baby out with the bath water. For all of the cuts that may make you cringe, endure them and get to others that are very touching. The measure may be what you think of "My Brother," which Styles dedicated to his deceased younger Brother, who died in a tragic car accident, on Mother's Day. Anyone who has lost a Brother or who can't imagine the pain of losing one can't help but be affected. Being in that group, I haven't been able to make it through the song without my eyes watering, not once. I don't play it around anyone.

Styles is headed for jail in November for stabbing another person. He will be out in June of 2003. He says he will be spending the time working on his body and mind. Prison, for so many Black men is only a form of "school," if they have patience and make the best use of the experience. I hope Styles does as he intends. I look forward to his release and the album that comes from his expanded heart. The evolution continues...

Here are the lyrics to "My Brother" courtesy of the lyrics search engine

(Answering machine with Styles late Brother saying): I'm not the only one living here,
please be considerate and leave a nice message after the tone. One!

(Styles): I just wanted to speak to him.... I got too much words...
I got a lot of words... let's see.. yo, yo

[Verse 1]
Life is a circle of pain
The darkest clouds, end up like the purplest rain
They say patience is a virtue in the game
F--- it, I guess I died when my brother died
Cause to tell you the truth, I feel like I'm the curse in the game
My vision is blurred, dreams is shattered, my heart is broke
Pain so deep I find it hard to cope
Missin your smile and missing your style
I figured I'm the next one dead so we could kick it a while
Cause your name lives on, the sun still shine
Every time your baby mom lift up your child
I guess I gotta switch my angle now
Take a positive look, hit a blunt my little brothers with the angels now
Some of us fall and some of us fly
But at the end of the book baby all of us die
Word, my nigga

There's my brother
I could smile, cause I know he right next to Allah
Right next to the prophets and the soldiers that died
And all the angels in the heaven that be holdin the sky

There's my brother
I could cry, for the fact I can't hug him no more
But my tears go to heaven and I know the nigga feel me
And the good thing is he aint got to worry no more

I said there's my brother, wit Allah
Best place he could be

[Verse 2]
If I could get my miracle on
Listen to me, I would bring my brother back in the physical form
Cause the spirit still here, but the visual gone
And sometimes I gotta think if I'ma live to the morn
I guess it's no more schooling you
I know it's something in our blood, because us niggas in the street as usual
Left with a robbery charge, pack and a stash
Crushed a lot of niggas that it happened to gav
But I'ma just light a blunt, look in the clouds
And I'ma ask my little nigga what's happening hav
You died on mothers day, mom it's a gift
I know God took my brother cause his honor and strength
And we all gonna die Allah tally us up
While you there say what's up to lil malla and duck

And I know yall niggas restin in peace
You might be gone, but your soul is still here and is blessin the streets

There's my brother (My niggas)
I could smile, cause I know he right next to Allah
Right next to the prophet and the soldiers that died
And all the angels in the heaven that be holdin the sky

There's my brother (My brother)
I could cry, for the fact I can't hug him no more
But my tears go to heaven and I know the nigga feel me
And the good thing is he aint got to worry no more

I said there's my brother, wit Allah
Best place he could be

[Verse 3]
I could see you when I'm all alone ( I see you)
So I guess I'm not all alone, I know my little nigga callin home
The good die young, so they could get to heaven early
And watch over the rest of the slums (watch over us please)
Move the clouds so we could see the rest of the sun
You might've died, but you in heaven that's a blessing in one
Nigga Robert to the death, Gary died wit a close friend
You and Allen together, smiling together
It's like now I could hear the world
I understand that, I'm in the physical you're in the spirit world
I see you when I get home
They can't separate brothers, so I still see you when the spit flown
You died, I died ( you still here)
But I'm alive, you alive, so we gotta keep the shit going
Now I got a new ghost
And a baby brother angel I could feel, everytime the wind blows

There's my brother (My niggas)
I could smile, cause I know he right next to Allah
Right next to the prophet and the soldiers that died
And all the angels in the heaven that be holdin the sky

There's my brother (My brother)
I could cry, for the fact I can't hug him no more
But my tears go to heaven and I know the nigga feel me
And the good thing is he aint got to worry no more

I said there's my brother

This is for all the people we lost
Right here, they aint goin no where

It's all love

This is just the first right daddy
The next one is the next one
Do the best you could, hold your head
You know; you lost somebody, you gain a angel

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, August 2, 2002

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