Film the Police: The Interview - with B. Dolan, Toki Wright, Jasiri X, and Buddy Peace
On Monday, December 12th, 2011, Strange Famous Records debuted the new video/single "Film the Police," by B. Dolan featuring Toki Wright, Jasiri X, Buddy Peace, and introduction by Sage Francis. The song quickly resonated with the public, garnering over 60,000 views on Youtube in less than a week. The three emcees and the producer/deejay were kind enough to each talk with us about this unique project - what went into it, and what they hope people get out of it.
Scratched Vinyl: Where did the idea for the project come from? How did you pick your collaborators?
B. Dolan: The idea for the project came from a conversation I was having with a frequent behind-the-scenes collaborator of mine. Her name is Madge of Honor and she's a performance artist/community activist in Boston. The Oscar Grant shooting had just taken place, and we were talking about the importance of filming the police and making people aware of their right to do so.
She actually directly said: "You should flip "Fuck The Police" and make a song called "Film the Police". Haha. We toss ideas at each other like that on a regular basis, and I happened to take this one and run with it. Big up, Madge!
Once I realized an instrumental didn't exist for "Fuck the Police," and it would need to be reconstructed from the original samples, Buddy Peace was an obvious choice. In all my years I have yet to meet another producer with crates as deep or versatile as Buddy.
Jasiri X is someone who Sage brought to my attention (and the attention of his larger audience) during the time of the Oscar Grant shooting. We were both really impressed with Jasiri's songs about Oscar Grant and the Tea Party. After seeing those two videos, we knew he was an obvious choice.
Toki Wright is a dude who's been teaching, advocating, and making great hip hop for as long as I've known him. I was super impressed by his flip of 'By The Time I Get To Arizona' a few years back, and the way he was able to tip a hat to Chuck D's delivery while making that song his own impressed the hell out of me.
Everybody involved reacted with enthusiasm to the idea, and brought their A game to the project out of a mutual respect. I knew while it was coming together that this song would have a huge impact.
SV: How do you see hip hop as a tool for political change?
B. Dolan: When I was growing up, it was artists like Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice Cube, etc. that shaped how I viewed our entire social and political system. Their music connected the dots for me, from the injustice I saw around me to a system of larger injustice happening everywhere.
I don't think that political change ends with music, and I think it's critical that people do more than just pump their fist at a show and wear a t-shirt. Activism and social justice work involve getting your hands dirty, and real organizational help is needed at every level, but I think music can be a powerful tool in sparking people's awareness.
SV: What about technology? Smart phones? Social Media?
B. Dolan: I don't think their importance can be overstated, really. In a generation that's otherwise been marked by an incredible amount of oppression and exploitation, that's the one truly democratizing thing that's happened to the world. It's important realize that, utilize that, and protect these modes of communication for that reason.
SV: To what extent are you involved in the Occupy Movement?
B. Dolan: Well, it's important to remember that the Occupy Movement is the latest uprising in a struggle that's been going on for a long, long time. I've been involved in social justice work since 2001, and most notably created a website called Knowmore.org in 2005 whose mission is to raise awareness of corporate abuse. We were joining millions of others in sounding the alarm about things like Corporate Personhood, political influence, and environmental abuse for literally half a decade before the financial collapse, and we obviously weren't the first to do so.
I've been following the #Occupy protests closely since they were in their planning stages. I was touring Europe when the Occupation of Wall St. began, and have been interacting with the protests mostly via things like this video, or the "Proposed List of Demands" we published in September. Things like this have been received super positively by the folks in the street, and I consider that a way of lending my voice to various general assemblies.
Once the protests reached Europe, I also started visiting local #Occupy protests in whatever cities I could, talking to folks and trying to get a sense of where they were at.
The life of a touring artist is not much different than the rest of the 99%, the need to keep a roof over my own head and provide for my family keeps me hard at work most of the time. The folks living in tents are therefore representing for me, and I'm doing my best to stay in the conversation with them and look for ways to lend support.
SV: What do you hope people take away from the project?
