watch | KRS-One: Etymology, Philosophy, and the Collective

Moogfest closed out the 2018 festival with a forum where Professor Mark Anthony Neal, Chair of the African American Studies Department at Duke University, and KRS-One dove into conversation. The author/philosopher/MC/teacha traced his inquisitive, expressive nature to childhood, where his mother engaged him in her studies of esoteric Christianity, meditation, occult arts, philosophy and the ancients, like those of Mesoamerica. Encouraged in the pursuit of truth from a young age, he dropped out of school, where he noted that in contrast, they taught that America was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. Rejecting that institution, he found himself at the library instead, reading through philosophy in junior high.

He was there building on the environment created by his mother and after a while, amongst Kant, Nietzsche, Aristotle, and the other greats of the field, he came to the realization that the collective record of the pursuit of truth was missing something again. He shared that his feminism began there, when he openly wondered, “Where is moms? Where are the women? Black women? Urban women?”

He is adding himself to library shelves, with The Gospel of Hip Hop: The First Instrument and currently writing four more books. Hearing him speak, charting his career, and joining his thought experiments, it makes sense that a microphone controller embarks on etymological and epistemological studies, spreading the collective conversation in the process. That’s essential to the art of expression and shared sciences – that which breeds innovation and growth (as well as oppression and division when manipulated or withheld).

He shared that his feminism began there, when he openly wondered, “Where is moms? Where are the women? Black women? Urban women?”

As he came up, the culture of hip hop was burgeoning all around and within. He recalled 1973, when Jamaican-American DJ Kool Herc brought the music from the clubs out to the park, to play for everyone for free, and it blew Lawrence “Kris” Parker’s eight year old mind. That was also when Bruce Lee’s career, made its mark on the culture. People wore gees and dressed like him, carried themselves like him – the character, integrity, and philosophy of Bruce Lee earned their respect; he utilized his mind, while being the greatest fighter in the world. “He demonstrated how to be in a society that doesn’t respect you,” said KRS-One.

However, they knew the respect was coming, from the world over. The attraction was and remains there, in the music. As he describes it – acknowledging his subjective bias – Hip Hop is deliberate. They were aware of what they had, there was an idea of what they were to be and the scale, but the early artists couldn’t know what the movement would become: mumble rap, monopolizing of radio stations, or the iconically enriched status of Jay-Z and Diddy.

People wore gees and dressed like him, carried themselves like him – the character, integrity, and philosophy of Bruce Lee earned their respect; he utilized his mind, while being the greatest fighter in the world. “He demonstrated how to be in a society that doesn’t respect you,” said KRS-One.

These are natural aspects of evolution – as he put it the business man has always existed, before their era, during his emergence, and in the present day – but in the eighties black people with symbols of value or wealth were immediately considered suspicious: “we weren’t expected to have nice things so we didn’t see that for ourselves.” Now that all boats have risen and wealth has generally, as a people, there is more access and visibility for these timeless personas and cultural staples.

In those times, in lieu of pursuing such status as success, they sought excellence. They knew the counterintelligence programming – COINTELPRO, recently brought back up by Democracy Now! – was in full swing so knowing those opposing forces, resolving the realities of community struggles and brilliance of people of color led them on their own way. 

Reminiscing on those dynamics of resilience, opposition, and creativity, KRS-One added that “Africans are not an intellectual people – we got that from Greece, but we don’t exist there; we exist in another place that we have yet to get to. Society is denying itself excellence by denying the African American mind. The key question to ask is, why are we only following white laws – white, European rule? Why can’t Native Americans create a law and we all adhere to it? What about the Asian Americans? The Mexican Americans?” He lifted up the imbalance that, “there are no laws created by people of color that white people are obliged to recognize,” emphasizing that, as contributing citizens of the United States, these efforts would be attributed to the success of all.

The same is true of Moogfest, and any festivals aiming to raise the consciousness and exposure of their attendees by deepening their association with the multi-faceted future and diverse roots of the music they are called to create and consume. Folks in media and participant in the festival questioned the necessity of and approach to highlighting the ways in which the 2018 lineup created space for communities underrepresented in electronic music. The festival itself gracefully acknowledged the need to better attune themselves to the nuances of artist-centric and culturally mindful practices, that inclusivity must be more than performative. The principle and value go hand in hand – there could be conscious contributions based in a variety of customs, around principles of equity, respect, and humanity that serve to improve quality of life for all.

He reiterated that America does itself a disservice by not allowing other minds to truly influence education, the political process, psychology, law, medicine, and other institutions. Especially given the significance of America as the principal microcosm of our world, aka “the greatest country” – a title the country holds residually in my opinion, having used questionable means to acquire it in the first place. KRS-One made his point, though, elevating the synthesis of all peoples that we live in here – on the other hand, his travels all over the world have shown him that the only thing people throughout the world respect about America may be Hip Hop. It 

He lifted up the imbalance that, “there are no laws created by people of color that white people are obliged to recognize,” emphasizing that, as contributing citizens of the United States, these efforts would be attributed to the success of all.

“We are looked up to, and that is a privilege and a responsibility,” he humbly stated. Referencing his travels and experiences interacting with people all over the world as our policies have developed, with both understanding and conviction, he voiced disappointment with our international relations and pointed to the consequences, “We look like a savage nation to the rest of the world, we act like we don’t know we’re being watched. We need to be careful right now – this behavior has usually, historically, preceded the fall of a society.”

As the time we had left in the cinema of Carolina Theatre dwindled down, he responded to audience questions, sharing his perspective on ways to tune in, move with integrity, and make positively transformative change, summarized as follows:

  • One of the worst things you can do is try to fight an illusion. Get rid of the illusions – no one is paying for radio music (it is garbage), the world is paying for authentic artists. Sex and Violence flopped in 1992, with it’s conscious messages and warnings of cultural shifts to come – but America let him know every day, and the world continues to let him know, what they think about him. That truth, the experiential knowledge from personal interactions, and shows, reigns over industry blacklisting and the corporate perspective of value.
  • Kids respond to what people do, not what they say. No adult living today can say anything to claim subjective moral superiority over the kids. Just be an honest example to your children yourself, be consistent and mindful of what they see.
  • Look inside yourself; BDP was the “hoodest..”, even though he knew about the metaphysical and philosophy, so he had to ask himself what about his character allowed that and learn from it.
  • Revolution only works for those who participate .. you can’t save everyone.
  • It’s not about individualism it’s about collectivism. It’s not about capitalism it’s about sharing goods, whatever you call it. Any abundance must be in balance with nature.

He touches on much more than is explored here, just visit our Youtube channel or scroll up to hear KRS-One and Professor Mark Anthony Neal in conversation, and be sure to subscribe!

Learn more about Moogfest and other shared spaces.

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