Fight the Power: A Q&A with Kevin Powell on the 2017 Grammys

Words by: Angelique Fullwood

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

–Nina Simone

“Resist! Resist! Resist!”

–Q-Tip

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Millennial students, who are increasingly becoming more outspoken, make up a generation of youth and young adults who lived their entire lives impacted by Hip Hop culture. On the night of Feb. 12 The 59th annual Grammy Award broadcast to 26 million viewers and showcased some of the top talents in mainstream music today. Hip Hop artists wasted no time to take this platform to present thought provoking performances that reflected the times we are currently living in. Artists such as Chance the Rapper, Beyonce, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes and Anderson Paak all took the stage and reminded us all that the origins of hip hop are rooted in the politics of a people that’s been marginalized and want their voices heard.  Kevin Powell, author, activist and journalist, one of the most acclaimed political, cultural, literary and hip-hop voices in America, wanted to share some his thoughts on the importance of black political performance and what it means for students today.

Q: Let’s just start off with what did you think about Tribe’s performance with Busta and Andersan Paak?

KP: I thought it was great. Any time that you have hip hop on a national stage it’s a plus because hip hop is still shunned by a lot of people despite of it being the biggest culture on the planet of the last 40 years. It’s a plus. And the fact that it was Anderson, a new artist, there with two legendary artists, Busta and A Tribe Called Quest, that’s the way it should be. That the new and the older together. That’s what it should be. I loved it.

Q: It definitely had a heavy political message and spoke to the climate we have today. Why do you think that hip hop becomes more relevant in times like this when we have this new white house administration?

KP: Hip Hop is the one culture, the one music, the one art form that’s not afraid to say what if feels. We’ve always been fearless, we’ve always spoken out. I mean you go all the way back to Reagan, Bush, we have always addressed, in some form, what’s going on in the world. So I’m not surprised that Busta, especially, and Tip, but Busta especially says “President Agent Orange.” I thought it was funny and I thought it was on point. and it’s the truth. You know, it’s the truth that this is a president who’s outta  outta control. That’s essentially what they’re saying.

Q: What do you think the future of hip hop music will be as this administration continues to roll out policies that affect marginalized communities?

KP: Well I hope that the artists will wake up and realize that disrespecting women, disrespecting each other, pushing out lyrics that encourage excessive drinking and drug usage is pretty ridiculous in these times. It’s always been ridiculous to me, but especially in these times. We need some artists that can take a stance and have some courage. We need a new generation of Public Enemy. We need a new generation that’s gonna make a song like N.W.A “F**k the Police” that’s about racial profiling. That’s what we need. We need a new generation of Lauryn Hill, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, that’s what we need more than ever. And I have hope when I see Kendrick out there, and J. Cole, and Chance the Rapper and cats like that, but we need more. More artists. Women and men. R&B and Hip hop. To step up and have the courage. Look at what Beyonce did with Lemonade. That’s Incredible and I think she was robbed last night in the AOTY. It took a lot of courage to do that. She lost a lot of fans because of what she did on the album, both the music and the visual album, but that’s what we need; people who are not afraid of making people uncomfortable.

Q: For college students living through these times, what is the take-away of these ‘protest songs’ and this political movement? How should we incorporate this back to our college campuses?

KP: It’s no different than when I was in college. We had KRS-1 and Boogeydown Productions. We had the song that NWA put out that was really beautifully depicted in the Straight Outta Compton movie about the police and police violence. We had Public Enemy. We had Queen Latifah. We had Mc Lyte. We had a lot of incredible stuff going on and we made it a part of our work. We made it a part of our studies, we made it a part of our work as student leaders and I feel that’s what young people and students have to do today. This has got to become a part of your work and your lives. You gotta actively seek out and support those artists that are putting themselves out there by saying certain things. There’s nothing wrong with partying, I’m never going  to stop partying , I love partying, I’ve been partying since I was 14 years old, but I hope that it’s a reminder that there’s gotta be balance. That it’s cool to have the Motown music like back in the day, ‘cause you also gotta have Nina Simone dropping some knowledge, you need both. You can’t just listen to something that’s just partying. Music can help you think about stuff differently. I mean think about the reactions to Beyonce’s Lemonade when it came out last year and still people are talking about it right through last night at the Grammy Awards. Think about people like Busta Rhymez trending on twitter, because it creates conversations that are necessary. This is what students gotta seek out and support.  You also got to think about the kind of people you bring to your campus to perform. If they’re out here just wilding out, at this stage, and not saying nothing, you’re just throwing away students dollars as far as I’m concerned.

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