Sunday, August 28, 2011

Black Cultural Calendars: Jay-Z's BPP Reference

Earlier this week, Dometi Pongo was telling me to check out "Murder to Excellence" from Jay-Z's and Kanye West's album Watch the Throne. Dometi is going to write a few pieces about the album and that song here later.

I had listened to "Murder to Excellence" in passing before when the album was released but listened again closer after Dometi mentioned it. On this listen, I noticed one line in particular when Jay-Z goes: "I arrived on the day Fred Hampton died."

Fred Hampton was a member of the Black Panther Party, and he didn't just die, he was killed, along with his fellow Panther Mark Clark by Chicago police on December 4, 1969. Just so you know, "A federal grand jury determined that the police fired between 82 and 99 shots...Only one shot was proven to have come from a Panther gun." #justsaying

As Jay-Z alludes to in the song, he was born on December 4, 1969.

Our guy Dometi is from Chicago, so he's likely aware of that BPP history. I'm certain my homegirl Alondra Nelson is aware of that history as well, as she's pursued research on and written a book about the Black Panther Party, which our crew will get to later in the semester.

But yeah, it's something to think about these "black cultural calendars," how dates become infamous and significant for different reasons.

Like consider this: over the last 20 years, Oprah Winfrey has hosted really large and extravagant birthday parties for Maya Angelou. My friend Eugene B. Redmond has attended all of them and photographed the events extensively.

Before she passed, Coretta Scott King always attended, and Redmond always managed to get photos of Angelou and King sharing a touching moment. They weren't just celebrating though; they were reflecting on a painful irony. Angelou's birthday is April 4. MLK was assassinated on April 4.

Those black cultural calendars are something.

After his line, "I arrived on the day Fred Hampton died," Jay-Z goes "Real niggas just multiply." In a way, he's claiming a link to the BPP based on that cultural calendar, almost as if to say that in a way he's a Panther Cub.

No comments: