Reviews

Stand & Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip-Hop Culture by Yvonne Bynoe

Mark Anthony Neal

Bynoe reminds readers throughout the book 'all of this is about more than hip-hop. Hip-hop is simply the metaphor for our lives.'"


Stand & Deliver

Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Length: 210 Pages
Subtitle: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip-hop Culture
Price: $13.95
Author: Yvonne Bynoe
US publication date: 2004-03
Amazon

When the seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy released their ground-breaking recording -- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back -- in June of 1988, it marked a critical moment when the political verve of the 1960s had finally been synthesized with the street rhythms of the 1980s. That the recording had little impact on the seamless transition of power from Ronald Reagan to George Bush or Reverend Jesse Jackson's attempt to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party spoke volumes about the context in which the recording was produced. Public Enemy lead Chuck D legitimately believed the music of Public Enemy, and hip-hop in general, would be the vehicle by which a political movement cultivated around the core issues of black urban life could be realized. On the contrary, the music of so-called "conscious" rappers and those rappers themselves was easily isolated in the absence of an actual political movement. Since that first era of the conscious rapper, many have invested in the idea of hip-hop as the likely incubator for a cross-racial progressive political movement and though the willingness of young whites to embrace the music of contemporary "conscious" rappers such as Mos Def, Rha Goddess, Talib Kweli, Mr. Lif and others represents an important component of such a movement, very little of that exchange has ever translated into concrete political action. Yvonne Bynoe is all too aware of this phenomenon and in her new book Stand & Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip-Hop Culture she lays down a blueprint for hip-hop to begin to fully realize its revolutionary potential.

One of the most sought after political commentators of the hip-hop generation, Bynoe, a Howard University and Fordham University Law school graduate, is intent upon demystifying the idea of "political" rap or what is sometimes referred to as raptivism. As she writes in the book's preface, "Only in discussions related to political action and young black people has the celebrity of a few rap artist and rap moguls become conflated with the political leadership," noting how absurd the notions of "Rock activism" and "Folk activism" sound. Bynoe puts some of the blame on mainstream media for not doing the research to identify the emerging leadership of the post-Civil Rights generation, instead "deem[ing] rap artists, the most visible young Blacks in society, the new political spokesmen." One example of this is the activist career of Lisa Williamson, whose work went virtually ignored until she transformed herself into hip-hop artist Sister Souljah and became a pawn in Bill Clinton's move to undermine the influence of the Democratic Party's liberal wing in 1992.

Like her contemporary Bakari Kitwana, whose Hip-Hop Generation (2002) is the perfect companion book for Stand and Deliver, Bynoe might be of the hip-hop generation, but is not defined the fetishes of the culture. As Bynoe reminds readers throughout the book "all of this is about more than Hip Hop. Hip Hop is simply the metaphor for our lives" though she cautions that "If our elders give up on Hip Hop then they've given up on us. If we give up on Hip Hop, then we've given up on ourselves." In this latter regard Bynoe takes serious the symbolic point Todd Boyd argues in his provocative The New H.N.I.C: The Death of Civil Rights and Reign of Hip Hop (2003) -- the influence of Civil Rights old guard is being surpassed by the big balling sensibilities of the Hip-hop generation. Bill O'Reilly didn't come after Al Sharpton or Julian Bond -- he came after Ludacris.

Bynoe points to the inconsistent moral standards of the old guard, observing that the "civil rights generation, in order to survive, sublimated its internal differences and put forth a united front to fight racial discrimination." A product of such logic has been the proclivity of that generation to "overlook Reverend Jesse Jackson's baby mama drama; Marion Barry's crack use; and Henry Lyons embezzlement as well as the "Big Pimpin'" flamboyance of the mega pastors." Despite this fact, Bynoe notes how quickly the civil rights generation has "castigated the Hip Hop generation for the content of its cultural products-its actual and alleged immoral or illegal conduct." Bynoe also suggests that the Civil Rights old guard might be out of touch with contemporary crises: "while racial discrimination still exists as a rallying issue, it is not the only focus of the Hip Hop generation. They must also confront other equally pressing concerns: AIDS/HIV; the prison industrial complex; discrimination based on sexual orientation; gender equity; and economic advancement." While Bynoe is dead-on with her analysis, there is really no significant evidence that the hip-hop generation has truly wrapped their heads around those tensions either, particularly in the case of gender and sexuality. Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's recent criticism of same-sex marriages, while appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher is such an example.

In some instances, Bynoe is quick the reinforce the value of previous social and political movements that focused on the lives of disenfranchised blacks. For example Bynoe sees any serious post-civil rights era movement as needing the synthesize elements of the Black Power movement and the Black Arts movement -- a viable political apparatus that incorporates the cultural expression. While so many of the granola and Mau Mau sects within hip-hop audiences seem drawn to hip-hop's conscious soothsayers, Bynoe finds the ideal models for hip-hop generation leaders in Ella J. Baker and her mentee Lisa Sullivan. Baker was a long time political organizer whose work spanned more than five decades and seminal civil rights organizations like the NAACP and SCLC (see Barbara Ransby's Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Vision). Baker is perhaps best known as the spiritual and intellectual force behind the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) --the organization that was largely responsible for bringing black youth into the movement. Identifying her as the "political grandmother" of the hip-hop generation, Bynoe writes that Baker's legacy is the "concept of people making decisions about issues that affect their lives rather than being led by a national organization" or conscious rappers for that matter. Of Lisa Sullivan, who died in 2001 at age 40, Bynoe writes, "Like her mentor, activist Ella Baker, Sullivan shunned the limelight and did the hard and often thankless work of helping young people to realize their leadership capabilities, so that they could meet the needs of their communities." Notably Bynoe's comment about Baker and Sullivan resist placing any added significance on the fact that they were women -- a likely product of Bynoe's desire to challenge notions that women exist as political operatives solely in the name of gender issues.

Stand & Deliver is admittedly "descriptive" of the failure of the hip-hop generation to mount a significant and sustained political movement, but Bynoe does offer concrete advice for those of the hip-hop generation choosing electoral politics as an option. Bynoe cites Newark, NJ city councilman Cory Booker among a generation of young black politicians, including congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and the aforementioned Kwame Kilpatrick, that are poised to provide real hip-hop leadership within the realm of electoral politics. Specifically Bynoe sees Booker's recent challenge to Newark's black incumbent mayor Sharpe James (Booker lost the 2002 mayoral election by a small majority) as the litmus for others of the hip-hop generation to challenge well supported old guard black incumbents. Using Booker's loss as an example, Bynoe urges his peers to possess clear qualifications for political office, build constituencies with older black voters, be clear about their relationship with the electorate, to fully "understand the impact of race, class and age" on the opinions of potential voters.

Throughout the book Bynoe eschews the vernacular and theoretical calisthenics that might be found in the books of noted hip-hop commentators like Michael Eric Dyson or the aforementioned Todd Boyd. There's nothing "sexy" about Bynoe's prose and indeed that the point as there is nothing glamorous about the hands-on political work that needs to be done to help organize the potential of the hip-hop generation. With thousands of hip-hop generation activist recently coming together in Newark for the first National Hip-Hop Political Convention, Stand and Deliver is indeed a timely book.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image