When Mos Def Blacked Out On Both Sides

Mos Def Source 2005 Brian Smith
I’m aggressive with this shit, not apologetic, not in this day and time. I’m sorry to get so crunk about it, but people are not speaking in frank enough terms about whats going on in the culture. The truth is always relevant.” Mos Def, 2005

It’s rare to be aware of one’s privilege at all, but even less so in the moment. However, on this particular day in Spring of 2005 I was abundantly aware of how lucky I was. I was in the Florida Everglades baking in a Winnebago with Mos Def as he waited to take pictures for a Source magazine feature I was writing. This was our second meeting for the profile and he was decidedly more upbeat than our previous meeting in a Brooklyn restaurant. Not that he was sullen or aloof in the DUMBO eatery, but he was more animated when the conversation was not about his new movie The HitchHiker’s Guide To the Galaxy and an upcoming “crime drama” with Bruce Willis, but instead about hip-hop culture. He let me hear his upcoming verse for Common’s remix to “The Corner” and I shared with him a then unreleased copy of 9th Wonder and Jean Grae’s Jeanius project.  (Coincidentally he would release “Crooklyn Dodgers 3” with 9th and Jean a year later). He shared thoughts for an album called The Undeniable Free Flacco and sampling Victor D. LaValle for a song called “Electric City Ghost Story.”

It’s a moment that sticks with me more than a decade and two albums later now that he has announced his retirement from entertainment. The artist now known as Yasiin Bey has unplugged from The Matrix but occasionally rings in from Zion via his friend Kanye’s website and coded audio messages like “No More Parties in SA.”  His last transmission on an unencrypted line (ie studio album) was on his younger namesake’s “Back Home,” a title that takes on new meaning after his recent passport issues.

His third party communication has been sparse, which makes our conversation even more special in the grand scheme. I recently rescued parts of the raw transcript from my old emails and my eyes widened at the comments that would bust under the constraints of 140 characters today. He was Chris Evans at the end of Snowpiercer, raging against the machine and the willing cogs within it.

In fact, a lot of it didn’t fit within the constraints of the magazine’s physical pages either. I’m grateful to my brother and then editor Fahiym Yasin (Ratcliff) for even making it happen. (All respect to Jadakiss but I still think this should’ve been the cover!).

Mos Def Instinctive Travels Source 2005

So in the interest of sharing, here is the second part of the conversation presented below.  You can download a PDF of the published interview here.

The transcript below starts without a question from me because I caught Mos mid stream after asking him off the record how he felt his label was going to handle the release of Common’s BE.  When I realized that Yasiin was starting to say something the people needed to hear and I just turned my recorder on and placed it down in front of him. He nodded in acknowledgment without breaking a stride and it went a little something like this…

…Real card carrying Republicans with that shit, ‘I sold so and so amount of records, therefore I’m the only thing that matter. And truth be told a lot of them n*ggas on the top of the charts can’t rap that well. They’re just likable personalities, but what’s new about your story? You come from the streets, you sold dope…it’s starting to be like the corporations are only supportin’ personalities and stories that fit into…a perception that is easily digestible for them in their experience or a character that their fixated with. People in control like to see n*ggas fighting, gangster posturing. Those are the only stories they’re interested in. They turn them on for reasons they’re aware of and not aware of. Racism is like a cancer; it start in your foot and spread. Unfortunately, it is so a part of the American psyche that people are acting out racist reflexes without realizing it…

KRS said that in “why is that?”…” The most dangerous racist is the subconscious racist…

Subconscious racism! Jimmy Iovine, Lyor Cohen, Doug Morris. All of these dudes were not prepared in their schooling or in any of their social upbringing for a world where they have to deal face-to-face with not only people who are outside of their class, but people who in their minds could very well be their servants. Now you gotta deal with somebody you’ve been trained to deal with as your underling as your partner! It’s a bitter fuckin’ pill to swallow, cuz now you need this person! This person is making you money and enhancing your lifestyle. They don’t like that shit at all. So whether it’s conscious or subconscious they are going to keep pushing that shit out.

Why is an abandoned building in Bed Stuy being used as a billboard for somebody’s album? It ain’t being used to house people. it’s being used as a billboard! That shit is crazy. Where else in America does this happen? I’m not mad at nobody, but I’m not happy with n*ggas either. You so gangsta on a record, get gangsta with these n*ggas!
N*ggas is talking about money they spending from the ’80s, and they got Americans spending money from the 18th and 19th century! What are we talking about? Motherfuckers had a 500 year head start being criminals! In Oakland they closing schools like it’s going out of style!

Crack ruined shit. I ain’t in love with crack. I’ve watched that shit take people out of their homes physically and spiritually. It’s not cute. That shit is entertainment to these motherfuckers and it’s real to us. Once somebody turn the camera off, that shit is still happening. And the way that it’s really happening, BET ain’t showing you that shit, MTV ain’t showing you the way it’s really going on. With everybody who got a clothing line and some bottled water, I’m happy for them, now what the fuck is that gonna mean to these streets, to the people who have put you in that position? Fuck everything else. Paris Hilton don’t really care about ya’ll n*ggas man. She can’t even hear ya’ll n*ggas. I’m just keeping it real. This shit is entertainment to them. We’re adopting their morals like we them and we never been them. We don’t have the same struggle. Dudes is no more than 20 years removed from real poverty who can’t afford to act like that shit ain’t going on. For dudes to have this much access to money and it’s not translating to people power, it’s inexcusable. We’ve never been able to live by the same rules as the rest of America. You understandwhatimsayin?

