baltimore emcee, labtekwon: the nikola tesla and basquiat of hip hop culture
By Sound Check
November 3, 2016
When inventor Nikola Tesla patented alternating current – he pioneered a new age of electricity that we can now barely live without. When painter Jean Michel Basquiat used “SAMO”, a shortening of “same old”, as a graffiti tag in NYC in the 1970’s – he was calling out wackness and making space for the innovation that he would bring. Think of Baltimore emcee, Labtekwon, as a mixture of Tesla and Basquiat. He calls out wack shit and pioneers a new wave of Hip Hop culture. As Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “Labtekwon is the Thelonius Monk of Hip Hop.”
Labtekwon was born in South Central, Los Angeles and raised on the west side of Baltimore in Whitelock City, also known as Sugar Hill. He is the son of Baltimore soul and jazz music pioneer Doc Soul Stirrer. He was fostered in a rich musical legacy and is creating his own.
He is what happens when music meets elevation. When a prophetic scholar meets an advanced battle rapper. He’s one part Tehuti, one part Baltimore, one part The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, one part Jean Michel Basquiat and one part Sun Ra. Labtekwon rhythmically flaunts his multi-disciplinary titles as a university professor, anthropologist, historiographer, sociologist, curator and more.
Labtekwon’s most recent album is the 2014 release “B.O.P.: The Theology of Timing/Tehuti and The Het Heru Cult” on the independent Ankh Ba Records label. His previous magnum opus was a three-part State of the Art Series which offers the listener a dissertation of styles: rapid jazz-rap, raspy and sulky melodies, metallic rock sounds and more. The three self-produced albums, released from August 2010 to September 2013, are each ignited with 20+ evolutionary songs. In a short introduction, Labtekwon candidly expresses one album’s purpose: “1. To inform the listener regarding the ideologies and philosophies that have shaped the lives of mankind to 0 A.D to 2020 A.D. 2. To cause rappers to shut the fuck up.”
By Fire Angelou*, AFROPUNK contributor
His series is poetic, political, and spiritual. It wyles out and it wonders.
Stepping away from the musical caricature of heavy bass, snaps, claps, and snares commonly present in popular rap music, Labtekwon spits ill rhymes over spacey experimental music, Baltimore club music, swaying reggaeton, skatepunk and the sporadic spirit of jazz. Sometimes, you can’t tell when the rhyme begins and the beat begins. His rhymes melt into the music and become one with the beat. His voice is it’s own music and the fusion is funky and geometrical.
“Question: why is the continent with the most resources in poverty? / Answer: Muammar Gaddafi was murdered because he tried to unify Africa’s economy with the gold denari.” – “Politricky”
While the music colors the ear, the knowledge-knockin lyrics make the mind change patterns. From the 10-minute bibliography included tracks such as “The Truth About Race”,“The Truth About Christianity” and “Economy of Tricknology” to short 4-minute jewels such as “Politricky”, Labtekwon offers sociopolitical depth regardless of time. His rhymes are faster than a thought and keeps the listener thinking, head-nodding, and at center. He uses God to analyze the devil. He’s got simplicity and complexity, grace and grit, joy and pain.
His musical dissertations of white supremacy are ground-breaking and legendary, but so are his wisdom songs on love, family, and friendship. Labtekwon’s music is holistic and doesn’t deny any part of the human experience.
In “Hater Lover”, “Mood Swingz”, and “Eternal Struggle” Labtekwon expresses his struggle with self-love and heart-breaking ex-girlfriends. He’s deep into history, society, and himself. His music listens like a rockin’ dance club, a Black history book, and a cathartic diary.
“My ego was crushed before I was 13, emotionally crippled / rap was a wheelchair for my self-esteem.” – “Eternal Struggle”
After the three-part series he released “The Theology of Timing: Tehuti and the Het Heru Cult”. The 24-track album is served with his Master’s thesis, “The Origin of Hip Hop Culture”, a book that covers the cultural historiography of Hip Hop from 1946 to 1975. The album is a tribute to Het Heru as known as “cosmic cow”: arch deity of the NTR of the Kemetic pantheon. She is the mother of the omniverse, deity of fertility, dance, music and joy, and archetype of the Black woman.
The album flawlessly demonstrates that the genius in the emcee is not just in rhyming words, but rhyming syllables. Labtekwon’s music styles vary from sulky to street, but always center elevation and God. This is the album that makes one dance barefoot in the house, elevate friends, or cultivate magical vibes for a Saturday evening. The purposes of the album are as multidisciplinary as Labtekwon.
“David Walker to Khallid Muhammad we expose the lies with facts and data / but to them the truth don’t matter / they’d rather crack a whip so we call them crackers / policy brutality is symptomatic of America’s practice.” – “Black On Purpose”
The Theology of Timing shouts out Yoruba orisha, Yemaya, in “Holy of Holies”, the pharaoh of the 25th dynasty of Kemet in “Piankhi’s Prayer”, and countless others. There’s no shortage of self-reflection, observation and education. The album touches metaphysics, Yoruba orishas, triple darkness, Metu Neter, Maat, the Obama administration, astro-physics, Black Consciousness, white supremacy and more. You really can’t even listen to the radio the same after experiencing his music.
