Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hip-Hop’s Revolutionaries: UMI of P.O.W.

Interview 3 of 3 / See Parts 1 and 2 with M1 of Dead Prez and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers

Umi from Brooklyn, New York has worked with Prisoners of War (P.O.W.), the People’s Army and the RBG (Red, Black, and Green) Family – all revolutionary hip-hop cliques in the U.S. Umi’s solo debut album comes out in late 2008, and his film Under the Gun will be released in June 2008. Basics caught up with Umi in Lawrence Heights back in the summer of 2007.

Basics Interviewer: Umi, you were at Lawrence Heights on your trip to Toronto – the largest social housing project in Canada , with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) as the largest landlord in Canada. The area is located very close to a big mall [Yorkdale], and what the government is trying to do is demolish part of the area and sell it off to condo developers, and then move out the people who are currently living there, low-income working-class peoples, most being East African and West Indian. Is this process happening in the U.S. too?

Umi: The gentrification process you’re talking about has been going on for a long time. It used to be about race, but now it’s about economics. Right now, the rich are saying, “We don’t want to be secluded in the suburbs anymore.” You know, in the 1960s, they wanted to be in the suburbs to get away from the Civil Rights movement, which they felt was our day of reckoning - African people getting courage. But not just Africans, Browns too. Our struggle to be mobilized as a people affects rich people’s positioning. So, back then, they said “We don’t wanna be downtown, we wanna be in the suburbs.” And the suburbs used to be all the furthest spots of the hood that you could go out to in most cities. So they condemned them, and turned them into suburbs. And now, it’s just the opposite, and this started in the early ‘90s, or late ‘80s. They said, “We wanna take downtown, we wanna revamp downtown.”

This started in the larger cities first. But it’s cities like Chicago that we don’t here a lot about, where people are the most disenfranchised because they’ve been doing this shit relentlessly for the last twenty years… Now they want the downtown areas, so they take black people and now they’re moving them to the suburbs. A lot of black people don’t have cars, so it’s fucked up, and a lot people are not accounted for. When they take their houses, they don’t replace them with new homes immediately, they get stuck with stipends to just survive day-to-day. Look at the shit they did at Katrina – don’t be fooled, that’s trickery right there: that’s another form of gentrification right there. That’s something that’s gotta be studied because that’s something that’s been planned for over 55 years. They knew Katrina was going to happen – and they were just waiting to take land from certain people.

Basics: You all are not just artists in the RBG Family – obviously fantastic artists – but you’re revolutionaries too. You’re organizing, you’re out there with the people. How have people in the U.S. been responding to the ongoing process of gentrification?

Umi: Well, people are mad as hell. We are aware of this negative process, and the way the system stings us. We can’t help but feel the effects. But the problem is that we haven’t organized ourselves and come up with a strategy as a community that can combat to put ourselves in a better position.

The things that are affecting me as a man affected my father as he became a man. What I am most adamant about is not just talking about shit – when I go into the communities I’m linking with people like Fred Hampton Jr. in Chicago, for instance. I try to link with people who are doings things that can help people transform their communities in a strategic way.

At this point, they’re actually trying to destroy us as a people. It’s not just about taking over some property – they are crippling and destroying people’s families… If you cripple a man first, dehumanizing him to the point where it affects his family. At this point, we’ve got to come together and combat this process.

Basics: With the organizing we’re doing in the community against gentrification, can we count on you to come back and help us build this struggle.

Umi: Anytime, anywhere, I’m there. Umi, P.O.W. – even Dead Prez, RBG, I can speak for us all. You call on us and we’ll be there.