Thursday, April 28, 2011

Roots & Reality Check, Part 1: Nuthin’ is Free

All I need is one mic... yeah, yeah yeah yeah

All I need is one mic... that's all I ever needed in this world, fuck cash

All I need is one mic... fuck the cars, the jewelry

All I need is one mic... to spread my voice to the whole world

-- Nas, One Mic

On April 13, American University Washington College of Law (WCL) sponsored Roots and Reality II: Hip Hop, Law, and Social Justice Organizing. RRII is the second installment of the Roots and Reality Social Justice Project—a collective of activists, lawyers, artists, and others committed to public interest law, and the “public” they serve—envisioned and co-organized by contributor, Professor Pamela Bridgewater. I was humbled to serve as a student co-organizer for the event this year.

RRII turned out to be a dope event, featuring co-founders, andré douglas pond cummings and Nick J. Sciullo, among other leading legal minds, activists, artists, and young people, who shared the space in community and conversation for two days. This post is first of two RRII afterthoughts prompted from the event.

Our first roundtable, Law(lessness), (In)Justice and Legacy of Hip Hop Music and Culture, centered on a “hot” question, “which degrees of free speech does the law guarantee for artists and activists resisting the powers that be?” You can watch the impassioned exchange between Rosa Clemente (activist, former Green Party VP candidate) and Mora Namdar (activist, WCL third-year student) where Mora explains her view that dissident speech is better protected in the US (than in Iran), and where Rosa fiercely challenges her. It was sort of like a freestyle battle, but rather with a spit-beat, it pulsed on a heart-beat.

I felt an unfolding of reactions as I watched it live, but in hindsight, I settled on some perspective: Mora is a law student, artist, and activist; she was threatened with arrest for her paintings in the US while in college; and who is engaged with artists/activists in Iran (the homeland of her parents who left after the Iranian Revolution). These Iranian activists’ messages are violently silenced by the state (from sudden disappearances to street murders) forcing them to use technology and the underground. Rosa is a PhD student, hip hop artist, and activist; a native New Yorker who is well-known for her radical organizing and writing; and who like many people faced military intimidation while bearing witness to Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. The resistance of radical activists’ with whom she engages has been targeted by the state through overt and covert police action (from warrantless wiretaps to the FBI’s COINTELPRO programs).

Both activists described self-proclaimed democracies which have a history of violent suppression of dissident speech, often squash meaningful legal interventions, and especially don’t want to hear criticism from strugglin’ folk through hip hop. So although Rosa and Mora disagreed on the degree of speech guarantees, as the audience member who commented at the end, neither approximates free speech—both regimes circumvent their own laws for “national” interests. All in all—whether it is the savage terrorist violence oppressing Iran’s Green Wave or brutal police assassination of young vocal leaders, such Fred Hampton in Chicago—it’s insidious, inhumane stuff.

Breaking it down, in my mind, the crucial point from the back-and-forth was the reality that our role as lawyers and activists, here or elsewhere, is as effective as our ability to work as creative resistors to hypocritical systems. Where a constitutional claim or protest might not reach, a hip hop track might move, even if the music is censored, or artist’s life destroyed. In that way, art forms like hip hop, is a freedom that no law can ever guarantee, but no law can ever fully contain.

-- Richael Faithful

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Major League teams as Hip-Hop MC's from

I saw this post over at and thought it was pretty funny. I'm not so sure all the observations are correct, but some are on point. What do you think of this list?

MLB Teams as MC's...

This started as a joke between my friends and I a while back, trying to match baseball teams to bands. I got through about 14 teams before I said “screw it, I’m sick of pretending like the Washington Nationals and Flaming Lips have anything in common.” Clearly, they don’t. But, I did find this exercise was a ton more fun when I swapped out “bands” for hip-hop acts. Sometimes, the artist reps the city from which the team hails, sometimes they don’t. Ladies and gentlemen, The Source proudly presents: Baseball teams as rappers.


Baltimore Orioles (P-Diddy) – Man, if only it were 1997 again. Does this make the Jeffrey Maier catch the baseball equivalent of when Biggie got shot? I mean, the Orioles could have built an empire, but another legend in the same vein emerged to dominate the East Coast rap landscape in years to come.

Boston Red Sox (Eminem) – Disproportionate percentage of female and white fans. Extremely loud and overbearing, but often with skills and budget to match. Was, at one point, the most outsized and recognizable face in the industry, now settling uneasily back into past-its-prime adequacy.

New York Yankees (Jay-Z) - The Ruler. The HOVA. Bazillions of platinum albums. Media empire. Mogul. Riches. Beyonce. Single after hit single. Empire State of Mind. Emerged in the late 90s to dominate the game for the next decade.

