Brutal police face new rap
"YOUNG, GIFTED and Black" is a famous song from the 1960s. The man who wrote the lyrics, Weldon Irvine, is still recording music over 30 years later. His new album is dedicated to Amadou Diallo, a black immigrant who was shot dead by the New York police in February last year.
MARTIN SMITH spoke to Weldon about his music and politics.
- WHAT WAS your reaction to Amadou Diallo's shooting?
AMADOU was a young black African. He was murdered by the police on the streets of New York last year. I was appalled at the police. This unarmed man was not guilty of any crime. When he put his hands in his pocket to pull out his wallet he was shot at 41 times and hit 19 times. I was so angry I did not leave my house for two days. I sat down and wrote a poem about the way I felt. I kept writing until I had a whole CD worth of material. The result was the album The Amadou Project: The Price of Freedom. It is a compilation of songs and poems. Rappers like Mos Def, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and Black Star all gave their time and talents to the project. The idea of the album is to raise people's consciousness about the issues surrounding police brutality. I hope it will make people become more pro active and get involved in what's going on."
- YOU ARE most famous for writing the song "Young, Gifted and Black". How do you feel about the song now?
I WAS very honoured that Nina Simone asked me to write those lyrics in 1968. The song became an anthem not unlike James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand".
These songs came from artists reflecting the sentiment of the political world, and the aspirations and conditions of black people in America. Young people in the 1960s were caught up in a time when things were happening which made people more proactive rather than apathetic. What makes me very proud is that 30 years later young students all over the US sing "Young, Gifted and Black".
- TODAY YOU are more famous for playing on Mos Def's new album, Black on Both Sides. Tell us about that.
AS a rap artist he is one of a kind. Not only does he rap about positive messages, he also plays many of the instruments on his album. Of course in hip-hop we have had Public Enemy and KRS-One. They rap about very socially conscious themes.
But I think recording companies have tried to de-emphasise that movement and concentrate on other types of rap which are not as socially conscious. I want to go on record saying that I don't like the lyrical content of a lot of rap music. I think the word "nigger" should be stricken from the vocabulary of everyone.
But sadly a lot of rappers are encouraged by record companies to disrespect women and have no pride in the colour of their skin. Things are looking more encouraging at the mo ment. There have always been positive messengers in music but they often haven't been heard. Today you've got a group of young performers trying to promote positive messages. Lauryn Hill's album sold five million, and she has been followed by Erykah Badu, the Roots and Mos Def."
- If you want to get a copy of Weldon Irvine's The Amadou Project: The Price of Freedom you can order it at www.donblackman.com