Sunday, May 20, 2018

Kanye West Started a Fight in my Class

Kanye West Started a Fight in my Class
By: Adisa, The Bishop

For the past week or so America has been debating the idea put forth by Kanye West that “Slavery
was a choice”.

To protect the identity of the boys we call them Marlon and Mike. As I am resetting the chessboard as
the previous class leaves, Marlon comes in and says “ Mr. Bishop, I gotta tell you some things about
Mike. First off, this nigga is a coon!” he says with a devilish grin. It is important to note that Marlon
has a sharp tongue and loves to roast people. He and Mike have a chess rivalry and go hard on one
another verbally and mentally.

Marlon continues “Yeah man, he said slavery was a choice. He’s over here siding with that Kanye
West bullshit.”

I looked at Mike and said “ You think slavery was a choice?”

Without missing a beat he said “Yeah.”

Marlon cut in “Tell him how stupid he is Mr. Bishop” he said with a nod.

“Hold on, hold on” I said trying to lower the energy in the room. The whole class was watching intently.

“Do you believe that for real?” I asked again. “Because if you do I’d have to suggest that you read
books. Don’t you know how many countless slave rebellions they had back in the day? You had Nat
Turner, Denmark Vesey and then you have White men like John Brown at Harper's Ferry- but there
were many. There were more than I can try to list. We have people fighting our oppression right now!
It's not even over.”

Defiantly Mike shook he head “I would never let anyone enslave me. I ain’t no bitch.”

Marlon jumped right back in. “You’re really dumb. Slavery was complicated. They didn’t have guns.
Where were they gonna get weapons?”

“Wait, wait!” I said. “Mike, you are a descendant of those that were enslaved. If you think they were
bitches, then, in some way you must think you are born of bitches. You are not. You come from
warriors. Warriors who fight the system till this day. You have to know that.”

Marlon is now in a chair setting a chessboard up so he and I can play a game . “This guy is a coon
Mr. Bishop.”

Marlon immediately clenches his fist and says “Let’s box. I’m not afraid of you” and punches his hand
twice. "That will be your face!”

Unmoved by the display of force, he casually says “Mike you know we can’t box because we don’t
have headgear. I would box you if I could.”

Marlon was sitting in his chair with his back to Mike and something in Mike snapped. He grabbed
Marlon from behind and fell to the floor. I just remember the screaming.
Something like “Let’s goooo. Let’s do this!”

Marlon was actually in no active danger. I have been working on teaching him the value of nonviolence.
I got hims singed up at a great martial arts school nearby.The choke attempt from Marlon was not
effective. Marlon looked at me with a face like “This ain’t working and I’m not worried” and raised his
hands like “I’m not responding.” He could have thrown elbows, he could have set it off. He was
present and calm. He knew I would not let either of them harm one another.

I pulled Mike’’s hands away and broke them up., Our security guard came in. Both of the kids
quietly walked to the office.

I could not help but remember what that guy told Kanye as he was leaving TMZ. Kanye’s uninformed
“Slavery was a choice” lie had Black boys fighting one another to reclaim a dignity that they NEVER
technically lost. The struggle never ended.

Shortly after I went to the office to check in on them. The Principal and I had a solid talk with them.
I told them that in my opinion Marlon used supreme restraint and did not fight back when he was
well within his right. I told Mike that both of them needed to have tougher skin when holding onto
polarizing political social opinions.

Mike wasted no time in apologizing to all of us. He admitted that he snapped because in the past
24 hours since taking Kanye’s side kids had been calling him a coon and other names. He was
so upset that he lost it. He said he had been going through "tourture" since siding with Kanye and
he just could not take anymore. I felt bad for him. He was sincere.

Marlon said he accepted Mike’s apology. He understood his frustrations. He said his only thing was
that he felt that because Mike attacked him from behind that he felt it was cowardly. Then he turned
to the Principal and said “I don’t know what you plan to recommend, suspension or expulsion but I
recommend you do nothing to Mike. It was a small incident and it won’t happen again.” They shook
hands. My jaw was to the floor. I have never seen anything like that in all my years of teaching. That
maturity they both showed after the incident was truly unprecedented. The Principal agreed.