Tampa Bay Rays (Drake) – In the vein of Lil Wayne (see: Twins, Minnesota), protege finds crossover niche with some Young Money. Small market, but big breakout success in 2008.

Toronto Blue Jays (K-Os) – Eclectic skills mixing throwback sensibilities with futuristic production. Canada’s lone recognizable entity, but could leave, relocate, re-distribute and would be infinitely moreso (and, more successful, one would think).


Chicago White Sox (Lil Jon) - Loud, crunk, circus-like atmosphere creates a cacophonous mess of a cottage industry which, despite only ruling the city for a brief period, cranks out hits, though one always gets the feeling the gravy train will end soon. (Ahem, Ozzie.)

Cleveland Indians (Cypress Hill) - Stormed the scene in the early-to-mid-90s with manic, fast energy and quality skills. Since then has vanished in a cloud of smoke.

Detroit Tigers (LL Cool J) - Decent skill, big budget, but still impossible to be taken seriously.

Kansas City Royals (KRS-One) - Awesome in the 80s. Completely irrelevant since.

Minnesota Twins (Lil Wayne) – Critically acclaimed, Minnesota slowly built a staggering, slow-burning empire and became a model for other similarly-styled franchises (see: Rays, Tampa Bay).


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Snoop Dogg) - Gradually overtook LA from Dre (see: Dodgers, Los Angeles), as the lil’ brother eventually became the ruling body. Relaxed pace, quiet excellence, chill as all hell, still delivering the goods year after year.

Oakland Athletics (Common) – So cerebral, sometimes the ambition out-thinks the talent. Small levels of success most of the time, but consistently retooling the sound.

Seattle Mariners (Jurassic 5) - 2001 was a hell of a year, and showed a lot of promise. Team’s been trying the same thing since, and that recipe’s helped them fade into oblivion.

Texas Rangers (Talib Kweli) - Hyped every year as a great force “on paper”, often undone by glaring inconsistencies, distraction or gaping holes in production. Then, last year, they dropped their most consistent and praised work to date, teaming once again with an old friend (DJ Hi-Tek / Nolan Ryan).


Atlanta Braves (Wu-Tang Clan) - At one point in the 90s, was the greatest collection of fire-spittin’ talent the world had yet seen, with three hall-of-famers and several others who’d go on to carve out solid careers. That said, only one incredible peak (Enter the 36 Chambers / 1995 World Series) leads one to label them “underachievers.”

Florida Marlins (Pitbull) – Predominantly Hispanic fan base. By the time most hear the tracks, though, nobody’s really sure who dropped ‘em or when they came out, because every 3-4 years or so, the sound overhauls itself.

New York Mets (Nas) – Jay-Z rules New York. Nas is a distant second, and hasn’t done jack worth writing home about in forever. Still riding cache off one crowning moment (1986 World Series, Illmatic).

Philadelphia Phillies (Kanye West) – Absolutely ruled the last half of the 2000s, and this year riding a surge in notoriety, following an unthinkable mash-up of skills and craftsmanship that bent the rules of the game, and could wind up changing it forever.

Washington Nationals (Master P and the No Limit All-Stars) - Incredibly, there was once a time when it appeared this team would soar to great heights (1994 strike-shortened year), and then all the talent went elsewhere and the label folded and nobody even remembers them now.


Chicago Cubs (Ludacris) – The de-facto face of the city, and a long-time staple of it. Showed promise at the turn of the millennium, Peaked in 2003 by nearly reaching the very top of the game, but then dissolved and in ill-fated attempts to patch together hasty re-creations of that magic, fans seem to romanticize the idea of each more than either giving the fans something worth savoring.

Cincinnati Reds (Public Enemy) - The OG franchise (baseball’s longest-running current act.) 1990 was an incredible year. Early on in the game, they brought the noise. Then the noise left. Experiencing a current resurgence in popularity (on a smaller scale) by a new generation nostalgic for good ol’ days.

Houston Astros (Mike Jones) - There was once a time a while back when you could say “Mike who?” And everyone knew you meant “The ‘Stros!” Now, there’s simply silence after “Who?”

Milwaukee Brewers (Xzibit) - Had to give it up to the MC who brought us more hot tracks about drinking than anyone, repping the team named after those specialize in making it.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Easy-E) - Both have been dead for the past 17 years.

St. Louis Cardinals (Nelly) - Like Ludacris and ATL, Nelly is the defacto face of STL. Both peaked around the same time, and sustained excellence in the first half of this decade. And, like the Cardinals, nobody really HATES Nelly. This is the team you’d even let your mama like. Even Luda fans, despite the stark contrast between the two MCs, give props in a polite fashion.


