Eternal reflections on getting free
(Written for the Amsterdam edition of the Trans//Form event. Their last edition will take place on Wednesday October 31 in Leeuwarden.)
I’m not saying she’s a golddigger but Amsterdam ain’t messing with the people who’re being priced right out of their homes, stores and neighbourhoods because gentrification rules everything around me. This city was built on and continues to exist by the grace of exploitation. This right here is the concrete version of unknockable hustles, miseducations and champion sounds. Amsterdam loves to market itself as the seat of Dutch tolerance and progressiveness but me, personally… how progressive is a city that prides itself on being multicultural but has never had a mayor that wasn’t white? If the idea of Amsterdam being run by a left-wing, Black Muslim woman has sweat trickeling down your cheeks and your heartbeat sounding like Sasquatch feet, your ideas of progressiveness aren’t as radical as you hope they were.
When our host JNM, Tim Blaauw and Elten Kiene asked me to write something about Hip-hop and Transforming Amsterdam, the first question that came to mind was this:
How could rap politically impact and reshape the city of Amsterdam? How can this culture rooted in craft not just respect the architects but also push forward new shapeshifters and other folks who don’t just survive but also predict these moments when, as Lauryn Hill once put it, seasons change and mad things rearrange?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved singing along to tracks about killah’s and hundred dollar billah’s or the many variations of living better now/ Coogi sweaters now…
but most of the songs I really loved were the ones that painted realities that were truer for more people.
So what if Hip-hop would help us shift the focus from the richest to the brokest?
Long before my highschool teachers who taught history, economy, geography and social studies classes talked about resistance movements, the power of mobilization plus Black folks and non-Black People of Colour’s many, many, many reasons to say “F*ck the Police”, Hip-hop already schooled me on these matter. Through rap music I was also introduced to pan-Africanism, RBG and Islam. MC’s like Queen Latifah, miss Hill, The Mighty Mos, Talib Kweli, Rakim, Jeru the Damaja, Nas or collectives like The Native Tongues and Wu Tang Clan navigated me towards books, films and icons that sparked my interests in facts that, to this very day, help me to understand, or at least unpack, the inequalities that, be it in different forms in different cities in different countries, still shape the worlds around us.
I wonder how Dutch Hip-hop would have shaped my teenage views of this city, perhaps of this entire country, if there had been more MC’s who spoke about how these canals and the fancy houses that overlook them were financed with money generated from slavery and colonialism. There was a time when the city of Amsterdam owned parts of Suriname. There was a time when artists sculpted the faces of Black people and hung them on people’s houses to illustrate a wealth created by deep, deep investments in slavery. If you take one of the Black Heritage Tours, you’ll see dozens of these faces of Black people used as decoration.
I never DJ so I never engaged in digging the crates but I am digging through these museum archives and every time I come up for air, my mind is stretched around more stories of our presence in this city, this country, this continent. I hope that one day we’ll wrap more of this knowledge around some amazing beats so our next generations won’t have to look so far to find themselves.
Again, not saying that every MC or Hip-hop collective in the Netherlands should be like Pink Oculus, Zwart Licht, Rasheed (formerly known as LQ), Maikal X, Typhoon, Winne, Vieira or the Pan-Afrikanz. I’m not saying there’s absolutely no room for MC’s who limit their topics to money and women…and maybe some more money. What I am saying is that I wonder what our level of political intelligence and commitment to social justice would look like if more MC’s urged their listeners to reject the colonial knowledge that’s being spread in schools and museums. What would Amsterdam’s city council look like if MC’s mobilized their listeners to vote? Or strike? Or squat buildings? Or organize surveillances to keep right-wing terrorists from spray-painting hate speech on our mosques?
What would this city look like if Hip-hop would be one of the tools we use to get people to sign petitions? Or show up for demonstrations? Or bring food to the improvised shelters that house undocumented, illegalized refugees? What could this city and cities like Rotterdam, Groningen, Tilburg, Utrecht, The Hague, Zwolle, Nijmegen… what would they look like if we, to quote The Honourable Sean Carter, got together like a choir, to acquire what we desire?
What if, like the Brooklyn painted by Biggie, Amsterdam would be sketched with more layers, more truths? What if we had more MC’s that sound like they actually read books, study speeches, watch the news and are invested in spreading knowledge? What if, after our 2021 elections, we’d actually have Black politicians in the Tweede Kamer? What would a diss track about RTL Late Night’s Twan Huys sound like? I remember the first time I heard Common rapping about Assata Shakur. Who’ll write an entire track to salute Sylvana Simons, Gloria Wekker or Ugbaad Kilincci? Who’ll record their video in The Black Archives, Bijlmer Parktheater or our yet-to-be-build Slavery Museum? Who’ll write a song about how Johan Cruyff wasn’t Amsterdam’s best soccer player at all and why the Bijlmer Arena should have been named after Clarence Seedorf? What if more MC’s would threat our liberation like their thesis and bless us with some well written verses broken down into pieces?
Long story short: What if NL-based Hip-hop would be our tool to, as Dead Prez once put it, get free?