Labtekwon’s four recent albums are a never-ending ocean of thought offering dance mantras and unapologetic diss tracks – all rooted in spiritual reverence for The Most High.
He is what is next because the purpose of his music is not to serve the endlessly hungry beast of capitalism and provide entertainment. It is evident, as he says in “Eternal Struggle” that he “uses art to serve God as it was intended.”
Labtekwon is the evolution of Hip Hop culture.
When and how did you initially conceive the idea for the State of the Art series? What was the process like creating the series?
I wanted to do a tribute to Jean Michel Basquiat’s 50th born day in 2010 because he was an influence on me during the 80’s as a adolescent and I revered his legacy as a Black artist that made art in the spirit and divine purpose of Black people. So, I released the first installment of State of the Art, “NEXT: Baltimore Basquiat and the Future Shock” on August 3rd 2010 and then I followed up with “Hardcore: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs MAsta Akbar” in 2012 and “Evolutionary: The Omar Akbar Album” in 2013.
The series is my dissertation on the art of emceeing in the 21st century. I make music for those who truly love the art of emceeing. I am an emcee. I have not been a rapper since I was 13. For me, music is a part of my being and my process is always the same: I create from my soul in ways that are different from everyone else.
I am 100% living my art, without doubt, fear, question, or hesitance. I have always been this way. Music is my prayer language and the art of emceeing is my spiritual offering to the Creator, The Supreme Being. It is no different than Charlie Parker or Coltrane playing the saxophone, Monk playing piano, Jimi Hendrix playing guitar, or Elvin Jones on drums.
Throughout the State of the Art Series and The Theology of Timing, Baltimore slang is often used and shows one of the ways Baltimore has influenced your music. How did growing up in Baltimore City impact your evolution as a man and a artist?
My family came to Baltimore from South Carolina in 1890. My father was a pioneer bandleader and performer, so music and art are my legacy. I grew up listening to WEBB 1360 in the 80’s and I looked up to Baltimore emcees like Universe and rap crews like Z3MC, We Rock Crew, Charm City Crew and Numarx.
Music and art are legacies of the city so that was always there and will always be there. I was fortunate to be born into a family of pioneers. I grew up like most kids from the “lower class” in Baltimore; my day to day life was survival in the form of food, clothing and shelter. I represent the spirit of the native Baltimorean. I am Black and I was raised in a predominantly Black city. I am blessed to be a representation of the vanguard of Baltimore art and intellect, but that potential is in all of us that are from this city. I just did not waste anything I was blessed with.
Many of your songs begin and/or include spiritual reverence. You often say “give thanks and praise to The Most High.” What is the role of God in your music?
There is nothing without the source. I am a child of the eternal essence of all things. I am indebted to my ancestors which begins with the ultimate and primary ancestor: the Supreme Being of the Omniverse. I give an offering of praise for the ability to exist in the Omniverse, as my ancestors have done since the dawn of time.
I am accountable to universal law. I am spiritually disciplined and therefore I live by a code that can be summed up in the ethos of various religions: MAAT, The Tao, The Golden Rule, karma, Islam. We are all spiritual, physical and mental beings, but everyone isn’t DISCIPLINED in those aspects of self. True enlightenment resides in self discipline and divine purpose.
The Black woman is constantly revered throughout your albums and videos including songs such as “Piankhi’s Prayer”, “Goddess”, and “Het Heru”. “Capitalism and Slavery” captured the struggle of a Black woman. “Hater Lover” explores a deeper connection between you and a Black woman. What is the importance of the Black woman in your music and life?
There is no life without the Black woman.
The truth is, I am usually either heartbroken over a Black woman or I am in love and inspired by a Black woman. It has been that way since I was 5. I have been riding a wave of heartbreak for about 5 years and it has been recently catalyzed further by the passing of my mother Lenore on March 6, 2016. Even though my heart aches often over the Black woman and I create art from a space of rejection, I still find a way to use my art as an offering in the temples of Dendera to the NTR Het Heru.
Many of your songs include samples from speeches, films, and various artists including Louis Farrakhan, The Abyssinians, Amiri Baraka, Ric Flair, and more. Who are your influences and why?
I am primarily influenced by the Supreme Being of the Omniverse and all those manifestations that assist in fulfilling my divine purpose. I am apart of the Black Consciousness rite of passage. My influences include: My Father Doc Soul, my siblings, and my family as a whole.
On The Theology of Timing album you pose a valid question about the Black Lives Matter movement in “Time Check”: Why would you suggest black youth protest in the age of the prison industrial complex? What is your view on the Black Lives Matter movement philosophies and tactics?
For those that want to upgrade to the 21st century state of the Black Human Rights Movement:
You can not use public demonstrations, legislation or use jurisprudence to eradicate white supremacy/racism. I do not seek to convince white people to accept Black people. My focus is to help Black people accept themselves.
