DEXTER BROWNE, NIPSEY HUSSLE, AND THE GANGS OF L.A.
Part I: A HIDDEN HISTORY
The just released biography of sainted rapper Nipsey Hussle- ‘The Marathon Don’t Stop’- by famed Hip Hop biographer Rob Kenner reveals a stunning story that a Trinidadian civil engineer turned photographer named Dexter Browne may have been the critical mentor in the transformation of Nipsey into the conscious radical force he is lionized as today. Dexter’s role in Nipsey’s formation had been completely excised from the history- until now!
Browne’s conscious intervention in gang culture- as a middle-class Howard University educated engineer- and its resulting in the formation of the icon Nipsey Hussle and the creation of a multi-million dollar alternative multi-media industry around gang boys who imbibed his strong ideologies of Black Cooperative Economics and Ownership of IP is one of the great hidden stories in the African diaspora and in modern Pop Cultural History.
The story at heart is about the power of Black Music, Black Culture, Digital Media, and the enduring nature of Radical Black Thought in the transforming of lives. It is also the story of the interconnectedness of the African Diaspora, the subversive influence of the Caribbean, and the transformative role of institutions like Howard University in Black Life.
On the 31st March 2019- 2 years ago- Ermias Asghedom aka Nipsey Hussle was gunned down at the messianic age of 33 in Crenshaw LA. What would make this Hip-Hop ex-gang member’s murder different than others was the fact that Nipsey was not a normal rapper but an icon for Black Ownership and Self Reparation. Popularly called the Tupac Shakur of his generation, Nipsey was known for his brilliant flow on numerous mixtapes including The Marathon and Crenshaw, the last of which rapper Jay-Z bought 100 copies of for $100 each. An early advocate for label independence Nipsey eventually signed with a major label. After much delay, his debut studio album Victory Lap was released in 2018 to critical and commercial success. It was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammys in 2019. Hussle won two posthumous Grammys for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap/Sung Performance the next year at the 62nd Grammys.
BLACK OWNERSHIP & SELF REPARATION
Nipsey’s flow was brilliant- but his business acumen and philanthropy made him legendary. Hussle popularised an ideology of re-investing in Black Communities and an ideology called ‘Fuck the Middleman’ preaching sovereign ownership of Black Intellectual and Cultural Property (by leaving out major labels and Hollywood) and re-gentrifying the community by buying real estate and re.-investing. He did more than preach- he walked the talk. He funded improvements to neighbourhood schools, spent time with students and participated on panels about growing up in the area and the influence of gang culture (he was a member of the Rolling 60s). Hussle even contacted the LAPD to arrange meetings with him and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation on how they could help prevent gang violence in South LA. Hussle was intimately involved in the planning stages of the transformative infrastructure project Destination Crenshaw that will lead Black LA’s urban revitalization by showcasing African American history. In 2017, Hussle bought real estate in Crenshaw (partnered with DJ Khaled), including what became his clothing store, Marathon. Marathon was conceived as a way to promote commerce in a lower-class area and as an experiment blending smart technology with brick-and-mortar retail. All culminated in 2018, when he opened a STEM centre and a co-working space called Vector 90 in Crenshaw. He wanted to create a pipeline for Black and Minority inner city youths into tech industries. All of this social intervention was done in just 2 years of major label success!
This Black Radical Robin Hood-type behaviour married with his rapping skill, multi-ethnic good looks, and swag created a cult of Nipsey that spread beyond the shores of the States and had become entrenched in the streets of the world long before the Oscars came knocking. His early adopters were his neighbourhood in which he was known for his innovation and talent and greater LA with in-the-know celebrities. As a son of an Eritrean immigrant his work also crossed-over to Africa as well. On his death there were eulogies from a ‘who’s who’ of celebs that propelled his name into the mainstream. Tributes poured in from LeBron James, Chance the Rapper, Colin Kaepernick, Ava DuVernay. Rihanna, Gucci Mane, Michael B Jordan, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Nic Jonas, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, Steph Curry, Dwayne Wade, Issa Rae, 50 Cent, and more. Snoop Dogg and Stevie Wonder gave eulogies at his April 11 live-streamed memorial service. Former President Barack Obama sent a letter offering condolences to his family. Hussle’s funeral in Staples Centre is one of only 3 held there- one for Kobe Bryant (whose likeness accompanies Nipsey in a LA mural), the other for Michael Jackson!!! The funeral reportedly attracted more than 21,000 fans. Puma released the Marathon Clothing collection in 2019 with 100% proceeds to the Neighborhood ‘Nip’ Foundation. At the 2020 Grammy Awards, DJ Khaled, Kirk Franklin, John Legend, Meek Mill, and others all gave tribute to his legacy.