I really have to say of all the teens I’ve worked with Marlon has shown the fastest growth overall.
The next time they came to my class they were chill, battling on the boards and talking smack but
maintaining boundaries of respect. I was super proud of both of them. I was happy with the way the
Principal handled it. I gotta say though that Kanye really has become a weapon of division in the
Black community and education circles. I wish he could come to Realm Charter school and talk to
my kids and see the damage he as done. Not just to my classroom, but in many schools and
homes across across the country. Kanye know's too many wise people. He does not need me to
teach him about slavery. But I would if he asked. He needs to use his network and his net worth
more wisely.

As I sat down to play chess with Marlon I looked under the table and saw he had some fresh
“coke white” shoes on.

I said “Those are dope man, what are they?”

Shaking his head with a chuckle he said “Yeezy’s.”

“How ironic” I laughed.

Adisa, The Bishop is the author of Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess and Guest Curator of the Oakland Museum of California's current exhibit RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom open until August 12, 2018. 

*The kid playing chess above is NOT a part of the incident.*

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Modern Violence and the New Era of Young Bulls

Modern Violence and the New Era of Young Bulls
By: Adisa The Bishop

Mr. Miyagi mentors Daniel in The Karate Kid

Long before a lot of people cared about NHB (no holds barred) or Vale Tudo (anything goes fighting)
I wrote a piece for a small MMA publication called Vale Tudo News. As a new white belt I was loving jiu-jitsu but
deeply troubled by the lack of philosophy that worked to balance such a dangerous art. I don’t remember my exact words but
I said something along the lines of “ Without a solid philosophy the people learning jiu-jitsu
and MMA we will have a country of bulls with no brains or sense of moral duty.”

While it was well received by some, by many others it was just the whining of a new white belt who
wished for teacher and pupil scenes from Kung Fu TV show. As I trained in jiu-jitsu I read books like
The Art of Peace, The Art of War, various Taoist and Confucian, Christian, Sufi and Buddhist texts.
It helped my understanding of jiu-jitsu, violence, non-violence, emotional control and other areas of
my life. I believe without question those years of personal cultivation have made me a better student, t
eacher and overall human being.

Despite taking the super duper slow route I am now a brown belt under my instructor Alan “Gumby”
Marques at Heroes Martial Arts. I teach chess fused with jiu-jitsu to help people cultivate body and
mind simultaneously. I currently teach high school, and college courses on chess and jiu-jitsu. I also
teach an all ages class on the weekends. I find it very rewarding personally, but I also see impact in
both young and adult lives. Some teens I mentored are now graduating from college and thanking me
a lot. Others are just finding their self esteem and trying harder in school. Others are just making
better decisions as they do their 9-5 thing.

The other day I was really shaken. I learned a student of mine (who trains in MMA and aspires to be
an MMA champion as an adult) . He was accused of intimidating and threatening a teacher who is
an elderly woman. I was really confused by the incident. I thought when I met him that because he
already did martial arts that he was well acquainted with philosophy. As it turned out he was not.
Additionally, he is a borderline average student. Even in my class. He aspired to little more than
MMA. Skillwise, he certainly has a decent base but it will remain to be seen if he has what it takes
in the long run to get to the top ranks of MMA. I thought we would bond.
I found him helpful when it was time to do jiu-jitsu demos. From time to time he was a helpful at
getting other kids to be inspired about training. More often than not though, he was largely out to
lunch academically.

I was very disappointed in him after I learned about the incident. I asked him about what happened.
He was less than truthful initially about what he had done. After I told him I had several witnesses,
he admitted what happened. I told him about the difference between being a martial artist and a
fighter. I explained a martial artist is trying to cultivate their mind and heart- not just their bodies.
I told him a fighter is just looking for a check, a mercenary of sorts.
I used Bruce Lee and Jon Jones as examples of each (Jones being a fighter).
I could not help but wonder if his martial arts teachers push aside philosophical discussions so
they can get another round in on the bags.

