Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Billet Unchained: An Open Letter to Alexander Billet and the Electronic Intifada (press)

In response to THIS POST

African-American History Month draws to a close in just a few days and, it seems, that Alexander Billet has already forgotten the lessons he was supposed to learn. The black community in America and around the world is beautiful, dynamic, nuanced and multi-faceted. It is not, as Alexander's above referenced post asserts, some sort of simplistic caricature of a people defined only by slavery and bass-heavy music.

Alexander Billet's post is patronizing, paternalistic, insulting and viciously racist.

He envisions himself some sort of Dr. King Schultz riding in his white hood on his white horse to rescue what he considers this poor, ignorant people. If you listen closely, you can almost hear Alexander breakdancing while cutting doubles of a record while spray painting while MCing while holding up pictures of Stokely Carmichael, while practicing his Louis Farrakhan pose, while reading Nat Turner. The man is the absolute embodiment of hip-hop - no - the black world in its entirety! He is also the insulting edge of stereotype and caricature. His is not support - it is belittling buffoonery.

The very assertion that hip-hop is the essence of the African-American experience is pig-headed and indicative of Mr. Billet's disgustingly myopic view of the black community.

According to Alexander, hip-hop is "a music and style that gestated in reaction to the willful neglect and apartheid treatment of African-Americans and people of color." If we ignore the fact (no easy task) that this sentence indicates America as an apartheid state (there are not a lot of African-Americans in South Africa - just Africans), what we can not ignore is that hip-hop was not born from that racist form of government. By doing so, Alexander is conflating the entirety of African-American existence into two events - one theme. To do so is to dehumanize a race that is so much more. While it is true that a portion of hip-hop is dedicated to raising the masses, speaking truth to power and being the "CNN of the Ghetto", most of it is not. For every Chuck D reporting live from the Terrordome, you have a Fat Boy singing about cheesecake, a Li'l Wayne waving his red flag, a DJ Khaled yelling non-sequiturs, an Action Bronson talking about hookers in Poughkeepsi, new dances being danced, new slang being invented, a Queen Latifah rhyming about women's rights regardless of skin color or a Tim Dog (bringing it back) reppin' New York City for no good reason.

The beauty of hip-hop is that it is so varied and, so often, meaningless. By assigning it only one role or insinuating meaning where there is none is to act as if judge of what that role should be or arbiter of that meaning. Telling a people what they should or should not be, limiting their expression and experience and speaking on their behalf is paternalistic and culturally colonizing. Alexander Billet, by having the chutzpah to believe he knows what is and what is not hip-hop, is no better than Rudyard Kipling.

Worse yet, he then attempts to ghettoize the African-American community. In his mind, hip-hop is only for black people and, specifically, only for the downtrodden among them. By asserting a racial dependance on this art form, he invalidates the entire movement. Hip-hop is not a song or a pose. Hip-hop is a movement that has grown into one of, if not the, largest, most powerful artistic voices in the world. To relegate it simply to the poor, blacks of Alexander's provincial imagination is to discredit its transcendent power and universal message. More outrageous is his seeming belief that only blacks should practice hip-hop. Are there now race specific job descriptions? Should only Jews be accountants? Only Irishmen be cops? Alexander Billet needs to leave his racism behind and realize that he can not strip boundaries by the creation of more.

Consider Gaza. After Israel gifted Gaza to the "Palestinians", the Gazans second move was to close the border to all Israelis and most Jews. (Their first move was to rain rocket fire down upon innocent Israelis. Their third was to elect a terrorist organization as their leadership. Fourth was to outlaw homosexuality). This is a direct and indisputable form of racism and apartheid. I pray that Alexander speak out against this actual practice of apartheid and not simply wield the word as a weapon used to cut away at the proud history of African-Americans nor to pervert their artistic vision into his own personal slave fantasy.

I also pray that Alexander put down his calls for boycott. When coming from a place of support for the apartheid, terrorist regime of Gaza, such calls ring hollow and can be seen for what they truly are - censorship. Hip-hop has a long and sad history of oppression. It has been misappropriated by marketers, co-opted by virulently self-serving intellectual colonists such as Mr. Billet and kicked and shunted out of mainstream society for so long. Mr. Billet seeks to limit it growth even further, to squash it under the guise of self-preservation. You can not hear one's true voice if you make them shut their mouth. Unless, of course, in Alex's case when you attempt to become that voice.

I must wonder if Mr. Billet's naming of some awful "Palestinian" rappers is not just a marketing attempt. In hip-hop, all that matters is skill. And, the acts for which Alex shills have none. Unless, of course, he was to get this article of his published somewhere, create a fictional racial conflict and cash in. Hmmmm...

Hip-hop never grew from apartheid conditions. And, fortunately, today, hip-hop is not merely a passive aggressive stance against racism. That war is long over. As Jay-Z said many years ago: "this ain't black and white, my nigger, we off that...tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls." As Game said "Fuck Jesse Jackson because it ain't about race now." Alex is no Jesse Jackson - he never attempted to truly lead his people. He is no Rush Limbaugh - he never had one ounce of that man's political acumen. Yet, somehow, Alex manages to squeeze the evil, hateful racism out of both and find a way to insult all people, especially those seeking harmony through creation, music and non-violent means.

Even Lupe Fiasco, Alex's poster boy (and 9/11 Truther with a trilogy of songs called "American Terrorist") has declared, in the very same song quoted by Mr. Billet: "Murdering is not Islam." I strongly suggest that Mr. Bellit take Lupe's message to the Gaza for which he stands and tell them that the murder of their own people, the slaughter of Israelis, the use of their own children as human shields is not acceptable.

The black community is rich and varied. It is indeed stained by slavery and forever traumatized by bigotry but it is also proud, full of great success - lawyers, doctors, world leaders, one current American President. Greater than all that, it is human. The black world is about the everyday man, the father who wakes up every morning to go to work to put food on his family's table, the young lady who struggles with calculus, the rapper, the octogenarian, all of us. None of this is because of or even despite of racism. It is regardless of it - the black community transcends its past, rises above towards it future and can not be summarized by one angry man with a anti-Semitic ax to grind. Maybe Alexander Billet is, after all, the Dr. King Schultz of his own bloody imagination - a mercenary out for his own good, stoking hatred and attempting to use the black man for his own evil ends.


  1. Wow. Talk about a selective reading of my post and a willful misuse of the facts. This is a shoddy response at best.

    First off, one doesn't have to deny the diversity of hip-hop to understand it grew out of conditions of extreme degradation, poverty and racism. Anyone who thinks the conditions in the South Bronx didn't mimic (albeit unofficially) actual apartheid simply doesn't know their history. For someone who claims to know something about hip-hop, you've clearly never read "Can't Stop Won't Stop" or anything else about those early years. And what you seem to leave out is the fact that while hip-hop has indeed been embraced the world over, it has particularly pulled people around it who identify with its instinctual cry against invisibility. Hence its popularity in Palestine and the Arab world in general. These facts don't need some kind of fictional stewardship from me to be true. They just are.

    As far as calling me racist and anti-Semitic, I have a long history of organizing against fascist, far-right and Nazi groups shoulder to shoulder with Black, Brown, white, Jew, Christian, Muslim. In other words, I'm beyond your reproach. If all you can muster is the empty accusation that I'm some kind of bigotry, then you've already lost the debate.

    Then again, perhaps I'm wasting my time. Someone who thinks that stolen land can be "gifted" back to the people who have lived there for centuries has more than a few chauvinistic and Kipling-esque bones in his own body. You sound very much like the Kahanist settler who was recently caught on film telling a Palestinian that if they're lucky they'll end up the slaves of Israelis. In other words, you've done a pretty bad job covering up your racism here.

  2. I will also point out, if I may, that this hardly reads as an "open letter." And your Django analogy doesn't really work considering that it was the titular character who was chained (and therefore unchained) in the first place. Therefore you have merely likened me to a slave. Freudian slip perhaps?

  3. No, sir. You are, indeed, a slave. A slave to your own bigotry and blinded view of African-Americans, Israelis and other besieged peoples.

  4. Ah, yes. The ad hominem attack, the last refuge of the defeated faux-intellect. It is fine, Alex - maybe I am laughable...but, I am right. In fact, your insistence that hip-hop grew out of "conditions of extreme degradation, poverty and racism" only reinforce that you are a bigot once again holding the African-American experience down to your own minimal understanding of it and some sort of modern slave fantasy of your college-party starved mind. While you were reading books about hip-hop (a book which has been panned simultaneously by the New York Times for missing true hip-hop to satisfy the author's own political agenda and by the teacher, KRS-One as using rap music and Kool Herc as pawns in the author's own, misguided narrative of the movement - great source material there, guy), I was DJing hip-hop parties, I was breakdancing in front of O'Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island, I was going to meetings of the Universal Zulu Nation in Castle Hill, Bronx and I was writing my name on buildings in indelible spray paint. You can either go on a painting mission with me or you can read Norman Mailer's book about graffiti. Which do you think makes you an artist? The proofs of my involvement are not metaphors either - they are truth. I was part of the movement. I am part of hip-hop. We are hip-hop, Alex. You are not. We are of all colors. We progress a culture and movement that does have some elements of overcoming oppression but is also sometimes negative - misogynistic, violent, and, also, at times, positive and brilliant but, always, it is celebratory of a people not defined by the negatives you can only see to see in them. Like Jeff Change before you, you are attempting to use the hip-hop movement as a pawn in your own dirty, political agenda. Not surprising considering you also use the horrible, apartheid conditions of South Africa as a pawn. How insulting you are to South Africans when you compare the economically disenfranchised communities of the Bronx or the self-flagellating, terrorist, racist communities of Gaza to the actual institutionalized, government-sponsored reality of apartheid oppression. It is in Gaza as well as most of the Arab nations where there is institutional oppression of women, homosexuals, BLACKS, Jews and Christians with brutal, violent consequences for those who oppose them. That, my friend, is apartheid. Then, again, maybe you can rely on your brilliant, unassailable, fact-driven argument: "they just are" or you can re-use my commentary regarding Kipling. Kipling saw nothing but degradation in Africa and, so, thought he knew better, he thought he could speak for and at the African community, he thought he knew how to heal them - a them he saw as distant and apart from himself, as subhuman and defined only by his narrow definitions - just like you reducing the African-American experience to one of degradation and Sambo bs. We are hip-hop, Alex. You are its enemy. I am laughable. You are sad.