Finally to confirm his canonization Netflix won a bidding war for the rights to his story with high 8 figures. Ava DuVernay is directing the multi-million dollar production. Hussle can be said to be the first Patron Saint of the current African American Golden Age.
Nipsey was supremely articulate about his ideology of ownership and reparating wealth. You can hear it in dozens of interviews. It is what captivated many to him, before even his music. The thing is this: what if I was to say that that this ideology was something Nipsey learned from a young Trinidadian engineer over the course of 5 years? What if I was to say that Nipsey along with a dozen of his fellow gang members were taken in by this engineer who provided these boys a free studio with computers, keyboards, drum-machines, cameras, to work with for years. What if I said those boys wrote hundreds of songs under that roof and put out mixtapes from there? What if I told you that Trinidadian became Nipsey’s surrogate dad? What if I told you that he was written out of the history until now?
KENNER UNCOVERS A HIDDEN HISTORY
Kenner says in a recent interview, ‘’Dexter Browne came out of nowhere. Hit me up on Facebook Messenger and here’s a gigantic missing piece of the puzzle. Someone whose name is barely known! He’s in the thank you’s of the Crenshaw Tape and he got shouted out in maybe one or two interviews but I would hazard a guess and say that if Dexter Browne had not taken Nipsey in at the time that he did, I’m not sure that we’d be talking about him today. I’m not sure what would have happened. He got the name Nipsey Hussle whilst living in Dexter’s! He had for the first time unlimited access to recording equipment, and he also was educated in media, principles of ownership… Dexter is a photographer from Trinidad, swimming coach at Howard University, graduate from Howard University, civil engineer, brilliant rebellious spirit. His wife happened to be one of the head art directors of Rap-a-Lot Records. So he had this interesting collision of like Art, Hip Hop, and Visual Arts. Young Ermias Asghedom- not yet known as Nipsey Hussle- was just in that transition point where he was no longer going to high school, whether he quit or was kicked out is not clear. He found a haven from the street life… He was at granny’s trying to survive, trying to fulfil his lifelong dream of being a rapper, and at Dexter’s he found a place that he could pursue all those things. Just a cool creative environment, collaborative… That’s a part of the story that no one’s ever told!’’
Part II: DEXTER IN HIS WORDS
Rob Kenner’s biography on Nipsey- ‘The Marathon Don’t Stop’- uncovers stunning details of the 5 years Nipsey and his boys spent with Dexter and his family. Kenner is one of the most influential voices in hip hop publishing. A founding editor of Vibe, he edited and wrote cover and feature stories on iconic cultural figures ranging from Tupac to Obama. Kenner worked on the New York Times bestseller ‘Tupac Shakur’ and produced the book ‘Unbelievable, a biography of The Notorious B.I.G.’ by Cheo Hodari Coker Jr., optioned for the movie Notorious.