B. Dolan: My personal approach to making political music is a careful one. I don't consider myself a 'political rapper' though a lot of people do. When and if I make a song about a political topic, I try to avoid the sort of blanket cliche soap-boxing that defines a lot of 'political rap'. "The Man is bad! Freedom is good!", etc. A lot of that comes off as cheap and hollow to me.
What I try and do with my political material is offer concrete, practical and immediate things people can do, and talk about very specifically targeted subjects that people may be unaware of.
For that reason, this song is super obvious about what it wants people to take away from it; that they have a legal right, a historic responsibility, and a self-interest in their own safety, to film the police.
SV: How did you get involved in the project?
Toki Wright: I know B. Dolan through Sage Francis - we were on the Paid Dues tour a few years back, and we just connected mutually through music, and stayed in touch. And I think we have both released music that’s on the same wavelength, about community concerns and standing up for yourself and standing up for what’s right, questioning authority. So we have a common bond in that sense, coming from two different backgrounds, two different areas of the country, but having that same common interest.
SV: So did he just call you up?
Toki Wright: Yeah, he just contacted me, and said ’I have this beat, I haven an idea. Let’s do it.’ Simple.
SV: You mentioned that you both have similar viewpoints to your music. How do you envision hip hop as a tool for political change?
TW: That’s a big question. Let me sit down. Well, it all depends on how you define politics - if you’re looking at politics as either electoral politics or politics of the community. How the community operates, who gets an opportunity to speak, who’s voice gets heard and gets considered valid. And hip hop allows for that space for people that have not been considered valid, which are young people, people of color, and people in the inner city, to actually get that voice and be put on a [public platform]. It’s as important as any politician. To our people, and that’s important to us. So any issue - through what means did people find out about Katrina, through what means did people find out about police brutality in South Central L.A., and if it wasn’t for groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy speaking and actually saying, ’This is what’s going on.’ People in the inner city are very familiar with police brutality, have been for a long time. People of color has been familiar with the authoritative hand. And it sometimes takes a very brash, unapologetic voice to step up and say, 'This is messed up - We’re not going to take it, and we’ll call you out on it when you’re wrong.’
SV: And this is not something that’s new to you - you’ve done some one off singles, like the reworking of Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get To Arizona.” How do you see technology and social media affecting the way you reach people with the music and the message?
Toki Wright: It’s the gift and the curse. It allows you to be in contact with so many more people directly, in a very personal way, but there are also a million other things that are in direct contact with them as well. So unless it’s put in front of you, or you’re really searching for it, it can also miss the mark. But when things have that ’it’ factor, that factor that intrigues you, interests you, surprises you, or shocks you, to the point of having to watch it, or having to listen to it, or feeling that relationship to it, it’s a pretty amazing thing. I have my reservations and my support of social technology and social networks. I see the value in it, I just don’t want the information to be fly by night, I don’t want the information just considered, ‘Oh that was cool, that police brutality story, that was cool - YESTERDAY.’
SV: And now on to the next.
Toki Wright: Right, this is an ongoing issue that people deal on a daily basis. In a really personal way, it’s disgusting. I’ve had to deal with police brutality in my family, and still have no answers, and still have no way of really getting those answers, because we weren’t able to really document the situation, and it was the words of common citizens who are now considered criminals, because they choose to defend themselves against being bullied, and the word of someone who is considered law because they’ve taken classes. Or they’ve taken an oath to serve and protect, but I don’t know who that is, whose interests are being served, and who’s being protected. If I speak up for myself or if I decide to defend myself, or if I decide that I’m being wronged, who am I protected against? Who’s going to have my back? And the only thing that can really get through that is the absolute truth. And the absolute truth comes from documenting things in real time. And that’s the importance of having to be able to take video, and being able to transcribe what’s being said, to see what happened. It’s no different than what really shook the Civil Rights Movement an the War in Vietnam. People getting on camera and seeing the devastation. Seeing how horribly real things are. If it’s placed in front of your face...I’ve got too much to say on that one.
SV: Have you been involved in the Occupy Movement?