He was unremorseful about the incident. His lack of remorse scared me more than the incident.
Further he admitted he had wondered about if he was a fighter or a martial artist and he said he
saw himself as a fighter. I explained that fighters last only as long as their body holds up but
martial artists help the community through their teaching and training of others. The boy
blinked at me silently with a minimal sense of remorse or desire to lift up his character.
Not only did he not care that much, his desire to pretend he cared was equally low.
I realized I was looking at one of the young bulls I wrote about all those years ago.
Digital tools like Worldstar, YouTube, Snapchat and
Instagram fights add to the emotional vacuum our young people live in.

As I left school that day my hope was that he changes. He is young, so,
the potential for change is great. When I was his age, I did did a lot of reckless things.
Things that made it so nobody I grew up with back then could evision me the way I live now.
At the same time I can’t help but wonder if bulls I spoke of years ago are starting to stand up.
Is he just one kid in the new era of morally unreachable young men who happen to train as fighters?
Without using Eastern philosophy, meditation, chess etc. to balance out the martial arts training,
we can only expect more of these kinds of incidents will become commonplace in our society.

New Approaches to Teaching Hip-Hop History at Oakland Museum

The Curatorial Approach to RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom at the Oakland Museum
By: Adisa, The Bishop

Open Arc System (OAS) of Storytelling and Framing History is a method I developed in my approach to planning RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom which opened March 24, 2018 at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Mike Relm and I created this way of approaching curating events while working with Susan Barrett over the course of a year or two. It totally changed the way Hip-Hop is presented, documented and shared with the masses. I have always believed that it is not enough just to cover Hip-Hop history. My job is to cover Hip-Hop in a historic manner. That is what my team and I set out to do.

Initially, these concepts were employed when I was first working with Susan Barrett when she was Dir. at the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF). We did a record breaking exhibit there called Living Like Kings. It was launched a few weeks after the Ferguson Uprising began. Despite Susan’s hard work, there were certainly elements inside the Hall of Fame that were seriously afraid of Hip-Hop, and martial arts. I had to find ways to help others in the WCHOF think around those individuals fear and ignorance- but still connect them to what they loved (be it chess or Hip-Hop). I realized early that it might be better to not dig too deep on the cultural impact of Hip-Hop on chess.  It seemed the deeper I went the deeper they certain people became of Hip-Hop or Black people. I found ways to create “cliffnote” aspects of Hip-Hop in a way that still honored the subculture- without undercutting the actual value of Hip-Hop. It worked. What did was a smash success.

I saw someone who was a hardcore chess historian after giving a talk with Rza to several hundred kids and teens in Stl. I asked him how he liked the exhibit. He said he was blown away by all the things he did not know about chess and Hip-Hop. He acknowledged that he learned a lot more than he thought he would. My job from the beginning was to make sure that if someone came in deeply steeped in Hip-Hop or chess that they walked out knowing more about what they loved and what they were initially unconcerned with than they had anticipated. That, is the hard part. Narrating the story so the novice and the vet can enjoy the exhibit at the same depths with connected coherence and appreciation.

Living Like Kings made history by getting more visitors opening day than the Bobby Fischer exhibit. His exhibit was one floor above ours. Imagine, Hip-Hop beating Bobby Fischer! Living Like Kings proved to be more than just an exhibit. It was a safe place for people to enjoy themselves beyond the racially polarizing chaos fracturing the city and relax. I was very thankful to Rex Sinquefield and his wife Jeanne for their open minds and hearts. It would never have happened without them.