FROM TUPAC TO NIPSEY
Kenner had nearly completed his book when Dexter reached out to him. Once he verified the information he had to rework his timelines and understanding of his subject. Up until that time there was a conspiracy of silence around Dexter and the crucial missing 5 years Nipsey spent under his wing. Dexter had been written out of history by the record label, the gangs, and tragically Nipsey himself. The revelation in the book of that 5 years has many early readers and scholars asking questions…
DEXTER ENCOUNTERS THE CRIPS
Let Dexter tell it himself. ‘’There’re articles that suggest Nipsey joined the gang at a very young age. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that when Nipsey was 16 he joined the Brownes. And Butter Vision. Nipsey was like my Son. He became a Man in my house. This is how it happened. There was a guy living down the street, Cuzzy Capone, who would walk up and down smelling the curry we were cooking. He asked, ‘’Could I get one of those plates nigga.’’ Whilst eating I asked if he could point me in the direction of the Crips or Bloods because I wanted to photograph gang life. He laughed, ‘’G! Your house is in the middle of the Rolling 60s Crip territory!’’ That and the fact that my house was blue made me feel slightly betrayed by my realtor. I asked, ‘’What we talking about, about 30- 40 guys?’’ He laughed, ‘’Nah bruh! Try 3000 deep!!!’’
‘’Despite the shock I saw an opportunity. We started a music set up and had Desmond Murray come and make beats. I wanted to have a constructive presence in our neighbourhood. The sound of the beats caught Nipsey’s ear and Ralo Evede (now Rimpau)-boys from the neighbourhood. Nipsey approached me with a jacket of CDs, ‘’I got that Fruity Loops and Adobe Photoshop for you. I know you need that.’’ I didn’t, but I bought them. I admired that he customized the offering to me. During photo-shoots, he would pass and look in because there’d be models about. Eventually he would come and ask me to come hear their music. I went. The guys were OK, but Nipsey was profound. He had the gift. I brought him into our studio. We were almost inseparable for the next 3 years.’’
‘’In Glencoe, Trinidad I grew up on a middle-class hill straddled between a squatting settlement on one side and mansions of the rich on the other. All my life I’ve lived in 2 worlds. The suburbs and the streets. The world of privilege and the world of poverty. After being a student athlete at Howard University and an engineer in Washington, Trinidad, and Houston I discovered photography and digital media. As a celebrity and lifestyle photographer I shot some of the most beautiful women in the world and some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities- but I also shoot the hidden lives of the most marginalized people in the world- the urban poor and gang culture. Moving between worlds gives you a unique perspective on life. I took it to mean I had a duty to bridge the gap and heal the divide. I have to find a way to make the playing field more level, more equitable. My camera became my weapon. I understood that images had revolutionary power and that digital media was the revolution. From the Black Consciousness at Howard University and afterwards I developed this idea of Digital Democracy and the use of Digital Media to emancipate oppressed working class communities especially Black People.‘’
‘’I took an engineering post in LA because I wanted to test my theories in Hollywood- the belly of the Beast. I started my company Butter Vision with my wife Lisa. The aim was to create an independent TV channel full of ‘undisturbed culture’. The raw life of Black People. Whilst photographing Hollywood movie stars, industry musicians, and super-models during the day I built a multi-media lab and hub which was a safe space for the gang members in the night. It was neutral space where gang members would learn all about digital media, still and video cameras, music studios and instruments, and more importantly how to use them to speak truth to power by transmuting their life experiences into Gold. I would preach to them about the importance of doing it themselves, owning their IP. “Fuck the Middleman!” was the mantra. Neighbours wanted to know how I could allow these boys into our house around our daughters. But I grew up like that. My mother opened our house to everyone. It’s a very Bianca Browne thing to do! Lol’’
‘’Dozens of boys passed through the process. Albums were recorded, sold on street corners. Small empires were formed. Before the experiment was aborted due to our return to Trinidad the boys were already on the trajectory to their multi-millionaire destinations…’’
THE IDEOLOGY THAT NIPSEY IMBIBED
‘’In these neighbourhoods people of colour don’t own the real estate they live in- but they can own the virtual real estate extracted from those environments. We need to convert virtual real estate out of those places! I don’t own the block but I can own the media I make on the block! It’s an aggressive form of real estate that can be distributed. That is our Wall Street. Undisturbed Culture. Traditional forms of investment such as brick and mortar do not represent fertile ground for people of colour. Those forums have been rigged for 5 centuries. Common sense dictates we search for a different form of wealth building.’’