Arizona Diamondbacks (DMX) – In jail? Still making records? Still playing? Still traveling the country? Nobody can answer this. But, for one brief shining moment around the turn of the millennium, this was the gold standard. How far the mighty have fallen.

Colorado Rockies (Outkast) – Always a fun place to turn when you want entertainment value, it wasn’t until recently, when the more eccentric aspects of the group (Andre 3000 / BALLS FLYING OUT OF THE PARK ALL THE TIME) were tapered or eliminated, by departure or by humidor, that we realized we longed for them to return and took them for granted.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Dr. Dre) – At one point, the definitive king of the West Coast. Still waiting for that next follow-up to The Chronic, or that 1988 World Series title. Doesn’t look good.

San Diego Padres (Mos Def) – In 1998-99, there was little bigger than “Black on Both Sides” or the Padres wrestling the non-commercial crown away from Wu-Tang and standing nearly equal with Jay-Z. But, long periods of inactivity caused the fans to drift. And, although they’re still respected, there’s just more active, shiny new objects out there to devote attention. Like, you know, the coast.

San Francisco Giants (The Roots) - Hyped group, adored by white people, that did things its own way and was quite successful in their “experimental” phase (Phrenology / 2002 World Series when Bonds, ahem, “experimented” with Steroids), but has quietly settled into a night-in, night-out groove and in 2007 moved from Bonds to Fallon. Last year, with little expected of them, they achieved a new pinnacle of success.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hip Hop's First Billionaire?

Rap mogul and hip hop powerhouse Sean “Diddy” Combs made news earlier this month, when an article forecast that Combs is well on his way to becoming rap’s first billionaire. The financial magazine Forbes recently ranked Combs at the top of the hip hop mountain in terms of net worth at $475 million and growing. Due to Diddy’s broad marketing appeal, his Sean John clothing line, and his very lucrative partnership with Ciroc vodka, Combs is the king of the financial hip hop world. Of course, it all started with “Puff Daddy,” Bad Boy Records and hip hop music. Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter is not far behind, with Forbes calculating his net worth at $450 million.

In Combs’s own words, referencing his financial success, “I take pride in [building] something as a black man that’s worth that much . . . It shows the power of hip hop.” Indeed, Combs’s achievements are truly a testament to the staying power and broad global and corporate appeal of hip hop.

Diddy and Jay-Z are seeking to join Tiger Woods in the rarefied air of the billionaire. Woods was the first athlete in history to reach this milestone, based primarily on endorsements and prize winnings. Woods' accomplishment as the first billionaire athlete occurred prior to the scandals that have beset him of late.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Book: Jamaican Popular Music by John Gray


Despite its popularity, reggae, and the myriad Jamaican popular music forms from which it springs, has long lacked a bibliographic resource that could aid its legion of fans, students and scholars. Until now.

Based on more than 15 years of research, Jamaican Popular Music, the second volume in ADP’s Black Music Reference Series, offers some 3700 entries on the the island’s commercial music scene from its inception in the 1950s to the present. Idioms covered range from the calypso-like mento of the late 1940s and ’50s to ska and rock steady of the 1960s, roots reggae and dub poetry of the 1970s and ’80s, dub and dancehall from the mid-1980s on, and international offshoots such as British 2-tone, Puerto Rican reggaeton and Brazilian samba-reggae. It also provides in-depth coverage of the music’s diffusion to more than 51 other countries along with a biographical section documenting the careers of some 800 individual artists, producers, and others. Sources range from fanzines and newspaper reportage to books, theses, journal articles, and audio-visual materials from Jamaica, Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Much of this material is cited here for the first time. Particularly notable is the attention given to local reggae and dub poetry scenes in Britain, the US and Canada, along with lesser known, but equally vital, scenes in France, Germany, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Japan.

The result is a ground-breaking effort offering insights into all facets of Jamaican popular music and its local, regional and transnational impact.

The compiler is veteran bibliographer John Gray whose previous works include Blacks in Classical Music, African Music, Fire Music: a bibliography of the New Jazz, 1959-1990, and, From Vodou to Zouk.

To order please visit the ADP website: The book is also available through most library wholesalers.