White supremacy is the ethos of the praxis of capitalism. If the psychology that causes white supremacy/racism remains: The institution/system of white supremacy will simply adapt to the legislation and jurisprudence to sustain white/supremacy.
This is evidenced in:
1. the function of Jim Crow after the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment in the 19th century after the Great Compromise of 1877.
2. The function of gerrymandering and redlining after the Civil Rights Acts of 1965 & 1968
3. The current attitudes seen on most mainstream media as it relates to non-white people.
It is important to note that the indictment of individuals who act from a psychology of white supremacy/racism does not cease, derail or hinder the INSTITUTION/SYSTEM of white supremacy/racism. The solution is based on the establishment of institutions/systems of Black Consciousness/Black Collectivism that function to collectively counter the effects of white supremacy/racism in the following 9 areas combined:
This is the reality of the Black Human Rights Movement in the 21st century. Anything less than the basic paradigm of Black Consciousness and the practicum of Black Collectivism is inadequate and outdated.
You are multidisciplinary: anthropologist, historian, sociologist, professor/pedagogue, researcher, writer, filmmaker curator emcee, dancer, and deejay. How did your various disciplines impact the creation of the State of The Art Series and The Theology of Timing?
Hip Hop is a culture, my way of life. I live all five elements seamlessly: Emceeing, Djing, Dance, Graf/visual art, and knowledge. I manifest the culture of Hip Hop as it has evolved in the 21st century since its birth on November 12th, 1974.
I was an “at-risk youth” that channeled his potential through the culture of Hip Hop and I have manifested that potential at high levels in various stratum of society and more importantly in my community. Mastery comes from discipline and practice. I seek to expand the parameters of mastery of my art and State of the Art is a microcosm of that larger process.
The Het Heru album specifically proposes the idea of “Black on Purpose” with a song named after the concept. What is “Black on Purpose”? How does that manifest in your music and life?
I began using the term “Black On Purpose” in 2014. It is defined as follows:
“Black on purpose”- a person with the dominant phenotype of melaninated skin, who rejects the paradigm of white supremacy and purposefully adheres to at least two or all of the doctrines listed below:
1. David Walker’s Appeal
2. The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey
3. The Teachings of Master Fard and The Honorable Elijah Muhammad
4. The Black Consciousness Manifesto (written by Steven Bantu Biko)
Also, the term is further defined as: being a person who acknowledges the origin of humanity, while emphatically rejecting white supremacy, white privilege and eurocentric cultural paradigms. The primary purpose of reversing the impact of white supremacy and imperialism, while proactively seeking the rehabilitation of themselves and all human beings from the mental programming of white supremacy/capitalism, falsified history and assimilation.
In the context of aesthetic: being “Black on purpose” means to embrace all dominant phenotypic traits associated with melaninated peoples, ie; skin complexion, hair, lips, nasal index, etc. This means that no form of aesthetic assimilation occurs at a level that is genetic, no hair straightening or skin bleaching.
When I say “Black on purpose”: I mean those who assert a purpose and function for the melanin they have been blessed with. It is NOT synonymous with simply having phenotypic traits that are associated with negroes, Africans and African Americans. The term is wholistically based on a willful choice to embrace the nature and purpose of the original human beings of the planet earth without apology or concession to any ideology that diminishes the ancient legacy of melaninated peoples on the planet earth since the beginning of time. Franz Fanon summarizes this sentiment in “Black Skin White Masks”:
“Still in terms of consciousness, Black consciousness is immanent in its own eyes. I am not a potentiality of something, I am wholly what I am. So, there you have it.” p. 103
I am Black on purpose.
Some of your songs take a “introductory level course” approach to explaining information including “The Truth About Population Control”, “The Truth About Race”, “The Truth About Christianity”, “Politricky”, “7 Shakra Theory” and many more that require a level of mastery of the material through reading. What has been your journey with literacy? What is your process for learning?
I have been reading most of my life since childhood. My mother was the guide of my love for reading and my father was the inspiration for writing. Learning is a choice. I choose to learn and I make myself available to the learning process. I study with the intent of implementing what I study towards my divine purpose. It is not rhetoric or theory on social media: I have been working in my community since I was 16 and I have committed my life to the divine purpose of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice and equality. I am accountable and disciplined in my life and my actions.
What is the vision for your music career? What’s next for Labtekwon?
Release wise: the next album is called “Sun of Sekhment: The Rejected Stone-Mahdi”. My vision for my art is innovation of the art and expression of the soul. The future is now: what’s next?
Musically, you have to listen to find out what’s next. Visually, you have to watch to find out what’s next. Intellectually, you have to read to find out what’s next. Strictly the vanguard, anything else is a waste of mind.
Labtekwon will be performing live in NYC on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Soul In The Horn, 63 Gansevoort St. 11-until. Free entry.
*Fire Angelou is a truth-teller who flips fear into strength. She celebrates blackness, uses the personal as political and ain’t got time for enablers of white supremacy. She enjoys drumming, twerking and making black people smile. Follow her daily slaying @fireangelou or visit her blog at www.fireangelou.com
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