‘’Nipsey and his crew would make music for 3+ years in my annex until one day the keyboard mysteriously disappeared. There was priceless material in that keyboard. Ralo Stylez commented in Kenner’s book about the enormous loss. We took the disappearance of the keyboard as a sign that we should back off our musical aspirations. That was the bad news. The good news was that in 3 years Nipsey and the crew had grown from novices to young Masters. They had gotten the 10,000 hours! I felt that the best way I could help him now was as a life-coach- media, interviews, career advice… Later he came to me to rent the same annex where he got his name, where he made his music, and where the keyboard was stolen from. He said, ‘’Dex I want to do the man thing. I want a place of my own.’’ I discussed with Lisa and she agreed, ‘’OK. Let’s be landlords!’’ He moved in. 3822 West 58th Place, Los Angeles, California. That was his Temple- where as a boy he got complete access to everything he ever wanted- music, girls, knowledge… He became a man there. That was where he laid his head with his girl Tanisha and her 2 children for a year and a half.’’
Part III: BUTTER VISION AND THE LA EXPERIMENT
Nipsey Hussle’s contradictions made him magnetic. His gangboy swagger with the consumerist lyrics sat right next to his more conscious Pan-African signifying. His ‘Black Economics’ sermons trailed into searing indictments of American racism. His song ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ rallied millions out to vote! The fact that he contained so many competing voices of the African-American experience is possibly what made him the first Martyr and Patron Saint of this present Black-American Golden Age. His death underlines possibly the biggest issue African-America and the African diaspora must confront- the crisis of gangsterism amongst its working-class boys, and the culture of guns at its heart. Black Culture provides one of the most potent antidotes. Dexter’s intervention proved that. If only he had more time with Nipsey…
Nipsey’s Butter Vision Catalogue
During the period with Dexter, Nipsey appeared on the following: The BV Boys Mix Tape (Sampler) with all the boys who were part of Butter Vision- Nipsey, Cuzzy, Ralo, Steve Biz, J General, Evede, Phats Bossalini, Gooch, and K C; Beats & Babes Vol 1 a DVD that was authored and jewel-cased (the first piece of official bar-coded home-created content from the streets). It was a clash between 2 unlikely worlds- one of in-studio gang-boy beat-making, the other was the world of models, glamour, and celebrity.
Then came Shades of Butter Vol 1– a compilation culture-stream of models and landscape with songs and revolutionary talks by the boys. Before this the boys sold pirated DVDs on the streets- now they sold stuff they themselves owned and created. They hit the street different with those products. Then came a CD called Fuck the Middleman which was a transition project. Butter Vision artists would do all kinds of mix tape projects in between. One was called Crenshaw District which blew up big because of a track that Nipsey and Cuzzy did riding one of Jay-z’s beats. Their crew blew all others away and the hood took notice. They had started Cuzzy Capone’s project Journey of a Thousand Miles– but after a soul-searching session the group decided to place all their energies into Nipsey’s solo debut mix-tape. That was how the now legendary Slauson Boy Vol 1 was created- recorded right there in Dexter’s annex with numerous collaborators.
