Class struggle and hip-hop: interview with Comrade Malone, 2009

Class struggle and hip-hop: interview with Comrade Malone, 2009

Hip-hop has seen artists with social and political awareness. Rarely, however, has there been hip-hop fused with unashamedly class struggle, libertarian politics. 22-year-old Comrade Malone attempts to buck that trend with his album The Spontaneous Revolt LP.

Ed Goddard from libcom.org caught up with him to talk about life and politics in music.

Tell us a bit about your life growing up and how you got into politics.
I grew up on a council estate in north-west London and lived there for the first twenty years of my life. I’m not from a political background and didn’t really pay attention to politics until my late teens. In 2003, when the invasion of Iraq began, there was a massive walkout at my school with students blocking roads and making their way to go and protest outside parliament. At the time, this was just a day off school which let me go and get stoned with mates in the park. But it did have an effect and I started thinking a lot more about how shit things are. I questioned things a lot more after that, to the point where I was questioning the overall nature of capitalism, which I started to see as the root cause of all these problems.

When I was 20, I left home and lived in a homeless people’s hostel for a year. Throughout my time there, I was unemployed, on benefits and getting more pissed off, as were the boys I shared facilities with.

That hostel was a trap. The only way you could leave and get into social housing was by being referred by the staff there, which meant submitting to their rules and keeping up to date with the weekly service charge you'd pay from your benefits. My money would go fast on food and transport I'd use to look for work. When I got into service charge arrears I was threatened with eviction twice. Serious bully business from a housing 'charity'! You could get on the council list, but it’d take a few years to build up enough points for a flat and even then your chances are ultra slim.

Why did you call the album The Spontaneous Revolt LP?
We made the album in about two weeks and I wanted that to be reflected in the name, as well as reflecting it’s political content. Spontaneous Revolt refers both to the nature of the album and the way in which it was made.

Tell us about your experiences so far within the UK hip-hop scene.
I got into the scene by grabbing the mic and turning up for free studio time any time I could. I recorded a cheaply made track at a music college which got passed around on copied CDs and ended up on pirate radio. I got invited to do live shows on air and eventually got a phone call from Kemet Entertainment Records, who I signed a recording contract with in 2006. Whilst on Kemet, I worked with some quality producers such as Baby J, Joe Buddha, and DJ Flip, and was getting a lot of shows.

Sadly, UK hip hop had its own little economic collapse, with nights like Kung Fu in Camden and Speakers Corner in Brixton closing, Itch FM shutting down, Low-Life records closing, and Kemet as well. There's no green shoots here and no one’s bailing us out! We're all redundant rappers now; last year I was in a quality studio off Harley street, and now I'm in DJ Downlow's flat eating fried chicken with ghetto-flavoured mayonnaise.

As a class struggle anarchist, you’re quite different from a lot of other socially conscious rappers. What are your views on the prevalence of nationalist, religious or pro-Obama views in hip-hop?
They’re just a reflection of opinion in America. Politically, some of those opinions might be to the left, but if you want more class struggle in hip-hop, you need more class struggle in society first. Hip-hop reflects what’s already there, whether its street violence, political consciousness, or ‘Vote Obama’ feeling.

What radical traditions/movements do you take inspiration from?
The movements that inspire me most are always working class grassroots ones, and often, but not always, those with libertarian principles. Learning about what the CNT-FAI achieved in the 1930s, contributed to the confidence I have in the possibility of a self-managed society on a large scale. Hungary 1956 is another good example. It's hard to hear conscious American hip-hop without reference to the Black Panthers. What's inspiring about them is that they were a street-level organisation and their survival programs made a big positive difference to the lives of people in the community. These days, there's often focus on organising in the workplace, but not enough on dealing with community issues. Right now, I'm also inspired by all the shit kicking off in Greece.

What do you think of the anarchist movement's ability to engage working class youth such as yourself?
The anarchist movement needs to start holding Skins parties with free booze and drugs, and a strict dress code of hoodies, caps, and trainers only! But on a serious level, it’s about communicating with people in the right way. People in political groups might be experienced and knowledgeable but young working class people often feel they lack that experience and knowledge to be active. Most people don’t know the definition of anarchism. The anarchist movement has got to let people know what it’s all about and show people that there are no intellectual entry requirements.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m gonna be recording and releasing more free material. For most of the time, I’ll be working alongside DJ Downlow, my partner in crime in studio and pub. I’d love to do a tour across Europe and I’m thinking about the possibility of doing that, but it won’t happen this year. As for now, I’m just gonna keep releasing free music.

Spontaneous Revolt Free Download - www.sensei.fm
Comrade Malone official myspace page - www.myspace.com/comrademalone

Posted By

Ed
Mar 27 2009 17:46

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Comments

Anarchia
Mar 28 2009 06:08

Listening to it now - so far, I'm enjoying it. Almost all the anarchist hip-hop I've heard has been incredibly painful, so this is a definite improvement!

edit - finished listening to it, really like it. The beat on Say No More is great especially smile

Skips
Mar 28 2009 14:45

Any anarchist music has to be supported.

