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An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.
A few months back in the early evening, I was passing the Patty Boom Boom Room on U Street NW when I heard a tap on the glass facing the street. I looked up and there was my man Jati Lindsay, arguably D.C.’s top photographer. I’ve known this phenomenally gifted brother for at least 10 years I believe, and have had the extreme pleasure of working with him on several occasions. Most notably, his eye delights are the featured visual stimulus for my 2004 The Return of Black Broadway release.
Most recently, we worked together, in essence as mentors, through a community involvement program at the Garfield Terrace Neighborhood Networks Community Center run jointly by H.U.D and the Howard University Center for Urban Progress. My program contract ended last year and I hadn’t seen Jati since then. He came outdoors and, after exchanging cultural greetings, gave me the latest update on the program–the details of which I will spare you.
What was interesting is that Jati has now ventured into shooting music videos. He explained that he and fellow D.C. super artist DJ Underdog have teamed up to produce high-quality-art music videos, and that he was waiting for D.C. hip-hop reigning champs The Cornel West Theory to show up to finish shooting footage for “Durito’s Revenge (Dirty Bombs),” a song from the group’s 2009 Second Rome LP.
On cue, DJ Underdog pulls up on his bike, and we exchange cultural greetings. A little later Cornel West Theory drummer Sam Levine arrives. Not long after, frontmen Tim Hicks and Rashad Dobbins appear on the scene. The love exchanged between all of us made for an impressively powerful moment. Right there, just across the alley from State of Union, in front of what used to be Webbs Soul Food, on a historic street that used to be called “Black Broadway, ” D.C. hip-hop veterans of 15-years-plus assembled.
From Miscellaneous Flux to Avant Gard Violence to Amphibians to True School to Infinite Loop to 3LG to GODISHEUS—these are all powerhouse, scene-building institutions representing the definition, and evolution, of D.C. hip-hop. The DC hip-hop that is culturally original—-meaning we don’t bite, and we are not concerned with appealing to, much less mimicking, the latest pop and hipster trends. We are seasoned vets possessing superior mastery in the art of rhythmic communications.
Fast forward to now, the video is complete—-and hot! Even hotter is the song itself, which provides the reason and need for visual interpretation in the first place, right? It’s all about the music, which is undoubtedly…D.C. hip-hop music. Music that reflects the challenges and conditions of living in the nation’s capitol: a city not belonging to a state, and therefore a city not fully covered under the constitutional protections enjoyed by our fellow U.S. Citizens. So logic dictates that if Washington, D.C., is not a state within the United States of America, then it can only be one other thing: a plantation. Even more so, since Washington, D.C., is still Chocolate City (though some argue that it’s now Vanilla Villa, though I reject that characterization wholeheartedly).
On the plantation you had field and house negros. CWT is of the field variety, as indicated by the expressions in their work. They honor “The Struggle” that we as progressive people endure. The name of the group itself is an indicator–but there are plenty of artists who use “revolutionary” titles but fail to live up to revolutionary ideals. Ja Rule, for instance, had an album called Blood in My Eye, which is the original title of a collection of letters written by Civil Rights and prison rights icon and Black Panther scholar George Jackson–completed just before he was killed by prison guards at San Quentin Prison on Aug 21, 1971.
Ja Rule’s Blood in My Eye reflects none of the content in the original Blood in my Eye in the least bit, but it did get the attention of those of us who are serious about music, who understand the power and importance of creating music and responsibly utilizing it as a tool to bring about change.
The Cornel West Theory completely understands the game and has chosen to operate in defiance of popular and trendy prescriptions to achieve “success” (sustainability) as artists. They recently tore down the house opening up for Public Enemy at the 9:30 Club. I am prayerful that will translate in a great turnout for their show at Bohemian tonight. I’ll be there and hope to see you in the house!
Cornel West Theory performs at Bohemian Caverns tonight at 9 p.m. $10.