The CD blew up and had the hood popping. People were playing it everywhere. Dexter is on Track #5 Wrap it Up. In between Nipsey would compile stuff he was working on and sell anthologies. One such was Fast Lane Youngsters which has some of his singles and video of a concert performance of his. Dexter did the photography. Dexter had taught Nipsey how to author his own DVDs and this was Nipsey’s first solo project. Dexter has all of this material, plus plus. They were all working on Slauson Boy Vol 2 when the keyboard mysteriously disappeared. Dexter kept working with Nipsey. Dexter refers to their relationship this way: ‘’It was as if Tupac and Gordon Parks co-existed and plotted to overthrow the system together…’’
Dexter & Nipsey
‘’My wish for Nipsey was that he would remain outside of the gang and be their Muse and Poet, their Scribe and Defender to the world. But it was not to be. One day he came with the SlausonBoy tattoo and confessed to me that he got ‘put on’. It was a dark day for me. There are things you have to do to join… I am a non-judgmental observer in terms of the gang- but there are things I can’t condone. By then I had given him what I could. He was an adult. He had to make his decisions and stand the consequences…’’
Dexter recorded everything- Butter Vision’s mantra was Undisturbed Culture! Because of this he amassed a substantial archive on Nipsey and his crew. Dexter says, ‘’There’re all kinds of interviews and stuff, but the things I love are these: Nipsey taught me a lot about Basketball and I reciprocated with Football/Soccer. One day after getting trashed by him in basketball I challenged him to soccer and ran rings around him and his boys in the backyard– it’s on tape. I remember explaining the phenomenon of “thin slicing” from the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. He would have me thin slice all the books I already read for him. I had to give him the gist of the book in one sentence. He was an avid reader but he wanted them “thin slices”. I thin sliced Blink itself, Digital Guerrilla Video, The Tipping Point and The Prophet for him. There’s video of the first time he was my photography assistant. He preferred to do shoots when I shot “red skin” models or actresses. LOL’’
‘’I shot his first mixtape cover and inside artwork– SlausonBoy Volume 1 down on the “BG Block”. I also shot the second version at Phatefx studios. I went with Nipsey to buy his first set of rims for his Alpine– he was proud– he had the rims to go with the chain. We have the stills. The first time I saw him making music on the keyboard – it was profound. I have it on tape. The first time he tasted a good Trini curry chicken. He loved curry and pealau! The first time he wandered into the sound booth with his writing pad– all is on tape. He said he was “just feeling the ambience”. Then there’s the time I arranged for him and the other under-age BV Boys to get into the GRAND club (downtown L.A.) to see Cuzzy Capone perform with J211. All on tape.’’
‘’I took Nipsey to Interscope Records to meet Kevin Black with a demo we prepared at Butter Vision after Nipsey insisted that he was “signable” and wanted to prove it- despite our “fuck the middleman” slogan. The guys at Interscope essentially said he needed to “soften up” the lyrics, hit the gym, put on some lean mass because he may be a “heart throb”. They even suggested the use of a choreographer for him to pick up “dance moves”. He was not thrilled to say the least, but it made him understand the need to fuck the middlemen who did not understand our vision. Nipsey speaks about it on Tape. I took Nipsey to work with me down at Phatefx Studios where he would get away from the neighborhood to write songs for SlausonBoy Vol. 1. and other mixtapes. The first time he showed me his SlausonBoy Tattoo on his back – he just got it. He lived in the back house that time. I took the photo. There was a verbal confrontation with the cops outside my house after they ask him to “hit the road”. I remember one night riding with Nipsey in the backseat whilst Suge Knight and Big U sat in front just watching each other laughing…’’ For this author, the goldmines are videos of youthful Nipsey free-styling, flowing for minutes. These youthful flows are purer, more irresistible and conscious than his later work where there’s more posturing. His stablemates are badass too! Footage of these boys swarming over the equipment is all the evidence you need of Dexter’s influence…
Ground Zero of a Golden Age
Dexter’s archive does not only contain Nipsey and crew. When Dexter got to LA in 99 it was ground zero of the previous Golden Age of African-American Culture- the rise of Hip Hop, young Black Hollywood, the raw Black comedians, and the transformation of R&B. Dexter shot portfolios, design looks, and created images for a host of up-and-comers who would soon be international celebrities. He has all these images as well as raw video and interviews of them on sets, discos, events, and more. It’s a remarkable record of a generational movement at embryonic level.
These are just some of the celebrities that Dexter shot or crafted their look: Godesses Vanessa Williams from Soul Food and Gabrielle Union, Tyrese, Kat Williams,(above), Lisa Raye, John SingletonFlava Flav, Laila Ali, Bill Duke, Sherri Shepard, Miguel, Chico De Barge, Bone Thugs & Harmony, Shaun Robinson, Tone Loc, Barack Obama, Daphne Duplaix (Playmate), Kid Ink, model Eva Pigford, Neicy Nash, Baby from Cash Money, Ray Lewis, Aaliyah, Tangi Miller, Claudia Jordan, Lanisha Cole, Tamela Jones, Ato Boldon, Datari Turner, Kd Aubert, and Laz Alonso. Dexter was the family photographer for Vanessa Williams & Rick Fox and had a special relationship with the great Rick James. There are tens of thousands of pictures and hundreds of hours of footage of these celebs in their formative phases. The archive is a phenomenal window into Golden Age processes at work on the ground. Dexter says, ‘’All these people were present at this place and time. This was an Underground Railroad!’’
