Written by Isidore Noel
I have a confession to make. I consider myself a Hip Hop head, but had not heard of MK Asante Jr @mkasante until about a week ago when he sat foot in Namibia. When I say I am Hip Hop, I mean, the kind that listens to old school rap music, appreciates graffiti and break-dancing, goes crazy when hearing a good rhyme and loves knowledge. I was born about a decade after Hip Hop was born. So, when you speak of A Tribe called Quest, Naughty by Nature, MC Lyte, Digital Underground, The Fugees and Warren G you are basically uttering my name. I love Brown Sugar, not for Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan’s love affair, but for their love of Hip Hop. In a nutshell, I am the girl that will marry Mos Def in her next lifetime.
I have also been very influenced by the historical struggle of African-Americans. This is not just because it is so absorbed in Hip Hop culture, but because there are so many parallels to my country and the fight against Apartheid. From Harriet Tubman to Fred Hampton, I had done my research and was in solidarity with all peoples fighting against injustice. I knew about the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers as well as Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement. So, here I was with a heart full of Tupac and a mind filled with Malcolm X quotes but had not heard of this young boy from Philly whose parents just like Assata Shakur and Muhammad Ali, gave up what they regarded as their slave names to take on African, revolutionary or religious names.
Even though MK Asante is American, he was born on African soil in the country led now by one of the continent’s biggest and most controversial leaders, Robert Mugabe. I asked him if he feels that the current Zimbabwe is what his parents fought for when they decided to actively help Zimbabwe attain its independence from British colonial forces. He tells me that his parents’ generation did their part by enabling the dismantling of Rhodesia. The ball has now moved into the court of the next generation. A few like MK Asante have picked up that ball and have run with it.
He makes films that Maya Angelou can identify with strongly enough to narrate and is on music that Talib Kweli is happy to be on. He gets praises from Chuck D of Public Enemy (if you are old school, you know how much this means) as well as CNN. In his films he deals with sociopolitical past and present issues that impact the life of people of African descent. He has written four books and is only 30 years of age. Believe me when I say that this is a nice, ordinary young man with a huge smile who does not impose his presence. He blended in with everybody at and after the Spoken Word event in Windhoek. He listened to our poets with no arrogance and even approached some of them to give props for their performances.
So, what has happened to the rest of us young people born to leaders, rebels and soldiers? What has been instilled in MK Asante that makes him want better for himself and his people? By now so many young people in Namibia are inspired by MK Asante and the question that echoes the most is “How old is he?” Just two decades ago some of us were carried by freedom fighters returning home from exile. Has independence made us not that bothered anymore and we forgot what the liberation struggle was about in the first place? Firstly, I would like to believe that the struggle was about dignity. Have we as young Africans reclaimed our dignity?
He tells me that his parents gave him a very important tool; they told him who he is. Not just the current form of himself, but the history of his people; a history not just of bloody sacrifices but of glory and pride. It is this knowledge of self that justly infuriates him when he hears a white man calling a black one by the N-word. I am sad that this is one of the experiences that he takes back with him from our country. But from all I have read and seen of MK Asante, I hope that even this may become fuel that he may use for something powerful and positive. In his own words, he says that “The best form of critique is creation.” In his works he shows people an alternative of how things can be. He teaches through creating. Even though this young author of “It’s bigger than Hip Hop” is not just about Hip Hop, he is about upliftment. Looking back Hip Hop and the liberation struggles may have been the last tool of elevation our parents’ generation had used. It is time to pick up the pieces.
As this young writer, recites his poem “Two sets of notes” you hear the revolutionary call for re-educating oneself, questioning things and not just accepting the status-quo as the blueprint for our lives. Not all of us can become authors, filmmakers and professors, but all of us can do a little bit more to aid our collective well being as a people within our societies. Even if our part is just comprised of sharing what could inspire others. We get to a point where we think we know so much, but keep a lot to ourselves. As MK Asante says in another interview: “Teaching is also a form of learning.” May we all, like MK Asante, continue the cypher of knowledge. Across continents, age groups and genders, when we unite we will walk taller as a people.
To find out more got www.mkasante.com