Mike Relm, creator of the amazing video installation at OMCA! Photo SF Bayview

We believe that RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom at the Oakland Museum of California is the best Hip-Hop exhibit in North America if not the world right now. It might be the best Hip-Hop exhibit ever, and I say that with no sense of ego. I say it with utmost loving intention and care for Hip-Hop. I say it because a lot of amazing people came together with not just good intentions but good information that the world needs to see. I say it because we are telling the history of Hip-Hop outside the traditional narratives that are not only not that exciting-  some of them are not even factually true. Rather than getting ensnared in those debates we went in a new direction.

The OAS Framework of storytelling and framing history is something I was doing instinctually but I did not recognize until OMCA hosted a convening. A convening is a gathering of historians and culture keepers where we talked about what the exhibit could look like, who could do what, who should be involved etc. At the beginning of the talk I observed with much sadness how hard people talked to define Hip-Hop. Just asking the question “What is Hip-Hop?” by Senior Curator Rene De Guzman initially brought a lot of classical definitions that I was raised on (rapping, DJ’ing, B-boy’ing, graff and the pursuit of knowledge). However the conversation quickly evolved into discussions of beatboxing, double dutch jump rope, etc. As all those present were passionate about the topic some people seemed to be moving towards argumentation rather than an open discussion.

The more I thought about it, what I knew as Hip-Hop classically had evolved into so much more than that Kool Herc, The Rocksteady Crew, Grandmaster Flash and others had seemingly initiated. First of all, we had to look at the idea that the classical 1973 “creation” of Hip-Hop is not wholly accurate. Eric Arnold really hammered this idea home in his research. You can see his ideas on the Hip-Hop timeline at OMCA. What we mean for instance is that there were many rebellious aerosol can artists before 1973 across the country.

The first graffiti I recall was on a short pedestrian bridge in SF in 1975 as I approached my grandmothers house on the edge of the The Mission District, in Noe Valley. It read simply “Vietnam Killed My Brother” and it was painted in a hard place to remove. Thousands of cars ran under it every day. Every time we visited her I read it. I thought Vietnam was an individual who killed this persons brother. I asked my parents one day about Vietnam and they tried to explain it as best they could to a 5 year old about war and how many needless people died. Now was that Hip-Hop? Maybe not in the classical sense. Maybe it was. What had occurred on a psychological level though was that I understood art as a form of open rebellion. This was 7 years before I knew Hip-Hop existed.

Beyond that there were other regional dances than b-boying happening in the streets. Journalist and critical thinker and arts advocate Eric Arnold (who wrote extensively for the exhibit) notes that Boogalooing (Eric talks about this in the KQED link towards to the top), popping and locking were getting their start on the west coast before 1973.. There were rebellious forms of oral poetry in the mid 1960’s (The Last, Poets, Watts Prophets, Gil Scott Heron, Nikki Giovanni etc.), Black funk music was evolving in different ways. What came together to be known as Hip-Hop got its embryonic baby legs in the South Bronx. However, it seems to me that it was a cultural  inevitability on a national scale. Let me be clear, what Herc, Bam and Flash did was huge and crucial to the creation of what we now know as Hip-Hop. But the wave of artistic rebellion of Black and Latino youth was untouchable force the world could not stop.

Beyond that, we have to look at how quickly things changed from the first five elements of Hip-Hop. Everything from Grandmaster Flash's’ creation  FlashFormer (which allowed people to transform scratch without a mixer), to rap producer Marley Marl’s innovations with sampling specific drum sounds to create new patterns etc. led to technological innovations by the artists and corporations. The Turntablist movement (using the turntable as a musical instrument) created by DJ Disk, DJ Qbert, Mixmaster Mike, DJ Apollo, DJ Flare and others overturned the entire mixer and turntable design industries. All of them consciously working to accommodate battle DJ needs.

In the early 2000’s DJ Vlad took the courageous step of using CDJ 1000’s. Many traditional DJ’s who used vinyl regularly mocked him and chastised him for moving forward with technology. I remember him saying then “Why carry huge crates of records around party to party when I have software that can hold thousands of songs? Today it is a standard and the DJ’s who laughed at him then use similar equipment now, without ever mentioning his courage, vision and influence.