Erasing Black History
The terrifying thing is that many forces conspired to remove Dexter from the story because he did not fit certain meta-narratives: American Exceptionalism and ‘Keeping it Real’- which means all Black People are supposed to be in gangs trading in Black death… Dexter’s removal plays into tactics of: Dividing the African Diaspora; Caribbean marginalization; and pitting working-class against middle-class Blackness. It also reinforces the sale of anti-education to Blacks. The Dexter Browne/Nipsey Hussle story upends these narratives! Golden Ages only happen when people cross class lines. The bourgeois alone cannot summon a Golden Age. Neither elites. Neither the working-class. There’s an alchemy sparked when resources, ideas, and talents cross-fertilise.
The Role of Howard U
The other important grid line is the role of Howard University and by extension the HBCUs. Dexter was “conscientised” at Howard. He found a radical voice there due to its culture, curriculum, and radical teachers. It’s important to note that Howard is a Reparations institution, one of the few pieces of Reparation ever given for Slavery. Its impact on the community shows just how important Reparations is- and that it works.
The Strange Case of Lord Woodbine & The Beatles
It’s extremely important that we don’t lose the lessons of this erasure. All this has happened before: Lord Woodbine is regarded by some as the musical mentor of The Beatles, being called the “sixth Beatle.” Despite his foundational role he was completely written out of their history. Harold Adolphus Phillips was born in Laventille, Trinidad. In 1943, at the age of 14, he lied about his age and joined the RAF. He went back to Trinidad in 1947 where he started to sing Calypso. He returned to England in 1948 on the HMT Empire Windrush, the ship that carried the first boatload of West Indian immigrants to post war Britain. Woodbine was a promoter of The Beatles in their teenage years, then known as the Silver Beetles, they were occasionally known as “Woodbine’s Boys”. They played at the Club Phillips and a friend, Williams, opened in 1960. He helped with their first visit to Hamburg in 1960 driving them there in an Austin minibus. He added percussion to their four-guitar band and performed on the same stage as them on their first performance in Hamburg. Woodbine smuggled the underage George Harrison into Germany to join the Beatles! After an argument with Williams over fees, the Beatles engaged Brian Epstein as manager in 1961 and lost contact with Woodbine. He was never mentioned in the Beatles story during their career. His Blackness and Caribbean-ness made him ‘inconvenient’…
EPILOGUE: THE GOLDEN AGES
Rubadiri Victor concludes his meditation on the mentoring of Nipsey Hussle by Trinidadian Dexter Browne with an examination of the larger civilizational factors at play.
When Dexter left LA, Nipsey, the rest of the BV (Butter Vision) boys, and the celebrity life of Hollywood and returned to Trinidad he returned to life as a board-certified civil engineer. He did a 5 yr stint as a Senior Project Manager with Junior Sammy Contractors on projects like the Oncology Centre ($25 Million) which was followed by the Alky/Acid Plant in Petrotrin (well over $200 million). He also managed the Gasoline Sump Structure in PPGPL/Point Lisas. At the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago Dexter worked as a Consultant Project Manager and was promoted to Acting Head of Projects. In that stint, he managed the successful completion of the Irwin Park Stadium & Cycle Track ($110 Million) and commissioning the National Aquatic Centre, the Velodrome. Currently Dexter is the Head Swim Coach at Flying Fish Swim Club. He has been selected as a National Swim Coach on 5 occasions and was co-head coach when T&T won its first ever C.C.C.A.N. title here at the Aquatic Centre. Although Dexter worked for Scorch Magazine on cover and model shoots he has primarily dedicated himself to the streets where he works at ground zero developing another photographic and media archive of undisturbed content with a plan… The only record of his phenomenal life in LA was a feature done on him in Generation Lion Magazine by this author back in 2008.