Also available: From Vodou to Zouk: a bibliographic guide to music of the French-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora (Black Music Reference Series; vol. 1)

Forthcoming (Fall 2011): Afro-Cuban Music: a bibliographic guide (Black Music Reference Series; vol. 3)

Praise for the author’s previous works:

From Vodou to Zouk: “...will prove an indispensable, in-hand reference to current French Caribbean music scholarship” —Library Journal

African Music: “...a truly outstanding achievement...likely to become the standard reference tool on African music for the next decade or so. Supersedes all previously available bibliographies in scope, the clear organization of its data, and of course, in its up-to-dateness”
Folk Music Journal

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Round 3: Roots and Reality

Just finished talking. We had a great discussion, the three of us: Donald Tibbs, Camille Nelson, and me, Nick J. Sciullo. The audience was really active in their participation asking probing questions, making insightful comments, and actively listening. It was a true joy to participate in this great event. We covered important ground (I think), discussing how hip-hop and critical race theory intersect with critical theory, hip-hop and multiculturalism, and hip-hop as a pedagogical tool.

This work is important and the great audience members give me hope that more people will join the struggle. I believe I speak for the presenters when I extend a hearty, "Thank You!" to the audience and conference organizers.

Live from the Washington College of Law at American University

It's the start of the Roots and Reality II conference at the Washington College of Law at American University. Last night was stellar. There were so many powerful artists with such strong messages. I observed people come alive on the stage. It was quite remarkable to see so many great young leaders rising to the occasion.

Now as I sit in a 6th Floor classroom at WCL, I'm heartened to see so many outstanding law students, community members and scholars awaiting the panelists and performances. As I speak, Pam Bridgewater has begun her opening remarks and the conference is almost underway.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

live blogging from busboys and poets; kickoff for Roots and Reality

live and direct... great crowd here so far... really good vibe... pam bridgewater puts on a great event... looking forward to some great performances... come out and enjoy... several great artists will be here and will really help set the atmosphere for thirty six hours of great commentrary on law, social change, hip hop, and possibilities for an exciting and more inclusive tomorrow... more to come...

nick j. sciullo

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Conference (April 13): Roots and Reality II: Hip Hop, Law, and Social Justice Organizing at Washington College of Law at American University

There's a great conference being put on at the Washington College of Law at American UNiversity this month. The conference brings together great minds from law, hip-hop, organizing, and social justice. The conference can be found at

If you live in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia metro area), you should certainly think about attending.

April 13, 2011

9:30-9:55 Registration

10:00-10:05 WCL Founders' Celebration and RRII Welcome RRII Student Planning Committee Member

10:10-10:20 Opening Address

andré douglas pond cummings

Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law

Editor, Evolution of Street Knowledge: Hip Hop Law Anthology


10:25-10:45 Presentations 'All of the Lights': Life and Law in the DMV Slam! Winners *

Presenter: Dennis Williams, H.B.O. Corporate Responsibility and Slam! MC,

Skim, hip hop artist, Def Poetry Jam poet, activist and artist

10:45-11:40 Town Hall Meeting: Law(lessness) and (In)Justice in Hip Hop Music and the Hip Hop Nation

Moderator: Rosa Clemente, Hip Hop Activist, Former Candidate for Vice President (GP 08).

11:45-11:50 Performance – 'All of the Lights': Life and Law in the DMV Slam! 3rd Place Winner*

11:55-12:20 Address and Presentation

Paul Butler, Dean and Professor of Law, George Washington Law

Author, Let’s Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice

12:25-1:55 Lunch

Film Screening and Discussion

Beyond Beats and Rhymes

2:00-2:05 Performance – 'All of the Lights': Life and Law in the DMV Slam! 2nd Place Winner*

2:20-3:30 Hip Hop Legal Theory Panel: Hip Hop Nation in the Law School Classroom

Camille Nelson, Dean, Suffolk University Law School

Anthony Farley, James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, Albany Law School

Nick J. Sciullo, J.D., West Virginia University College of Law, moderator and resident blogger for

3:35-3:40 Performance 'All of the Lights' 1st Place Winner*

3:45-5:00 “On to the Next” Roundtable

Topic: Hip Hop in the Grassroots: Art, Politics Organizing and Activism

Rosa Clemente, Hip Hop Activist Former Vice Presidential Candidate (Invited)

Mazi Mutafa, Executive Director, Words Beats and Life 'All of the Lights': Life and Law in the DMV 1st place winner*

Skim, hip hop/spoken word artist, activist

Head Roc, hip hop artist, activist, advocate for DC Statehood/Green Party and DC City Paper Columnist

Part III Symposium Dinner and Keynote Address

5:10-6:30 Roots and Reality II Symposium Dinner: Social Justice Organizing and Mentoring in the Juvenile Justice System

R. Dwayne Betts, Keynote Address

National Spokesperson for Campaign for Youth

2010 Soros Justice Fellow

Cave Canem Fellow

2010 Winner of NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut for his memoir, A Question of Freedom