Toki Wright: I did a benefit in Minneapolis, I did a rally; performed at a rally. And I went down to Occupy Wall Street in New York about a month ago. I haven’t been a big part of the movement. I still have my questions about the directions of things. I don’t fully know, I don’t fully get everything that’s going on. I think that parts of it are organized in some cities and some groups, but as a whole, I’m not necessarily fully understanding. I’m a common citizen like everybody else, with an opinion.
SV: You made mention that it’s affected your family, but have you personally been the victim of or first hand witness to police brutality?
Toki Wright: I’ve been witness to it. It’s never physically happened to me. I’ve been intimidated, I’ve been handcuffed, I’ve been put in the back of police cars, I’ve been verbally abused, I’ve been...all of the intimidation that comes with being an authority figure and feeling like you have the power to subordinate others. I’ve been witness to it. It hasn’t physically happened to me, thank God. It’s happened to a lot of people that I know. An overwhelming amount of people I know. And a lot of that is me knowing when to save it, and when to talk. If I’m in a situation where I’m alone in the back street with somebody and they get smart with me and they have a gun, I have to preserve myself. I don’t want to put myself in that situation. But everybody’s button has different buttons. And that’s not to say that even if I did nothing, even if I do nothing wrong, that one day somebody will decide they want to hit me or lock me up. Or read this interview and decide they have a vendetta against me. But I can’t hide from the truth.
SV: Everybody involved in this project has a different background. How do you feel being from the Midwest, and particularly from Minneapolis, affected your viewpoint?
Toki Wright: Minneapolis is a different animal. We have a lot of influx from people all over the country. We also have the biggest Somali population outside of Somalia, we have the biggest urban Native American population, we have one of the largest Southeast Asian communities in the country, we have a big influx of people from Chicago - both of my parents were from Chicago. And so all of the tension that happens between...all of the stereotypes and prejudices against those communities, and against any ’other,’ anyone considered an ’other,’ we’re going to see it come down on us at some point in time. As much as Minnesota is, we want to think of ourselves, a lot of us want to think of ourselves as this kind-hearted, nice-to-your-neighbors, Northern Norwegian state...that doesn’t exist for everyone. That doesn’t exist for people who are already targeted and considered outsiders. Those that are considered foreigners, or aliens, or prone to violence, prone to disobedience. And we get treated with that. Our neighborhood is policed, the majority of the violent crimes, and the majority of [police brutality], are all based in these communities. Whether it’s inner city Minneapolis or St. Paul, or on the reservations, we’re dealing with the same issues that any big city would deal with.
SV: What’s your personal relationship to the original material, the N.W.A. song?
Toki Wright: My brother brought that album home when I was young, and I was surprised at how straightforward and blunt they were about it. I didn’t know what police brutality was when I was a little kid. Nobody explained what that was. I heard, “Fuck the Police,” and to me, I was like, ‘Why would you say that? The police are the nice guys who give you stickers and baseball cards, why would anybody want to say that?’ Until you get older, and then you realize you get treated different than other people.
SV: Finally, what are your hopes and expectations for your song to accomplish?
Toki Wright: I hope it shows the reality of what it means to be a person who stands up for yourself in America, and it shows the gritty, violent reality of how people are treated when someone with authority feels like they can do what they want and no one will ever stop them. And I hope that it makes people uneasy. I hope it makes people want to turn it off, but not turn it off. I hope it’s disgusting. I hope that people are disgusted by it. Because they should be. Something has to change. We have to really film these situations. We need to have dashboard cams just like any cop would. We need to record how people are treating us. Because absolute power corrupts absolutely - you know how that goes. Until we...I don’t like ‘empower,’ I like ‘realize our own power.’ Until we realize our own power we will be powerless.
SV: So how did you get involved in the project?
Jasiri X: I hooked up with Sage Francis, I think it was through Twitter. You know, we started communicating back and forth. And he basically approached me with the idea. He said, ‘Hey man, one of my artists, B. Dolan, is doing this song “Film the Police,” would you like to hop on it?’ So he sent me B. Dolan’s verse, which was, real, real thorough, you know what I’m saying? He spits real heavy on the verse, so I said ‘Of course!’ That’s the type of music I do. I do a lot of music where I do commentary on what’s happening, you know, current in the news. So it was like right up my alley. When they said Toki was going to be on the song, I mean, I’m a fan of Toki Wright, he’s a quick witted emcee, then I knew this was going to become big.
SV: How do you see hip hop as a tool for political change?
Jasiri X: Oh man, I would say it’s one of the greatest tools we have. I think that it’s a lot of times under-utilized. I think that, to me, just to see how powerful hip hop as a tool can be, just look at the Obama election - How hip hop was used to bring out so many people that had voted or been engaged in an election, whatsoever, because Obama was deemed ’The Hip Hop President,’ so to speak. I’m always going to spaces and having conversations about using hip hop to put different messages out there, because I’ve had success. You know, with songs like, “What if the Tea Party was Black?” “Real Gangstas,” a song called “Occupy.” So, because I’ve been able to have success making that type of music, I’m always encouraging people to support it. That’s why it’s cool to see people supporting the “Film the Police” song, the way that they have, and the amount of views it’s gotten in a short amount of time, I feel like, like I said - it’s a great tool, it’s just under-utilized.
SV: What role do you see technology playing in this? Like the social media and smart phones that are discussed in the song?
Jasiri X: I think that it’s as revolutionary for the way hip hop is going as it is filming the police! Because of social media and social networking, I don’t need a record label, so to speak. I don’t need mainstream radio or major label, I’ll say it like that. I can make a song, upload it directly to Youtube, and connect directly to people who like that type of music. That’s how myself, personally, I’ve been able to exist as an artist. This is what I do for a living, I do hip hop music for a living in 2011 because of social media and technology enabling me to connect directly to the audience that the mainstream said didn’t exist. They said people didn’t want to hear conscious music, they don’t want to hear music with messages. But I’ve been able to connect directly to an audience worldwide that wants to hear music that’s relevant, wants to hear music that’s addressing what’s going on right now. So to me, that’s what’s revolutionary about. I love it.
SV: To what extent have you been involved with the Occupy Movement?
Jasiri X: It’s interesting - Of course, when I saw the movement unfold, I was in support 100% because I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a lot of people don’t know, but Pittsburgh has the poorest black community in the country. So when you start talking about joblessness, you start talking about foreclosures, and really, people seeing the standard of living deteriorate, and then police brutality - you’re talking about all issues that have happened in my community for years, so I was in support of it. So I got down, in terms of making a song for it, because the guy who runs the global Livestream is from Pittsburgh. And so he started playing, in fact he played the ’Film the Police’ video on the global Livestream for Occupy Wall Street, and he started streaming my videos when it was down time during the Occupy Livestream, so people from the Occupy Movement began commenting on my videos, so I ended up saying, ’Well, shoot, I need to make a video for Occupy Wall Street.’ When I actually went to Occupy Wall Street, I went there the day there was a march where there was 30,000 people in the street in support of this movement, so I was like, ’Man!’ I’ve also been a supporter of Occupy Pittsburgh, which I actually just got an eviction notice recently, and I’ve also been working with the brother and sister who co-founded Occupy The Hood.
SV: Can you talk about the eviction notice?
Jasiri X: Well, Occupy Pittsburgh, it’s interesting, is on land owned by a bank - one of the biggest banks in Pittsburgh, Mellon Bank. And basically, like they’ve been doing to Occupies all over the country, at first they said they supported it. The city council issued a proclamation that supported Occupy Pittsburgh, and then now, all of a sudden the bank goes to the court and wants to evict Occupy Pittsburgh. So they were given until, I believe, 12:00 a.m. on Monday to leave, but they’re still there. But it’s one of those things that any day the police could raid Occupy Pittsburgh and arrest people and force people to leave, but like what happened with Occupy Wall Street or Oakland, or other places - you can make people move, but the idea that people are tired of the income inequality in this country, people are tired of the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer - you can’t evict that. That’s out of the box. And that’s why you see a song like “Film the Police” resonate with people, the police brutality that’s been happening all over the country, because people are just frustrated and fed up with seeing how America’s been co-opted by corporations.