The Black Century
When many thinkers look at the 20th century they see ‘the American Century’, others see ‘the Century of Technology’… I would like to suggest that the 20th Century was characterized by a series of African Diaspora Cultural Golden Ages that changed the lived culture of planet Earth. The Ages of: Blues, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Disco, and Hip Hop in America; Ska/Rocksteady, Reggae and Dancehall in Jamaica; Pan, Carnival, Calypso, and Soca in Trinidad; Hi-Life in West Africa; Samba in Brazil; Son, Cha Cha Cha, and Mambo in Cuba; the Pan-Caribbean Salsa; and more. These revolutions transformed not only their Nation States, but the entire world- socially, industrially, civilisationally… In the words of one of my Elders the late Tony Hall, “These were not just forms of Music- but ‘Ways of Seeing’ that changed the world.” They also accompanied some of the most revolutionary social movements the world has ever seen. Together these African cultures actually formed ‘the lived Democracy of the Modern World! Black Music and its surrounding Culture humanized the West…
At the heart of each of these Golden Ages are also very specific uniquely African formulas and processes of ‘Performance’ that have clues to the liberation of not only African communities, but humankind itself. The multi-billion dollar Cultural industries produced out of African Performative Practices are revolutionary ‘Industries of Joy’ which form real alternatives to the extractive and exploitative industries of the West.
Dog to God
The phenomenal thing about African diasporic Golden Ages is that they’re led in the most part by young boys ages 12-27 who are earmarked for destruction by society- poverty-stricken and mostly gang-boys… The African Sacred Science of Music transforms them from Dogs to Gods… No private or public sector facilitates this alchemy. Historical factors impact the ground and the DRUMBEAT vibrating in the melanin changes- suddenly a new musical form erupts to conjugate the present and grant the generation new powers and insights to battle evolving oppression. Boys with little to no education become Masters of English or the Nation language- the greatest poets the world has ever seen. They become inventors of new instruments and tech, empire building moguls, genre-defying visual artists, scholars for a New Time… This is what happens at ground zero in African Golden Ages.
Sites of the Golden Ages
Not all countries have ever experienced Golden Ages- many never do… There are some nations who in all their millennial history have but one legendary culture-hero!… There however are sites that have something special in their geo-psychic DNA, something in their geography, history, migrations, and social upheavals have made them fertile spaces for these lightning strikes- Mississippi, New Orleans, Detroit, Brooklyn, Kingston, Port of Spain, Bahia, Rio, Havana… We know them by name… The countries they come from- North America, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago… Thousands of heroes have emerged… Who knows what ingredients are necessary to unleash Golden Age forces- this quickening that unlocks generational Genius… We know some factors, but others are hidden… We know it is an energy that can visit every generation of that blest community- if they are alive to the visitation. Of all the sites of Golden Ages in the New World Black America has been the most fertile… Amazingly, despite all the pulverizing oppression of White Supremacy, Black America has met its appointment with the Golden Age Gods every 20 years (20 years being a modern generational cycle). So: 1910s Blues; 1930s Jazz; 1950s Pop; (1960s Rock/R&B); 1970s Disco/Funk; (1980s House); 1990 Hip Hop, 2010 Trap… This is an amazing ability to create despite nihilistic situations…
The Magical Transformation
One of the phenomenal things about Golden Ages is the way they transform the Boys who are at their heart- Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and crew transform from Kingston street toughs into wonders of musical dexterity and Pan-African militant Warrior consciousness… The footage of their first concert at the BBC is wondrous to behold as street boys manifest for the planet a new sound that will soon transform the globe. The gangs of Port of Spain, Trinidad collectively created the only new acoustic instrument of the 20th century- taking discarded oil drums and creating symphonic orchestras out of them! In as little as 20 years warring gangs had formed a unitary orchestra touring the world playing original compositions and European and pop classics… Golden Ages have created, tens of billions of dollars in wealth forming new industries, creating a new international class of artists made up of tens of thousands of ghetto boys who months before would have been gunned down with nary a soul caring… Golden Ages are special. Black Arks of liberation…