Anarchia
Mar 28 2009 23:04

I totally disagree. If it's good music, then support it - if it has good politics then that's a nice bonus.

But if the music is shit, let it drown.

Jerome
Mar 29 2009 06:08

Some other good political hip-hop artists are MC Lynx, The Coup, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emcee_Lynx
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Coup (or specifically Boots Riley)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immortal_Technique
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Prez

Also, a interesting 2-part video of Boots Riley from The Coup on Politically Incorrect. I find the comments saying that Boots is the only smart person on the show rather entertaining.

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-9qBY-Bypk

2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xDd6ZzKnMM&feature=related

I am not sure Blue Scholars qualify as Anarchist music, but they do have a left-wing leanings and they're from Seattle, so they're good in my book.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=En8DwCeKa6M (anti-war song)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYCXbJdMWCo (WTO protest song)

I also like this rock song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmADpM9X4LQ

Bob Savage
Apr 27 2009 00:09

The main problem with political hip-hop is that it can get really really irritating. Immortal Technique is one of the most annoying rappers ever. dead prez used to be good, they fell off pretty hard... The Coup are pretty dope though.

There are a lot of left-wing UK hip-hop artists. Often hear emcees refer to themselves as Marxists in tracks or talk about capitalism, Jehst mentions stuff quite frequently with lines like "i rep the downtrodden like a strike banner", references to zapatistas n shit. I got this anti-G8 tune on record, can't remember the artist. wasnt that great...
there's also this tommy evans album http://i143.photobucket.com/albums/r122/braintax84/tommy2.jpg never heard it though.

the best remotely 'class struggle' song is Phi-Life Cypher's 'Fat cats'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxNNDVoJojg
they rap about NHS paycuts, for instance. sweet. they also say 'homosexual emcees' in the chorus, incase that's gonna be a problem for anyone
...
mr lif's 'live from the plantation' is pretty good too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwRlS2UVHA8

and of course there's QELD, my group, who are well sick and make them working class anthems ya know. http://myspace.com/TheQELD

Choccy
Apr 27 2009 00:30

The Coup have better politics than Dead Prez, but are musically shitter (but have their moments), while DeadPrez musically were sweet on the first record but got progressively shitter both politically and musically.
Immortal Technique is just shit.

Choccy
Apr 27 2009 00:53

at 9min in when Boots starts discussing communism
I wish he would have just got up and kicked every single other person there in the face.

UndergroundDublin
Jun 30 2009 17:50

Dead Prez are quality but keep talkin abou black power & F*ck the White man, and seeing as i have a pale white freckly arse..... anyway i agree Immortal Technique can get annoying, but come on the man is a lyrical genius.

Comrade Malone - The Spontaneous Revolt EP. 5 Stars. Cant stop listening to it!

=)

husunzi
Aug 12 2009 08:18

Thanks for doing this review, Ed - Comrade Malone is good, musically, poetically & politically. Right up there with Emcee Lynx.

I have to say I prefer the Coup & the Blue Scholars in terms of artistry. But you know the Blue Scholars are Maoists (or rather the emcee is - the dj is bahai'i, i think). And Boots Riley comes out of the Black Nationalist tradition (hard not to, growing up Black in Oakland, I'm sure), and I'm not sure how much he's moved beyond that. In their early work he referred to a bunch of nationalist leaders, but he's always emphasized class struggle.

The US probably has hundreds of these political emcees, but most aren't that great musically & straight-up nationalist politically. There are a few feminist emcees (one could make a case that a woman simply being an emcee is already a feminist act), and one duo - part of the same Filipino-American scene as Blue Scholars - that combines themes of feminism, third world nationalism, and queer politics:
http://www.myspace.com/1stqtrstorm

My question is: does anyone know of any political electronic dance music?

All I know is 888 once made a drum&bass mix called "anarchojunglist" with some political hiphop (including Mr Lif) & songs from the Spanish Civil War. (Hmm, can't find it on the net - instead a guy on myspace came up but he doesn't seem to have any political d&b on there...)

husunzi
Aug 12 2009 10:31

Just ran across RapAnarchists.net - "A directory of Anarchist hip hop artists from around the world and a video blog with live performances and music videos" (from Emcee Lynx's website).

flaneur
Aug 12 2009 11:06

Electronic dance music is certainly a wide catch all term but digital hardcore has always been known for being political; it was started by the anarchist group Atari Teenage Riot.

They even played a live soundtrack for a riot, on a float one May Day.

Exoterica
Apr 11 2011 10:38

Great UK hip hop talent. The Spontaneous Revolt is currently helping me survive my 9-5 and has inspired me to start writing again.

Does anyone know if he has any gigs coming up in London?

Peace

Chilli Sauce
Apr 11 2011 11:19

Nah, he's not performing at the moment, although he does lurk around Libcom....