SV: In your portion of the video, we see you in front of the Occupy Pittsburgh sign, and is that a police station?
Jasiri X: Yeah. You see the cop that came up and asked us to leave?
SV: Yeah. Did anything happen with that? What’s the story there?
Jasiri X: Nah, This is kind of what we, I mean I work with Paradise, he’s the Arkitech of X-Clan, produced To The East, Blackwards, you know, classic albums like that - but that’s what we do, I mean we just do guerrilla videos. So we've filmed there before. So we just rolled up on the police station and was filming, and he came up and, you know, ’Do we have permission?’ And we just kept filming, and then we went and filmed some place else. But we filmed the footage for the video, but that’s what we do. We’re pretty known in Pittsburgh. They just asked us to leave. That’s all that it was.
SV: Have you ever been victim of or witness to police brutality?
Jasiri X: Not a victim myself, I’ve been harassed by police, but thankfully I’ve never been brutalized, but of course I’ve witnessed police brutality. We’re in the city - I did a song about a young man named Jordan Miles who got brutalized by the police in Pittsburgh. Of course Oscar Grant, who was one of the first - we probably wouldn’t know about him if it wasn’t for people filming the police. This is why I got a phone with a camera on it myself, because as a young black man in America, nine times out of ten you’re going to be a victim. You’re definitely going to be harassed, and you might be a victim as well.
SV: You’ve talked about this a little already, but everybody working on the project is from somewhere different. To what extent does your background in Pittsburgh influence the project?
Jasiri X: Most cities in America have a long history of police brutality. I know we’ve had a recent history were we’ve had police kill people. We had a state trooper shoot a twelve-year-old boy [Michael Ellerbe] in the back that was running away from him. But most urban cities, you know, you’re going to have these instances of police brutality. I think it doesn’t really matter - Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, New York, if you’re in a city that has a hood, you’re gonna have cases of police brutality. And most of the time those officers go unpunished.
SV: What’s your relationship with the source material (NWA)?
Jasiri X: Of course, a fan of it. Like many, heard it, loved it, played it, sung it. And the sentiment agreed, like I said, as a young black man, in the society where the police officer interactions are often very prevalent, I agree with the very sentiment.
SV: What do hope people take away from the project?
Jasiri X: Just be prepared when interacting with the police. For instance, there’s a video, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, where I think in Houston, there were people protesting so what the police did was put a tent over them. Have you seen this? They put a tent over the people so you couldn’t see what the police were doing. To me it was a direct reflection of the fact that police are being taped. I would just encourage people to be prepared, you know. As we interact with a cop, if you don’t have it on video, it’s your word against theirs and a lot of time their going to believe them, unless we have the footage. And then hopefully it also causes people to begin to fight against some of these laws that their attempting to pass in different states to prevent people from filming the police. I mean you had cases where police tried to get stuff removed from Youtube, and now they’re directly trying to pass laws that say you shouldn’t be able to film the police. So I hope it encourages people to fight back against that. It’s not right, you understand? To film them is expected, because they film us!
SV: How did you get involved in the project?
Buddy Peace: I worked with B. Dolan previously on the first edition of the 'House Of Bees' mixtape, and we built up a solid working relationship through the process. We began the second installment a little while back, with 'Film The Police' set to be a major part of the project- when B told me of his plans for it I naturally flipped because Straight Outta Compton was one of my first hip hop albums, and one I hold very dear. To remake a track from that with such intelligent and active artists who have been making solid, heavy hitting and intensely creative music for a long time was something that I felt extremely priveleged to be a part of, and it was a pleasure to be on board.
SV: How do you see hip hop as a tool for political change?