Hip-Hop came from oppressed people. It was the place where a poor person could say what ever he wanted to. He ain’t have to make nobody happy. He was some dude with a desk job being honest to himself. There used to be so many variations on the culture. You had Heavy D on one side, EPMD on the other side, you had NWA on the other and nobody was mad at nooobody. This industry now is ‘all n*ggas must look and behave alike in order for me to be able to digest this. I can’t have a culture of variety, I’m not in control of that. I’m ready for certain things. It’s some Bamboozled shit for real…Lil Jon, I love his music, but why is the Eastside Boyz names, Big Sam and Bo. What the fuck?What’s next, Kunte and Kinte? The south should know better. This is the same country that ran up in Fred Hampton’s crib and shot him in bed with his pregnant wife. You think the rules changed cuz n*ggas got #1 records? What are we supposed to tell our kids? After Malcolm, Martin and Dubois we got Sam-bo? I’m supposed to be down with that cuz it makes me dance? You be wonderin why I get pushed so hard. Money don’t make you less of a n*gger in America. You think it don’t? Ask Michael Jackson ass. Ask R. Kelly. Fuck up if you want, these motherfuckers will do a 180 on you so fast. You back in n*gger land. Yeah, n*ggas seen me in movies, but let me go out here and do some shit. You ain’t heard shit about Robert Blake! Claus Van Bulow is free! It ain’t the same rules. Our priorities is getting’ fucked up. We’ll look up and be like jazz and blues, we’ll be a museum piece. The background music to these motherfuckers lifestyles.

We takin’ on the morals of 80s rock and roll bands, that ain’t us! They get a free pass to get on that shit ‘cuz they ain’t tryin’ to make no world better but they own. Cuz the world that includes them is running fine! These n*ggas get a pass to bungie jump and do what they want cuz the world is set up for them.

Lyor is not happy about Jay-Z (being president of Def Jam.) I don’t give a fuck what he say. If the dude could go from rhyming to being a CEO in ten years or less, what is he going to be in 15 or 20? He might have Lyor’s job at this rate. He might be the president of some entertainment group. Youunderstandwhatimsayin?. What’s stopping 50 from being Jimmy Iovine in ten years?

A lot…

But dude, they didn’t even forecast his success to this point! How a n*gga three years out of Queens have sneakers and vitamin water? They don’t have them type of success stories. They gotta spend a lot of time in school kissing a lot of ass to have that type of success. That shit is threatenin’ to these motherfuckers. It is a cold corporate world. They ain’t up there routin for the next n*gga.

Do you think they’re pacifying us with the sneaker deals and executive positions?

The real power is not inside of that structure. The record industry is a leaky boat. People are gonna be less inclined…who’s new that the major labels have put out? It’s only a matter of time…no emperor can see the end of his kingdom, but that shit comes. People start coming to the labels about the internet in the late 80s and early 90s like this could be a problem. They said fuck the internet, we own the content. But you can’t argue with technology and progress. Once the refrigerator came out, the n*gga that brought ice to your house was out of a job. This is that day. N*ggas laughed at Henry Ford.

Arrogance is the problem with the record industry. The world can never end for them. I just want us to realize our power as a culture.

This fascist thinking, don’t have a critique of nobody. That’s never been us. I love Jack Johnson as a figure, but I wasn’t down with everything he was doing either. He wouldn’t fight Black fighters. He said people don’t wanna see that. He could have kept the championship in Black hands for a long fuckin’ time.

It used to be fight the power, now it’s watch what you say about me. They above reproach, now you a hater. Get the fuck outta here. That aint no real n*gga shit. Fuck what you like or love, what do you respect? I’m not makin music for dumb n*ggas. They ain’t my audience and I’m cool with that. I have nothing to prove to these n*ggas. I’m one deep in the K mid-day. That ain’t a braggin point it’s just the fuckin facts. N*ggas is so street, but you don’t see em in the street having dinner. Your fan base is in the schools, not in the middle of wherever living out their virtual n*gger fantasy. I’m aggressive with this shit, not apologetic, not in this day and time. I’m sorry to get so crunk about it, but people are not speaking in frank enough terms about what’s going on in the culture. The truth is always relevant.

Dude, I have a large family with small children, I need money everyday. But there is certain shit I’m not doing. God been feeding me and taking care of me, I have success on my own terms. Everybody in the community is not thugs. The majority is people just going to work. They just tryin’ to live. It’s about 5 percent of these motherfuckers running around with guns thinking they in somebody’s screen play. Until they get jammed up in some real shit and they realize it’s not a movie. And it ain’t cute.

All your life you must speak truth. The mic is a military weapon. If there is an emergency, somebody is getting on the microphone. It’s a position of power. And if you get on the mic and lie to people you are held responsible for the lie that you told and whatever actions people took based on that lie.

You can’t go to a movie that is R rated if you’re not 18 years old. But you can come home anytime of day and hear the “Whisper Song.” That shit sounded like the devil talking to me in the club.

Everybody in the world with good sense wants to be free. Everybody want the right to self determination. We are human beings…

Rapping is the slowest hustle for money ever. You’d be better off selling water filtration systems.

If Hip-hop isn’t going to uplift people, let’s dead it now. Let’s build something else and start over. I’d rather do that. Nobody supported this culture. It was an outlaw culture. Ed Koch spent 20 million to keep n*ggas from writing on trains. N*ggas was tryin to be artists, not sell drugs. Standing on the corner and rhyming is unlawful assembly.

Action kill argument anyway. I’m not sorry…I’m connected to Black people, not because of BET or radio…Because I’m here.

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