But if everyone knew how to create a Golden Age, everyone would. Just add water… The greatest question remains- “How do you replicate the Gifts of a Golden Age long after the accidents that create them on the ground have disappeared?” Nobody quite knows how to bottle that lightning. But there are clues…
Quincy Jones speaks of robbing a church with his young gang when he ‘heard a voice’ that told him “Go in that room!” He obeyed and sat at a chair and his hand fell on piano keys. The sound marvelled him. Whilst his friends continued to case the church outside Quincy became hypnotized by the instrument. He would break back into the church- to play the piano… THE JAZZ IN THE AIR DID THE REST!… Within months most of his friends would either be dead or in jail, but Quincy had turned at the fork in the road. He had begun to transform… He would become one of the greatest arrangers in modern music and one of the architects of the mainstreaming of Black-American culture that culminated in the Black Cultural Revolution of 1998. The main beneficiary would be Hip Hop…
There are thousands of stories like this at ground-zero in the creation of Golden Age icons. Moments when the Spirit shifted in a young boy’s life, offering the Boy the power of the Beat. Transformation. Dog to God. What we know from Quincy’s story is that we need to put the pianos in the way of the Boys. . Or labs. Or gyms. The Jazz in the air will do the rest. Or whatever form THE BEAT takes… We know if we intervene in these ways possibilities emerge. Glimmers of the Golden… Dexter did this with Nipsey and the boys of the Rolling 60s. In 5 years his little annex transformed the trajectory of South LA! Nipsey learned this. He immediately built the STEM Centre with his first pay check! He knew what Dexter’s interventions did for his life! Dexter’s intervention shows us that Black People can creatively confront our most pressing civilizational question- how do we rescue our boys from the spectre of the gangster?…
To utter Nipsey’s story without Dexter’s chapters is to blaspheme the Golden Age Gods. Nipsey’s is the story of the alchemy at the Heart of every single African Golden Age- the transformation of Lost Boys into Princes, Kings, then Gods. There are forces that want to thwart that Rise… We must make sure that never happens.
The revelation that a figure like Dexter exists should not surprise. Hip Hop has traced its roots to the Caribbean with Jamaican DJ music. Many seminal rappers have Caribbean parentage. The birthplaces of Hip Hop- the Bronx and Brooklyn- are Caribbean enclaves. Everybody feels the still reverberating Jamaican impact of Bob Marley, Rastafarianism, Marijuana, and Dancehall. Barbados gets mentioned because Rihanna is the undisputed queen of Pop. But Trinidad and Tobago has long impacted global culture. Two of the queens of hip hop are Trinidadian- Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown. There is Phife Dawg, Heather Headley, Winston Duke, Romany Malco, Nia Long, Trinidad James, Tatiana Ali, Alphonso Ribeiro, Billy Ocean, amongst others. There is the outsize impact on African American life of Stokley Carmichael leading ‘Black Power’. The fathers of Pan Africanism are Trinidadians- Henry Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, and CLR James.
Trinidad and Tobago Shifts the Needle
Trinidadians have been influencing global performing arts for decades. Pearl Primus is mother of the African influence in American dance. The mother of modern dance in China is Dai Ailian. The Limbo was globally popularized by Julia Edwards and Edric Connor. Pianists Winifred Atwell and Hazel Scott broke colour and gender barriers and were global pop and television stars in the 1950s. Geoffrey Holder was the first Black man to win Tony Awards for direction and costuming. The first Black Miss Universe is Trini. The first Black feature-film director in Britain- Horace Ové- is Trini. There’s one Brazilian Carnival. One New Orleans Carnival. But 300+ Trinidad-style Carnivals!! The 2 largest street festivals in the Western world are Trinidad-style Carnivals- London and Brooklyn. The whole world is twerking because of Trinidad!
So the fact that a Trinidadian mentored Nipsey Hussle should not be hard to believe…
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