Buddy Peace: It has a lot to do with who listens to it, but more importantly who is making it. Some tracks just resonate perfectly with the time and what's happening. I remember back in the early 90's hearing a UK hip hop track which had snippets of a news report on Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racist attack in 1993. That hit me hard, and I hadn't really heard such an upfront statement in UK hip hop until then - it felt like it had been made in the same week as the murder which, at the time, was no easy thing to achieve. In that case, all that time ago, it was a powerful track that had a feeling of the streets talking back and demanding answers where there really weren't many being given. Even though the record probably wasn't played by more than a few stations (and in their rap sections, at that), it was a timely and powerful attempt at raising awareness about how messed up the streets were and how real lives were being affected. Nowadays, with music and social media being truly in the hands of the public (which obviously has a positive and negative side), reaction can be felt immediately and worldwide in a matter of minutes. Whether or not actual political change comes because of it is another matter, but when people are equipped with the right messages in the form of music they enjoy, that's a very potent combination.
SV: What about technology? Smart phones? Social Media?
Buddy Peace: Being able to upload and present something to the whole word in minutes is still something that's crazy to me, but maybe that's because I was born a good while before the internet was ubiquitous (and stable too). So now with cameras in phones which are connected wirelessly to the internet, there is so much that is possible. If injustice can be caught on camera and submitted as evidence, or presented via social media to raise awareness, that's a pretty amazing development.
SV: To what extent are you involved in the Occupy Movement?
Buddy Peace: I've been to the London Stock Exchange site a few times, one time with B. Dolan when he was over here in the UK. I've been learning more and more about what is happening via social media, news websites and so on, but it was actually a comedian called Eddie Pepitone who I first [heard] mention the Occupy movement (on the Long Shot podcast which he's a part of). Another comedian called Jimmy Dore also regularly speaks on what's happening, and it definitely feels that it's a movement that's been gaining a huge amount of recognition in a very pure way. I'm aiming to keep up on what's happening, both here and in the US (and worldwide), but definitely could use some more schooling on it all.
SV: Have you ever been witness to or victim of police brutality?
Buddy Peace: Actually I'm lucky enough to have not been witness to any myself or had any inflicted on me. You do see reports from time to time on the news, the most recently chilling being the death of Ian Tomlinson, who died shortly after being pushed to the ground by an officer at a G20 protest. When the education fee protests were happening there were several reports about brutality being a part of the policing of them, but it feels very different to the US in many ways.
SV: To what extent do you feel national identity plays a roll in a project like this? What perspective might you have that would be different from your American partners?
Buddy Peace: For me, my view of the US police force comes from hip hop music and US television. So that's conflicted right from the start! We had shows like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, a fair few cop shows that are too numerous to reel off, but which would be from the side of the force. Then I was introduced to N.W.A., Public Enemy, Comptons Most Wanted and the more socially aware hip hop of the time which gave the complete other side (in varying degrees of rawness). As I've grown older I have more of an idea of how things operate, and have the advantage of listening to much more music since then so my ideas are a little more refined I think. As for being from London, I came at the project with that distance, and re-created that original N.W.A. track as a fan first (but with the force it deserved), and was then able to properly analyse what B. Dolan, Toki Wright and Jasiri X wrote for it. As I made additional tweaks, the power of the lyrics and the content was never once lost on me, and I kept hearing details I'd previously missed. I definitely feel the power that this song has, and it takes emcees of that level to drop something as heavy hitting and lazer focused as they did.
SV: What is your relationship to the source material (NWA)?
Buddy Peace: Straight Outta Compton is one of the first hip hop albums I ever owned. I had it on CD when I was 9, and listened to it relentlessly. It is absolutely one of my all time favourites, and rightfully so. When I was younger I tended to go for the heavy drums first- the title track is a perfect indication of that, that was one of the heaviest rap tracks I'd heard at that point (along with Public Enemy and most Bomb Squad production). I'd memorise the raps and repeat them with my fake accent and mis-heard words (and stuff I didn't understand- who was Lorenzo and what was a Benzo?), and bump the tape in my walkman whenever possible. They have led me on to pretty much everything I listen to these days in hip hop, and I think I can probably say something similar about most of the hip hop artists (and non-hip hop, of course) I listen to today.
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