These days folks are making whole albums on their phone! If you said a phone was Hip-Hop 20 years ago people would have laughed at you and beat you with the phone. Now they are collabing, sharing files in the cloud, DJ’ing, sharing dance routines, making album covers etc.

The problem in the traditional framework used by most museums and university archives is that they use dated, boilerplate methods for telling you the who, what, where when and why any given thing happens. This archaic way of sifting through the granular, often conflicting elements of the Hip-Hop subculture make it hard for institutions to be authentically engaging.

This is why our approach had to serve as the root framework for Open Arc System (OAS). a living breathing global subculture as ever expansive and vibrant as Hip-Hop. It has to be told in a new way- we have found that way.

A huge part of OAS method that made OMCA is how ahead of the curve they were on making museum exhibits interactive. A friend of mine who recently got his Doctorate in Education told me OMCA knows more about educating kids than most school districts. We invited battle champion DJ AkikoLuv to our first gathering of culture keepers. She brought a portable turntable to the meeting. The son of another DJ was addicted to scratching with it. He was about 6. We knew having turntables, beat machines, mics, tagging areas and open space to dance would be crucial to the exhibit from day one. But that moment was magic for all of us.

Senior Curator at OMCA Rene Deguzman, Fashion Consultant Susan Barrett of Barrett Barrera and Guest Curator Adisa Banjoko Photo SF Bayview

Rene DeGuzman, Penny Jennings, Rhonda Pagnozzi, and their team worked with us tirelessly to ensure that Hip-Hop was experienced- not just seen under glass. The idea was always that if we can let them experience Hip-Hop through direct participation that we would not need to tell them every “element” of Hip-Hop. By engagement in the art itself, all visitors would know Hip-Hop for themselves.

Opening night, I saw an elderly women and men making beats. I saw kids scratching on the turntables and families playing chess and dancing together. It was perfect.

Looking at it there are a lot of pro's to this approach.

Pro’s and Con’s of Framework:

1.Storytelling becomes more fluid.
2.Institutions do not have to burden themselves with having definitive positions on Hip-Hop history. What Kool Herc ate for breakfast may be interesting to some but it does not define the depth of one's knowledge. We lead the visitors down open paths of Hip-Hop that are not burdensome.
3. The traditional artist profiles and histories do not have to be mandatory parts of an exhibit. It helps the space breathe more and
4. Specifically using the video remix method of Mike Relm we are able to create dynamic engaging content that connects generations. For example he remixed Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow over 90’s classics (Jay Z, Aaliyah and more!). Teen girls cried out “Ayyye!” as soon as they saw their icon rapping. The
moms were clapping to. But that was because they heard her rapping over Jay Z and Aaliyah.  These videos also allow you to celebrate the local Hip-Hop culture and still honor the national icons on the same level.
         5. We do not attempt to define your interpretation of what Hip-Hop is or may be. Is it anti-establishment? Is it a part of mainstream America now? Has it lost its political edge? None of that is our job. Our job in the OAS method is to deepen your exposure and point you in the direction of where to learn more of what you want. This is your life and your art to interpret as you wish.

  1. Sometimes artists may feel slighted that their specific histories are not outlined for visitors. However, due to the rich multimedia section and the manner in which we ultimately we point in the direction of all subsections that exist in Hip-Hop. Granular knowledge of the elements we believe is on the visitor we are simply the guide.

In conclusion, we believe that in 5 years most museums and universities will use Open Arc Systems to tell Hip-Hop narratives. Further, we believe that in 10 years other artistic mediums will be using Open Arc Systems to tell other stories. This is not a Hip-Hop specific methodology. If your museum, brand etc., is in need of being re-framed please feel free to reach out to us. We would love to help you breathe new life into your exhibit. I can be contacted directly at for serious inquiries.

Uproxx Covers HHCF Founder plus, FREE PDF download of Bobby Bruce and the Bronx Available

The book Bobby Bruce & the Bronx by Adisa the Bishop is now available from this day forward FREE in PDF form. Please enjoy it and share ...